How to make the keto diet healthy

If you’re trying to lose weight you’ve no doubt heard about the keto diet craze that’s been hitting the headlines for the last few years. The keto, or ketogenic diet, is a high-fat, very-low-carbohydrate diet that claims it can help you shed fat fast and even reverse diabetes. But the question is, will loading up on high-fat foods help you lose weight? And is it healthy to “cut out” carbs?

So, whether you’re simply curious about trying keto or keen to jump right in, this is a must-read article.

History of the keto diet

Over one hundred years ago Dr. Wilder, a doctor at the Mayo Clinic, developed the ketogenic “keto” diet to treat children with severe epilepsy. Since then, the keto diet has been successfully used around the world to treat drug-resistant epilepsy. In the 1970s, the diet became popular for weight loss thanks to the Atkins diet, which catapulted keto into the weight-loss limelight. While the Atkins diet recommends slowly reintroducing carbohydrate-containing foods back into your eating plan, the keto diet strictly limits these foods at all times.

What is the keto diet?

The keto diet typically limits carbohydrates to less than 50 grams per day (that’s what you’ll find in just one bagel!), with the remaining calories coming mostly from fat and a moderate amount from protein. Jason Ewoldt, RDN, LD, a wellness dietitian at Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program explains, “When you switch to a high-fat, low-carb diet, your body, by necessity, shifts away from burning carbs (or glucose) for fuel and instead uses fat for energy. This process is called ketosis — hence the diet's name.”

When you consider the average American eats 248 grams of carbs a day, and that most of these carbs are coming from highly processed and refined grains, it’s not surprising weight loss occurs when you cut out large amounts of soda, white flour and baked goods.

So, what does high-fat, low-carb look like on your plate? Think bacon and eggs for breakfast, salami and blue cheese salad for lunch, and fried chicken in creamy zoodles for dinner. What you won’t typically find is fruit, cereal, bread, pasta, beans, or even potatoes. Many of these foods may be difficult to weed out of your normal diet making you more likely to have trouble sticking with them over long periods of time. Consequentially, the results that you may have gained while practicing the keto diet can be quickly lost.

Are carbs bad for you?

Carbohydrates are often thought of as the “boogeymen” of nutrition contributing to weight gain and high blood sugar, but our bodies rely on carbs to turn glucose into energy. A low-carb diet, such as the keto diet, will be higher in fats. In moderation, carbs are not bad for you and do have nutritional benefits, but it is important to be wary of the types and amount of carbs you are consuming.

Types of Carbohydrates

Carbs come in 3 different forms

  • Starches
  • Fiber
  • Sugar

Both starches and fiber are considered complex carbohydrates while sugar is known as a simple carbohydrate.

Simple vs. complex carbs

Simple carbohydrates consist of mostly sugars that are quickly broken down resulting in quick rises and falls of blood sugar. Conversely, complex carbs such as fiber and starches take longer to break down resulting in feeling fuller longer. Fiber in particular isn’t broken down and instead passes through the body aiding in digestion and actually helps in regulating blood sugar levels

Is the keto diet good for you?

Research shows that a keto diet can result in weight loss and improvements in cardiovascular risk factors. The high-fat, moderate-protein content can also help with appetite control, which is often a challenge on traditional low-calorie and low-fat diets making these diets more difficult to stick to.

However, in a world where cereal for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, and pasta for dinner are quick-and-easy, go-to meals when time is tight, it can be hard to sustain a diet that limits carbohydrate-rich foods so drastically long-term. And the long-term weight-loss benefits of a low-carb diet don’t seem to be superior when compared to low-fat diets.

Risks of the keto diet

The long-term health risks are unknown.

Ewoldt cautions, "The keto diet is a very restrictive diet that's tough to follow. The average person is not going to keep doing this long term. Because the saturated fat content is high, coupled with limited amounts of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, it is not optimal for health."

Short-term health issues associated with a keto diet include headaches, bad breath and constipation.

How can you tap into the weight-loss benefits of the ketogenic diet, without eliminating so many nutrient-rich foods?

A healthier approach to keto by The New Mayo Clinic Diet

The New Mayo Clinic Diet’s Healthy Keto meal plan has been developed by dietitians, and while it still keeps carbs low and fats high, rather than loading up on bacon, butter and cream, it delivers healthy fats from extra virgin olive oil, avocado, salmon, nuts and seeds. As a result, the meal plan contains less unhealthy saturated fat (keeping it below the recommended 10 percent a day). And although the Healthy Keto meal plan still keeps net carbs at around 50 grams per day, it includes good-for-you ingredients like berries, beans, and carb-containing veggies.

This healthier approach is easier to stick to long-term and also means you won’t be missing out on the wealth of health benefits that fiber-rich foods like fruits, grains and beans offer – keeping your gut, heart and brain healthy and happy. Not only are you able to eat the foods you like, but there is the added benefit of providing your body with the proper nutrition needed to aid digestion and to feel fuller longer.

Want to give the Healthy Keto meal plan a go? Take a look at a day on a plate of the Healthy Keto Meal Plan.

Which plan is right for you?

Which plan is right for you?

Whether you're looking for a healthy weight-loss plan or considering weight-loss medication, discover which of our world-leading solutions is best for you.

Take the free assessment

Get our latest blog delivered to your inbox

I agree to receive emails from Mayo Clinic Diet (we respect your privacy).

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy & Terms of Service apply.