The Ketogenic Diet
The ketogenic diet (commonly referred to as keto) is growing in popularity as more people continue to discover the benefits of incorporating healthy fats into their diets—but what does keto really mean? Fundamentally, keto is about what our bodies burn in order to fuel our daily lives and activities. Dietary ‘fuel’ comes in the form of macronutrients from food. So, what is a macronutrient, you ask? Well, macronutrients come in three forms: fat, protein and carbohydrates. How much of each of these we eat determines what our bodies have at their disposal to burn to keep us moving and give us energy.
Primary Energy Source
Most of us are sugar burners. We burn glucose for fuel, which primarily comes from the carbohydrates we eat (i.e. bread, potatoes, pasta, beans, fruit, and all food containing sugar) that break down to sugar during digestion. This glucose can also be stored as glycogen (a more complex sugar) in our muscles and around our liver. Being a sugar burner comes with some downsides, though. The use of sugar for energy requires the production of insulin by our pancreas. Too much sugar leads to more insulin and this can lead to conditions like insulin-resistance, metabolic syndrome and type II diabetes, all of which are at near epidemic proportions in the United States today. Blood sugar and insulin regulation is just two of the many benefits of a ketogenic diet. Other positive outcomes include loss of excess stored body fat, decreased triglycerides, increased HDL cholesterol (or ‘good’ cholesterol), lower blood pressure, possible reduction in seizures in those living with seizure disorders, increased brain health (our brains are made primarily of fat and cholesterol!), and reduced acne.
Burning Fat for Fuel
The alternative to burning sugar for energy and fuel is burning fat. The body only has two options for fuel: fat or sugar. The only way to burn protein for fuel is for the body to convert it to sugar, which generally only happens if our bodies break down our skeletal muscle (yikes!). This is obviously not a desirable option. When we reduce our carbohydrate intake, we burn through our stored glycogen faster, which causes the body to begin breaking down fat into compounds called ketones to use for fuel. When our bodies are burning ketones for energy, we are in what is known as a state of ketosis. Eating in a way that maintains this physiological state is the basis of the keto diet.
Keto Approach to Food
So, what should we eat if we want to adopt a keto approach to food? We first must look at macronutrient ratios. The typical keto diet consists of low-carb and moderate-to-high fat consumption. Nutritional science has promoted a low-fat diet for years, but now that tide has turned. Healthy fats are essential for the basic functioning of both our brains and our bodies—and dietary fat is the key nutrient in a keto diet! A ketogenic diet should be around 75% fat, 15% protein and 10% carbs. There is a common misconception that a keto diet is all meat, but in actuality, protein is a minimal component. Regardless of meat consumption, plants should play a big role in the selection of foods that make up daily snacks and meals on a keto diet. There are many hardworking plant fats that can fill the 75% of the diet coming from fat, such as:
- nuts and seeds
If you consume dairy, then full-fat (ideally organic and grass-fed) dairy products like cheese, butter and cream are also available as fat choices.
Types of Keto Diets
Standard ketogenic diet (SKD): This keto diet plan typically contains 70% fat, 20% protein and only 10% carbohydrates. This low-carb, high-fat diet is the most researched and recommended of all types of keto diets.
High-protein ketogenic diet (HPKD): As you can tell by the name, this keto diet plan includes a higher protein intake compared to the other diets. This diet typically calls for a ratio of 60% fat, 35% protein, and 5% carbohydrates. Although this diet includes a higher protein intake, it is important to remember it is still a high-fat diet.
Cyclical ketogenic diet (CKD): This diet involves periods of low carb and high carb intake. For example, someone following this type of keto diet plan can cycle five ketogenic days (low-carb intake) followed by two high-carb days. This plan is not recommended for the typical keto dieter. This diet is typically adopted by athletes and bodybuilders whose performances may depend on which part of the cycle they are in.
Targeted ketogenic diet (TKD): This diet is not much different than the standard keto diet, other than it allows for higher carb intake around your workouts. Just like the cyclical keto diet, this diet is mainly utilized by athletes aiming to enhance their exercise performance with the increase in carbohydrates.
Staying in Balance
Vegetable and seed oils should be avoided due to their overly processed and high levels of omega-6 fatty acids, which need to be balanced with adequate omega-3 fatty acids. While omega-6 fats are necessary, too many of them left unbalanced by omega-3 fats leads to inflammation. To stay at only 10% carbohydrates, it’s important to remember that carbohydrates are abundant in many vegetables (mostly those grown below the ground, like carrots and beets) in addition to bread, beans, pasta, fruit, juice and sweets. This means that carbohydrates on the keto diet need to primarily come from leafy and/or cruciferous vegetables.
Many superfoods are high in beneficial micronutrients (like antioxidants and minerals) and low in carbohydrates, so they're great to include in the carbohydrate category as well. Finally, we have the 15% of calories coming from protein. These can come from animal protein (preferably sustainably raised, grass-fed, pastured animals or wild-caught seafood) or from a diverse blend of plant protein sources such as nuts, seeds and legumes. That choice is an individual one.
Interested in getting started? Shop our keto superfoods and stay tuned for more information on ways we can support your keto lifestyle.
Amy is Navitas Organics’ Manager of Product Quality and Nutrition. Among her varied duties are ensuring product quality, contributing nutrition information for packaging and writing many of our new on-pack recipes. A longtime Navitas consumer whose favorite products include our Superfood+ Adaptogen Blend, Hemp Seeds and Elderberry Powder, Amy is a nutritionist who is passionate about cooking, food-as-medicine and organic, sustainable food in particular.