The ketogenic diet is soaring in popularity with its promises of dramatic and rapid weight loss. The diet works by restricting carbohydrates so your body will burn fat instead. Burning fat creates ketones, which the body uses for energy in a process called ketosis, hence the name ketogenic diet.
While the plan can be very effective, some of the popular advice can make it challenging to maintain a healthy, well-balanced diet—and to stick with the program long-term. Here’s how to turn the ketogenic diet into a healthy lifestyle that will yield lasting results:
Don’t be overly strict. The ketogenic diet was developed in the 1920s to treat children with epilepsy. In that version, which some people still follow, carbohydrates were limited to just 10 grams (g) per day. That’s about one small orange. It can be difficult to adhere to such a strict regimen and to get adequate fruit and vegetable intake. Most people can stay in ketosis and lose weight with up to 50 to 80 g of digestible (also called net) carbohydrates per day.
Think net carbs. To calculate net carbs, take the total carbohydrate content of a food and subtract both the fiber and sugar alcohols, neither of which are digestible. For example, one cup of broccoli contains about 6 g of carbohydrates, but 2.5 g are from fiber, leaving a net carb value of 3.5 g.
Bacon is still not healthy. A common mistake people make is to load up their plates with fatty or processed meats, oils, and butter. But just because you are in ketosis, it doesn’t mean a diet is healthy.
Instead, base your meals on lean protein sources (lean meats, poultry, eggs, whey), non-starchy vegetables (broccoli, greens, squash), and low to moderate levels of healthy fat (avocados, nuts, coconut).
Fruit is part of a healthy diet. In the beginning, or induction period, of a ketogenic diet, you may have to skip the fruit to help your body get into ketosis. But once you’re there, you can gradually increase fruit without affecting your body’s ability to burn fat. Some fruits, like berries, are lower in carbohydrates, making it easier to stay within your daily net carbohydrate budget.
Avoid an all-or-nothing mentality. Following a ketogenic diet can be difficult, and you might make mistakes—especially in the beginning. It takes time to give up beloved foods. If you slip up, don’t give up. At your next meal, return to low-carb eating.