The ketogenic diet, also called keto, is a low-carb, high-fat diet that has many benefits.
Although the diet is popular in the media right now, the diet was originally formulated a hundred years ago as a treatment for children with Epilepsy.
The ketogenic diet is a healthy way of eating with tremendous health benefits, and it will help you lose weight.
In this beginner’s guide, I’ll cover everything you need to know about the ketogenic diet as well as some other important information.
- The origin of the ketogenic diet.
- The different types of keto diets.
- Modern-day variations of the diet.
- The perfect keto diet plan.
- Foods to avoid on keto.
- Health benefits of the keto diet
What is the Ketogenic Diet?
The keto diet is a high-fat, moderate protein, low-carb diet. When you follow a ketogenic diet, your body’s metabolism shifts from using glucose (carbs) as energy to using fat for energy. The ketogenic diet is also defined by a specific ratio of macronutrients.
Many South African people are familiar with the Banting diet or Atkins. In a way, the ketogenic diet is similar to these diets. They fall under the same classification, being high-fat and low-carb. However, Banting, and some other low carb diets such as Paleo, can have up to 150 grams of carb intake a day.
The ketogenic diet’s macros are clearly defined. The standard ketogenic diet ratios are 75% fat, 20% protein and 5% carbs.
- High-fat– A total of 75% of your daily calorie intake should come from fat.
- Low-carb– Only 5% of your daily calorie intake should be from carbs.
- Moderate protein– Only 15-20% of your daily calorie intake should be from protein.
Is eating a high-fat diet bad for your health?
Unfortunately, there are still many people who believe that a high-fat diet is bad for your health and eating high-fat will increase your cholesterol. Decades of bad science and the demonisation of saturated fat caused us to believe this myth. Thankfully, the latest research has debunked these myths, and you find out more about it here and here and here.
Origin of the Ketogenic Diet
Fasting, Starvation and The Water Diet
Fasting has been used to treat Epilepsy and other kinds of ailments since at least 500 BC. In the Bible, we read about Jesus curing an epileptic boy and telling his disciples, “this kind can not come out except by prayer and fasting.”
Fasting is practised by Christians, Greeks, Buddhists, and in all corners of the world for as long as time.
The ketogenic diet evolved from what could be considered a “starvation diet” to a “water diet” and then introduced by modern physicians as a treatment for Epilepsy in the 1920s. During the period between the 1920s to the 1930s, the ketogenic diet was widely used and with great success.
The Charlie Foundation
With the rise of pharmaceutical companies, the diet was replaced with prescription medication. You can imagine that taking a pill, compared to following a restrictive diet (for a child especially), would be more convenient. By taking anti-epileptic drugs, children and adults could enjoy a “normal life” and eat all types of foods freely.
All traces of the ketogenic diet would have been lost during the following decades had it not been for Dr Freedman and his dietitian, Millicent Kelly, at the John Hopkins Hospital. Still working with patients following the ketogenic diet protocol, Dr Freedman and Millicent Kelly were discovered by a father, desperate to find a solution for his son.
Jim Abrahams needed an alternative to the anti-epileptic drugs that left his son, Charlie, in a permanent vegetative state. After discovering Dr Freedman and Millicent Kelly’s ketogenic diet prescription in a library book, Jim Abrahams had hope for his son. Within days of starting the ketogenic diet at John Hopkins, Charlie’s seizures became less frequent and under control.
Charlie’s story is inspirational, and his amazing story is captured in this beautiful movie called First Do No Harm. Charlie’s father also went on to establish The Charlie Foundation, which is still promoting the use of the ketogenic diet as a therapy for Epilepsy.
Search the internet, and you will find thousands of studies on the keto diet. Although the diet was initially studied as a tool for the treatment of Epilepsy, the diet is showing promise for the treatment of obesity, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, type 1 diabetes, Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) and Cancer.
Different Types of Ketogenic Diets
Slight changes in the macronutrient ratios differentiate the diets from one another.
