The popularity of the ketogenic diet hit a peak around 2020 and has maintained its dietary dominance without any signs of waning since.
Many are drawn to the low-carb, high-fat diet to lose unwanted weight quickly and with ease, while others may follow the protocol as a therapeutic tool to mitigate the disruptive effects and symptoms of conditions like medically-resistant forms of epilepsy.
Whatever your inspiration to consider increasing healthy fats and restricting simple sugars and carbs, there are various ways to approach the plan that provide a realistic and sustainable dietary solution for a wide range of people with varying lifestyle preferences and nutritional needs.
What is a Ketogenic Diet?
At its essence, a ketogenic diet is one that converts the body from primarily running on glucose to relying on fat and ketones for energy by restricting the intake of sugars and carbs.
However, while the core premise of the ketogenic diet remains constant, the suggested macronutrient budget can differ vastly from one person to another, based on the iteration of the plan selected as well as the dieter’s individual health factors.
Plus, considerations like managing pre-existing conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, or type 2 diabetes can directly impact which low-carb approach may work the best for you.
So, if you’re considering ditching carbs for fat in an effort to reclaim your health and jumpstart your journey to a smaller dress size, keep reading.
Which Type of Keto Diet Is Right for You?
1 - Therapeutic (Strict) Keto Diet: The wondrous effects of a strict low-carb, high-fat ketogenic diet were discovered and well studied since 1920, a dietary protocol used in medicinal settings to ease the devastating effects of conditions like treatment-resistant epilepsy and other neurological maladies.
As a result of ketogenic therapy, metabolic adaptations may increase brain metabolism, improve mitochondrial ATP production, reduce oxidative stress and free radical production, reduce inflammation, and increase neurotrophic factors that control cell proliferation and function within the neural system.
A strict keto diet involves carefully tracking calories and macronutrients to hit set goals daily to enter and maintain metabolic ketosis. Most following this approach to the low-carb, high-fat diet limit their carbohydrate intake to about 25 net grams per day, although some restrict to as few as 15 grams per day, and completely steer clear of any foods landing higher on the glycemic index.
This approach to the keto diet will advise eliminating sugar, starch, high-glycemic veggies, most beans, grains and most fruits. Instead of noshing on fries, chips, and rice, your meal plan will instead consist of nutrient-dense carbs like dark leafy greens, broccoli, kale, cauliflower, and a variety of low-glycemic berries bursting with antioxidants and essential added hydration.
Plus, a strict ketogenic diet encourages including loads of healthy fats such as omega-3 fatty fish, MCT oil, ghee, or organic heavy cream into your diet to create a wide range of satiating recipes that will quell any food craving without adversely affecting your glucose levels.
Also, bread and sweets are still available to those starting a strict keto diet. The key is to replace grain-based flours for options like lupini or almond flour, and alternating with ingredients like stevia, monk fruit, or erythritol, to make sugar-free baked goods and confections.
While following a strict ketogenic diet, you will eat approximately 75% of your calories from fat, 20% of your calories from protein, and 5% from carbohydrates.
2 - The Original (Standard) Ketogenic Diet (SKD): Also a very common approach to keto, a standard ketogenic diet or SKD is a very low carb, moderate protein and high fat diet. The approach usually contains 70% fat, 20% protein, and only 10% carbs, and most on this plan track macros and calories daily––often with the goal of achieving consistent weight-loss results.
This version of the ketogenic diet is great for the individual looking to jumpstart or restart their weight-loss journey while enjoying meals that feel like you’re cheating when you’re not.
You’ll likely eat a significant amount of fresh, whole foods following this approach, limiting packaged or keto ‘junk’ foods, while placing an equal focus on improving health and releasing excess weight––applying a holistic approach to healthy living and self-care.
While this version of keto is considerably restrictive, it’s the version most people try when introduced to the low-carb, high-fat approach to eating and the version you’ve probably seen plastered all over your social media feeds.
3 - Targeted Keto (Best for Athletes): Fitness enthusiasts and athletes should adjust their low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) plan to ensure they are gaining enough muscle and recovering adequately from vigorous exercise and strength training while on a targeted ketogenic diet.
A targeted keto diet differs from a standard ketogenic diet in that carbs are consumed around the time you exercise or engage in intense exercise to provide a fast-acting burst of energy––perfect when lifting heavy weights or engaged in high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
Adding a portion of carbs between 30 and 60 minutes before a high-intensity workout will fuel your routine, allowing you to achieve greater strength gains than often experienced on a normal keto diet.
