Ninety years ago, researchers developed a diet that was an effective method for helping epileptic children. Today, that same diet has become a popular weight-loss diet.
That diet is the ketogenic diet, and it was the 5th most Googled diet of 2013. Since that time, its popularity has only increased as the weight loss world talks more and more about the success of high fat, low carb diets.
So, what is the ketogenic diet and how is it different from low carb and Paleo diets? Most importantly, does it actually work?
Is a Ketogenic Diet Effective for Weight Loss?
The general idea of a ketogenic diet is to eat foods that are low in carbs, moderate in protein, and high in quality fats. Doing this helps your body go into nutritional ketosis, which allows you to burn fat and ketones (produced from the breakdown of fat) instead of glucose for energy.
The exact reason why this results in weight loss is still being debated, but several studies have now concluded that a ketogenic diet is effective for weight loss. And more recent studies (like this one) are currently underway, examining the potential health benefits of a ketogenic diet for those with Type 2 diabetes.
In the end, as Chris Kelly of Nourish Balance Thrive suggests, the biggest reason why a ketogenic diet is so great for weight loss is most likely easy appetite suppression.
Eating low carb and high fat foods means that you’re less likely to have sugar cravings and more likely to get full faster. That means you’ll generally eat less without trying.
How is a Ketogenic Diet Different than a Low Carb or Paleo Diet?
Honestly, it really depends.
For example, let’s say that you eat a diet that contains no dairy, no legumes, and no grains. Let’s also say that your diet ensures that you’re generally in ketosis.
In that case, you would be eating a diet that is considered ketogenic, low carb, and Paleo!
In general, a ketogenic diet is defined by the dieter being in nutritional ketosis (i.e., burning fat and ketones rather than glucose for energy). However, a low carb or Paleo diet simply doesn’t focus on ketosis even though you can definitely go into nutritional ketosis on a low carb or Paleo diet.
What Do You Eat On A Ketogenic Diet?
Since a ketogenic diet focuses on the end result, it’s possible to eat a variety of different foods to get to that result. Let me show you the following 2 options to help illustrate this:
Option 1: you eat a diet filled with low carb, processed, artificial sweeteners, inflammatory (and rancid) seed oils, and high fat dairy (which is inflammatory for many people).
Option 2: you eat a diet that is composed mostly of low carb vegetables (so no sweet potatoes, yams, or pumpkin), some fruits (like berries, coconuts, avocados), meats, organ meats, fish and seafood, and some nuts and seeds.
While both options could result in nutritional ketosis, the second option is probably going to make you feel and look better in the long run (and probably in the short term as well) because it’s a diet high in nutrients and low in inflammatory toxins.
So, while there are a lot of options for foods on a ketogenic diet, just be aware that not all of them are healthy options. For more specifics, you can download a comprehensive keto diet food list here.
Is a Ketogenic Diet Safe?
First of all, no matter what diet you’re thinking about, this is a question that you need to answer for yourself to some degree, since only you know your body and what you’re dealing with.
However, when you read about the safety of the ketogenic diet, one thing pops up over and over again. It’s called ketoacidosis, and it’s a metabolic phenomena that is often confused with ketosis, but it’s actually something completely different. Ketosis simply means that you’re burning ketone bodies for fuel. It does not mean that your blood becomes acidic from too much blood sugar (which is ketoacidosis).
Another common misconception about ketogenic diets is that carbohydrates are necessary for us to eat daily. While it’s completely true that your brain requires around 100-120 grams of glucose per day for energy, it can get all of that glucose from fat and protein.
And if you’re worried that your athletic performance might be impaired by a ketogenic diet, even athletes like ultra-endurance runners can thrive on keto, as this 2016 study illustrates,
How To Start a Ketogenic Diet?
A lot of people have been jumping on board with the ketogenic diet in order to lose weight. So, if you think you’d like to give keto a try, please read the following 5 steps first to ensure you don’t make any mistakes when getting started.
Step 1: Heal your body first.
As my friend Chris Kelly often mentions, a ketogenic diet can be really great, but it’s best if you start the diet only after healing your body and ridding it of underlying health issues.
This may mean just eating really clean for a while first. Or it may mean getting more extensive testing done in order to rid yourself of pathogens and micronutrient deficiencies.
Step 2: Reduce your carbohydrate intake slowly.
Many people get lightheaded when they first cut out carbohydrates from their diet because they are so heavily dependent on them. Sometimes these symptoms are known as “carb flu” as people experience flu-like symptoms.
While these symptoms will typically go away after 1-2 weeks, an easier way to ease yourself into the diet is to gradually cut your carbohydrate intake over the course of several weeks.
Step 3: Make sure you eat enough high-quality fats.
Don’t just go low carb. Also add in lots of healthy fats, as this helps people go into ketosis. Pick fatty cuts of meat to eat and add coconut oil or olive oil to your meals. Eating organ meats, seafood, and drinking bone broth can all help to naturally add in more fat as well as more vitamins and minerals into your diet.
Step 4: Don’t forget to eat vegetables!
It’s often easy to only focus on the macronutrients like carbs and fats. One aspect of the ketogenic diet that often gets forgotten is that green leafy vegetables are nutrient-dense, low in carbs, and super good for your digestive system! So, it’s good to eat lots of them.
Step 5: Get a meter to make sure you’re in ketosis.
One of the defining features of the ketogenic diet is having your body enter nutritional ketosis, so make sure you buy a ketone meter and check whether you’re in ketosis or not. Some supplements like MCT oil can also make it easier to go into ketosis.
A lot of people experience great results on a ketogenic diet, so I hope you find the same for you if you give it a try.
About Louise Hendon
Louise Hendon is the co-founder of Paleo Flourish Magazine and author of The Essential Keto Cookbook. She has been eating a Paleo diet for over 6 years. Not only has Paleo helped her to lose weight, but it has also helped her get rid of her heartburn and autoimmune symptoms.