I’ve personally never tried the ketogenic diet, and I have SO many questions! First, mainly “What is the Ketogenic Diet?” If you’re like me, you keep seeing the keto diet mentioned everywhere! I have so many questions- including how the Paleo diet and Keto diet differ! I’ve been tempted to try it, and now that I got the opportunity to interview Louise Hendon, the co-host of The Keto Summit and author of The Essential Keto Cookbook, now I’m definitely convinced to give it a go! If you have any additional questions I didn’t ask, feel free to ask in the comments and we’ll be sure to get back to you!
There are many different definitions of a ketogenic diet. Personally, I think of it as a low carb version of Paleo.
So, eat real whole foods that nourish you, but avoid the starchy tubers, the Paleo sugars like honey and maple syrup, and the sugary fruits like bananas. And instead add in more healthy fats, non-starchy vegetables, and good quality meats and fish.
More technically, keto is a way of eating that helps to get your body into nutritional ketosis. This is a metabolic state where your body will use more ketones for energy rather than rely on glucose.
Many people refer to this as burning fat rather than burning sugar.
Originally, the ketogenic diet was found to help children control their epilepsy. But more recently, people are using it for weight loss, blood sugar control, and gaining mental clarity.
There are also studies that suggest keto could help with diseases like brain cancer and Alzheimer’s.
People go on a ketogenic diet for a variety of reasons. Here are some of the most common ones I’ve come across:
Personally, I tried keto initially for productivity and energy, and it really does work. I’m able to go about my day without taking naps or experiencing sugar crashes. My brain is really focused and sharp, and I’m able to get even more done than before (and I’ve always been a pretty productive person!).
As with any diet, there are many variations of it. Personally, I think of Paleo as my basic diet. And so when I go keto, I’ll just cut out the sweet potatoes, raw honey, and sugary fruits.
Some people will eat dairy products (like cheese and cream) and low carb sweeteners like erythritol on a ketogenic diet as they are pretty low in carbs. Personally, I stay away from those as well.
Most vegetables contain carbohydrates, and it can be easy to cut those out on keto in order to decrease your intake of carbs. But green leafy vegetables (like spinach and kale) are very nutrient-dense and are a great source of fiber to keep your gut bacteria happy. So, I highly suggest not cutting those out!
People always have questions about what food is keto and what isn’t, so we’ve created a pretty detailed keto diet food list that people can download here.
A year ago, my friend Chris Kelly called keto a tool in our toolkit. And I still really love this description.
I believe it’s useful for everyone to understand what keto is so that if the time is right, they can pull this tool out and use it.
While a keto diet could benefit most people, there are some people who should be cautious before trying it:
And as with any diet, it’s always good to fully educate yourself on it and to recognize if your body is not dealing well with it. In particular, if you have autoimmune conditions, then it’s good to get that fully checked out and healed first so that when you try keto, you’ll be able to get the full benefits. Talk to a medical professional if you have access to someone knowledgeable.
Keto hasn’t been studied for long enough to know if there’s an optimal period.
People who are using keto for therapeutic purposes (i.e., using it to heal certain health conditions) should speak with a knowledgeable practitioner about this.
But if you’re using it for general weight loss, you can go keto for months at a time and see great results.
Many people point to the fact that the Inuit people effectively ate a ketogenic diet for much of the year.
A few long term studies of the ketogenic diet on weight loss have also been done. This 2006 study was performed for 56 weeks and concluded that:
“This study shows the beneficial effects of ketogenic diet following its long term administration in obese subjects with a high level of total cholesterol. Moreover, this study demonstrates that low carbohydrate diet is safe to use for a longer period of time in obese subjects with a high total cholesterol level and those with normocholesterolemia.”
We get this question a lot, so we’ve developed a Keto macro calculator to help answer it.
As with any macro calculator, though, you should use the results as a guideline and vary your diet according to how your body responds.
I know everyone wants definitive answers, but we are all slightly different so we have to learn to tailor our food intake to our own body.
During the first few weeks of keto, most people will experience the keto flu. This transition period can be a bit painful and discouraging as your body adjusts to using ketones for energy rather than just glucose.
After those initial few weeks of adjustment, most people feel great. They’ll typically notice more mental clarity and energy at first along with better sleep. Many people will feel less hungry and will also have lost some weight.
I use nutritiondata.self.com to figure out macros if I’m unsure, but I don’t count carbs religiously as I have a good feel for how much I can eat each day.
Since I do keto more for mental clarity and weight loss, I judge it based on those factors rather than how high my ketone levels are. That said, I do have a ketone meter and have found it helpful to measure ketones initially to see how I’m doing.
I also find keeping a food diary can be useful. It’s a really good way of tracking how what you eat affects how you feel.
There’s no specific exercise, but exercising some is generally encouraged even if it’s just walking and some weight lifting.
I would say the main downside of keto is that it makes eating out tough! I can usually find restaurants that serve eggs and avocado for breakfast, some form of salad for lunch, and steak with vegetables for dinner. Often I find I have to talk to the waiter and see if the dish can be modified slightly. It just requires a bit more work.
As for side effects, there has long been a lot of speculation about whether eating low carb could affect thyroid function or hormones. Unfortunately, there’s still nothing definitive. The main caution would be to make sure you eat a nutrient-dense diet regardless of whether you’re on Keto, Whole30, Paleo, Primal, or something else. And if you’re worried about thyroid issues, then make sure to not under eat calories for long periods of time.
Louise Hendon is the co-host of The Keto Summit and author of The Essential Keto Cookbook. She first got interested in diet and nutrition after trying Atkins. Then she moved onto Paleo and fell in love with how amazing it made her feel. She was therefore shocked to discover that Keto could make her feel even more energetic.