The Ketogenic Diet

The ketogenic diet is one of the most popular diets today as it promises rapid weight loss and muscle preservation.

Rise of Obesity

In this day of age, we are witnessing obesity surges in almost all developed societies around the world. In the United States, it is calculated that 3 out of 4 people are now obese. Due to changes in the way food is manufactured and convenient access to foods, along with an increase in sedentary lifestyles, it is easier than ever to over consume and under workout. Luckily, what is also on the rise is the awareness of the dangers of obesity and the scientifically proven damaging effects it has on the body.

A magic solution does not exist. All the pills, shakes, and weight-loss plans cannot replace the good old, reliable, regimen of diet and exercise. At the end of the day weight loss still boils down to one golden rule; you need to expend more energy than you intake, which can be done by eating less or working out more.

However, there is some credit to be given to the fact there is more than one way to lose weight and which weight loss plan you choose will be based on your own personal preference and lifestyle habits. The ketogenic diet is one of the more popular diets today so this article is dedicated to providing a detailed overview of the popular eating program.

Keto Overview

The ketogenic diet, also known as the keto diet, is a low carb diet, which if followed correctly, will provoke the process of “ketosis” in the body. Ketosis occurs after long periods of starvation or carbohydrates deprivation and plays a crucial role in the melting of fat deposits, making it ideal for weight loss. The process of ketosis also has other medical uses like the prevention of seizures.

The idea of the ketogenic diet is to promote the use of fats instead of carbs as the primary source of energy. For this to happen, it is necessary to change your eating habits and eliminate almost all sources of carbohydrates from the diet. In the ketogenic diet, the caloric needs are satisfied by a large amount of fat and moderate amount of proteins.

In an average American diet, glucose (sugar) is the primary energy source. Most Americans consume a high amount of carbohydrates from both healthy sources such as grains, vegetables, fruits, and unhealthy sources such as processed foods and sweets. Once ingested, these carbs are broken down in the stomach and then converted into glucose (sugar) by the liver. Following this diet plan glucose is the first choice of energy. The body functions well on glucose, the brain especially thrives on glucose and consumes about 20-30% of our daily calorie intake.

However, if we are taking in more calories than needed, the excess glucose will be stored as glycogen in the liver and then when the glycogen stores are filled, it will be stored as fat. Unlike glycogen stores, fat stores can keep growing and growing leading to more and more weight gain.

Thus, if you are on a ketogenic diet and you stop eating carbohydrates and sugars, the body will have to find a different source of energy, fat. As you can imagine if you are burning fat for fuel and taking in fewer calories than the body is going to start reaching for those fat stores and you are going to start losing weight.

On a traditional low-calorie diet plan with normal carbohydrate intake you will lose weight also, but are more likely to lose a mix of fat and muscle. What makes the keto diet appealing is the notion that you will lose more fat and less muscle on this plan.

What is Ketosis?

If you are trying to lose weight through a keto diet you will often hear that your body needs to enter the state of ketosis before it begins to burn the deposited fat. People are often not sure what ketosis actually is.

Ketosis is achieved when the intake of carbs is lowered to a minimum, typically less than 20-40 grams per day. When glucose is removed from the diet and the glucose stores are all used up, the body reaches for fats in the diet and fat stores. It takes most people 2-5 days to switch from carb burning to fat burning mode and enter ketosis.

In ketosis, the liver converts fats into fatty acids, which are converted to ketone bodies as a new source of energy. The result of ketosis is an increased metabolic rate of fats and weight loss.

This switch from glucose to ketone bodies is the beginning of ketosis. The main characteristics of ketosis are:

· Elevated levels of ketone bodies in the blood and urine

· Stable insulin levels

· Depletion of stored glycogen

· Stable blood sugar levels

The Keto-friendly Foods

The keto diet calls for 60-90% of calories from fat, 10-30% of calories from protein, and 5-10% of calories from carbs. To start creating your meal plan you first need to understand what the common “allowed” ingredients are. To keep it simple we will sort them in three different categories: proteins, fats, and vegetables.


All kinds of meats are allowed. Meats do not contain significant amounts of carbs, but are rich in protein and fat. Some fermented dairy products are also allowed. The best choice for a keto diet are:

· Beef

· Lamb

· Fish (especially fatty kinds such as salmon)

· Chicken (dark meat)

· Pork (bacon)

· Feta cheese

· Cheddar cheese

· Full fat yogurt

You also need to be aware of how the meat is prepared. For example, beer-battered fish, chicken nuggets, and marinated meat are not allowed as they contain added carbs.

