What is a Keto diet?

Essentially the keto diet is a low-carb, moderate-protein and very high-fat eating plan.

“The goal of this kind of diet is to reduce carbohydrates enough (less than 20-50g per day) that you put the body into a state of ketosis, in which it prioritizes burning fat for fuel,” says nutritionist Flo, founder of FBF Collective.

In the 1920s, the keto diet was used as a treatment for children with epilepsy. However, over time, it has become more and more popular as a diet to lose weight. Although different forms of the keto diet exist, the plan generally focuses on different consumer food groups - carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.

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How do keto diets work?

Keto diets work by transforming the body into a metabolic state known as ketosis.

This 'condition' causes the body to burn fat rather than carbohydrates for energy. It also helps in dieting to lose weight. As Flow explains:

"Because of the significant lack of carbohydrates, your body begins to produce high levels of "ketone bodies" from fat," she says. "These are prioritised to fuel the body instead of using glucose."

Glucose (or sugar) is usually the body's main source of energy, so when it's deprived it needs to be obtained from somewhere else - in this case it is the high-fat you eating on keto. This is what turns your body into a fat burning machine.

Keto diet food list

Permitted foods:

  • Meats – fish, beef, lamb, poultry, eggs, etc.
  • Leafy greens – spinach, kale, etc.
  • Above ground vegetables – broccoli, cauliflower, etc.
  • High fat dairy products – hard cheeses, high fat cream, butter, etc.
  • Nuts and seeds – macadamias, walnuts, sunflower seeds, etc.
  • Avocado and berries – raspberries, blackberries, and other low glycemic impact berries.
  • Sweeteners – stevia, erythritol, monk fruit, and other low-carb sweeteners.
  • Other fats – coconut oil, high-fat salad dressing, saturated fats, etc.

Foods to avoid on the keto diet

Restrict the following foods when trying the keto diet:

  • Grains – wheat, corn, rice, cereal, etc.
  • Sugar – honey, agave, maple syrup, etc.
  • Fruit – apples, bananas, oranges, etc.
  • Tubers – potato, yams, etc.
  • Legumes – kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas, etc.
  • Sauces – mayonnaise, tomato ketchup, BBQ sauce, salad dressings, etc.
  • Alcohol – beer, wine, spirits, etc.

What are the benefits of the keto diet?

Weight loss, better blood sugar levels and improved brain function are all benefits linked to the keto diet:

  • Weight Loss – Dr Sohere Roked from OMNIYA MediClinic says that because you are removing carbs and sugars largely from your diet, the body has no other option but to burn fat for energy. And this inevitably is what causes weight loss on the Keto plan. What’s more, there are over 30 scientific studies showing that, compared to other diets, low-carb and keto diets result in more effective weight loss. Take for example this Brazilian study, which found that weight loss results were greater on the keto diet compared to a low fat diet.

  • Controlled blood sugar – Dr Roked confirms that keto naturally lowers blood sugar levels. This is because you’re not eating as many carbs, so your body can’t produce glucose. As such, researchers at the South Asian University even “recommend it (keto) as an adjunctive treatment for type 2 diabetes“. With their 2020 study also finding the plan helps to control glucose levels.

  • Increased energy – Because a keto diet helps your body turn fat into an energy source, it is also helping to increase your energy levels as it is giving your body a more reliable energy source. This allows you to feel more energised throughout the day.

  • Good for the brain – A 2019 study found that the ketogenic diet “improved cognitive performance in elderly adults with Alzheimer’s disease”. There’s further good news too, with an American study reporting that those who follow a low-carb plan had improved verbal memory.

  • Better appetite – Fat is naturally more satisfying and ends up leaving us in a satiated (‘full’) state for longer. This means less cravings for less junk food and snacking in-between meals. In fact, one Aberdeen based study deemed keto as significantly reducing hunger and food intake compared to non-ketogenic diets.

Should i go with keto diet?

A ketogenic diet may be an option for some people who have had difficulty losing weight with other methods. The exact ratio of fat, carbohydrate, and protein that is needed to achieve health benefits will vary among individuals due to their genetic makeup and body composition. Therefore, if one chooses to start a ketogenic diet, it is recommended to follow a proven program that is tailored to one’s existing health conditions and to prevent nutritional deficiencies or other health complications.