The ketogenic, or keto, diet is the latest eating trend that’s sweeping the nation. Similar to the Atkins and paleo diets, the ketogenic diet calls for eating only a small amount of carbs while consuming mostly healthy fats and a moderate amount of protein.
While only a recent trend, the keto diet traces its roots back to the 1920s. During this decade, doctors began implementing a low-carb, high-fat diet approach to help control seizures in epilepsy patients.1 They would later find that using mostly fat to fuel the body could not only help with seizures, but also with weight loss.
The “secret sauce” of the keto diet is that when there is a shift from using carbohydrates as a main food source, the body enters a metabolic state called ketosis. This is the process that results from the body consuming fat for energy instead of carbs—and producing an acid known as ketones as a byproduct.
A keto diet, however, is not the only means for your body to produce ketones. Any time you fast or significantly restrict caloric intake, your body will eventually switch to a state of ketosis when it runs out of carbohydrates to burn.
Keto vs. other low-carb diets
So what is the difference between the ketogenic diet and other low-carb diets such as Atkins and paleo? That depends, as there are different types of these diets that vary in their similarities.
The Atkins 20 diet, for example, differs from the standard keto diet in that it’s divided into 4 separate phases, each with different carb and calorie requirements. The Modified Atkins diet, on the other hand, is more similar to keto in that there is no calorie restriction and carb requirements don’t vary throughout the diet.
Compared to the paleo diet, the keto diet puts more emphasis on food choices rather than the ratio of carbs, proteins, and fat. With paleo, the goal is to closely follow the diet of our hunter/gatherer ancestors. A moderate paleo diet would generally lead to lower fat consumption compared to keto. A strict keto diet aims for the following macronutrient ratios:
- 5% or less carbs
- 15% proteins
- 80% or more fats2
Variations of the keto diet allow for more flexibility with these ratios. The cyclical ketogenic diet (CKD) allows for carb-loading 2 days a week, and the targeted ketogenic diet (TKD) allows you to carb load 30 minutes before and after workouts. There’s also a high-protein version of keto in which you can consume up to 10% more protein while reducing your healthy fat consumption by 10%.3 A fourth option is the restricted ketogenic diet (RKD), which restricts caloric intake. This version is often used to manage and treat cancer.
The popularity of the keto diet has led to keto-friendly modifications to other non-low-carb diets. For example, the original South Beach diet is not a low-carb diet, as you can consume as much as 45 to 65% of your total calories from carbs.4 There is, however, a keto-friendly version of the South Beach diet available beginning in 2019.5 There is a keto-friendly version of the Mediterranean diet now as well.
Keto diet benefits
Because the body burns fat instead of carbs when in a state of ketosis, keto is a popular diet for those looking to lose weight. A number of studies have shown that a ketogenic diet is effective for weight loss. One randomized trial achieved a mean weight loss of 5.5 kg in subjects who participated in the keto diet. This was higher for groups in the same study that participated in the Mediterranean or low-fat diets.6
As a byproduct of the body becoming a fat-burning machine, many people experience reduced feelings of hunger while on the keto diet. Reduced hunger means you are less likely to “cheat” on your diet with high-carb foods and excessive caloric intake. This effect further explains why people have found success with this low-carb diet.
Though most well-known for weight loss and appetite control, the keto diet boasts a number of other benefits as well. These include:
- Improved blood-sugar levels
- Enhanced mental performance
- More energy
- Improved insulin levels
- Reduced risk of epilepsy
- Better digestion
Practicing a keto diet is not easy, especially if you are used to eating a lot of high-carb foods such as pasta, breads, dairy, and sugary foods. As your body adjusts to less carbohydrate content with the keto diet, you may experience certain unpleasant side effects. These symptoms are often referred to as the keto flu and may include:
- Muscle cramps
- Brain fog
Keto flu symptoms are common during the first week of the keto diet, but may last longer than that. If you are worried about the keto flu, you may want to transition to the keto diet more slowly. Other measures you can take include increasing salt intake and drinking plenty of water. You may also want to avoid any strenuous activity for the first week of the diet.7
Is keto right for you?
Many have experienced success with the keto diet, but there are often concerns with any diet change you make. It’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor first if you are considering switching to a ketogenic diet, especially if you want to follow a stricter version of it. Specifically, keto may not be a good choice if you have an eating disorder, kidney problems, high cholesterol, or take medication for diabetes.8
A keto diet can be difficult to follow, which is why people often try it for a just a few weeks in order to achieve weight loss. This isn’t recommended, however, as you are likely to put the weight back on after you go back to your regular diet. Alternatively, some people opt for a strict keto diet to lose extra weight, and then transition to a more moderate version to maintain their weight. In short, you should look at the keto diet as a means to eliminate unhealthy carb-heavy foods from your life, and not just a quick weight-loss solution that you abandon when the extra weight is gone.
