I learn about all the “it” diets thanks to my friends' Sunday night meal-prep posts on Instagram. Whole30 dominated my feed last year, but there’s a new "life-changing" diet taking over Instagram, and the Internet as a whole. It goes by the name of the keto diet, Kourtney Kardashian is apparently obsessed with it, and unfortunately, it has nothing to do with Cheetos (as I originally had hoped). To clear up my confusion about what keto actually is, I reached out to a nutrition expert.
What Is the Keto Diet?
According to Charles Passler, D.C., a New York-based nutritionist and the founder of Pure Change, "keto" is short for "ketogenic," a high-fat, moderate protein, low-carb diet. On this diet, he says that up to 70 percent of your calories per day should come from fat, 20-25 percent from protein, and 5-10 percent from net carbs, which is carbs minus fiber. "By severely limiting net carbs to 15 to 50 grams, the diet forces your body to burn fat for energy," he explains. "This metabolic function is called ketosis."
Passler explains that when you're in ketosis, "ketones" become the main source of energy. Ketones form when fat is transported to the liver. "Ketones provide an excellent source of energy for the body and the brain."
How Does It Work?
As you probably figured out from the calorie breakdown above, the diet focuses on having a very low level of glucose in the body. This means generally less than 50 grams of net carbs per day. Passler says that glucose happens to be the preferred fuel source for many cells in the body, but by having a low level of it, the body is forced to burn off fat for fuel.
"The majority of carbs must be removed from the diet, such as sweets, desserts, and most items with any added sugar. Eliminating grains, root vegetables, legumes, and fruit may also be necessary for the majority of individuals," he says.
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How Is The Keto Diet Different From Atkins?
Although they're both low-carb, Atkins and keto are drastically different. Atkins is a diet made up of four phases that each last a few weeks. During the first phase, you up your intake of protein and lower your intake of carbs. Passler says you eat some fat, but not nearly as much as you do on the keto diet. You then add carbs back to your diet, adjusting them for maintenance so you don't gain back the weight you've lost.
With keto, there is only one phase of the diet, which is high-fat, moderate protein, and low-to-minimal carbs, says Passler. "Once your goal is reached, there is no follow-up phase. It is keto for life."
What Are the Benefits Of The Keto Diet?
Passler says that the keto diet is great for dropping weight quickly, but also says that the diet helps participants manage their hunger, and claims helps that keto will increase your energy and mental clarity.
However, it takes serious commitment. "The keto diet is difficult to stick to without proper planning and without giving your system time to adapt," Passler explains. "Having the proper foods available at home and knowing what to order and which restaurants to go to is key."
If you need a more detailed explanation of what is considered a high-fat, low-carb food, there are a ton of books on Amazon that break down the diet and offer recipes and simplified food plans. Passler says going keto becomes much easier as the weeks go on and participants start seeing its effects.
But no diet is perfect, and keto might not be the best option for your lifestyle or your health. "The best program for any individual is the one that works for them," Passler notes. "It is best if it is based on foods that they enjoy and believe in eating—a plant-based vegan is not a candidate for a program that involves animal products—and can feel good while staying on track long term."
Before starting any diet, "it" or not, chat with your doctor to see if it's a safe fit for you.
What Are Some Sample Meals?
One of the keto diet's main benefits, as we've mentioned, is that you won't feel hungry all day long because the foods that it focuses on are actually filling. For example, an average keto breakfast could consist of eggs, almonds, cheese, and avocado. For lunch, Passler says you could see a plate filled with chicken, avocado, non-starchy vegetables, and maybe even nuts. A keto-approved dinner could feature lean protein like salmon, broccoli, and other non-starchy veggies, as well as avocado.
Snacks are allowed, if they meet the requirements. Passler suggests celery with guacamole or cream cheese.