Dieters from Silicon Valley to the Hollywood hills are convinced that the keto diet is a miracle for the body.
The high-fat regimen has become the go-to eating plan for celebrities like Halle Berry and the Kardashians, Silicon Valley tech workers, venture capitalists and sports stars like LeBron James. Fans of the diet believe it can help burn belly fat, tamp down on hunger, and increase energy, all while encouraging consumption of fatty and oily foods.
The keto diet is designed to get the body into a natural fat-burning state called ketosis. It’s the same process that happens when people starve. In ketosis, the body switches from its default mode – burning carbs and sugars for fuel first – and begins breaking down fatty acids.
Entering ketosis usually takes at least a few days. Dr Priyanka Wali says most people use up leftover glycogen stores in about five days, and experts agree it takes at least one to three months to see and feel the benefits of the restrictive plan.
The keto diet wasn’t originally developed for weight loss. Physicians started prescribing the diet in the 1920s to help with tough-to-control epileptic seizures that weren’t responsive to other drugs. The diet can significantly reduce the instance of seizures in children, and in some cases, stops them completely. It can also help control blood glucose levels in adults with Type 2 diabetes.
Many keto fans who don’t have epilepsy or diabetes report feeling sharper and more energetic on the diet. Some competitive athletes are also convinced that following a keto plan helps them perform. Ultra-marathoner Zach Bitter, the world record holder for the longest distance run in 12 hours, has said that going keto helped him achieve record-breaking athletic performances.
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The US military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) also poured US$10 million into developing a ketone-ester drink that generates energy from ketones, with the intention of one day giving it to soldiers. The drink is on the market now for performance athletes. But research on the keto diet for athletes is still mixed: some studies suggest that relying on fat can hurt an athlete’s performance. Large-scale studies are needed to know for sure.
Keto by the numbers
One of the trickiest things about the keto diet is the careful counting it requires.
Dietitian Kristin Kirkpatrick at the Cleveland Clinic suggests people going keto should get 70 per cent to 80 per cent of their calories from fat, and less than 10 per cent from carbohydrates. To that end, most keto dieters try to keep daily carb intake between 20 to 50 grams.
Considering there are roughly 6 grams of carbohydrates in one medium-sized carrot or a serving of plain Greek yogurt, keto meal planning requires forethought. It’s not as simple as swapping morning toast for a few strips of bacon.
Since going keto can get complicated, one Redditor even created a keto food pyramid that he encourages people on the diet to print out and put on their fridge.
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Here’s what’s safe to eat on the keto diet
Meat (pretty much any kind, including poultry and red meat)
Eggs, including the yolks
Oils, especially those containing healthy mono and polyunsaturated fats (like olive oil). This is critical because relying too much on more saturated fats from dairy and meat can cause digestion issues and hurt your heart.
Avocados, another great source of monounsaturated fats
Nuts and seeds
Cauliflower: the veggie is low in carbs and high in dietary fibre, so many keto dieters use it as a substitute for bread, pasta, and crusts.
Berries, especially blackberries and raspberries
Lots of water and other unsweetened drinks to stay hydrated. Tea and coffee are both fine.
Perhaps even dark chocolate: most people suggest sticking to cacao concentrations higher than 70 per cent to 80 per cent, since lower concentrations are too carb-heavy.
What to avoid on the keto diet
Other carbohydrates like bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, and wheat-based flour. (There’s one big caveat to this rule, however, which we’ll dive into below.)
Anything made with corn, especially high-fructose corn syrup and other sweeteners
Legumes like chickpeas and beans of all kinds. These nutrient-rich foods are high in protein and fibre, but the idea with ketosis is to rely more on fat. Many keto dieters limit their protein intake to around 10 per cent to 15 per cent of a day’s calories, which means that a single cup of black beans could put you in range of a daily limit. Besides, that cup of black beans also has a hefty dose of carbs.
Most fruits. A single apple could put you over your carb count for the entire day.
Milk. A cup of whole milk has 12 grams of carbs, while the same amount of whipping cream has less than eight.
While it might seem tough to limit carbohydrate intake this strictly, there’s one important loophole to keep in mind. Because some carbs come from dietary fibre, which the body doesn’t break down and absorb, keto dieters can subtract those from their daily count.
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The resulting number is called net carbs, and it’s a better measure of how many carbohydrates you’re ingesting. For example, while a carrot may have 6 grams of carbs, about 1.7 of them are dietary fibre, so the net carb intake from the carrot is just over 4 grams. Similarly, more than 75 per cent of the carbs in spinach are fibre, making it a relatively safe choice for keto-ers.
Kirkpatrick suggests dieters limit their net carb intake to 25 grams a day.
Like any restrictive diet, it’s hard to get a balanced plate of all the vitamins and minerals your body needs to stay healthy on a keto plan. The diet is also not recommended for pregnant women, people with liver and kidney problems, or anyone prone to gout.
Whatever your weight-loss or dieting goals may be, it’s essential to talk with a professional dietitian or doctor before going keto.
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This article originally appeared on Business Insider .
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