The Keto Diet: How to Know if It's Right for You
It’s one of the most popular diets in the country, but it’s not without controversy. Here are the pros and cons, plus tasty keto recipes that fit with the plan.
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You can tell a lot from Google search trends. In 2020, the ketogenic diet topped the list for most-searched diet. Which means you probably know a few people who’ve gone keto for weight loss, and maybe they’ve been urging you to try it. Fans say a ketogenic diet plan will not only help you shed pounds, it can help control your blood sugar and protect you against Alzheimer’s disease, among other health benefits.
Before you decide, let’s take a deep dive into the pros and cons of this high-fat, low-carb diet. (And before you start, check in with your doctor — and consider working with a registered dietitian.)
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Keto diet FAQs
Unlike a simple reduce-the-calories diet, keto involves a dramatic shift in the types of foods you eat and how they affect your body.
What is the keto diet?
While you may have heard of it only in the last few years, the ketogenic diet has been around for decades. The basic idea: By drastically lowering your carb intake while boosting your dietary fat, you force your body to burn fat instead of sugar for energy. That leads to fat loss and metabolic changes.
The ketogenic diet began in the 1920s as a last-ditch treatment for children whose epilepsy didn’t respond to medication. And it’s still used to treat epilepsy today. In the 1970s and 80s, the Atkins Diet swept the country with a high-protein, low-carb version of the ketogenic diet, one meant for weight loss rather than epilepsy. But the current craze is slightly different: It focuses more on dietary fat than protein, just like the epilepsy diet.
The classic keto diet expects around 90% of your daily calories to come from fat. In this extremely high-fat diet, protein supplies another 6%, and the remaining 4% is carbohydrates. For most people, that works out to less than 20 grams of carbs each day, a severely low-carbohydrate diet. (For context, a typical hamburger bun has 28 grams of carbs.) A modified version allows you a little more flexibility, with 82% fat, more moderate protein at 12%, and 6% carbs. That usually maxes out around 50 grams of carbs per day.
A typical keto meal excludes most grains (even whole grains), legumes and beans, sugary foods, most fruits, and starchy vegetables. But the eating plan includes unlimited amounts of coconut oil, olive oil, butter, and heavy cream.
What is ketosis?
Your body uses glucose, the sugar that comes from carbohydrates, for energy. Once it has burned through the supply, your liver will begin to break down stored body fat. That produces ketones, which your body can use as a source of energy. When your body burns ketones, you’ve reached a metabolic state known as ketosis. For most people, it takes two or three days of an extremely low-carb diet to start burning ketones. Staying in ketosis is key for maintaining a ketogenic diet.
Who is the keto diet for?
Outside of people with epilepsy, a ketogenic diet is generally recommended for people with obesity and people with pre-diabetes or Type 2 diabetes — and all should be under medical supervision. Studies have shown that the diet can help you lose weight quickly and manage your blood sugar levels. It may also lower your blood pressure and triglycerides, and increase your HDL cholesterol levels, the “good” kind. But there’s very little long-term research that shows the benefits of the keto diet continue past the one-year mark, probably because the diet is so restrictive it’s hard to sustain. Many experts consider it most effective as a short-term option, for those who need to lose a considerable amount of weight in relatively little time.
The ketogenic diet also shows promise in preventing and treating neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, but there hasn’t been enough research yet.
Who should not go on the keto diet?
Because it’s so extreme, there are several conditions that might make you a poor candidate for a ketogenic diet. If you have one or more, or have many risk factors, make sure your doctor approves and a registered dietitian is monitoring your eating plan and overall wellness:
A history of eating disorders
Preexisting kidney, liver, or pancreatic problems
Pregnant or breastfeeding
Certain situations with diabetes, where there’s a risk of a dangerous condition called ketoacidosis
Is the keto diet safe?
For most people, short-term, yes. But there are potential side effects of the keto diet, especially in the early days. Within the first week, many people experienced what’s known as the “keto flu,” which includes symptoms like headaches, brain fog, fatigue, and irritability. With so little fiber in your diet, you might suffer from constipation. There’s a risk of developing kidney stones. And because the proportion of macronutrients is so skewed, you might wind up with vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Plus, as with any extreme diet, once you stop, you may find you regain the weight you lost and then some.
