The ketogenic diet is a low-carb, high-fat diet that offers many health benefits.
This article is a detailed beginner's guide to the ketogenic diet.
It contains everything you need to know.
What is a Ketogenic Diet?
Bottom Line: The ketogenic diet (keto) is a low-carb, high-fat diet. It lowers blood sugar and insulin levels and shifts the body's metabolism away from carbs and towards fat and ketones.
Different Types of Ketogenic Diets
There are several versions of the ketogenic diet, including:
- Standard ketogenic diet (SKD): This is a very low-carb, moderate-protein and high-fat diet. It typically contains 75 percent fat, 20 percent protein and only 5 percent carbs (1).
- Cyclical ketogenic diet (CKD): This diet involves periods of higher-carb refeeds, such as five ketogenic days followed by two high-carb days.
- Targeted ketogenic diet (TKD): This diet allows you to add carbs around workouts.
- High-protein ketogenic diet: This is similar to a standard ketogenic diet, but includes more protein. The ratio is often 60 percent fat, 35 percent protein and 5 percent carbs.
However, only the standard and high-protein ketogenic diets have been studied extensively. Cyclical or targeted ketogenic diets are more advanced methods and primarily used by bodybuilders or athletes.
The information in this article mostly applies to the standard ketogenic diet (SKD), although many of the same principles also apply to the other versions.
Bottom Line: There are several versions of the ketogenic diet. The standard ketogenic diet (SKD) is the most researched and most recommended.
Ketogenic Diets Can Help You Lose Weight
One study found that people on a ketogenic diet lost 2.2 times more weight than those on a calorie-restricted low-fat diet. Triglyceride and HDL cholesterol levels also improved (17).
For more details on the weight loss effects of a ketogenic diet, read this article: A Ketogenic Diet to Lose Weight and Fight Disease.
Bottom Line: A ketogenic diet can help you lose much more weight than a low-fat diet. This often happens without hunger.
Ketogenic Diets for Diabetes and Prediabetes
Diabetes is characterized by changes in metabolism, high blood sugar and impaired insulin function (27).
One study found that the ketogenic diet improved insulin sensitivity by a whopping 75 percent (29).
Another study in patients with type 2 diabetes found that seven of the 21 participants were able to stop all diabetes medications (28).
In yet another study, the ketogenic group lost 24.4 lbs (11.1 kg), compared to 15.2 lbs (6.9 kg) in the higher-carb group. This is an important benefit when considering the link between weight and type 2 diabetes (2, 31).
Additionally, 95.2 percent of the ketogenic group was also able to stop or reduce diabetes medication, compared to 62 percent in the higher-carb group (2).
This article has more details about low-carb diets and diabetes.
Bottom Line: The ketogenic diet can boost insulin sensitivity and cause fat loss, leading to drastic improvement for type 2 diabetes and prediabetes.
Other Health Benefits of the Ketogenic Diet
The ketogenic diet actually originated as a tool for treating neurological diseases, such as epilepsy.
Studies have now shown that the diet can have benefits for a wide variety of different health conditions:
- Heart disease: The ketogenic diet can improve risk factors like body fat, HDL levels, blood pressure and blood sugar (32, 33).
- Cancer: The diet is currently being used to treat several types of cancer and slow tumor growth (4, 34, 35, 36).
- Alzheimer's disease: The diet may reduce symptoms of Alzheimer's and slow down the disease's progression (5, 37, 38).
- Epilepsy: Research has shown that the ketogenic diet can cause massive reductions in seizures in epileptic children (3).
- Parkinson's disease: One study found that the diet helped improve symptoms of Parkinson's disease (39).
- Polycystic ovary syndrome: The ketogenic diet can help reduce insulin levels, which may play a key role in polycystic ovary syndrome (40).
- Brain injuries: One animal study found that the diet can reduce concussions and aid recovery after brain injury (41).
However, keep in mind that research into many of these areas is far from conclusive.
Bottom Line: A ketogenic diet may provide many health benefits, especially with metabolic, neurological or insulin-related diseases.
Foods to Avoid
In short, any food that is high in carbs should be limited.
Here is a list of foods that need to be reduced or eliminated on a ketogenic diet:
- Beans or legumes: Peas, kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas, etc.
- Low-fat or diet products: These are highly processed and often high in carbs.
- Some condiments or sauces: These often contain sugar and unhealthy fat.
- Unhealthy fat: Limit your intake of processed vegetable oils, mayonnaise, etc.