The Original Ketogenic Diet Therapy
The original ketogenic therapy used for the treatment of Epilepsy was called the Classic Ketogenic Diet. The ratio for the classic KD is a 4:1 ratio. This is four parts of fat for every one part of protein and carb. Since fat has a higher caloric content versus protein and carb (fat has 9 calories per gram, while both protein and carb have just 4 calories per gram), 90% of calories come from fat in a Classic Ketogenic Diet, while 6% is from protein, and 4% from carbs.
Stemming from the original keto formulation, a few other variations of the keto diet have developed over the years. Let’s take a look at some of the other variations.
More Variations of the Ketogenic Diet
As the diet became popular for its weight loss benefits it evolved to the following variations that we are most familiar with today:
The Classical Ketogenic Diet evolved into other alternatives such as the Modified Atkins, Medium Chain Triglycerides Ketogenic Diets.
Modified Atkins: An individualised and structured diet that provides specific meal plans. Foods are weighed and meals should be consumed in their entirety for best results. Macronutrient Ratio: 4:1
Modified Ketogenic Diet: Modifying the restrictiveness of classic keto can be helpful when starting the diet, or when tapering down to a more sustainable, long-term diet. Macronutrient Ratio: 3:1 to 1:1 (range)
MCT Ketogenic Diet: An individualised and structured diet containing highly ketogenic Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT), allowing for more carb and protein than classic keto. Macronutrient Ratio: 1.9:1
Modern-day Variations of the Ketogenic Diet
The keto diets we know today have evolved quite a bit and the diet’s ratios can be tweaked in a number of ways to suit a person’s goals. Take a look below.
The Standard Ketogenic Diet (SKD): The Standard Ketogenic Diet Keto is classified with a macronutrient ratio of 75% of your caloric intake consisting of fats, 20% of your caloric intake from protein and 5% from carbs.
The Targeted Ketogenic Diet (TKD): The Targeted Ketogenic Diet utilises the increase in carbohydrates around exercise. TKD is ideal for athletes. They would typically increase their carbs about 30 minutes prior to their workout.
The Cyclical Ketogenic Diet (CKD): The Cyclical Ketogenic Diet would typically mean being in ketosis for 5 days of the week and then increasing carbohydrate intake for two days.
Lazy Keto and Dirty Keto
Two more variations that have become quite popular are called “Lazy Keto” and “Dirty Keto”. Both of these variations focus on keeping carbs below 20g per day. However, people who follow the Lazy Keto don’t track their macronutrient ratios; they simply keep carbs below 20g.
Dirty Keto focuses on macros; your macros can come from any food source, even if it is processed and unhealthy foods.
Really? Can you eat your whole carb allowance in cookies? Can you eat McDonald’s and Burger King?
Dirty Keto may seem appealing, but don’t do it to yourself.
Eating junk food like McDonald’s isn’t good for your health, and there simply isn’t anything like “healthy” junk food. Food manufacturers use the cheapest ingredients. Don’t expect them to use pure olive oil when frying your patty. They use sunflower or seed oils because it is inexpensive compared to olive oil. Don’t expect them to use stevia or erythritol to sweeten that protein bar. They will use maltodextrin and sucralose or maltitol because it is a hundred times cheaper than stevia. Seed oils and alternative sweeteners cause havoc in our bodies. So, if you’re making a move towards a healthier lifestyle, keep this in mind.
Different strokes for different folks
You may start off your keto journey by loosely following keto, or you may start off with strict keto, and once you’ve reached your goal weight be more lenient and follow dirty keto. People need to do whatever works for them as long as they keep in mind and are always aware that old habits die hard. Eating these types of hyper-palatable foods usually leads to falling off the bandwagon eventually.
The perfect keto diet plan and foods to avoid on keto
To find out more about keto, take a look at these two blog posts on what a well-formulated keto diet should look like, as well as which foods to avoid on keto.
The health benefit of the ketogenic diet
As mentioned at the start of this post, the ketogenic diet can help you lose weight, and it has many health benefits.
The learning curve to starting this lifestyle is quite steep. One can quickly become confused by all of the information on the internet and, as you can see in this post, the differences in the types of keto diets.
Working with a savvy keto nutritionist like myself can save you a lot of trouble. To find out more about what I offer, take a look here.