Fat and Oil 

All types of natural cooking oils, butter, and lard are allowed in a keto diet. These include:

· Olive oil

· Coconut oil

· Sunflower oil

· Avocado oil

· Palm oil

· Safflower oil

However, artificial fats (unsaturated fatty acids or trans fats) and margarine are not allowed.

Nuts and seeds can also be good sources of fats. Almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, and flaxseed are all allowed, but also have carbohydrates so keep that in mind.


The list of vegetables allowed in keto diet is very long. This information speaks for itself because vegetables should actually make up the biggest portion of your diet. The following is a list of vegetables which contain less than 5 grams of carbs per 100-gram portion:

· Broccoli

· Cabbage

· Tomato

· Cauliflower

· Mushrooms

· Swiss chard

· Arugula

· Zucchini

· Asparagus

· Spinach

· Celery

· Avocado

· Bell Peppers

· Eggplant

· Olives

· Kohlrabi

· Turnip


The following condiments, sauces, spices, herbs, and sweeteners can be consumed on a keto diet.

· Mayonnaise (sugar-free)

· Guacamole

· Balsamic vinegar

· Sat

· Pepper

· Paprika

· Oregano

· Onion powder

· Thyme

· Garlic powder

· Cayenne

· Stevia (this is shown to spike up insulin in some cases, so while allowed should be limited)

When it comes to drinks only water, unsweetened tea, black coffee, and almond milk are allowed. Be careful with zero-calorie drinks. Make sure to check the label and see which sweetener is used and how many carbs the product contains.

Foods to Avoid

Even a small breach of the diet can interrupt the state of ketosis, but as long as your intake of carbs is low enough the body will keep choosing to burn fat over glucose. The following is a list of “forbidden” foods:

· All types of bread

· Rice

· Cereals

· Legumes

· Pasta

· Potatoes

· All kind of sweets and desserts

· Pastry

· Fruits

· Fruit juices

· Milkshakes

· Sweetened coffee

· Sodas with added sugar

· Beer

· Ketchup

· Pistachios

· Cashew nuts

· Margarine

Be aware that many salad dressings and sauces (e.g. barbecue sauce) can contain a lot of sugar. If you are not sure about what you are eating, it is best to avoid the risk.

There are many dietary products available as substitutions for certain types of food. For example, you can find keto bread, keto rice, keto pasta, etc.

It is impossible to completely avoid carbs as they are present, in very small quantities, in various foods. But, to achieve the maximum effect with keto diet you should aim at an intake of fewer than 20 grams of carbs per day.

Potential Side Effects

Switching to a keto diet can be a challenge for the first week. As the body transitions from glucose burning to fat burning some side effects can occur. The usual side effect of ketosis include:

Sugar Cravings – Your body is used to getting energy from sugar so when you suddenly deprive yourself of sugar, the whole body experiences a kind of a shock. That is why it is normal to experience cravings for sugar during the initial period of ketosis. The period of adjustment can last only one or two days or up to few weeks in certain cases. The good news is that cravings eventually disappear and those who endure them are rewarded with weight loss and other health benefits.

Low Blood Sugar – Once the intake of carbohydrates cease the body has to adjust to outputting lower amounts of insulin. Reduced sugar intake and normal insulin production can cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). In most cases hypoglycemia is only temporary but, while it lasts, it can make you feel hungry, shaky, and tired.

Bad Breath – The state of ketosis is characterized by the production of the ketone bodies. This is a normal and desirable process. One of the ketone bodies is acetone, a chemical distinguished by its fruity smell often described as similar to nail polish. In most individuals, the problem of bad breath resolves after a few weeks. There are also good ways to reduce its effect. Good oral hygiene, an increased water intake, and breath fresheners are all very helpful.

Frequent Urination – Liver and muscles normally store glucose. At the beginning of your new diet, the body will reach for those reserves because it is no longer receiving enough sugar from food. During the glucose burning process, a lot of water gets released so you might notice that you are urinating more often. It is not something that you should worry about and the scale will register it as weight loss during the first week of the diet.

Constipation – Constipation is common with any dietary change. More fats, fewer carbs, and the water loss through frequent urination all contribute to it. The solution is to increase water intake and consume plenty of fiber-rich vegetables. Magnesium supplements can help as well.

