Ketogenic Diet

Ketogenic Diet: Benefits, What to Eat, What to Avoid

What is Ketosis?

Ketosis is a normal part of the body’s metabolic process. In essence, the human body uses glucose as an energy source. This glucose is stored in the liver and released into the body according to its energy demands. If your carbohydrate intake is reduced or non-existent for more than two days, your liver may be unable to release enough glucose to meet those demands. When there isn’t sufficient glucose to convert to energy, the body will burn any fat that is stored as a replacement. When your body burns fat, it builds up ketones, which are a form of acid. The state of your body burning fat instead of glucose is called ketosis (x).

In recent years, people have actively sought to place their bodies into a state of ketosis in an effort to reduce unwanted body fat. By forcing the body to burn fat as its fuel source instead of carbohydrates, this action typically results in highly noticeable weight loss (x). The body creates ketones, regardless of how many carbs you consume. However, the quantity produced is much lower when your diet involves a high concentration of carbohydrates. When the body is placed on a diet that restricts carbs, your liver increases the number of ketones it produces to ensure your brain has enough energy to survive.

Following a low-carb or ketogenic diet can cause your body to enter a state of ketosis, but there are also other sources of ketosis to note. People who suffer from diabetes most often do not generate enough insulin, or the insulin that is created isn’t metabolized properly. This can also cause the body to enter ketosis. This is most common in people who suffer from type 1 diabetes, but can also be observed in those suffering from type 2 diabetes (x).

Types of Ketogenic Diets

Ketogenic diets are similar to the Atkins diet and the metabolism diet. But the ketogenic diet is also unique in its own way. It resembles these two well-known diets by operating on a carbohydrate restrictive basis, which promotes fat burning.

There are four main types of the ketogenic diet plan that you can follow. The ketogenic diet that works for you depends on your desired results and your level of dedication (x).

Standard Ketogenic Diet (SKD)

The SKD version of the keto diet plan operates on the following intake ratios:

  • Carbohydrates: 5%-10%
  • Protein: 15%-20%
  • Fat: 75%

Standard keto diet plans are full of healthy fats. You are expected to eat 150 grams of healthy fats daily, roughly three times the amount most people currently consume. This will help your metabolism to shift from using glucose as a fuel source to using fat as its fuel source. Reducing your carbohydrate intake to 50 grams daily and loading your diet with starch-less vegetables and water-filled fruit will also be expected on this plan. You can have about 90 grams of protein on the standard plan, which you can break up between meals or have all at once.

Cyclical Ketogenic Diet (CKD)

The CKD version of the keto diet plan operates on the following intake ratios:

  • Carbohydrates: 5%-10% (on days), 50% (off days)
  • Protein: 15%-20% (on days), 25% (off days)
  • Fat: 75% (on days), 25% (off days)

Cyclical ketogenic diet plans are a way to approach ketosis on a milder level. This plan has users maintain keto for a certain number of days, and then switch back to a balanced diet for their off days. This plan can be 5 days of keto then 2 days off, or you can stretch it for longer periods such as 10 days on, 3 days off. It’s important to maintain a balanced diet during your off days, as opposed to binging on sugar and junk.

Targeted Ketogenic Diet (TKD)

The TKD version of the ketogenic diet plan operates on the following intake ratios:

  • Carbohydrates: 10%-15%
  • Protein: 20%
  • Fat: 65%-70%

Targeted ketogenic diet plans are well suited to people who want the benefits of the keto lifestyle, but who also have a higher carbohydrate demand. This can include athletes, people in training or those seeking to build bulk while also burning fat. On this plan, dieters can consume an extra 25 grams just prior to their high-intensity activities to boost performance. There is also an extra carb allotment of 25 grams to be consumed directly following intense activity to help the body recover quickly. Thanks to the high-intensity activity, the muscles in the body will burn off the extra carbohydrates before they are converted into body fat.

