The 21st century has given us a lot of healthy lifestyle trends: fitness trackers, CrossFit and Zumba, more transparent restaurant menus, the body-positivity movement, the list goes on (my favorite is Wii Sports). With this trend of increased health awareness came new diets. Some have been debunked, others have faded out of popularity. But there’s at least one you’re probably familiar with, one that’s only growing more and more popular: the keto diet.
Chances are you know someone who has either done keto or is doing it, or you’ve heard at least a thing or two about the diet. Something about avoiding bread and soda and having as much bacon as you want. As with anything in life, it’s not quite so simple. In this blog, we’ll explore what the keto diet is (and isn’t), how it works, and the pros and cons. You’ll find a keto-friendly recipe to try, too.
As with any dietary change, consult your physician before making sizable changes to your eating habits, and be sure to monitor your vitals while on any diet. For keto in particular, blood glucose levels should be closely monitored.
The Meaning Behind Keto
“Keto” is short for “ketosis,” which is a metabolic state the body enters when it doesn’t have enough carbohydrates to use for energy. Instead, fat is burned as an energy source and the body produces ketones, a chemical made in the liver. The body then uses these ketones in muscles and other tissue as fuel. For people with diabetes, ketosis is a sign the body is not using enough insulin. But, for others, achieving a state of ketosis could be a route to burning fat.
You achieve a state of ketosis by keeping your carb intake low for several days in a row—below 50 grams per day, and ideally below 20 grams. This means foods like rice, bread, pasta, and anything with sugar are more or less off the table. Red and lean meats, seafood, avocado, eggs, cheese, and natural fats, such as butter and olive oil, are all naturally low in carbohydrates and are recognized as key foods in the keto diet. Certain non-starchy vegetables, like broccoli, tomatoes, and bell peppers, have a low enough amount of net carbs to be fine to incorporate into a keto diet without much consideration. Fruit isn’t necessarily off-limits—avocado is a fruit—though most non-berries have too many fructose carbohydrates to maintain ketosis.
Like any diet, keto won’t be the right choice for everyone. Since ketosis affects blood glucose, it isn’t recommended for those who take medication for diabetes or high blood pressure. It can’t be said enough, but consult with your physician and do your own research before you commit to a lifestyle change as dramatic as keto.
For some, there could be benefits to starting and maintaining a keto diet. Any diet high in healthy fats and protein is going to be satisfying. We’re also not messing with blood sugar levels once we’ve achieved ketosis, so energy should remain steadier throughout the day. And, since we’re avoiding processed sugars, you’ll have fewer mental slumps that come from a steep rise and fall in blood sugar levels—we’ve talked about this on the blog before.
Another keto benefit is this diet is relatively simple. There are no calories to count, just carbs. People on keto can overindulge in low- or no-carb foods and meals without completely setting themselves back on their lifestyle goals.
Remember how we talked about no calorie counting? This double-edged sword can also backfire. It may seem like a dream to pile up on red meat, for example, but doing so puts the heart under a lot of pressure by raising blood cholesterol, increasing the risk of heart disease. Just because certain foods are completely OK in large quantities for ketosis doesn’t mean they’re OK for the rest of the body.
Another factor is how carb reduction may affect energy and everyday performance. People have different activity levels, and severely reducing your carbohydrate intake may affect physical performance. If you’re on your feet all day, or enjoy participating in high-intensity activities, the keto diet may mess with your ability to function, at least for the first few days and weeks as the body adjusts to this new routine.
Finally, it should be noted that science hasn’t really caught up on the long-term effects of keto. Studies are being done but, for now, it’s probably safest to consider the keto diet as a short-term solution to reach an ideal weight.
A Keto-tastic Cobb
All right, now we understand a little better the “how” and “why” behind keto. Whether it’s the right choice or not will vary from person to person, but that doesn’t mean we can’t whip up a keto-friendly meal for fun.
Keto Cobb Salad
- 2 eggs
- 5 oz. bacon
- ½ rotisserie chicken
- 1 avocado
- 1 tomato
- 2 oz. blue cheese
- ½ lb. iceberg lettuce
- 1 Tbsp. fresh chives (optional)
- Ground black pepper
Ranch Dressing Ingredients:
- 3 Tbsp. mayonnaise
- ½–1 Tbsp. ranch seasoning, to taste
- 2–3 Tbsp. water
- Ground black pepper
- Combine mayonnaise, ranch seasoning, and water. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and set aside.
- Place eggs in boiling water for 8–10 minutes. Cool in ice water for easier peeling. Chop roughly.
- Fry bacon in a hot, dry skillet until crispy. Let cool, and cut into bite-sized pieces.
- Cut rotisserie chicken into small pieces. If you’re starting with raw chicken, fry it in the bacon fat and season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Roughly chop avocado and tomato.
- Crumble the blue cheese.
- Layer all ingredients on a bed of shredded or torn lettuce
- Toss with dressing
- Top with finely chopped chives (optional
Making the Right Decision for You
Ultimately, any diet program boils down to achieving the kind of healthy lifestyle you would like to have. Nutrition is complicated and a relatively new science. Like my friend Taylor said in his blog post on intermittent fasting, “the best diet is one you can maintain consistently—along with plenty of exercise.” These words ring true for anyone looking to make long-term changes to their health.
As long as keto—or any other diet—remains in a reasonable, constant balance in your life, you can feel good about maintaining it. If you feel burnt out, lightheaded, sick, or worse, there’s nothing wrong with looking to other achievable dietary goals as part of your active lifestyle.
I hope you were able to come away from this post with a better understanding of the keto diet. It isn’t for everyone but, for some, it may be an option worth bringing up with their health specialist. Do you have any experience with keto, or know someone who’s tried it? Share your personal experience by leaving a comment below. Visit the blog for more health and wellness advice.