If fast weight loss while consuming nearly unlimited amounts of fat sounds too good to be true, “think again,” keto diet devotees say. Followers of the trendy high-fat, low-carb meal plan swear it clears the brain while lowering the number on the scale.
So how does eating keto diet foods cause you to lose weight when you’re eating bacon, butter, and cheese? Keep reading for the details, plus learn which foods you can (and can’t!) eat on this diet.
Carbs (5-10% of calories)
Approximate grams of carbs per day based on a 2,000-calorie diet: 40
“Drastically limiting your intake of glucose, the usual energy source for your cells, reduces insulin secretions in your body. Since low levels of glucose are coming in, the body uses what is stored in the liver and then the muscles,” says Rania Batayneh, MPH, the author of The One One One Diet: The Simple 1:1:1 Formula for Fast and Sustained Weight Loss. After about three or four days, all of the stored glucose is used up.
“For an alternative source of energy, your liver will start to convert fat into ketones, which will then be released into the bloodstream and be used by your cells for energy. Basically, your brain and muscles will be fueled by fat instead of carbohydrates,” says Michelle Hyman, MS, RD, CDN a registered dietitian at Simple Solutions Weight Loss.
Nosh on noodles or other high-carb foods and you’ll send your body back into glucose-burning mode; eat too little and you’ll likely feel your energy dragging. Most keto dieters aim to eat between 20 to 50 grams of carbs per day to maintain that ketone-burning state called “ketosis.”
You should aim to score your carbs from high-fiber, water-rich fruits and vegetables to naturally boost hydration and keep your digestive system humming along. Unsure of whether a produce pick is low in carbs? Reach for options grown above the ground (leafy greens, peppers, and stalk-shaped vegetables), rather than below ground (root veggies like potatoes, carrots, and parsnips), as they typically offer fewer carbs.
Good examples of carb keto diet foods:
Protein (10-20% of calories)
Approximate grams of carbs per day based on a 2,000-calorie diet: 70
Protein is essential to build muscle cells and burn calories. Eat too much or too little of it as part of your keto diet food plan and you’ll end up sabotaging your goals on the scale.
In the absence of carbs and protein, for instance, if you’re sticking to the very low-carb quota of keto and eating more fat and less protein than recommended, your body will turn to muscle tissue as fuel. This, in turn, will lower your overall muscle mass and the number of calories you burn at rest.
Overdose on protein (following this macronutrient breakdown, that would equate to anything above and beyond one six-ounce steak and one four-ounce chicken breast) and you’ll put undue strain on your kidneys. Plus, your body will convert the excess protein to carbohydrates for fuel. That’s the exact opposite goal of the keto diet.
Shoot for around 15% of calories from high-fat protein sources like those below. Some, such as Greek yogurt, eggs, and cheese, provide important vitamins to keep your hair, eyes, and immune system strong.
“While processed meats like sausage and bacon are technically permitted on the keto diet, I’d recommend to limiting them since they’re high in sodium,” Hyman says.
Good examples of protein keto diet foods:
Chicken, dark meat if possible
Turkey, dark meat if possible
Fish and seafood, especially fatty fish like salmon, sardines, tuna and mackerel
Unsweetened, whole milk plain Greek yogurt
Whole milk ricotta cheese
Whole milk cottage cheese
*Opt for organic, pasture-raised, and grass-fed, if possible, for meat and poultry
Fat (70-80% of calories)
Approximate grams of carbs per day based on a 2,000-calorie diet: 165
Here’s where the bulk of your intake comes into play. Several studies have shown that a higher-fat diet can reduce cravings and levels of appetite-stimulating hormones ghrelin and insulin.
Now is the time to forget the 1980s strategy of low-fat/reduced-fat/fat-free. When you’re assembling your keto diet food stash, go full-fat. And don’t stress over the dietary cholesterol content, a factor of how much animal protein you eat, suggests a study published in The Journal of Nutrition. For the healthiest blood cholesterol levels, instead focus on consuming a higher ratio of unsaturated fats (flaxseed, olive oil, nuts) to saturated fats (lard, red meat, palm oil, butter).
Since you’re consuming a vast majority of calories from fat, it’s crucial to focus on fueling up with options that are less likely to clog your arteries and less likely to increase your cancer risk.
Good examples of fat keto diet foods:
Natural, no-sugar-added nut butters
What to Avoid
Make it easier to stay within the macronutrient framework of the keto diet by steering clear of these foods, Hyman says:
Beans, peas, lentils, and peanuts
Grains, such as rice, pasta, and oatmeal
Low-fat dairy products
Added sugars and sweeteners
Sugary beverages, including juice and soda
Traditional snack foods, such as potato chips, pretzels, and crackers
Most fruits, except for lemons, limes, tomatoes, and small portions of berries
Starchy vegetables, including corn, potatoes, and peas
Trans fats, such as margarine or other hydrogentated fats
Most alcohols, including wine, beer, and sweetened cocktails