Start by following a standard ketogenic diet for between four to six weeks to get the hang of the program and allow the body to begin fat-adaptation, which will aid in your efforts to curb carbs by suppressing your overall appetite and curtailing sugar cravings.
By allowing the body to adjust to burning fat for fuel first before moving onto the targeted keto diet, which introduces higher-glycemic carbs strategically, which can impact glucose and ketone levels, you ensure the body is primed to slip back into ketosis easily after increased carb consumption.
Begin with a daily carbohydrate budget under 20 grams and drink plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated while depleting your body’s glucose stores to keep it running on fat and ketones for fuel.
Plus, in addition to aiding rapid and sustained weight loss, an augmented keto diet can prove beneficial for individuals who wish to build or maintain lean muscle and increase physical performance at an elite level.
4 - A High-Protein Diet (Ideal for Bodybuilders): The high-protein ketogenic diet (HPKD) offers many health benefits along with elevated energy levels that can support optimal performance for bodybuilders and other athletes who perform intense strength exercises.
Bodybuilders and figure competitors may benefit from a ketogenic diet during preparation and recovery from competitions by consuming muscle building protein, satiating fat, and loads of low-glycemic veggies to help fuel intense workouts.
Additionally, ketosis prevents water retention and encourages the body to release fluid at higher rates, helping people in leaning and cutting phases of conditioning achieve better stage-ready leanness by reducing water weight to optimal levels that can create a distinct advantage.
Those adhering to a high-protein variation of keto should keep their macros within the following range for optimal results: 60-65% fat, 30% protein, 5-10% carb. Shoot to consume one gram of protein per 1 lb of lean mass as a baseline and adjust intake based on your energy levels, recovery and muscle building efficiency, and feelings of satiety.
5 - A Cyclical Keto Diet (or ‘Keto Cycling’) Could Help You Stick With the Diet: Allowing a sweet potato or occasional high-glycemic fruit may not be a no-no, but a benefit to helping followers stick to the low-carb, high-fat diet long-term.
Those following a cyclical ketogenic diet, also called carb cycling, adhere to the keto diet for a certain amount of time and then take a day (or more) off, allowing an opportunity to add some juicy, ripe, and sweet pineapple to a pre-workout smoothie during the warmer months––or whenever––without any guilt.
The noted periods off of keto are planned ahead and a calculated part of your dietary protocol, so you can relax and release anxiety around never having a chance to eat your favorite high-glycemic foods ever again.
Methods of approaching the cyclical keto diet are as diverse as types of intermittent fasting, windows and periods of restriction vary greatly based on your personal preference. Some people choose to have six or seven days on keto followed by a day or two off. Others do keto for 12 to 14 days before taking a break for two or three days. The approach on this diet is largely based on personal comfort and preference.
Determining the best on-off schedule for you is based on many individual factors and lifestyle choices you’ll want to consider to curate an approach that’s realistic and sustainable for you.
However, it’s likely best to only take off one day at a time, especially when getting started on the keto diet, to avoid refilling your glucose stores too plentifully and making it harder to return to metabolic ketosis after your low-carb hiatus.
6 - The Lazy Keto Diet (Easiest Version of Diet): Lazy keto is a less restrictive version of the standard high-fat, low-carb ketogenic diet. A therapeutic or standard keto diet requires you to carefully track your macronutrient intake and follow a strict, very-low-carb, high-fat eating protocol with only moderate amounts of protein.
However, while a lazy keto diet also calls for drastically restricting carb intake to less than 50 total grams a day, this version of keto is much more easy going, as its name suggests, and there’s no need to track calories, protein, or fat—an approach perfect for the seasoned keto dieter, anyone eating intuitively, or people maintaining their current weight; although weight loss is possible using this approach, as well.
Followers of this variation of keto generally restrict carbs to around 5–10% of their total daily calories—or between 20–50 grams per day for most people. However, on lazy keto, tracking your calories, protein, and fat intake and measuring ketones isn't required, so dieters often aren't sure whether they're truly in ketosis.
Although this more relaxed version of the keto diet is sure to broaden the net in terms of the potential for curious individuals to begin and continue on a keto diet, another stricter or closely monitored version of the diet may be better if you are interested in:
- Weight loss: Not counting calories can produce unpredictable or unsatisfactory weight-loss results. Consider shifting to a stricter version of keto if you’re eating a lazy keto diet and notice a stall on the scale.
- Managing neurological disorders: Individuals following a ketogenic diet to remediate the effects of neurological disorders like epilepsy and dementia will likely want to adhere to a strict, therapeutic version of keto rather than this laxer model.