- Alcohol: Due to its carb content, many alcoholic beverages can throw you out of ketosis.
- Sugar-free diet foods: These are often high in sugar alcohols, which can affect ketone levels in some cases. These foods also tend to be highly processed.
Bottom Line: Avoid carb-based foods like grains, sugars, legumes, rice, potatoes, candy, juice and even most fruits.
Foods to Eat
You should base the majority of your meals around these foods:
- Fatty fish: Such as salmon, trout, tuna and mackerel.
- Butter and cream: Look for grass-fed when possible.
- Cheese: Unprocessed cheese (cheddar, goat, cream, blue or mozzarella).
- Avocados: Whole avocados or freshly made guacamole.
- Condiments: You can use salt, pepper and various healthy herbs and spices.
Bottom Line: Base the majority of your diet on foods such as meat, fish, eggs, butter, nuts, healthy oils, avocados and plenty of low-carb veggies.
A Sample Ketogenic Meal Plan For One Week
To help get you started, here is a sample ketogenic diet meal plan for one week:
- Breakfast: Bacon, eggs and tomatoes.
- Lunch: Chicken salad with olive oil and feta cheese.
- Dinner: Salmon with asparagus cooked in butter.
- Breakfast: Egg, tomato, basil and goat cheese omelet.
- Dinner: Meatballs, cheddar cheese and vegetables.
- Lunch: Shrimp salad with olive oil and avocado.
- Dinner: Pork chops with Parmesan cheese, broccoli and salad.
- Breakfast: Omelet with avocado, salsa, peppers, onion and spices.
- Lunch: A handful of nuts and celery sticks with guacamole and salsa.
- Dinner: Chicken stuffed with pesto and cream cheese, along with vegetables.
- Breakfast: 3-cheese omelet with tomatoes.
- Lunch: Leftover stuffed chicken from the night before.
- Dinner: Steak, egg, mushrooms and salad.
- Breakfast: Sugar-free yogurt with peanut butter, cocoa powder and stevia.
- Lunch: Beef stir-fry cooked in coconut oil with vegetables.
- Dinner: Bun-less burger with bacon, egg and cheese.
- Breakfast: Ham and cheese omelet with vegetables.
- Lunch: Ham and cheese slices with nuts.
- Dinner: White fish, egg and spinach cooked in coconut oil.
- Breakfast: Fried eggs with bacon and mushrooms.
- Lunch: Burger with salsa, cheese and guacamole.
- Dinner: Steak and eggs with a side salad.
Always try to rotate the vegetables and meat over the long term, as each type provides different nutrients and health benefits.
For tons of recipes, check out this link: 101 Healthy Low-Carb Recipes.
Bottom Line: You can eat a wide variety of tasty and nutritious meals on a ketogenic diet.
Healthy Ketogenic Snacks
In case you get hungry between meals, here are some healthy, keto-approved snacks:
- Fatty meat or fish.
- A handful of nuts or seeds.
- Cheese with olives.
- 1–2 hard-boiled eggs.
- 90 percent dark chocolate.
- A low-carb milk shake with almond milk, cocoa powder and nut butter.
- Full-fat yogurt mixed with nut butter and cocoa powder.
- Strawberries and cream.
- Celery with salsa and guacamole.
- Smaller portions of leftover meals.
Bottom Line: Great snacks for a keto diet include pieces of meat, cheese, olives, boiled eggs, nuts and dark chocolate.
Tips for Eating Out on a Ketogenic Diet
It is not very hard to make most restaurant meals keto-friendly when eating out.
Most restaurants offer some kind of meat or fish-based dish. Order this and replace any high-carb food with extra vegetables.
Egg-based meals are also a great option, such as an omelet or eggs and bacon.
Another favorite is bun-less burgers. You could also leave the bun and swap the fries for vegetables instead. Add extra avocado, cheese, bacon or eggs.
At Mexican restaurants, you can enjoy any type of meat with extra cheese, guacamole, salsa and sour cream.
For dessert, ask for a mixed cheese board or double cream with berries.
Bottom Line: When eating out, select a meat, fish or egg-based dish. Order extra veggies instead of carbs or starches and have cheese for dessert.
Side Effects and How to Minimize Them
Although the ketogenic diet is safe for healthy people, there may be some initial side effects while your body adapts.
This is often referred to as “keto flu"—and is usually over within a few days.
Keto flu includes poor energy and mental function, increased hunger, sleep issues, nausea, digestive discomfort and decreased exercise performance.
In order to minimize this, you can try a regular low-carb diet for the first few weeks. This may teach your body to burn more fat before you completely eliminate carbs.
