As a registered dietitian, I am often asked about the ketogenic diet. Is it safe? Do I recommend it? The media often links it to weight loss, increased energy and more. Here are the facts on keto (plus five simple recipes for every meal of the day to try it out for yourself).

What Is the Keto Diet?

The ketogenic diet, or keto for short, is essentially a high fat, low carb and moderate protein diet. Our body prefers carbohydrates for energy, which are broken down into glucose. When we are restricted from this macronutrient during keto, our body breaks down stored fat into molecules called ketone bodies, which then circulate the body and become the main energy source for your cells. This process is called ketosis and is not something easily achieved. It takes approximately two to four days of eating fewer than 20 to 50 grams of carbohydrates to start producing ketones, but this number is highly individualized.

Contrary to popular belief, keto is not something new. Before keto became a mainstream diet, healthcare professionals used it in the clinical setting to treat drug-resistant epilepsy in children.

What Do I Eat on the Keto Diet?

Because carbohydrates are restricted on a ketogenic diet, it is high in protein and mostly fat. Those on the keto diet consume foods like meat, eggs, cheese, fish, oil, butter, nuts, seeds and non-starchy vegetables like leafy greens.

Is the Keto Diet for Everyone?

Because the keto diet is so restrictive, it can be hard to follow. The USDA dietary guidelines recommend that carbohydrates account for around 50% of our diet. This adds up to around 250 grams per day – far from the 20-50 grams recommended on keto.

Carbohydrates

One of the top concerns about the ketogenic diet for dietitians is that individuals may be consuming too much protein and saturated fat and not enough fruits and vegetables. Individuals who should especially be concerned about keto are those with kidney disease, in which too much protein can worsen their condition. In addition, those concerned with or diagnosed with cardiovascular disease, the leading killer in the United States, should limit their intake of saturated and trans fats. Therefore, a purely ketogenic diet might not be the best option for a number of people.

While the diet has been a successful treatment for reducing seizures in children in the clinical setting, the long-term effects of keto in healthy individuals have not been documented. With that being said, there is no harm in embracing some keto meals as part of your meal rotation when they are filled with nutritious foods.

Breakfast to Feed a Crowd: Spring Vegetable and Cheese Frittata

Eggs and cheese are two keto-approved foods as they are high in protein and fat but low in carbohydrates. This egg and cheese frittata is made with low carbohydrate produce – mushrooms and asparagus, both of which happen to be in season. Make this for a crowd or enjoy as quick meals throughout the week.

Spring Vegetable and Cheese Frittata Recipe

Spring Vegetable and Cheese Frittata

Serves: 8
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Total time: 40 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 8 eggs
  • 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup asparagus, ends removed and chopped
  • 1 cup mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp avocado oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, ricotta cheese and seasonings.
  3. Heat oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add vegetables and cook for 5-8 minutes until tender.
  4. Stir egg mixture into skillet and transfer to the oven. Bake uncovered for 20-25 minutes.

Snack Attack: Parmesan Eggplant Chips

Snacking can be especially hard on the keto diet, since meat, eggs and cheese are more associated with mealtime. Enter – keto veggie chips! These eggplant Parmesan chips can be enjoyed on the go and made in batches to snack on throughout the week.

Parmesan Eggplant Chips Recipe

Parmesan Eggplant Chips

Serves: 4
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 50 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 eggplant
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F.
  2. Cut eggplant into thin rounds and place on paper towels in an even layer. Season with salt and let sit for 15 minutes, removing moisture with the paper towels. Flip eggplant rounds and repeat.
  3. Transfer eggplant rounds to a large mixing bowl with olive oil, Parmesan cheese and seasonings. Toss to combine and transfer to a large baking sheet.
  4. Arrange in a single layer and bake for 15-18 minutes until crispy.

Light Bites for Lunch: Shrimp Avocado Lettuce Cups

Shrimp is the star of these high-protein, low-carb lettuce cups. Seafood, like meat, is a good source of protein. Seafood offers a unique fat called omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for heart and brain health. The USDA dietary guidelines recommend consuming seafood twice per week.

Shrimp Avocado Lettuce Cups Recipe

Shrimp Avocado Lettuce Cups

Serves: 6
Prep time: 25 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 lbs. cooked shrimp, peeled, deveined and chopped
  • 1/4 cup cherry tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/4 onion, diced
  • 2 tbsp green onion, chopped
  • 2 tbsp fresh cilantro, minced
  • 3 avocados, cubed
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1 tsp adobo seasoning
  • lettuce cups

Directions:

  1. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together olive oil, rice vinegar, lime and adobo seasoning. Add cherry tomatoes, onion, green onion, cilantro, avocados and shrimp to the bowl. Toss to combine. Place in the fridge for 30 minutes to cool.
  2. Divide shrimp veggie mixture among lettuce cups.

Quick Weeknight Dinner: Keto Zucchini Boats

Fun to eat and easy to make! These keto zucchini boats are a nutrient-packed weeknight dinner option that can be customized with your ground meat of choice. Whole beef is high in fat, while the grass-fed option has a higher ratio of omega-3s.

Keto Zucchini Boats Recipe

Keto Zucchini Boats

Serves: 2
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Total time: 25 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 zucchinis
  • 8 oz. ground grass fed beef
  • 1/4 cup diced tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup shredded cheese
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tbsp avocado oil
  • salt and pepper

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F.
  2. Warm avocado oil in a medium skillet over high heat.
  3. Sauté grass-fed beef with seasonings until cooked.
  4. In a large bowl, combine beef and diced tomatoes.
  5. Cut zucchini in half lengthwise and scoop out the centers.
  6. Place zucchini boats face up on a lined baking sheet and fill with beef tomato mix.
  7. Top each boat with cheese and bake for 15 minutes or until cheese has melted.

Yes, You Can Still Eat Dessert: Keto Fudge Bites Ⓥ (Vegan)

Yes, you can still eat dessert! These keto fudge bites are a decadent after-dinner treat made with the nut or seed butter of choice and naturally sweet-tasting coconut oil. Make a batch and store in the freezer to satisfy your dessert cravings throughout the week.

Keto Fudge Bites Recipe

Keto Fudge Bites

Serves: 2
Prep time: 5 minutes (plus 2 hours for cooling)
Cook time: 10 minutes
Total time: 2 hours 15 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup unsweetened sunflower butter (or nut butter of choice)
  • 1 cup coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cacao powder
  • 1/3 cup coconut flour
  • 4-6 drops of stevia sweetener

Directions:

  1. Add sunflower seed butter, coconut oil and stevia to a small saucepan over medium heat and whisk together until combined. Stir in unsweetened cacao powder and coconut flour and mix until batter is uniform.
  2. Divide mixture into a nonstick muffin tin or silicone mold and place in the freezer for 2-3 hours.

In conclusion

Following a strict ketogenic diet can be challenging in the long term, and it may not be the best choice for a number of Americans. Most dietitians would agree that instead of following fad diets, you should embrace sustainable healthy eating habits by embracing plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and healthy fats. However, whether you are keto or not, you can still enjoy the benefits of these simple, nutritious recipes as part of a broadly balanced diet combined with a healthy lifestyle.

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