High-Protein Ketogenic Diet (HPKD)

The HPKD version of the ketogenic diet plan operates on the following intake ratios:

  • Carbohydrates: 5%-10%
  • Protein: 30%
  • Fat: 60%-65%

High-protein ketogenic diet plans allow dieters to have more protein, which makes following the diet a bit easier. Roughly 120 grams of protein is allowed, as well as 130 grams of fat. The other end of this setup is that the carbohydrates are limited to only 10 percent of the allowed calories per day. The main difference with this form of the diet is that your body may not always reach a state of ketosis since protein can also be used as fuel. This will result in weight loss as is usual for most diets that are high in protein and low in fat.

What to Eat on a Ketogenic Diet

A ketogenic diet is more than simply cutting out carbohydrates and sugar. It’s important to eat a balanced diet while encouraging your body to enter into ketosis. Your daily meals should contain mostly single ingredient whole foods, preferably completely unprocessed. Some suggestions are:

Vegetables low in carbs: Foods low in carbohydrates include onions, tomatoes, peppers, cauliflower, mushrooms, broccoli, asparagus, avocados, green beans and celery.

Meat & fish low in carbs: Meat and fish low in carbs include bacon, salmon, chicken, trout, turkey, tuna, steak, ham and mackerel.

Dairy products low in carbs: Dairy products low in carbs include omega-3 whole eggs, blue cheese, Greek yogurt, soy milk, goat cheese, cheddar cheese and small servings of skim milk.

Low carbohydrate nuts, oils & condiments: Nuts, oils and condiments low in carbs include almonds, extra virgin olive oil, walnuts, avocado oil, flax seeds, coconut oil, salt, pepper, pumpkin seeds and chia seeds.

If one employs the majority of his or her meals on the foods listed above, this standard will help to reach one’s keto weight loss goals. This list is only a suggestion, and there are many low carb options for each category. Dieters can also boost their efforts by taking a keto supplement for improved results.

What to Avoid While on a Ketogenic Diet

Most diets ask you to avoid junk food, processed sugars, and generally unhealthy fare. The Keto diet also has those on its restricted list, along with a range of other seemingly innocent items. There are several “healthy” foods that are actually full of carbohydrates and sugars that will stop your body from entering keto. Here are some foods that you should avoid:

Sugary foods & drinks: Avoid soda, processed fruit juice, smoothies, candy, ice cream, alcohol and energy drinks.

Starchy grains and beans: Rice, peas, pasta, legumes, cereal, chickpeas, products made from wheat and kidney beans.

Fruits and vegetables: Oranges, root vegetables, apples, carrots, bananas, sweet potatoes, corn, dried fruits, starchy vegetables and mangos.

Fats: Vegetable oil, margarine, evaporated milk, soybean oil, almond milk, canola oil, fat-free dairy, sunflower oil and peanut oil.

Specialty products: Prepackaged “diet” food, low-fat food, salad dressing, mayonnaise, packaged sauces (ketchup, barbeque sauce, etc.), food labeled as “sugar-free”, processed meat and factory farmed food (eggs, meat, dairy).

This list is a guide to help you choose the best food to help you reach your keto weight loss goals. There are many other items that should also be avoided while you are on a keto diet, so make sure to check the sugar and carbohydrate contents prior to your meal prep.

Ketogenic Diet What To Eat

Benefits of a Ketogenic Diet

There are many positive benefits to following a ketogenic diet. It has been proven to help reduce appetite, which can lead to increased weight loss and an improvement in overall health (x). Keto dieting also increases the amount of weight that is lost at the start of a diet, compared with other forms of weight loss (x). Stomach fat, which is often the most stubborn, is effectively targeted on the keto diet, which greatly reduces the chance of developing diabetes and heart disease (x).

Meal plans that are low in carbohydrates cause the concentration of triglycerides in the body to drop dramatically (x). The same meal plans also help increase the amount of “good” cholesterol in the body (x). A ketogenic diet has been proven as an effective way for those who suffer from diabetes to manage their illness (x). In some cases, pharmaceutical intervention can be reduced or eliminated over time by diligently following a keto lifestyle (x).

