Before we get into the specific foods you can and can’t eat on the ketogenic diet and how to succeed, it’s good to know where the diet came from and how it works on a scientific level. The keto diet has origins stretching back to ancient times, but it took a thousand years before scientists knew exactly what was going on.
A Prescription for Seizures
People have suffered from seizures and epilepsy for thousands of years. Back in ancient Greece and India, the most common treatment was to stop eating or drinking. For some reason, fasting seemed to prevent whatever was causing the seizures. For centuries, that was what patients had to go through – fasting or seizures. In 1911, French doctors developed a diet that could relieve seizures. It was vegetarian and low in calories. A few decades later, another doctor began experimenting and learned that a diet low in carbs and high in fat also prevented seizures. Why?
Ketones Are the Key
When you fast, your body begins producing compounds known as “ketones.” These are distributed through the body as fuel because the body needs something to continue functioning normally. These compounds also show up when you restrict your carb intake because the body normally depends on carbs for energy. When you replace most of your carbs with fat, the body begins to turn fatty acids into ketones and depends on those for fuel instead. Unlike carbs, however, excess ketones are not stored as body fat.
That doesn’t mean you should stop eating carbs completely. That’s actually very unhealthy, if not impossible. You can eat significantly less, however, and choose the quality of carbs. Refined carbs like sugar and white bread don’t offer much nutrition, so they mostly end up as body fat. Complex carbs like vegetables and fruit are much higher in good minerals and vitamins, so the carbs you do eat on the ketogenic diet are always complex. Less carbs trigger ketosis, which is the name of the ketone-producing process. That is what prevents seizures and results in other benefits, which we’ll discuss a bit later on.
The Macro on Keto Diet
Ketosis begins when your daily diet consists of a certain percentage of carbs, fat, and protein. That percentage is a mere 5-10% carbs, 15-20% protein, and 60-75% fat. For most people, that means eating just 20 grams of net carbs per day. For the record, a single slice of white bread has 13 grams. If you want to stay in ketosis, most meals should have just 7 net carbs per serving. What’s the difference between net carbs and total carbs? Total carbs count fiber, while net carbs don’t. That’s why complex carbs like vegetables are a much better choice, because they may have a fairly large amount of carbs, they also have a lot more fiber than white bread or candy.
What’s the MCT Diet?
In your exploration of the ketogenic diet, you might have seen the abbreviation “MCT” pop up. That stands for medium-chain triglycerides, which is the hot fat for the ketogenic diet. It’s found mostly in coconut products – especially coconut oil – and in smaller amounts in cheese and butter. This fat has been shown to promote a lot of ketone production, so lots of people eager to get into ketosis will focus on getting as much of it as possible. The MCT diet adjusts the percentage a little, so you’re getting 30- 50% of your total daily calories from MCT oils. Because MCT is more effective at producing ketones, you can have more carbs and protein while staying in ketosis. This makes the diet easier for a lot of people. The MCT diet was created in the 1970s, but it’s more popular in the United Kingdom than in the US.
The Advantages of the Keto Diet
The keto diet has stayed popular for years, and it’s because of the many benefits dieters report. Here are the top reasons to consider a low-carb diet:
The Diet Might Make It Easier to Lose Weight
When you cut out the highest-carb food from your diet, which includes sugar, you might experience weight loss. Combined with exercise, lots of people find they are finally able to reach their weight goals when on the ketogenic diet. This is because it isn’t eating fat that makes people overweight; it’s sugar and foods low in nutrients, but high in carbs. By eating less carbs and more nutrients, losing weight can become much easier.
The Diet Can Provide A Boost Of Energy
When you eat high-carb foods, your blood sugar rises quickly, and then crashes. Throughout the day, this rollercoaster of highs and lows is exhausting and makes it hard to be productive. When you switch to high-fat foods and snacks, your energy levels become more stable. You’ll have more consistent energy through all your activities. Your mental clarity can also improve, since the brain is mostly flat, and loves the fat found in keto staples like salmon, avocados, nuts, and coconut oil.
You Won’t Feel Hungry On The Keto Diet
A lot of diets are characterized by hunger. You are supposed to eat less and you end up feeling hungry all the time. That isn’t a problem with the keto diet. The body uses fat and quality proteins a lot more efficiently than refined carbs, which rush through the system and leave you feeling empty quickly after eating. You won’t need to snack during the day as much after filling keto meals, and that can result in weight loss, too.
The Diet Can Result In Healthier Skin And Hair
The keto diet is so effective at treating dry hair and skin, there’s even a term for it: the “keto glow.” Lots of people find that after switching to a keto diet, their hair becomes sleeker, shinier, and healthier. Dry or acne-scarred skin is also hydrated by all the good fats, while even finger and toenails can become stronger and healthier-looking. In addition to encouraging more foods that help hair and skin, cutting out sugar and processed foods on the keto diet most likely plays a role in the glow, as well.
The Diet May Help Protect Against Serious Diseases
While more studies are needed to support this reason, there is research out there that suggests the ketogenic diet may protect people from certain diseases. Healthy fats lower bad cholesterol, a major cause of heart disease, while losing weight is also healthy for the heart. As for the brain, at least one study showed that being in ketosis improves a person’s memory. When given MCT oil, Alzheimer’s patients’ brains produced more ketones.