At least in the beginning, it is important to eat until fullness and to avoid restricting calories too much. Usually a ketogenic diet causes weight loss without intentional calorie restriction.
Bottom Line: Many of the side effects of starting a ketogenic diet can be limited. Easing into the diet and taking mineral supplements can help.
Supplements For a Ketogenic Diet
Although no supplement is necessary, some can be useful.
- MCT oil: Added to drinks or yogurt, this provides energy and helps increase ketone levels.
- Minerals: Added salt and other minerals can be important when starting out, due to shifts in water and mineral balance.
- Caffeine: Caffeine can have benefits for energy, fat loss and performance.
- Exogenous ketones: This supplement can help raise the body's ketone levels.
- Creatine: Creatine provides numerous benefits for health and performance. This can help if you are combining a ketogenic diet with exercise.
- Whey: Use half a scoop of whey protein in shakes or yogurt to increase your daily protein intake.
Bottom Line: Certain supplements can be beneficial on a ketogenic diet. These include exogenous ketones, MCT oil and minerals.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are answers to some of the most common questions about the ketogenic diet.
1. Can I ever eat carbs again?
Yes. However, it is important to eliminate them initially. After the first 2–3 months, you can eat carbs on special occasions—just return to the diet immediately after.
2. Will I lose muscle?
There is a risk of losing some muscle on any diet. However, the high protein intake and high ketone levels may help minimize muscle loss, especially if you lift weights.
3. Can you build muscle on a ketogenic diet?
Yes, but it may not work as well as on a moderate-carb diet. More details: Low-Carb/Ketogenic Diets and Exercise Performance.
4. Do I need to refeed or carb load?
No. However, a few higher-calorie days may be beneficial every now and then.
5. How much protein can I eat?
Protein should be moderate, as a very high intake can spike insulin levels and lower ketones. Around 35 percent of total calorie intake is probably the upper limit.
6. What if I am constantly tired, weak or fatigued?
You may not be in full ketosis or be utilizing fats and ketones efficiently. To counter this, lower your carb intake and re-visit the points above. A supplement like MCT oil or ketones may also help.
7. My urine smells fruity? Why is this?
Don't be alarmed. This is simply due to the excretion of byproducts created during ketosis.
8. My breath smells. What can I do?
This is a common side effect. Try drinking naturally flavored water or chewing sugar-free gum.
9. I heard ketosis was extremely dangerous. Is this true?
People often confuse ketosis with ketoacidosis. The former is natural, while the latter only occurs in uncontrolled diabetes.
Ketoacidosis is dangerous, but the ketosis on a ketogenic diet is perfectly normal and healthy.
10. I have digestion issues and diarrhea. What can I do?
This common side effect usually passes after 3–4 weeks. If it persists, try eating more high-fiber veggies. Magnesium supplements can also help with constipation.
A Ketogenic Diet is Great, But Not For Everyone
A ketogenic diet can be great for people who are overweight, diabetic or looking to improve their metabolic health.
It may be less suitable for elite athletes or those wishing to add large amounts of muscle or weight.
And, as with any diet, it will only work if you are consistent and stick with it in the long-term.
That being said, few things are as well proven in nutrition as the powerful health and weight loss benefits of a ketogenic diet.
This article was reposted from our media associate Authority Nutrition.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Mark Hertsgaard
What follows are not candidate endorsements. Rather, this nonpartisan guide aims to inform voters' choices, help journalists decide what races to follow, and explore what the 2020 elections could portend for climate action in the United States in 2021 and beyond.
