When a diet claims to increase energy levels, melt fat and increase cognitive function, we're all ears. And word on the street is that the recently resurfaced ketogenic, or keto, diet does just that. Because of its recent rise in popularity, there is now a lot of information on keto, sometimes contradicting, circulating the web. In an effort to cut through the noise and find out the right way to keto, we turned to health and science journalist and author of the New York Times best-selling book "Genius Foods," Max Lugavere. Psst, he'll also be speaking at LIVESTRONG.COM's Stronger Weekend event on August 4, so don't miss it.
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In his "Genius Foods" book, Lugavere focuses on a practical guide to eliminate brain fog, shrink belly fat and achieve peak mental performance. What does that look like? The real focus, Lugavere says, "is on eating foods and eating tactics that honor the body's natural rhythms while providing it the nutrients essential for growing healthy brain cells and maximizing the body's utilization of its own fat as a fuel source." Here is how Lugavere's philosophy and the keto diet come together:
The Basic Principles of Keto
Lugavere defines keto as requiring you to minimize your carbohydrates to 5 to 10 percent of your calorie intake (depending on activity levels) and rounding off your diet with fat (about 60 percent of calorie intake) and protein (about 30 to 35 percent of intake). Essentially, it's a very carbohydrate-restrictive diet. "Ratios are usually 3:1 or 4:1 fats to carbs," says Lugavere.
The Biggest Misconception on the Ketogenic Diet
"That you need to load up on butter and bacon to get enough fat," Lugavere says. "The essence of ketosis is when the body runs out of food energy and it turns to stored sugars. The body has a very limited sugar storage capacity. When it runs out, the body turns to fat [for energy]." One of the biggest benefits of the keto diet is that our bodily tissues use fat for fuel during this process, but this doesn't mean that we need to overload the body by ingesting high-fat food.
According to Lugavere, you can be in deep ketosis without consuming any fats whatsoever, as ketone production is a natural response to starvation. "Ketone production occurs in the liver during the body's starvation mode, which is then released into the bloodstream where they can shoot up to the brain, ready to be used for energy," he explains.
"It is now known that supplying the body with micronutrients is a good idea. So rather than chasing a fat consumption 'high score,' I opt for low-carbohydrate fibrous veggies like butternut squash, which are much more nutrient-dense than bacon and butter (which still allow you to stay in ketosis if particularly active)."
On Consuming Animal Products in the Ketogenic Diet
"When buying meat, you want to consider its source," Lugavere said. "For beef, you want 100 percent grass-fed/grass-finished. Eggs should be pasture-raised or omega-3 enriched. Chicken should be free-range and antibiotic-free."
Read more: What Is Sustainable Meat & How to Buy It
Should We Be Living in a Constant State of Ketosis?
"It depends," Lugavere said. "If you are doing it for medical reasons, follow the advice of your doctor. For most people, intermittent ketosis makes more sense, allowing you to achieve some of the benefits of nutritional ketosis while also allowing for liberal consumption of veggies and low-sugar fruits."
Want to try out a keto-like style of eating for yourself? Lugavere's number one tip is adding extra salt to your diet. "Most people quit carbs cold turkey, but don't realize that doing so increases your need for electrolytes like sodium," he says. If you are intrigued, start out with his favorite simple five-ingredient recipe:
Mix together chopped kale, extra virgin olive oil, apple cider vinegar, nutritional yeast and garlic salt. Massage the kale and enjoy!
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