A keto meal plan is more than bacon, eggs, and a side of heavy cream. For many, low carb meals mean successful weight loss. They can also be a solution to nagging health problems, like poor blood sugar control.
This is because your body naturally burns sugar for fuel. When you restrict carbohydrate intake to 20 – 30 grams a day, you force your body into a metabolic state known as ketosis. To give you an idea of what restricted carbs look like, a medium sized banana gives you roughly 27 grams of carbohydrates.
In ketosis, your liver breaks down stored fat and turn it into ketones. You then use these ketones as your number one source of energy. As you might imagine, using stored fat for energy (instead of sugar from your diet) equals weight loss. But in order to a maintain fat-burning metabolism, you’ve got to keep your body wired for ketosis. This means avoiding sugar and sticking with a keto meal plan.
Note: If you do some form of high intensity exercise, you may want to beef up your carb intake 30 minutes before working out — hitting somewhere before 25 – 50 grams of carbohydrates. And nursing mothers, you will probably want to wait until your baby has fully weaned before starting a ketogenic diet, as healthy carbohydrates support your milk supply.
What’s in (and not in) a keto meal plan
When you make the switch over to a keto diet, focus on protein-rich foods that are high in healthy, unprocessed fats. Likewise, avoid starchy foods and added sugar.
- Meat such as grass-fed beef, lamb, poultry, and wild-caught seafood
- Eggs from pastured hens
- Leafy greens such as spinach, kale, beetroot tops, lettuce leaves
- Above ground vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts
- Full fat dairy such as cow and goat cheese, cream, and butter
- Nuts and seeds such as almonds, macadamias, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds
- Peanut butter
- Avocado, tomatoes, and sour berries like raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, and cranberries
- Non-sugar natural sweeteners such as stevia, erythritol, and xylitol
- Cooking fats like coconut oil, virgin red palm oil, tallow, lard, and extra virgin olive oil
- Grains like wheat, corn, rice, and products made from these foods
- Added sugar like honey, agave, maple syrup, beetroot and fruit sweeteners
- Fruit such as bananas, apples, pears, oranges, and mango
- Starchy vegetables like potato, yams, and winter squash
The benefits of a keto meal plan
It might sound like snake oil. But do any digging on the internet about the ketogenic diet, and you’ll find personal stories of rapid weight loss and improved memory. You’ll also find a bit science explaining how tumor cells rely on sugar for fuel…and with access to only ketone bodies, they die. Or how a ketogenic diet can improve mood.
If you’re interested in losing weight, reversing type 2 diabetes, or recovering from PCOS — the keto diet may be your jam. More serious conditions such as dementia and cancer may also turn around on a ketogenic diet.
The point is to avoid carbs like the plague and consume plenty of fat so the you can make ketonic fuel. If you’ve got a health problem you can’t hack — and this problem involves blood sugar control, brain health, or your metabolism — you may thrive on a keto meal plan.
What can go wrong on the keto diet
Keto flu — As your body uses up leftover glucose and shifts gears so that it can turn fat into fuel, you might feel less than amazing. Using up stored glucose in your muscles means a drop in energy. Ketosis also has a diuretic effect, so make sure you replenish lost electrolytes and fluids with plenty of bone broth, fermented coconut water, and plain water with a squeeze of lemon.
Most folks get through the keto flu by day four or five of the ketogenic diet.
Cramps — If you begin having leg cramps, remember the tip above about replenishing fluids. Cramps are usually a sign that the mineral magnesium is running a little low.
Constipation — What’s missing from a keto meal plan? Carbs. Even the complex plant-based carbs that you find in sweet potato or winter squash can be too much to keep the body in ketosis.
The trouble with a low-carb diet is that complex carbohydrates are mostly GOOD for you. Fiber filled plant foods feed robust communities of gut bacteria, which keep inflammation at bay. Your body — and the microbes living there — need plenty of carb-heavy plants to thrive.
When you switch things up on your gut bacteria, they can switch things up on you.
One side effect of filling your table with keto fare is constipation. You can remedy this by making sure each meal is a dazzling spectacle of color and filling up your plate with leafy greens and above-the-ground vegetables.
Orthorexia — Look up orthorexia in the dictionary, you’ll find it says “obsessive behavior in pursuit of a healthy diet.” Like any diet that involves counting the stuff in food as opposed to just eating it, keto meal plans can contribute to a sort of micromanaging orthorexia that’s akin to other eating disorders.
As strange as it sounds, the drive to be healthy isn’t always healthy. So before beginning any special diet, get clear on why you’re doing it and relax into the boundaries you set.