Maintaining a keto lifestyle has also been effective in lowering blood pressure (x) and in treating the symptoms associated with metabolic syndrome (x). More recent studies have assessed the benefits a keto meal plan may have on disorders of the brain such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s (x).

Side Effects of a Ketogenic Diet

There are many positive things to note about the keto diet, but there are some possible side effects that you should be aware of prior to starting your journey. Ketosis is a form of “starvation” for your body, even though you will probably be eating very well. As a result, your body may initially rebel in an effort to force you to revert to your previous eating habits. Some plausible the side effects are listed below:

Decreased Passion

In many instances, dieters will see a dramatic change in their passion during the first several weeks of following a keto meal plan. This decline is caused by the sudden change in the number of carbohydrates your body is consuming. Your body will initially stop supplying energy to non-essential functions, one if which is your drive (x).

Keto Flu

Forcing your body into a state of ketosis by eliminating carbohydrates is not an easy or comfortable process. When you first start, you might expect to experience what is known as a keto headache, along with diarrhea, fatigue, muscle aches and nausea. Your symptoms can resemble the flu and often last up to a week while your body changes over from using sugar as a fuel source to using fat as a fuel source (x).


The first weeks of your keto diet may involve diarrhea. However, once your body adjusts to your new meal plan, the opposite can occur. In order to stay regular, your body needs the right amount of fiber to operate. On the keto diet, most of these foods are removed from the menu, based on their high carbohydrate contents. The result as expected is constipation (x).

Bad Breath

As your body enters ketosis, ketones are produced. These acids have a slightly metallic taste and a less than pleasant odor, which can lead to bad breath. Make sure to brush your teeth diligently to combat keto breath (x).

Decreased Kidney Function

Your kidneys are tasked with metabolizing many things that go through your system, including proteins. Some people who ingest too much protein as a part of their keto meal plan can experience a decrease in how well their kidneys function. While you are able to eat more meat on the keto plan, that doesn’t mean your whole diet should consist of large quantities of protein (x).

Keto Rash

Prurigo pigmentosa, which is commonly referred to as a keto rash, is a condition of the skin that is characterized by rashes on the neck and trunk. These rashes are itchy and most often found in Asian women, though they can occur in anyone. Though ketosis is not the cause of keto rashes, most people who suffer from the illness also are found to be in a state of keto when the irritation flares (x).

Vitamin Deficiency

Keto requires you to remove a large portion of fruits and vegetables from your diet. Any meal plan that gets rid of the source of many essential vitamins and minerals leaves you open to becoming vitamin deficient. Some people are able to adjust to a permanent lifestyle that keeps them in a state of ketosis with the help of keto supplements. Most people, on the other hand, should only pursue keto as a short term option for fat loss. Most medical professionals agree that keto can result in micronutrient deficiencies that can have long-lasting effects if not properly monitored (x).

The Bottom Line

The ketogenic diet has proven to be an effective way to lose weight and live a more active lifestyle (x). It is also a natural way to manage a range of serious health conditions (x). There are many short-term advantages to following the diet, such as a dramatic reduction in stored body fat and stomach fat. It is also a great tool for people who are looking for a healthy way to help manage their diabetes.

Keto is heralded for its ability to boost the metabolism, which makes it an attractive option for those who are looking to shed pounds and those who want to increase their metabolism levels. In the same vein, the keto diet is not suited for everyone. The meal plans are very restrictive in terms of what types of food you are able to eat. If you are an athlete, bodybuilder or just have a very active lifestyle, this diet may not be the healthiest option for you. Just like with any diet, you should consult with a medical professional prior to embarking on your fitness journey. It is also wise to speak with a nutritionist to help plan your keto meals to fit your current health, your lifestyle and your goals.

Author: Ryan Quigley
Graduate of Longwood University in Virginia. Part-time sports journalist covering the Vegas Golden Knights.