Will the White House Turn Green?<p>Whether the White House changes hands is the most important climate question of the 2020 elections. President Donald Trump rejects climate science, is withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement, and has accelerated fossil fuel development. His climate policy seems to be, as he tweeted in January when rejecting a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposal to protect New York City from storm surges, "Get your mops and buckets ready."</p><p>Joe Biden, who started the 2020 campaign with a climate position so weak that activists gave it an "F," called Trump a "climate arsonist" during California's recent wildfires. Biden backs a $2 trillion plan to create millions of jobs while slashing emissions—a Green New Deal in all but name. Equally striking, his running mate, California Senator Kamala Harris, has endorsed phasing out fossil fuel production—a politically explosive scientific imperative.</p><p>The race will be decided in a handful of battleground states, five of which already face grave climate dangers: Florida (hurricanes and sea-level rise), North Carolina (ditto), Texas (storms and drought), Michigan (floods), and Arizona (heat waves and drought). <a href="https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/visualizations-data/ycom-us/" target="_blank">Public concern is rising</a> in these states, but will that concern translate into votes?</p>
Will Democrats Flip the Senate, and by Enough to Pass a Green New Deal?<p>With Democrats all but certain to maintain their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Senate will determine whether a potential Biden administration can actually deliver climate progress. Democrats need to pick up three seats to flip the Senate if Biden wins, four if he doesn't. But since aggressive climate policy is shunned by some Democrats, notably Joe Manchin of coal-dependent West Virginia, Democrats probably need to gain five or six Senate seats to pass a Green New Deal.</p><p>Environmentalists, including the League of Conservation Voters, are targeting six Republicans who polls suggest are vulnerable.</p><ul><li>Steve Daines of Montana, who denies climate science</li><li>Martha McSally of Arizona</li><li>Thom Tillis of North Carolina</li><li>Susan Collins of Maine</li><li>Joni Ernst of Iowa (bankrolled by Charles Koch)</li><li>John James of Michigan (also a Koch beneficiary)</li></ul><p>Republican Senators are even at risk in conservative Kansas and Alaska. In both states, the Democratic candidates are physicians—not a bad credential amid a pandemic—who support climate action. In Kansas, Barbara Bollier faces an incumbent funded by Charles Koch. In Alaska, Al Gross urges a transition away from oil, though his openness to limited drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Preserve dims his appeal to green groups. He faces incumbent Republican Dan Sullivan, who receives an 8 percent lifetime voting record from the League of Conservation Voters.</p>
Will Local and State Races Advance Climate Progress?<h4>THE CLIMATE HAWKS</h4><p>Under Democratic and Republican leadership alike, Washington has long been a graveyard for strong climate action. But governors can boost or block renewable energy; the Vermont and New Hampshire races are worth watching. Attorneys general can sue fossil fuel companies for lying about climate change; climate hawks are running for the top law enforcement seats in Montana and North Carolina. State legislatures can accelerate or delay climate progress, as the new Democratic majorities in Virginia have shown. Here, races to watch include Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Colorado.</p><h4>THE CLIMATE POLICY MAKERS</h4><p>Perhaps the most powerful, and most overlooked, climate policy makers are public utility commissions. They control whether pipelines and other energy infrastructure gets built; they regulate whether electric utilities expand solar and energy efficiency or stick with the carbon-heavy status quo. Regulatory capture and outright corruption are not uncommon.</p><p>A prime example is Arizona, where a former two-term commissioner known as the godfather of solar in the state is seeking a comeback. Bill Mundell argues that since Arizona law permits utilities to contribute to commissioners' electoral campaigns, the companies can buy their own regulators. Which may explain why super-sunny Arizona has so little installed solar capacity.</p><p>In South Dakota, Remi Bald Eagle, a Native American U.S. Army veteran, seeks a seat on the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, which rules on the Standing Rock oil pipeline. And in what <em>HuffPost</em> called "the most important environmental race in the country," Democrat Chrysta Castaneda, who favors phasing out oil production, is running for the Texas Railroad Commission, which despite its name decides what oil, gas, and electric companies in America's leading petro-state can build.</p>
Will the Influencers Usher in a Green New Era?<h4>THE UNCOUNTED</h4><p>The story that goes largely under-reported in every U.S. election is how few Americans vote. In 2016, some 90 million, <a href="https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2018/08/09/an-examination-of-the-2016-electorate-based-on-validated-voters/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">roughly four out of every 10 eligible voters</a>, did not cast a ballot. Attorney Nathaniel Stinnett claims that 10 million of these nonvoters nevertheless identify as environmentalists: They support green policies, even donate to activist groups; they just don't vote. Stinnett's <a href="https://www.environmentalvoter.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Environmental Voter Project</a> works to awaken this sleeping giant.</p><h4>THE SUNRISE MOVEMENT</h4><p>Meanwhile, the young climate activists of the <a href="http://www.sunrisemovement.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Sunrise Movement</a> are already winning elections with an unabashedly Green New Deal message. More than any other group, Sunrise pushed the Green New Deal into the national political conversation, helping Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey draft the eponymous congressional resolution. In 2020, Sunrise has helped Green New Deal champions defeat centrists in Democratic primaries, with Markey dealing Representative Joe Kennedy Jr. the first defeat a Kennedy has ever suffered in a Massachusetts election. But can Sunrise also be successful against Republicans in the general elections this fall?</p><h4>THE STARPOWER</h4><p>And an intriguing wild card: celebrity firepower, grassroots activism, and big-bucks marketing have converged behind a campaign to get Latina mothers to vote climate in 2020. Latinos have long been the U.S. demographic most concerned about climate change. Now, <a href="https://votelikeamadre.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Vote Like A Madre</a> aims to get 5 million Latina mothers in Florida, Texas, and Arizona to the polls. Jennifer Lopez, Salma Hayak, and Lin-Manuel Miranda are urging mothers to make a "pinky promise" to vote for their kids' climate future in November. Turning out even a quarter of those 5 million voters, though no easy task, could swing the results in three states Trump must win to remain president, which brings us back to the first category, "Will the White House Turn Green?"</p>
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By Tony Carnie
South Africa is home to around 1,300 of the world's roughly 7,100 remaining cheetahs. It's also the only country in the world with significant cheetah population growth, thanks largely to a nongovernmental conservation project that depends on careful and intensive human management of small, fenced-in cheetah populations. Because most of the reserves are privately funded and properly fenced, the animals benefit from higher levels of security than in the increasingly thinly funded state reserves.
