By Megan Rigby | Photo by Sae-Kor

Improved mental clarity, increased energy, balanced blood sugars, and of course, fat loss. Sounds great, but is it too good to be true? Low-carb diets have been the rage over the past few years, but the most talked about way of eating at the moment is the ketogenic diet. This high-fat, ultra low-carb diet plan has evidence-based health benefits along with drastic physical and mental changes, but it’s not for the faint of heart. So before you go jumping on the keto bandwagon, consider all the facts and decide if it’s right for you.

What Is It?

The ketogenic diet is known as a moderate protein, low carb, and high fat way of eating—meaning that protein intake is around 80-100 g, carbohydrates 20-50 g, and fat is typically higher than 100 g (depending on the individual).

But unlike other weight-loss protocols, the goal of this diet isn’t to create a calorie deficit. Instead, it is meant to rewire your body and change the main energy source it utilizes for fuel, or in other words, burn fat instead of glucose (sugar).

When consuming a diet higher in carbohydrates, the body is burning glucose first and foremost, as it is easily converted into energy more easily than fat.  But when the body doesn’t have excess carbs available to burn, it turns to fat (a state known as ketosis) and produces a byproduct of fat called ketones for energy.

While many people balk at the high fat consumption, this macronutrient is critical to your health and success of the keto diet. Because the body is being deprived of excess sugar for fuel, it must be provided enough nutrients from fat (and no, more protein won’t cut it as it will not allow you to enter ketosis).

The Pros

Originally, the practice of low-carb eating was introduced in the medical field for patients who suffered from seizure disorders, based on the theory that by starving the body and brain of carbohydrates, it could possibly decrease epileptic events. Fortunately, it proved to be a highly effective means of treatment and is widely prescribed by physicians today.

But the diet’s recent rise in mainstream popularity is due to the reported weight loss from the body tapping into excess fat stores for energy. Other benefits include improved mental clarity due to the lack of sugar, as well as increased energy (no carb crashes here!), improved digestion, reduced sugar cravings, and even improved sleep. What’s more, fat is a highly satiating macronutrient, so unlike other low-calorie diets, you’re less likely to go hungry or feel deprived.

The Cons

It is highly recommended that you consult a physician before starting the keto diet or any other vastly different nutritional protocols from what you are currently following. Listed below are a few things to consider before making the switch.

1. It’s not a quick fix. To get the body into ketosis requires a fat adaption phase that typically occurs during the first week. Known as the “keto flu,” common side effects include fatigue, dizziness, and headaches.
2. It’s restrictive. Calculating your macro intakes is key to staying in ketosis. And cheat days are mostly off limits (one study even found cheat days on keto could be bad for your heart).
3. It’s inconvenient. The restrictive nature of the diet can make navigating social situations and special occasions difficult.
4. It requires long-term commitment. It can be tough to maintain this lifestyle over a long period of time. However, suddenly going off the keto diet can cause weight gain.
5. It’s not for everyone. The keto diet may cause low energy in athletes and extremely active people, so consult a well-versed nutritionist if you compete or train extensively. It’s also not advised for pregnant or breastfeeding mothers.

So What Can You Eat? 

As with any diet, figuring out things you like to eat takes time and practice. Do your research (there are plenty of resources online) and consider a keto cookbook to help inspire ideas. Below are commonly recommended foods when eating a higher fat diet.

1. Non-starchy veggies like peppers, cauliflower, leafy greens, and cucumbers
2. Low-sugar fruits like berries, grapefruit, and coconut
3. Dairy such as cheese, yogurt, and cottage cheese
4. Avocado
5. Fatty protein sources like salmon, chicken thighs, steak, turkey, and eggs
6. MCT oil, olive oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil
7. Some nuts and seeds
8. Dark chocolate with low sugar content
9. Butter and cream
10. Unsweetened coffee and tea

Click here for our low-carb bison chili recipe!

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