- One who needs to consistently maintain ketosis: You can obviously have a ketone tester handy while following a lazy keto diet to gather some idea of when you are or aren’t in ketosis, but the nature of a lazy keto diet doesn’t lend to tracking most macros, and followers who don’t take extra measures to track ketone levels are never truly sure how often they’re gleaning the maximum benefits of ketosis.
Potential Nutrient Deficiencies: As with traditional keto, lazy keto restricts many types of nutrient-rich foods, including fruits, starchy vegetables, grains, and legumes. This may prevent you from obtaining essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber unless you're particularly mindful when crafting your weekly meal plan.
Simply put, you should consider your micronutrient intake at least as seriously as your macronutrient consumption.
7 - A Mediterranean Keto Diet (A heart-healthy option): It is well documented that the ketogenic diet and the Mediterranean diet are beneficial to the heart, among other systems.
A Mediterranean-style diet can improve and sustain optimal coronary health by using nutrient-rich foods such as lycopene-dense tomatoes and extra virgin olive oil brimming with polyunsaturated fats––and both ingredients are common staples on a low-carb diet.
Your choice of fat and protein sources, like swapping red meat for fresh-caught fish, or drizzling your salmon with olive oil rather than butter, is another key distinction of the Mediterranean take on keto. Plus, the good news is, the sheer difference of fat and protein choices with this approach to keto can greatly improve your triglycerides and cholesterol levels.
The Mediterranean keto diet combines the best features of both keto diets and Mediterranean cuisine. Fish, meat, and vegetables are heavily emphasized, and pasta consumption is discouraged. Mediterranean keto is all about using the freshest ingredients possible and centering meals primarily around heart-healthy, plant-based fats and proteins.
The intersectional benefits of a Mediterranean and keto diet are the best studied of all dietary protocols as they have been researched for decades with substantial positive findings, especially for heart health and weight regulation.
8 - Keto 2.0 Is a Lower-Fat Type of the Standard Diet: Although the keto diet produces extreme weight loss results and aids in treating some neurological symptoms, the limiting of many fibrous fruits and vegetables advised may be too restrictive for some. No problem: enter Keto 2.0.
A Keto 2.0 diet is more well-rounded than a standard keto diet since it includes more fiber, significant amounts of plant-based fats, and leaner proteins, which are a wiser choice for those focused on improving and sustaining heart health and optimal cholesterol levels.
While the standard keto diet recommends consuming 75-85% of your daily calories from fat, keto 2.0 suggests consuming considerably less, closer to 50% of calories from fat—which is still highly satiating and more realistic for those who want to allow more protein and carbs in their diet while experiencing some of the benefits of eating a plan with limited starchy foods and sugars.
Each person has a different carbohydrate tolerance threshold to maintain to stay in metabolic ketosis, and that raises an important point regarding Keto 2.0. Is it possible to achieve and maintain ketosis while eating upwards of 100 grams of carbs per day?
For some the answer is yes, especially athletes or those otherwise very active and regularly depleting the body’s glucose stores, but for many the answer is no, as eating more than 50 grams of carbs daily will compromise ketosis in most cases.
Essentially, Keto 2.0 is a low-carb diet leaning heavily toward the sensibilities of a Mediterranean protocol. Although all meat is permissible, the plan’s macronutrient makeup is best suited for the inclusion of primarily leaner cuts of meat or seafood—with fewer calories and less saturated fat sourced from red meat or dairy.
Your mind may start to wander to thoughts of pairing fries and buns with your burgers once more when you ponder the possibility of adding more carbohydrates to your meal plan.
However, in order to maintain your weight-loss efforts, you must ensure that you are eating nutrient-dense foods instead of loading up on heaps of fast-acting starches that are likely to spike your blood sugar levels and make you crave more simple sugars––sabotaging your efforts to maintain a calorie deficit to facilitate weight loss.
Keep in mind that different versions of the keto diet may serve you well in different seasons of your life. Those seeking a therapeutic solution through diet will require the strictest protocol, while those chasing convenience and a more laid back approach to eliminating carbs may favor a lazy, dirty, or Keto 2.0 approach to low-carb living.
9 - Dirty Keto: The more lax approach to harnessing carb intake is referred to as dirty keto, or lazy keto, since it allows highly processed and packaged foods.
Those who don't have time to prepare clean keto meals, or would simply rather not cook often or at all, tend to favor this method of reaching ketosis.
Losing weight is achievable while following a dirty or lazy keto diet, as the primary goal with any keto plan is limiting carbs to trigger the body to burn primarily fat and ketones—making weight loss and other health improvements easily attainable.