As far as potential long-term effects, because the research is so limited, it’s hard to say what to expect. At the very least, high levels of saturated fat (what you’ll find in red meat, for instance) are known to lead to heart disease and elevated cholesterol LDL levels (the “bad” kind).
How long does it take to see results from the keto diet?
Weight loss is often dramatic with the ketogenic diet. You might lose as much as 10 pounds in the first two weeks.
Keto diet breakfast recipes
You may think breakfast means cereal or bagels, but a keto breakfast makes the most of proteins and fats like eggs, bacon, sausage, and cheese.
It only takes four ingredients to make these adorable (and delicious) balls: hard-boiled eggs, cream cheese, green onions, and bacon. Keep a batch in the fridge, and breakfast is always ready.
Combine keto-friendly veggies with eggs, Greek yogurt, mozzarella cheese, and sausage, and you’ve got a casserole fit for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
How do you make a breakfast burrito without grains? Easy: Melt mozzarella cheese in a skillet until one side gets so crispy and browned, you can wrap it around sausage, bacon, and eggs.
Mini-frittatas in muffin cups let you take your breakfast on the go. This one features low-carb mushrooms and spinach, and salty feta cheese.
Keto diet lunch recipes
Traditional sandwiches take a little extra effort on a keto diet (you need to make keto bread or keto rolls first — find recipes below). But there are plenty of easier options, too.
Bust out your spiralizer to make zoodles, then toss with all the traditional ingredients in a Caprese salad: tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, and olive oil.
A half-cup of chopped broccoli has just 2 net carbohydrates, which makes it the perfect foundation for a crunchy, creamy salad. This one adds blue cheese, red onion, and crisp pancetta crumbles.
A comforting bowl of chicken soup is just the thing to fuel you through the afternoon, and it’s ready in around 30 minutes. Celery, riced cauliflower, and paprika keep things interesting.
This salad takes full advantage of avocado’s natural creaminess. Tossing it with tuna and keto-friendly vegetables like cucumber, celery, and scallions creates a filling, luscious lunch.
Keto diet dinner recipes
Protein, fat, and low-carbohydrate vegetables add up to some satisfying evening meals.
You won’t believe how easy this is, and how much flavor it delivers. The best part: This recipe only has five ingredients, and two of them are salt and pepper!
Meatballs usually have some kind of carb-heavy binder, like white bread or breadcrumbs. These swap in almond flour. It doesn’t affect the flavor, though — these taste every bit as good as nonna’s.
Pork tenderloins soak in flavor from a garlicky, lime-and-chili marinade before you grill them — and while they rest, you grill halved avocados and limes for contrast.
You may not think of fried chicken as a diet food, but it only takes a few breading adjustments to make it work. The result: irresistibly crunchy chicken that’s — ahem — finger-licking good.
Keto breads and keto sweets recipes
Low-carb life doesn’t mean you have to give up on breads and treats. You just have to get a little creative, like with these recipes.
You’ll use what’s known as “fathead dough” to make these soft rolls. It’s a combo of shredded mozzarella, cream cheese, almond flour, and egg. Once you try it, you’ll find a million different ways to use it.
Beating egg whites until they’ve reached the soft peak stage helps keep this loaf light and fluffy. Use it to make keto sandwiches or avocado toast — or just slather a slice with butter.
Whether you’re on a keto diet or not, this cake will make your mouth water. It tastes rich and decadent, but thanks to low-carb sweeteners it’s got less than 3 grams of net carbs per slice.
Ooey-gooey in the center with perfectly crisp edges, this is every chocolate chip cookie-lover’s dream. Don’t forget the low-carbohydrate ice cream on top.
Add keto recipes to your Yummly Meal Plan
Once you’re ready to give keto a try, set yourself up for success by creating your own Meal Plan. Just tap on the “plus” sign on any Yummly recipe to add it the Yummly Meal Planner. From there you can build a shopping list and even have groceries delivered.
More healthy eating resources
If you’re interested in exploring more healthy eating ideas, including how the keto diet compares to other popular diets, Yummly has plenty of helpful resources, including these next articles.