It’s estimated that the average person gets about 40-60 percent of their total calories each day from sources of carbohydrates and/or sugar. This includes dietary “staples” like bread, pasta, rice, sugar-sweetened beverages, cereals, chips, and packaged snacks. The problem, however, is that these foods can cause a variety of health conditions, including leaky gut, diabetes, arthritis, and obesity.
But there is a solution.
The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, very low-carb diet that may be one of the most reliable ways to reverse or prevent obesity and other health problems—and it is essentially the opposite of the Standard American Diet. The keto diet food list does not include any grains, sugar, desserts or sweetened drinks, and depending on how severely carbohydrate intake is restricted, it can also eliminate starchy veggies, fruit, and beans/legumes.
So why would anyone voluntarily eat this way? Well, obtaining more calories from healthy sources of fats and proteins (such as real olive oil or grass-fed beef) can help alleviate many common symptoms that are tied to poor blood sugar control and unwanted weight gain. In fact, afternoon exhaustion, sugar cravings, headaches, and irritability can all be signs that you may be under-fueling your body (despite eating enough, or even too many, calories) and relying on sugar and/or refined carbs for a temporary lift in energy and your mood.
While the transition into ketosis (the metabolic state of burning fat or energy instead of glucose from carbs) might initially feel a bit rocky, once adjusted to the ketogenic diet, you’ll have an easier time maintaining steady energy throughout the day and reaching satiety when you eat. You’ll likely also notice an improvement in mood stabilization and even enhanced mental performance. And, of course, you’re likely to drop someone unwanted pounds.
The key to switching your body’s fuel source from glucose to fat is to drastically cutting your carb intake—down to only about 25-50 grams of daily net carbs. (Net carbs refers to the amount left when fiber is deducted from total carbs.) Here are some suggestions regarding the types of foods you should eat in order to kickstart your way to a state of ketosis and better health:
Coconut Oil & Other Healthy Fats
To get the calories you need in order to fuel your body and prevent fatigue, doing the keto diet right requires eating high amounts of healthy fats—up to 80 percent of your total calories each day! A few of the best kinds of healthy fats include: olive oil, coconut oil or coconut milk, MCT (medium-chain triglyceride) oil, grass-fed butter, ghee, palm oil, and organic full-fat dairy.
The reason fats are so important on the ketogenic diet is because, during ketosis, the body actually uses fat for energy to keep the brain, heart and other organs functioning properly. Several servings of fat with every meal—such as 1-2 tablespoons of oil, some raw goat cheese or real coconut milk—ensures you get enough calories to control your appetite, maintain healthy mood and hormone levels, and stick with the diet.
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To get all the nutrients you need (vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, electrolytes, etc.) it’s important to vary the types of plants in your diet. Veggies are essential for providing dietary fiber, disease-fighting phytonutrients that lower free radical damage, and electrolytes like potassium, calcium and magnesium.
Look down at your plate before eating a meal: do you see a variety of different colors and textures? To lower the odds of developing deficiencies or getting bored with your diet, try adding lots of different veggies to ketogenic recipes and meals. Vegetables like leafy greens, mushrooms, tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, spinach, kale, sea veggies, and peppers are great choices. And if you want to kick-start ketosis most efficiently, be sure to emphasize low-carb veggies like asparagus, cucumber, greens, and zucchini.
High Fiber Plants
Eating too little fiber can increase the odds of dealing with digestive issues or other gut-related problems while on the keto diet. Several types of keto-friendly foods supply both fat and fiber together in one “package,” and many are also carb-free. Some of the best include avocados (also high in potassium to help with muscular and cellular functions), chia or flax seeds (which provide some omega-3 fatty acids), almonds, and walnuts.
One thing that distinguishes the ketogenic diet from other low-carb diet plans is that, on the keto diet, protein is only eaten in moderate amounts (about 15-20 percent of daily calories). But eating enough protein is important for preventing hunger, maintaining muscle mass, facilitating neurotransmitter production, and many other functions.
Many types of protein foods don’t contain any carbs at all, including fish and meat, while others contain very little, such as raw dairy. Foods that are high in protein but low- or no-carb include grass-fed meat, pasture-raised poultry, cage-free eggs, bone broth, wild-caught fish, organ meats, and full-fat (ideally raw) dairy products like cheese or milk.
You’re more likely to experience side effects while transitioning into ketosis—sometimes called the “keto flu”—if you become dehydrated and your electrolyte levels fall too low. While everyone’s experience is a bit different, this may mean feeling more exhausted than usual, weaker during workouts, or having trouble sleeping or thinking clearly. In addition to adding enough salt/sodium to your meals and drinking enough water, having some bone broth on a daily basis may help keep side effects to a minimum.
Bone broth, which has been consumed for thousands of years by different cultures around the world, supplies a hard-to-beat combination of amino acids, antioxidants, electrolytes and other minerals. Drink a cup on it’s own, add some to sautéed veggies, or even use bone broth powder in shakes, green smoothies and other recipes.
Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS, is a doctor of natural medicine, clinical nutritionist and author with a passion to help people get well using food as medicine. He recently authored ‘Eat Dirt: Why Leaky Gut May Be the Root Cause of Your Health Problems and Five Surprising Steps to Cure It’ and he operates one of the world’s largest natural health websites at http://www.DrAxe.com. Follow him on Twitter @DRJoshAxe.