Diarrhea – Keto diet is high fat, low carb diet. It is not meant to be a high protein diet. Replacing carbs with proteins and not eating enough fats is a common mistake many people make. Unfortunately, it is also the one that leads to diarrhea. To avoid this, make sure to replace the carbs with good sources of fat.

Keto Flu – Keto flu is not real flu. It is a condition characterized by flu-like symptoms.

· Lethargy

· Tiredness

· Confusion

· Headaches

· Brain Fog

· Irritability

· Lack of motivation

The symptoms are caused by the sudden diet change and in most cases, failure to increase the intake of liquids and salts. Luckily, keto flu usually resolves on its own after several days.

The trouble with Sleeping – Switching to a ketogenic diet can cause insulin and serotonin levels to drop temporarily. There are two main causes for this. The first one is going to bed hungry. Try having a small snack, rich in proteins and with some carbs, before going to sleep. These can help to increase your serotonin (protein) and insulin (carbs) levels. Another good thing to do is to cut down the foods rich in histamines such as eggs, bacon, and cheese and replace them with more vegetables.

Muscle Cramps – Muscle cramps are caused by lack of minerals. The minerals are usually flushed away together with water so staying hydrated and consuming enough salt can help you to resolve this issue. Magnesium supplements are helpful here too.

Other Benefits of Ketosis Diet

Weight loss is not the only benefit of ketosis diet. For decades, ketosis has been used to control the symptoms of epilepsy in children. The glucose-stabilizing and insulin-stabilizing effects of ketosis are also considered useful in managing type-2 diabetes.

Due to the medical benefits of ketosis, the scientific community is now studying the possible benefits of ketosis for the treatment of brain-related conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, autism, ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), and sleeping disorders.

Diabetes and Ketosis Diet

The ketogenic diet is a good prevention measure for diabetes. Lowering levels of blood sugar, burning of fat deposits, and weight loss are all clearly beneficial for lowering the risk of diabetes.

The main issues with type-2 diabetes are the uncontrolled and harmful blood sugar spikes. Because of these, people suffering from type-2 diabetes heavily rely on insulin to control their condition.

The ketogenic diet is proven to successfully control the blood sugar levels and keep them at lower on average. By doing so ketosis also reduces the dangerous blood sugar spikes and, therefore, the need for insulin. However, this does not mean that a ketogenic diet can completely remove the need for medications.

A combination of keto diet and insulin has to be handled with caution. The further lowering of the already low blood sugar levels can lead to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). In its most severe manifestation, hypoglycemia can lead to seizures, loss of consciousness, and even coma.

Epilepsy and Ketosis Diet

The benefits of ketosis and fasting in the treatment of epilepsy have been known to scholars since the antiquity. 

Today it is a well-recognized method of treatment, especially in cases where various anti-seizure medications have not provided satisfactory results. Research has shown that low-carb diets, such as keto diet and modified Atkins diet, can significantly reduce focal seizures in children and improve other epilepsy-related conditions.

These include:

· GLUT-1 deficiency

· Rett syndrome

· Dravet Syndrome

· Doose syndrome

· Infantile spasms

· Tuberous sclerosis complex

The keto diet treatment is usually combined with medications but, in certain cases, it can also be used to replace the medications completely. The meal plan has to be very precise though, 90% of all calories have to come from fats and the calorie input has to match the daily energy needs. The help of a professional dietitian is often necessary for this program to be followed with the much-needed precision.

The results, on the other hand, are very good. More than half of all patients experience a significant reduction (more than 50%) in seizures, while one in every ten children reports the complete absence of seizures. In cases where the seizures have been absent for a long time (more than 2 years), it is possible to attempt to lower the dosage of anti-seizure medications or a slow re-introduction of carbs into the diet. This needs to be closely monitored and performed gradually.

The Final Word

The ketogenic diet is a low-carb, high-fat diet designed to bring the human body in the state of ketosis. Once ketosis is achieved, the body’s main energy source is changed from glucose to fatty acids and ketone bodies. The result is a big change in the fueling of the body and a more efficient use of deposited fat. Weight loss and a significant improvements in the control of diabetes and epilepsy symptoms can be achieved through the use of a keto diet. In general keto diets are beneficial for weight loss and may be followed for that time, but should not be followed long term.

related articles

From our Writers' Desk


© Copyright 2024. All rights reserved.