While this low-carb approach is relaxed, it has a higher risk of being filled with preservatives, highly processed and packaged ingredients and lacking the dense nutrition needed for optimal health—so beware.
Macronutrient targets on a dirty keto diet follow the same framework as the standard keto plan, but the majority of the foods included with this approach are grabbed at a drive-thru or nuked in the microwave.
Eating a ketogenic diet can help reduce inflammation if the plan is filled with organic, whole, foods, but with the allowance of ingredients like hydrogenated vegetable oils and other foods known to promote oxidative stress, as is the case with dirty keto, it may seem like taking one step forward but two steps back for those who opt for this relaxed approach.
So, if the plan is filled with lots of fast food with questionable ingredients, you may ask: why do dirty keto and who is this plan suited to help? Good question.
Although a cleaner approach to keto containing only fresh and premium ingredients is best, dirty keto is a fantastic approach to assist those transitioning away from sugar, and the Standard American Diet (SAD), for whom low-carb processed food is an improvement from their usual fast-food fare packed with loads of highly processed fats, refined sugars, and fast-acting starches.
Plus, shifting to a dirty keto approach while on vacation, traveling, or slammed with managing the multitude of tasks life presents daily, can act as a safeguard from completely tumbling off the wagon and returning to familiar high-glycemic options out of convenience or frustration.
10 - Clean Keto: The aspiration of those adhering to a clean keto diet is consuming the highest quality ingredients and is, surprise, the opposite of dirty keto. Eating organic, nutrient-dense, whole foods is the goal with this protocol, with a heavy emphasis placed on sourcing the finest ingredients.
A clean ketogenic diet consists of premium foods like grass-fed beef, free-range eggs, wild-caught seafood, olive oil, and non-starchy vegetables. With foods high in carbohydrates, such as grains, rice, potatoes, pastries, bread, and pasta, as well as most fruits, drastically restricted or totally excluded.
Furthermore, quality is queen when it comes to clean eating. So while any 80/20 beef offers ideal macros for the keto dieter, the clean keto practitioner looks beyond carb counts and also opts for a grass-fed and grass-finished, organic beef selections—remember quality is imperative with this plan.
In general, people following a clean keto diet will adhere to the standard macronutrient budget described above, unless they are athletes, pregnant, breastfeeding, or otherwise require a tailored macronutrient budget to attain their goals.
Furthermore, using an online tool can help you determine your optimal daily calorie and macro budget and adjust them as necessary to support your ever-changing goals and lifestyle.
Tips to Consider on any Keto Diet
Whether you’re a keto purist or like to keep things on the lazy and dirty side, there are a few things to consider to maximize your experience while remaining mindful of your food budget:
- Unless you’re following dirty keto, and even still, limit the fancy, prepackaged keto diet foods to control ingredients and curb your weekly food budget.
- Make friends with non-starchy veggies and load up on them throughout the week; the fiber and nutrients they provide are essential to a well-rounded low-carb, high-fat meal plan.
- Flexibility and a willingness to go with the flow is helpful in case your favorite item is out of stock or exceeds your budget at the moment. Check out affordable markets like Trader Joe’s or local farmers markets to extend your budget while selecting foods that support ketosis.
- Don’t Abandon the Beans: Just listen, before we lose you. Most beans are out of the question on a very-low-carb, ketogenic diet, but organic black soybeans and lupini beans (and the flour) are fantastic additions to any keto plan for their added fiber and low-cost nature; making the beans an ideal choice to stockpile in your low-carb pantry as a hearty source of plant-based protein.
- Adding frozen fruits and vegetables to your keto diet is also a viable option. Stocking up on frozen foods will enable you to eat items that are incredibly nutritious, since they are frozen at the peak of freshness. Plus, buying frozen foods can help avoid unwanted food waste. Just be sure that you select low carbohydrate, keto-friendly options.
- A great source of fat and protein, eggs are so versatile. Put these items on your standing grocery list for baking or to use for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Last Word on Picking the Right Keto Diet
Keto diet selection depends on a number of factors, making it a very personal decision. Determine which keto diet is right for you by considering your goals, lifestyle, and activity level.
If a keto diet is being used to relieve medical conditions, a therapeutic keto diet should be followed under the supervision of a physician. For those with hectic schedules and heavy workloads, dirty keto may be more appealing. For the ultra-healthy, a clean ketogenic diet with high-quality ingredients may be the way to go.
Ultimately, all the approaches shared above can be considered low-carb, high-fat, so which one works best for you is primarily dependent on your preferences and the nature of your personal goals.
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