A ketogenic diet is based on the concept of ketosis, which is when your body starts breaking down body fat for energy because there is not enough glucose available. When this occurs, there are increased levels of ketones, a molecule your body uses as fuel, in your blood.
What does the diet involve?
This diet is characterized by consuming extremely high fat, moderate protein and extremely low carbohydrate foods. The ratio is 3 to 4 grams of fat for every 1 gram of protein and carbohydrate. It was first developed by Dr. Russell Wilder of the Mayo Clinic in 1924 for epileptic children who did not respond to anti-seizure medications. Research has shown strong evidence that a ketogenic diet may be helpful not only for epileptic children, but also for those with obesity, type 2 diabetes and those with cardiovascular health risks. There is emerging evidence that the ketogenic diet may be helpful for those with neurological disease (Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, narcolepsy and brain trauma, polycystic ovarian syndrome, acne and some types of cancer (but especially brain cancer). Athletes are also experimenting with the association between ketogenic diet and endurance.
It is different from person to person, but nutritional ketosis occurs after 2 to 4 weeks of following a ketogenic diet. You should be targeting a range of .5 mmoll/L to 3 mmoll/L of ketone level in your blood. Going any higher than 5 mmoll/L will cause negative health problems.
- Meat: beef, pork, veal, venison, lamb, goat but check processed meat for added carbohydrates like sugar or honey
- Poultry: chicken, turkey, duck, quail, pheasant (with skin on)
- Seafood: catfish, cod, flounder, halibut, mackerel, mahi-mahi, salmon, snapper, trout, tuna, clams, oysters, lobster, crab, scallops, mussels and squid (but make sure processed seafood has no added carbohydrates)
- Dairy: heavy whipping cream, cheddar, mozzarella, cream cheese, marscapone, sour cream, cottage cheese, etc…
- Vegetables: (but avoid starchy ones like potatoes)
- Nuts: macadamias, walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios, etc…
- Fresh herbs and spices: black pepper, basil, cayenne pepper, chili powder, cilantro, cinnamon, cumin, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, thyme, turmeric (but make sure here is no added sugars in pre-made spice mixes)
- Dressings: mayo or oil-based but make sure you check for any added carbohydrates
- Artificial sweeteners: stevia, sucralose, erythritol, xylitol and monk fruit
- Fats: beef tallow, chicken fat, ghee, lard, olive oil, coconut oil, coconut butter, red palm oil, peanut butter
- Beverages: water – drink loads, coffee and tea
Since the ketogenic diet is high in fat and moderate in protein, you want to eat snacks that have these characteristics. Consider this list:
- Pork rinds
- Cubed cheese
- Celery sticks with cream cheese
- Beef jerky
- Pepperoni slices
- Cold cuts
- Chicken wings
- Cocktail sausages
- Hard boiled eggs
If you’re on the ketogenic diet, and you have certain cravings, your body is trying to tell you that you’re craving a specific nutrient. Consider these options to curb your cravings:
- Craving chocolate? Your body lacks magnesium, chromium and carbon. Eat nuts and seeds for magnesium, broccoli and cheese for chromium, and spinach for carbon.
- Craving sugary foods? Your body needs phosphorous, sulphur and tryptophan. Increase your intake of chicken, beef and eggs to curb phosphorous depletion, cauliflower and broccoli for sulphur and cheese, lamb and liver for tryptophan.
- Craving bread, pasta or carbs? Your body needs more nitrogen. Eat more high protein meat instead.
- Craving oily or fatty foods? Your body lacks calcium. Consider eating more cheese, broccoli and spinach to combat this craving.
- Craving salty foods? Your body is low in silicon. Eat nuts and seeds instead.
Side effects for the ketogenic diet include feeling fatigue, weakness, headaches, light-headedness, irritability and “brain fog” for the first few weeks when your body is going through a metabolic shift, kidney stones, high cholesterol levels (due to high fat consumption), dehydration, constipation, slowed growth, weight gain and bone fractures.
Ketosis can be a serious condition because an unusually raised level of ketones in the bloodstream may cause ketoacidosis, a condition where the blood is acidic, which can lead to other serious complications. Some symptoms of very high ketone levels include vomiting or ketone-smelling breath (fruity or akin to nail polish remover).
Ketogenic Diet Sample Menus
Sample Menu #1:
- Breakfast: two fried eggs and two strips of bacon.
- Lunch: mixed green salad with cubed ham and grated cheese.
- Dinner: five-spiced pork shops with stir-fried green beans.
Sample Menu #2:
- Breakfast: ham and cheese omelet.
- Lunch: two hamburger patties with cheese and bacon.
- Dinner: roasted pork belly with cauliflower cheese.
Sample Menu #3:
- Breakfast: smoked salmon and cream cheese roll-ups.
- Lunch: two hot dogs with a mixed green salad.
- Dinner: roast chicken with skin and broccoli.