How to Know if Keto is Right for You
Are you considering the keto diet but aren’t sure if it’s a good fit for you? First things first – it’s essential to understand what it is and how it works. A ketogenic diet (or keto for short) shifts your body from primarily burning sugar for energy to burning fat. This metabolic fuel shift is how your body is able to keep going during periods of food scarcity.
Assuming you aren’t in the middle of a famine, this shift can be accomplished through reducing carbs like rice, potatoes and fruit while increasing fats like avocados, olive oil and nuts. Because fat has more energy, or calories, per gram it is a more sustainable fuel source that provides lasting energy. This makes the keto diet ideal for those trying to lose body fat and stay energized.
Sound like you? Before you start slathering guacamole on everything, read on.
Who is the Keto Diet Right For?
A sound nutrition plan should be backed by scientific research and lead to good health outcomes (e.g. weight loss, stable blood sugar, improved endurance etc.). Good news, the keto diet meets this criteria. However, it’s equally important that the keto diet, like any nutrition plan, is safe, appropriate and realistic given your individual health history and food preferences.
The keto diet is great for individuals with:
- Excess body weight or abdominal fat (think beer belly), or those who have hit a weight loss plateau with traditional dieting
- High blood sugar and blood sugar fluctuations
- High blood pressure
- Fatigue (think afternoon slump)
- Brain fog or lack of mental clarity
- A desire to boost physical and mental performance
The keto diet is likely not appropriate for:
- Kids & adolescents (except with particular health conditions like epilepsy)
- Pregnant mommas
- Individuals with chronic pancreatitis, liver failure, disorders of fat or amino acid metabolism or difficulty maintaining weight
Caution should be used for individuals with:
- Kidney disease
- Heart disease
- History of disordered eating
- Fat malabsorption
Talk to a Medical Professional
Before you make any drastic change in eating, it’s always a good idea to speak with a medical professional. Your primary care provider and a registered dietitian are both good choices. For those on medications that lower blood sugar or blood pressure, this step is vital to your safety. Quick and drastic improvements in these conditions can be dangerous if medication is not adjusted in a timely fashion.
Research Keto-Friendly Meal Ideas
Once you’ve gotten the green light from a medical professional, you’ll want to do a deep dive into the types of meals and snacks included in a keto diet so you know what to have on hand and how much prep is required to get started. Enjoying the food you’re eating is important. If you don’t like it, you won’t stick with the diet. For example, if you’re a coffee connoisseur, could you follow a diet where you couldn’t drink coffee??? Probably not! Coffee lovers, stay with me - coffee is completely fine on the keto diet as long as you aren’t loading it with sugar!
There are many ways to follow a keto diet but for the best health outcomes, you’ll want to incorporate lots of veggies, proteins, and healthy fats. This includes unlimited leafy greens, non-starchy vegetables like roasted zucchini, mashed cauliflower and sautéed peppers. For protein, wild salmon, chicken and grass-fed beef are ideal choices. And let’s not forget the fat! Most of the calories in the keto diet come from fats like olives, olive oil, nuts, nut butters, seeds, avocados and coconut.
You won’t see any pasta, bread or sugar-laden desserts on the keto diet. However, due to the increasing popularity of low carb eating patterns like keto and paleo, there are plenty of excellent replacements for your favorite carb-rich foods:
- Pasta: try spiralized zucchini, spaghetti squash and shirataki noodles
- Rice: cauliflower rice subs in nicely
- Dessert: go for super dark chocolate like 85% cocoa solids (look for less than 3g of net carb per serving) or almond flour cookies sweetened with stevia
- Crackers: crunch on kale chips, flax crackers or cheese crisps
- Oatmeal: Feel like you’ll miss your bowl of morning oats? There’s good news, while on the keto diet there are even low carb alternatives to hot cereal.
A sample day of eating might look like this, give or take a few avocados:
- Breakfast: Southwest omelette with 2-3 eggs, sautéed peppers and onions, coffee with cream
- Lunch: Grilled chicken spinach salad topped with sliced avocado and an olive oil vinaigrette, passion fruit seltzer water
- Snack: Fresh vegetables with tahini dip
- Dinner: Seared salmon with roasted asparagus and cauliflower rice topped with herbed ghee
- Dessert: 1-2 squares of dark chocolate
Hardly seems restrictive once you review some options, right? Planning is key to include a variety of nutrient rich foods that are enjoyable to eat.
If this sounds like a good fit, get the ball rolling by picking a start date, checking in with your medical provider, selecting some keto friendly meals and snacks and stocking your pantry and refrigerator for success.
Lindsay Malone, MS, RDN, CSO, LD
Lindsay Malone is a Functional and Integrative Medicine dietitian empowering individuals to take charge of their health with evidenced-based nutrition information.