Lately it seems like the keto diet is everywhere. Scroll through social media and you're bound to see a few friends who swear it helped them lose those last stubborn five to 10 pounds.
Contrary to many other previous fad diets, the ketogenic diet lifts the stigma of eating fat. It consists of consuming high-fat foods and minimal carbohydrates to force your body to use fat reserves for energy.
A big part of the ketogenic diet is keeping a close eye on your macronutrients (aka macros), including protein, carbohydrates and fats. Proper macronutrient balance ensures that your body goes into ketosis, a metabolic state in which your body burns stored fat instead of glucose, which results in the accumulation of ketones (hence the name).
"The ketogenic diet rapidly controls insulin and suppresses insulin which produces ketones," says Dominic D'Agostino, Ph.D., associate professor at the University of South Florida and founder of Keto Nutrition. "By suppressing insulin, it facilitates fat burning globally and especially around the midsection."
- 60 to 75 percent of calories from fat
- 15 to 30 percent of calories from protein
- 5 to 10 percent of calories from carbohydrates
It's important to understand that fats contain nine calories per gram versus protein and carbohydrates, which have four calories per gram, and that eating a diet high in fat will force absorption of more calorically dense fare, resulting in satiation.
Sources of Fat, Protein and Carbohydrates
Because the diet relies heavily on fats, it's important to make sure that you aren't just eating a bunch of butter and bacon, but that your fats are coming from healthy sources. Some of the best include:
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Coconut oil
- Avocado oil
- Unprocessed cheese
- Heavy cream
- Nuts (like walnuts and almonds)
- Seeds (like sunflower, chia and flax)
When it comes to selecting quality sources of protein (which may also help boost your fat intake, depending on what you choose), your best bets include grass-fed beef, bacon, sausage, salmon and eggs. Poultry is also acceptable, but it should be cooked in oil or butter to boost fat content.
Carbohydrate consumption is limited, so you won't be chowing down on loaves of bread or bags of pretzels. Instead, most of your carbs will come from vegetables. Sticking to nonstarchy vegetables is key.
"Avoid vegetables like corn, beets and carrots, which are high in starch and sugar — especially carrot juice, which is packed with sugar," says Eric Berg, D.C., the author of "The 7 Principles of Fat Burning." When it comes to veggies, think green, he says, like broccoli, asparagus and spinach.
Spark your creative side by substituting vegetables for starchy carbs, which include grains, rice and potatoes. In the kitchen, utilize tools like a spiralizer to make zucchini noodles or mince cauliflower rice. Berries are also a tasty low-carb option for adding sweetness to dishes.
7 Tips to Make Hitting Your Macros Easier
1. Focus on fat first.
Build your meals around high-fat food, as it should be your main caloric component in each dish.
Choose fattier meats or fishes or add eggs, cheese, cream or butter to dishes to increase proportion. Including oil-based dressings or sauces for both meat and veggies is also a great alternative.
2. Get in a rhythm.
With consistency, tracking your macros becomes second nature. But it won't happen overnight. According to the British Journal of General Practice, it may take 10 weeks until you're tracking your foods automatically. So practice, practice, practice.
If you want to find a healthy daily flow, create a schedule designating set hours of the day to eat, get active and sleep. The objective is to commit to a routine that will essentially become a habit. Be strict with yourself at first until you get into the groove of what to eat and when. Then you can start to be a bit more lenient.
3. Download a macro calculator.
You're already attached to your phone, so why not make it work for you in your weight-loss endeavors? LIVESTRONG.COM's MyPlate is a free macronutrient- and calorie-tracking app available for iOS or Android.
Recording all the food you eat with an app will keep meals organized and all macronutrients accounted for. You can even log your desired meals ahead of time to ensure that by the end of the day you've met your macro goals.
4. Set targets for each meal.
To avoid being overwhelmed with thinking about all the macros you have to hit in a day, set a macro target for each meal. For example, if you need 1,700 calories a day, each meal should have 37 to 47 grams of fat, 21 to 42 grams of protein and five to 14 grams of carbs.
This way you have more control and balance instead of having a substantial macronutrient amount left over at the end of the day. If you don't meet your goal, don't panic. Reset the next day and do better.
5. Use a food scale.
Portion size matters when calculating your macros. Investing in a food scale and having measuring cups and spoons on hand will help you track your food precisely and remove much of the guesswork. As you get more familiar with proper portions you can begin to eyeball measurements.
6. Learn to love cooking and meal prep.
Break out your apron and get comfortable in the kitchen. Cooking at home ensures that all macronutrients are accounted for properly and throws out the guesswork.
And meal prep can help you save time during the week and ensure you always have something healthy and keto-approved to eat. Simply choose a day of the week that you have some time to spare, then plan and prepare a week's worth of meals ahead of time by cooking large batches.
Once all bulk cooking is finished, individually portion and store your food in airtight containers until needed. By keeping grab-and-go healthy meals ready, you leave little room for indecisiveness and temptation.
Get some recipe inspiration from one of these options:
7. Go natural.
While making meal decisions, keep in mind that not all food is created equal. Commit to natural alternatives and stay away from any processed or packaged food as much as possible.
"The basic idea is simple and based on real foods: You simply avoid most carbohydrates like sugar, processed junk food, bread, pasta and rice, and instead you eat meat, fish, eggs and natural fats like butter," says Andreas Eenfeldt, M.D., a Swedish doctor specializing in family medicine and the founder of Diet Doctor.
So eating a diet rich in whole foods is the best approach, regardless of whether you stick with the keto diet long-term or just use it to jump-start your weight loss.