What You Need to Know
“Keto” has been the diet buzzword for the past five years or so, and with good reason – a ketogenic diet delivers. Most people who “go keto” lose weight while experiencing increased energy and reduced hunger.
But what is a keto diet?
I raise the question because, like many popular ideas, keto has inspired factions. There are the people I’ve seen posting online that a keto diet is “like Atkins, except you only eat clean foods, mostly organic, no artificial sweeteners or processed junk.” (Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution, first published in 1973, was and remains a ketogenic diet. It had the nation, me included, peeing on Ketostix. How anyone got the idea that “a keto diet is “like” the Atkins diet, except. . .” suggests they never read the book.)
The Original Keto Diet
The book made a greater impact than anyone might have predicted. Its sales exceeded ten million copies, and it was the number one selling diet and health book in the U.S. for many years. Millions of people have already discovered how to get healthy, lose weight, and keep it off—and you can too! The Atkins Nutritional Approach™ is the proven weight loss program that enables you to enjoy the foods you love on the road to good health, increased energy, and a greater sense of well-being.
Also popular is “lazy, dirty keto,” which includes processed keto foods, grains, artificial flavors and colors or not. There is also a small faction of strict carnivores – people who eat only meat, and perhaps eggs. For some reason, it appears that many of these people stick largely to red muscle meats, mainly from ruminants. I have no problem with red meat but am quite fond of poultry and pork and eat a lot of tuna. I also feel their nutrition would be improved by adding some organ meats, especially liver now and then. On the flip side, I am now seeing ads for vegetarian keto and even vegan, “plant-based” keto books (I confess to curiosity).
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From the very beginning – that being my first, self-published book, How I Gave Up My Low Fat Diet and Lost Forty Pounds (later subtitled And How You Can, Too! by my publisher, and how could I object to that?), I have advocated for just about any form of carbohydrate restriction so long as it is working for the person who is using it. There were carb-restricted diets that were dreadful for me, but were helping others lose substantial amounts of weight and improve their insulin-driven health problems, so who was I to say they were wrong? I still feel this way. If it involves whacking big chunks of sugars and starches out of your diet, I’m for it, whether you’re in ketosis or not.
So the fact that there are many takes on keto bothers me not at all, so long as each individual dieter is getting the results he or she is hoping for. But there is a solid definition of a ketogenic diet: any diet that cuts back on carbohydrates sufficiently to force the body to burn fat for fuel, resulting in ketosis, is a keto diet.
How I Do the Keto Diet
I, by way of example, rarely weigh or measure anything. I eat animal protein and fats freely. I also eat non-starchy vegetables without worry, and moderate quantities of what I call “borderline vegetables” – onions, tomatoes, and the like. I use butter, bacon grease, olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, and MCT oil, the last two mostly in making mayonnaise because I avoid soy oil (See Dana’s Easy Low-Carb Mayonnaise Recipe Video). I eat few processed “keto” products except for those that I try for review. I shun grains almost entirely, especially gluten grains, so none of the currently popular “keto breads” for me, though I do keep Egglife Egg White Wraps in the house and use them as I would tortillas.
I eat nuts and seeds regularly as well, including peanuts and cashews, which are higher in carbohydrate than walnuts, pecans, macadamia nuts, et al. I keep almond meal on hand, but except when working on recipes for publication, I rarely bother baking anything. I’ve been doing this long enough that I just don’t miss baked goods. I also drink two glasses of dry red wine most evenings and eat one or two squares of 85% dark chocolate most days. Sugar-free Reese’s mini-cups and Russell Stover sugar-free English toffee cross my doorstep but are eaten only one at a time. I also eat keto ice cream from time to time.
Do I Eat “Clean Keto?”
Frankly, “clean” is a buzzword that gives me hives; it has no real meaning. I mostly buy grocery store produce and meats, rather than all organic and grass-fed. I worry that the insistence on eating all organic and grass-fed will discourage people on tight budgets. I do buy local, small-farm, pastured eggs now that we no longer have chickens in the yard; I think the quality is higher, and I’m sure the chickens are happier. When I want a sweetener, I generally use liquid stevia extract, especially the flavored ones; and erythritol, either blended with stevia or monk fruit, or in the form of Swerve. That said, I am not terrified of sucralose.