There is a debate about whether the keto diet is sustainable in the long-term. Author Carolyn Ketchum has been eating a low-carb diet for several years and believes it is sustainable, “as long as you like the food.”9 However, there have been no substantial studies on the effectiveness of a long-term keto diet.
When considering a ketogenic diet or another low-carb variation, remember that no one diet is right for everyone. Just because a keto diet works wonders for your neighbor doesn’t mean you will get the same results. Be realistic about your expectations and focus on long-term lifestyle improvements rather than quick weight loss.
Typical keto meal plan
As the keto diet has become more popular, keto-friendly food options have been made more widely available. There are a number of grain-free alternatives for high-carb foods such as pizza and pasta. For example, you can substitute almond flour for regular flour, portobello mushrooms for burger buns, and spaghetti squash for spaghetti. This will provide variety to the natural fats, meats, cheeses, and above-ground vegetables that are staples of the ketogenic diet.
That being said, you may be wondering what a typical daily meal plan looks like on a keto diet. Here are a few examples:
- Cream cheese pancakes with bacon for breakfast, Keto Asian beef salad for lunch, and no-chop chili with sour cream and cheese for dinner.
- Spinach, mushroom, and feta omelet for breakfast, over-baked salmon with broccoli for lunch, and Caesar salad with romaine lettuce, chicken breast, bacon, and Parmesan for dinner.
- Full-fat yogurt topped with keto granola for breakfast, steak bowl with cauliflower rice, cheese, herbs, avocado, and salsa for lunch, and buffalo wings with sugar-free blue cheese and celery sticks for dinner.
Of course, a keto diet may include snacks and desserts as well. Options include almonds, string cheese, dark chocolate, avocado, beef jerky, pickles, low-carb keto bars, and much more.
Ketogenic Diet balancer Virtual Item
With ZYTO’s most advanced software, the Select and Elite, you can scan for biological preference to the ketogenic diet. A scan can not only reveal if the body prefers this Virtual Item in the software, but also show the degree to which it is biologically coherent.
With the Elite, you can get even more specific and scan for biological coherence, or preference, to the 4 keto diet variations:
- Cyclic Ketogenic Diet
- Targeted Ketogenic Diet
- High-Protein Ketogenic Diet
- Restricted Ketogenic Diet
In addition to these, you can scan for coherence to specific keto-friendly beverages, dairy, fats, and proteins using the Elite Community Library as well.
Other diets such as gluten-free, vegetarian, and Atkins may also be scanned in the Select and Elite software along with a variety of other digital signatures. Your practitioner may use this data along with your health history and other tests to determine the nutritional plan that is right for you.
About Dr. Vaughn Cook
Dr. Vaughn R Cook is the Founder & CEO of ZYTO. An Oriental Medical Doctor (OMD) and licensed acupuncturist, he has worked in the complementary and alternative medical field for more than 30 years, specializing in applications that integrate Western and Eastern medicine.
1. Baranano, K.W. & A.L. Hartman. “The Ketogenic Diet: Uses in Epilepsy and Other Neurologic Illnesses.” Current Treatment Options in Neurology 10, no. 6 (2008): 410-419.
2. “Keto and Paleo Macros: 5 Different Macronutrient Ratio Options to Consider.” Paleo Leap, LLC. Paleoleap.com.
3. Hamzic, Hana. “Keto vs. Atkins: Which One is Better?” Kiss My Keto. Kissmyketo.com.
4. “South Beach Diet.” Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). Mayoclinic.org.
5. Miller, Korin. “The South Beach Diet Just Announced a New Keto-Friendly Program for 2019.” Hearst Magazine Media, Inc. Womenshealthmag.com.
6. Shai, I., D. Schwarzfuchs, Y. Henkin, et al. “Weight Loss with a Low-Carbohydrate, Mediterranean, or Low-Fat Diet.” The New England Journal of Medicine 359 (2008): 229-241.
7. Eenfeldt, Andreas & Franziska Spritzler. “The keto flu, other keto side effects, and how to cure them.” Diet Doctor. Dietdoctor.com.
8. Salomon, Sheryl Huggins. “Why the Keto Flu Happens and How to Manage the Symptoms.” Ziff Davis, LLC. Everydayhealth.com.
9. Laurence, Emily. “Is the Ketogenic Diet Meant to Be a Long-Term Plan?” Well-Good LLC. Wellandgood.com.