9 foods to eat on a ketogenic diet

Jill Bridges, SATI STAFF

It seems somewhat farfetched that the idea of eating foods high in fat will help you lose weight. After all, isn’t the concept of losing weight to lose excess fat? As contradictory as it sounds, that is the exact theory behind the ketogenic diet. Surprisingly, this theory is being practiced seemingly all over the world.

The ketogenic diet purports that eating foods high in fat and depriving the diet of carbohydrates and sugars will force the body to burn nothing but fat, rather than the glucose the body usually burns off as energy. Similar in method to the popular Atkins diet, the ketogenic diet has been praised by athletes, celebrities and politicians the world over. People with all body types, dietary needs and weight loss goals have found the ketogenic diet to be extremely effective.

This diet champions foods that most diets shun, such as fats, butter, certain meats and even snacks. When taken in the appropriate amounts, these foods have shown to help dieters lose weight and have other health benefits. Below, we will discuss foods that are recommended for the ketogenic diet.

What is the ketogenic diet?

Ketosis is a natural metabolic process[1] wherein the body starts to burn fat once it has run out of glucose to burn as energy. While it is usually a state that the body reverts to on its own, some people have taken to turning this process into an intentional diet. By consuming less than 50 grams of carbohydrates per day, dieters can intentionally enter into a state of ketosis, hence the ketogenic diet[2].

When glucose is unavailable, your liver breaks down stored fatty acids to send as energy to other parts of the body[3]. Over time, the release of these fatty acids have proven to shed stored weight[4], as well as reduce appetite and overall food intake. Additionally, by eating a reduced calorie diet, the body will burn stored fat and not just the fat received from your current food intake[5]. So what the ketogenic diet really is is just a way to cut carbohydrates and sugar from your caloric intake while allowing the body to still use fat as its primary energy source.

Benefits of a ketogenic diet

Ketosis and ketogenic diets have a long history with diabetics and epileptic children[6]. While the reasons behind this still aren’t perfectly clear, it is believed that it is because of the glucose levels changing. Ketosis is a common metabolic state for diabetics whose blood sugar drops too low. As far as epilepsy goes, it is believed that replacing glucose as the energy source in the brain with ketones stops seizures[7].

However, those who intentionally enter the body into a state of ketosis nowadays are usually doing it for weight loss[8]. As mentioned earlier, the normal body’s favorite source of energy is glucose. The ketogenic diet deprives the body of glucose and forces it to burn stored fat. Burning stored fat is the reason for the inevitable weight loss. While ketosis is not inherently bad for you[9], it does have potential disastrous side effects, especially for people with pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes. Staying in ketosis for extended periods of time can lead to serious conditions like pancreatitis, even in otherwise healthy individuals[10]. Consult your doctor before considering the ketogenic diet.

Butter

Ah, butter. One of the most reviled foods on the planet in the minds of the health conscious has recently fallen back in the good graces of dieters. For decades, it was thought that the high saturated fat content in butter led to heart disease[11]. However, those theories are now being called into question. In the ketogenic diet, butter is one of the more highly recommended foods[12], as it is low in carbohydrates and high in fat.

Since butter is mostly used to cook with, it is highly recommended in recipes for the ketogenic diet, particularly for breakfast[13], especially when you cook eggs and bacon in it. Butter is high in omega fatty acids[14], which the body needs to regulate many important functions. And since it has no net carbohydrates, it is the perfect aid for cooking those other high fat breakfast foods[15]. Most of butter’s fat content is retained even after cooking, as are its nutrients. However, grains are not included in the ketogenic diet, so don’t go spreading that delicious butter on toast, muffins or bagels.

Eggs

Eggs are also a vital part of the ketogenic diet, as they are a staple of the American breakfast[16]. Not only do eggs have a relatively high fat count, they can be prepared in a variety of ways[17], including, fried, deviled, hard-boiled, soft-boiled, poached and scrambled. They can also be implemented in omelets and used in casseroles. In these recipes, they can be available for any recipe, not just breakfast.