Tthe Professional version of KETONIX® Breath Ketone Analyzer designed for use with a mobile device.
Measures user interface is available in the Ketonix App (iOS and Android). Breath ketone levels are indicated in PPM.
I don’t test for ketosis frequently, but when I blow into my Ketonix breath ketone meter I always register in at least a mild state of ketosis. Therefore, I am eating a ketogenic diet.
Could I get into a deeper state of ketosis? Sure, I could. I could eat fewer vegetables and stick to only the lowest carb nuts. I could quit my modest intake of sweets and give up my wine.
But this is my life
Come September 5, 2022, I will have been eating this way for twenty-seven years. (It was the Tuesday after Labor Day. I had decided the previous week to go low-carb, but had already started cooking for a Labor Day cookout at my house. So I generally count my LowCarbiversary as the Tuesday after Labor Day, regardless of the actual date.) I am well, clear-headed, and energetic. I have never seen my A1c above 5.1, and a heart scan showed my coronary arteries completely clear. Two doctors looking at two different sets of blood work both pronounced my kidney function “excellent.” I am also assured that my liver is in great shape.
I am a size 12 rather than the busting-out-of-my-size-18s I was when I started. (I never did break down and buy 20s, but I needed to.) The fact that I test positive for ketones shows that I am, indeed, burning fat for fuel.
Which brings us to another issue. I could get into deeper ketosis by adding more fat to my diet, especially MCT oil, which is particularly ketogenic. Some of the times I have tested in moderate rather than mild ketosis have been when I had a lunch made with MCT-oil based mayonnaise.
Testing Positive for Ketones Means You Are Burning Fat for Fuel
But here’s an important thing: testing positive for ketones means you are burning fat for fuel. It does not, however, guarantee that you are burning body fat for fuel. You may be burning the fat from your last meal. Nothing wrong with that, but if you’re trying to lose weight, it’s counterproductive. If you’re going to add fat to your diet to deepen ketosis, you need to cut something else. Adding fat bombs or Bulletproof Coffee™ to your food intake will not make you lose faster. Consuming that cup of fat-laced joe or a couple of fat bombs instead of a meal can work.
(The fastest weight loss I have ever experienced has been while Fat Fasting – eating 1,000 calories per day, with as close as possible to 90% of them coming from fat. You will note that while this is a very high-fat diet, it is also calorically restricted. And yes, I tested in deep ketosis. Interestingly, I tried the HCG diet back when it was popular, omitting the “grissini” – Italian bread stick. The HCG diet called for 500 calories per day, half that of the Fat Fast. I lost nearly twice as fast on the Fat Fast on double the calorie intake. Explain that with “calories in/calories out”!)
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That is, if you’re hoping to burn body fat. If you’re using ketones to treat a neurological problem like epilepsy or dementia, that’s a different matter entirely. The same goes for endurance athletes who have discovered that a fat-based metabolism beats sucking down honey sticks, but most endurance athletes are trim anyway.
The Keto Diet: Summing Up
If your diet is low carb enough that you are in ketosis, you are eating a keto diet, no matter what anyone else may say.
More Low Carb Recipes & Articles by Dana Carpender
Check out Dana Carpender Low Carb Books & Cookbooks.
More about Ketones and Ketosis
The production of ketones, when consuming less than about 50 grams of carbs daily, has been a major criticism of the diet since the publication of his first book Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution in 1972. The medical community, assisted by the media, continues to be in the forefront of furthering inaccurate info about this natural process of utilizing ketones to fuel the body. It is time to set the record straight.
Every human endeavor, it seems, has got to have its very own set of buzzwords. Why? I think it's because we like to think that we are in a secret club, like the ones we had in elementary school. Only certain kids knew the secret password or the secret handshake, and we felt really smug around those who did not share the secret. Well, low carbohydrate dieting has its buzzwords, some self-explanatory, and some downright scary. In the scary group,…