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The ketogenic diet, also known as keto, is a low-carb, high-fat way of eating that has a number of research-proven health benefits. Keto diets have been used therapeutically for epilepsy, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s. There are many ways to approach a keto diet, but as we discuss here, food quality should matter every bit as much as meeting specific macronutrient targets.
What You Can (& Can’t) Eat on a Ketogenic Diet
A keto diet is similar to other low-carb diets in that it is higher in fat and protein. However, it differs because it aims for the consumption of enough fat to transition the body into ketosis. When this happens, the body burns fat as its source of fuel instead of glucose. This can result in fat loss, but can also be therapeutic for disorders relating to glucose and insulin, like diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
A keto diet isn’t limited to certain foods but focuses instead on how the macronutrients are balanced. In order for a keto diet to work, fat intake has to be high, protein moderate, and carbs low. Certain foods, like refined sugar, will never have a place in a ketogenic diet because they have far too many carbs.
Keto macronutrient ratios generally mean that you’ll consume only around 20 to 50 grams of carbs per day. But a keto diet isn’t necessarily low-calorie and it certainly doesn’t have to mean you’ll go hungry. Common foods you’ll find on a ketogenic diet include:
- Full-fat dairy products
- Salmon and other seafood
- Beef and other red meat
- Chicken and other white meat
- Certain nuts, in moderation
- Certain vegetables that are low in starch (cauliflower and zucchini)
- Certain fruits that are low in sugar (raspberries, blackberries, watermelon)
In order to truly manage a ketogenic diet, you’ll need some way to verify that you are in ketosis. Often blood or urine tests are used to check for the presence of ketone bodies.
Foods that are never part of a keto diet, apart from sugar, include:
- Whole grains
- Soda and desserts
- Beans and other legumes
- Low-fat foods
Variations of a Keto Diet
There are different ways to approach a ketogenic diet. Some pair keto with Paleo and follow a dairy-free version. Even though it takes a little more effort to replace the fat you’d normally get from cheese, cream, and milk, it’s definitely possible. You can also follow a primal keto diet, where you still consume dairy but you focus heavily on the quality of food, and not just whatever fits your macros.
Are Keto Diets Safe Long-Term?
There is mixed research on how long it is safe to follow a ketogenic diet. If you’re on it because of epilepsy or some other health disorder, your doctor may suggest making it your long-term lifestyle. If you only want to follow a ketogenic diet to lose weight, the answer is that it depends on your personal health needs, how much weight you want to lose, and other health-related factors (for example, a ketogenic diet is not recommended for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding).
For someone who generally wants to lose weight and support heart health, a ketogenic diet has been found to produce positive results when it comes to weight loss and decreasing risk factors associated with cardiovascular problems.
If you would like to read more about a ketogenic diet, check out these books:
Today’s Simple Step
Even if you are not following a ketogenic diet, eating food that is rich in healthy fat is an integral part of a traditional, ancestral diet. Fat is vital for a healthy nervous system and brain, and the healthy fats that are found in ancestral foods also promote healthy inflammatory balance in the body.
This Duck Liver Pate is a wonderful example of an ancestral recipe that is also keto-friendly. Rich in healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals, this is an excellent way to introduce organ meats to any type of diet.