While any animal’s eggs can be used in the ketogenic diet, including chicken, duck and goose[18], it is important to remember that they be all organic and free of chemicals or hormones[19]. Those hormones do not just affect the plants and animals that they are directly applied to. When we consume those plants and animals, the chemicals and hormones become part of our “nutritional” intake. Make sure every effort is made to ensure your eggs come from free range, non-GMO fowl.

Additionally, if you are a vegetarian (though not vegan), eggs are still allowed on the ketogenic diet for vegetarians[20]. Vegetarians will not eat the meat of an animal, while vegans will not eat any byproduct.

Meats

Red meats are encouraged on the ketogenic diet, including corned beef, ground beef, beef products such as sausage, roast and pastrami, and all cuts of steak, including sirloin and filet mignon[21]. Additionally, venison, lamb, veal and all pork cuts are allowable. Meats have a naturally high fat content, unless fat has been cut or removed from the meat before sale. If you are choosing leaner meats, feel free to add oil, or butter, to them before, during or after preparation[22].

One of the main points of the ketogenic is the intake of protein. Much like carbs, protein is to be moderated in a ketogenic diet, but not quite to the extent of carbs[23]. Meats are an excellent source of protein and are encouraged at every meal[24], whether it be bacon for breakfast and a double cheeseburger for lunch (without the bun, of course) and that juicy steak for dinner. You should also be wary of how you prepare your meats. Avoid breading, as it contains flour and carbohydrates, while cured meats and glazes contain sugar[25]. When dining out, try to order accordingly.

Fish

While they may have never walked on the earth, fish still have meat like cows, pigs and birds. And fish meat is another highly suggested item on the ketogenic diet. Fish such as mackerel, tuna, salmon, trout, halibut, cod, catfish and more are high in both protein[26] and the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids we discussed in butter[27]. More importantly to the ketogenic diet itself, many of these fish are high in healthy fat. They allow you to get the fat needed to burn off for fuel as well as essential nutrients for a healthy diet[28].

Much like we discussed with eggs, it is important to note that fish caught in the wild are much more likely to have the omega fatty acids and proteins necessary for the ketogenic diet than farm-raised fish[29]. Fish that are caught in the wild (or sustainably harvested) have not had the chance to be tainted with growth hormones or chemical treatment. They still have the proteins and omega-3s[30] needed for your diet and are known to have heart health benefits, such as reducing risk of heart disease and stroke and lowering your blood pressure.

Vegetables

As you might expect, vegetables are also a key part of the ketogenic diet. Vegetables are recommended for virtually every healthy, balanced diet. And even though we listed off a ton of beef, pork, poultry and fish options, there are even more vegetable options out there[31]. It is important to remember, however, that vegetables have varying levels of carbohydrates, which are to be closely monitored on the ketogenic diet. Include vegetables that are high in fiber and low in carbs, as the fiber content will help you feel fuller longer[32].

Some of the higher fiber vegetables include asparagus, cucumbers, green peppers, lettuce and squash[33]. Vegetables such as broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and kale are known to protect against cell damage and are completely safe for the ketogenic diet[34]. These non-starchy vegetables, as well as leeks, okra, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes and many more[35] are meant to replace the carbohydrates you would usually consume with grains, which are cut out of the ketogenic diet. Furthermore, like eggs, there are tons of ways to cook vegetables, such as sauteing, frying, boiling, baking and many more. Many of these methods employ oils.

Oils

Oils are an essential part of any kitchen, whether you are a dieter or not. You can pretty much always find vegetable oil or olive oil in a standard home, but there are many more oils available for the ketogenic diet. Some of these include coconut oil, palm oil, avocado oil or macadamia oil[36]. These oils are useful in cooking on a ketogenic diet, as they are high in the omega-3 fatty acids mentioned earlier. Furthermore, you can cook with these or use them as a drizzle after the food is prepared. These oils have multiple uses and can be used in conjunction with virtually every item on the ketogenic diet list.