Vincent van der Merwe at a cheetah translocation. Endangered Wildlife Trust
Under Pressure<p>Cheetah populations elsewhere in Southern Africa have not prospered over the past 50 years. In Zimbabwe, cheetah numbers have crashed from 1,500 in 1975, to just 170 today. Botswana's cheetah population has held steady at around 1,500 over the same period, but illegal capture for captive breeding and conflicts with farmers and the growing human population are increasing. In Namibia, there were an estimated 3,000 cheetah in in 1975; roughly 1,400 remain today.</p><p>In contrast, South Africa's cheetah numbers have grown from about 500 in 1975 to nearly 1,300 today. Van der Merwe, who is also a Ph.D. student at the University of Cape Town's Institute for Communities and Wildlife in Africa (iCWild), says he's confident that South Africa will soon overtake Namibia and Botswana, largely because the majority of South African cheetahs are protected and managed behind fences, whereas most of the animals in the neighboring countries remain more vulnerable on mainly unfenced lands.</p><p>Wildlife researchers Florian Weise and colleagues have reported that private stock owners in Namibia still trap cheetahs mainly for translocation, but there are few public or private reserves large enough to contain them. Weise says that conservation efforts need to focus on improving tolerance toward cheetahs in commercial livestock and game farming areas to reduce indiscriminate trapping.</p><p>Van der Merwe says fences can be both a blessing and a curse. While these barriers prevent cheetahs and other wild animals from migrating naturally to breed and feed, they also protect cheetahs from the growing tide of threats from humanity and agriculture.</p><p>To simulate natural dispersion patterns that guard against inbreeding, the trust helps landowners swap their animals with other cheetah reserves elsewhere in the country. The South African metapopulation project has been so successful in boosting numbers that the trust is having to look beyond national boundaries to secure new translocation areas in Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique.</p><p>Cheetah translocations have been going on in South Africa since the mid-1960s, when the first unsuccessful attempts were made to move scores of these animals from Namibia. These relocations were mostly unsuccessful.</p>
Charli de Vos uses a VHF antenna to locate cheetahs in Phinda Game Reserve. Tony Carnie for Mongabay
Swinging for the Fences<p>But other wildlife conservation leaders have a different perspective on cheetah conservation strategy.</p><p>Gus Mills, a senior carnivore researcher retired in 2006 from SANParks, the agency that manages South Africa's national parks, after a career of more than 30 years in Kalahari and Kruger national parks. He says the focus should be on quality of living spaces rather than the quantity of cheetahs.</p><p>Mills, who was the founder of the Endangered Wildlife Trust's Carnivore Conservation Group in 1995, and who also spent six years after retirement studying cheetahs in the Kalahari, says it's more important to properly protect and, where possible, expand the size of existing protected areas.</p><p>He also advocates a triage approach to cheetah conservation, in which scarce funds and resources are focused on protecting cheetahs in formally protected areas, rather than diluting scarce resources in an attempt to try and save every single remaining cheetah population.</p><p>"People have an obsession with numbers. But I believe that it is more important to protect large landscape and habitats properly," Mills said.</p><p>He suggests that cheetahs enclosed within small reserves live in artificial conditions: "It's almost like glorified farming."</p><p>"In the long run we have to focus on consolidating formally protected areas," he added. "Africa's human population will double by 2050, so cheetah populations in unfenced areas will become unsustainable if they are eating people's livestock."</p>
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