What is the Ketogenic Diet and How Does it Work?

how does the ketogenic diet work

The ketogenic diet has actually been around for decades but has never received the widespread press or attention that it currently enjoys today.

There are a variety of reasons for that, and with the resurgence of low carb high protein diets moving from the fringes to the norm, the ketogenic diet is at the top of the list as far as strict diets that have stunning results from this family.

So what makes the keto diet so different? Why does it stand out?

Read on to find out more.

What is the Keto Diet Philosophy?

a fresh steak makes a great keto meal

The Ketogenic Diet is not only a high fat/high protein low-carb diet, but it is one that has perhaps the strictest list of eating rules among all.

There is a very long list of foods that other low carb diets allow that are strictly off limits when looking at the ketogenic diet (beans being a common one that is allowed on almost every other low carb diet but not the keto).

The idea of this diet plan is to switch your body from relying on carbs and sugars for energy and moving towards burning fat for energy.

When the body consistently doesn’t get a certain level of carbohydrates it undergoes a change known as “ketosis” where it burns fat for energy – both eaten from food as well as stored in the body.

That’s a major part of the reason low carb diets in general have continued to do so well over the years.

Putting the body in ketosis means your body will burn fat incredibly effectively which has been shown in many cases to make it incredibly effective for weight loss and helping to manage diabetes.

Fat gets turned into “ketones” which is great for body fuel but it is also great as energy for the brain.

However, this diet only works with a lack of carbs. Adding in even a few throws the entire biochemistry of the body off and takes you out of ketosis.

No one doubts the ketogenic diet’s ability to help people lose weight and manage their blood sugar, but there are also limited studies have shown some serious promise for this diet as a treatment for many types of epilepsy, although more studies need to be done to confirm this.

Studies are currently done to see it the ketogenic diet is beneficial in helping the body fight Alzheimer’s disease and certain types of cancer, as well.

Most food allowed on this diet is high in fat and/or protein, and the biggest goal is limiting carbs down to a mere 20-50 carbs a day and even then preferentially carbs come from leafy green vegetables and not much else.

4 Types Of Ketogenic Diets

a medium rare steak on a plate

There are actually four main versions of the ketogenic diet that are currently out there. Most of this article will focus on the SKD (Standard Ketogenic Diet) since that is the one that has been thoroughly studied by universities, nutritionists, and scientific study.

Assume that in this article when talking about the ketogenic diet or keto diet that it is the standard option that is being referred to.

The others are mentioned here just so you are aware of them and don’t confuse one of the off branches for the proven eating plan.

The Standard ketogenic Diet (SKD)

As the name suggests, this is the standard keto diet. This is the one that has been studied, the one that continues to be studied, and is an extremely low carb diet featuring moderate protein and high fat.

The ideal breakdown for food calories breaks down to 75% fat, 20% protein, 5% carbs.

The Cyclical Ketogenic Diet (CKD)

CKD is a variation that is most often used by bodybuilders leading up to competition. This involves a 5/2 method where 5 days are strictly keto and the other 2 days they actually switch to high carbs before switching back to standard keto once again.

The High Protein Keto Diet

This version is actually very similar to the standard eating plan, but it involves a little less fat and a little more protein. Instead of being 75/20/5 split with fat/protein/carbs, the high protein version is 60/35/5.

Targeted ketogenic diet (TKD) is most common with small groups of high level athletes. They are on the standard keto diet most of the time but add carbs around heavy workout days.

Foods Allowed on the Ketogenic Diet

meat skewers on a bbq

The food list can be pretty strict on the Ketogenic Diet, and it’s important to stay strictly under that low amount of carbs.

You can’t just eat whatever you want, but the good news is that many individuals on this diet report that once they get past the first few days the carb cravings go away.

The process of ketosis shifts your body so your body stops craving carbs and sugar because fat is what gives it energy now.

A big one is avoiding sugar. While white sugar is obvious, keep in mind that sugar is in everything. Salsa? Check the ingredient list – most add sugar. Milk? Most add sugar. Ketchup? Virtual guarantee to have sugar.

You need to narrow it down and really dial it in to make sure you get the full benefits of ketosis – including carb cravings going away.

Foods to Avoid on a Keto Diet

  • Fruits – Yup, fruit is sugar, so it’s a no go. No apples, pineapple, oranges, bananas, no fruit!
  • Grains – Wheat, corn, rice, cereal, bread, pasta – it’s all a no go.
  • Legumes – Legumes and beans are often staples of a low carb diet, but they have too many to stay in ketosis so they’re a no-go on keto
  • Starches/Tubers – Potatoes & yams are a big no go.
  • Sugar – White sugar, agave, maple syrup, honey, all banned

So What Can You Actually Eat?

Don’t panic yet – this list leaves plenty of delicious and nutritious foods that you can dine on to your heart’s content.

As your body gets used to fat and protein, you’ll find even your cravings for these will lessen making it easier to not overeat from a pure calorie standpoint. Not having to track calories is another major benefit of this eating plan.

Foods to Eat on a Keto Diet:

  • Above ground veggies – Broccoli & cauliflower are great examples
  • Dairy (high fat only) – Butter, high fat cream, hard cheese
  • Fats – Coconut oil, high fat salad dressing
  • Leafy Greens – Spinach, kale, collared greens, if it’s green & leafy it is good to go!
  • Limited Fruit “Exceptions” – At very, very small levels avocado & low glycemic berries like blackberries and raspberries are acceptable in very small numbers.
  • Meats – All kinds of meat: fish, beef, lamb, chicken, wild game, eggs
  • Nuts & seeds – Almonds, cashews, macadamias, sunflower seeds, & walnuts
  • Sweeteners – Erythritol, Stevia, & low-carb sweeteners only

As long as your meals stay within these groups you will be good to go.

There are often keto friendly items out there that take the place of missed carbs (cauliflower rice instead of rice is a great example of this) so there’s no reason to feel like you’re in want.

keto approved foods like this pork chop

All of these foods listed are good to go and there’s no need to count calories and limit them in most cases as long as you’re in keto.

Keto Alternatives

If you like the idea of low-carb diets, but don’t want to go full keto, there are some other options out there that may be more appealing. The South Beach Diet (read our review), for example, is a low-carb option that isn’t quite as strict as keto. There are some key differences between the two, that may make SBD a better option for you than keto.

The paleo diet is another option that could work too.

Either way, just research some different options out there, and you should find something that fits your dietary needs and lifestyle.

So What’s The Final Verdict?

The biggest challenge most people are going to face with the ketogenic diet is the strictness.

However for someone who has failed to keep their blood sugar or diabetes under control or who have had struggles with epilepsy, this diet is a no-brainer to try out.

If it returns good health, why wouldn’t you?

The weight loss benefits are widely accepted and there’s a reason keto stands out as one of the most stunning options out there!

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