One of the benefits to oils on the ketogenic diet that is not found in any group we’ve talked about yet is its use as a salad dressing. Yes, you can use the above listed veggies, eggs, meats and fish in a salad, but oils have made a name for themselves on top of the salad. Olive oil, either by itself or with some garlic or vinaigrette, is extremely popular as a dressing. However, under a ketogenic diet, ranch, bleu cheese, caesar and oil-based Italian dressings are also allowable[37].

Snacks

Some adventurous salad eaters might also opt to add nuts or seeds to their salad. Nuts and seeds are considered a great snack under a ketogenic diet, as they are generally low in calories[38]. Almonds, in particular, are an excellent source of protein and energy and less than 2.5 grams of carbohydrates per quarter cup. Peanuts are a little bit higher, at about 3 grams per quarter cup. It is really important, though, to watch how much of these nuts or seeds you consume as a snack, as it is very easy to overdo it on these small foods and unwittingly let the calories pile up.

Creative types who are on the ketogenic diet can look at the plethora of allowable foods and realize that there are seemingly infinite possibilities for mid-day snacks. It is all about portion control and knowing how to combine all these delicious ingredients[39]. But, if you are more of a grab-and-go type of person or don’t have the time to prepare a snack, there are also plenty of other options[40], such as pork rinds, string cheese, jerky or hummus.

Fruits

Fruits are generally considered a no-no on the ketogenic diet, as they are usually full of sugars. However, some have low sugars and can be beneficial to a ketogenic diet. Some of these include citrus fruits like lemons and limes, and low-sugar fruits like berries, apples and pears[41]. However, these are only to be eaten very small doses, such as just a slice or two of apple with breakfast or a small handful of berries on your salad. While not usually considered fruits, technically avocado and olives are also fruits, and are also on the ketogenic diet list of acceptable fruits[42].

Besides being high in sugar, fruits are generally all carbohydrates, as well[43]. Since the ketogenic diet restricts carbohydrates above all else, fruits are naturally not advised for this particular diet. Fruits of particular note to avoid include bananas, grapes, oranges and pineapples[44]. Furthermore, fruit juice drinks are off limits, as well. Unless you know for sure that the fruit juice comes from an acceptable fruit and is not made with artificial sweeteners, it is advised that you stay away from them altogether. This may be difficult, as labels are often misleading.

Beverages

So, what do you drink with all this delicious food if you cannot have fruit juice? This is an important aspect of ketosis and the ketogenic diet. At the outset, you will experience fatigue due to water loss[45]. Water is far and away the most recommended[46] beverage for the ketogenic diet and for any healthy lifestyle, regardless of dieting or not. It is natural and free of nutrients, so it doesn’t count for or against any type of diet. Particularly, as concerns the ketogenic diet, water is extremely important for the inevitable dehydration you will feel[47].

Water is not the only beverage you can consume, however. We mentioned earlier that lemons were acceptable, as were several types of berries. When you put those two together, you get such delicious and refreshing drinks as raspberry lemonade[48]. Coffee and tea are also acceptable, as long as you do not add sugar and cream[49]. Even diet soda, much reviled in other diets, is compatible with the ketogenic diet, because it has no carbohydrates or natural sugars[50]. As far as alcohol is concerned, some sources say red wine is acceptable. Consult your doctor for more information.

The sati line

The ketogenic diet is a diet wherein you intentionally expose your body to a natural metabolic process called ketosis. This can be a dangerous condition that can lead to a coma or even death among diabetic patients. However, among healthy individuals with no such conditions, it can be an extremely effective weight loss program.

By depriving the body of sugars and carbohydrates, the body begins to burn stored fat. To ensure this process takes place correctly, it is important to closely monitor what you eat. Great foods recommended for the ketogenic diet include butter, eggs, meats, fish, non-starchy vegetables and select fruits.

The best part of it is is that you can combine all of these delicious foods into a tasty and nutritional diet. It does not allow a few foods, namely grains and most fruits, but it does leave the dieter with a wide variety of delicious, healthy recipes. So, if you are looking for a new diet that has had proven results from all walks of life and all corners of the world, try out the ketogenic diet and enjoy every bite.


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