The Keto Diet Plan: What is it and could it work for you?

Could the high-fat Keto Diet Plan really help you lose weight or is it unhealthy?

Keto Diet Plan
(Image credit: Getty Images / vasiliybudarin)

Want to try the Keto Diet Plan? Also known as the Ketogenic Diet, this high-fat, low-carb diet may be popular with celebrities, but it may not be the healthiest option when it comes to losing weight.

Tried the 24-hour smoothie diet and the plant-based diet, but ready to try something new? Cue—the Keto Diet. Here's everything you need to know about the Keto Diet Plan to see whether it is right for you...

What is the Keto Diet Plan?

The Keto Diet Plan actually started as a medical way to treat refractory epilepsy. “The Ketogenic diet (Keto Diet Plan for short) is a low-carbohydrate (low-carb), high-fat diet,” says dietitian, Dr Carrie Ruxton from The Health & Food Supplements Information Service.

How does the Keto Diet Plan work?

Want to give the diet a try? “The Keto Diet Plan involves drastically reducing carbohydrate intake to around 20-50 grams per day and replacing it with fat," says Dr Ruxton. "This drastic reduction in carbohydrate puts the body into a metabolic state called ketosis. Ketosis involves the body producing ketone bodies out of fat and using them as an energy source instead of carbohydrates. If also worth noting that protein should be moderated, too. This is because protein can be converted into glucose if consumed in high amounts, which may slow the transition to ketosis." 

A keto diet is suggested to help to burn body fat. "The presence of ketones in the blood can make you feel less hungry (although this issue still requires clarification)," warns Dr Ruxton. 

“Avoiding carbohydrate may involve avoiding many snack foods and desserts that can be high in calories and they can be foods that we enjoy and eat a lot of. Hence avoiding these foods will help to control calorie intake.”

What can you eat on the Keto Diet Plan?

The Keto Diet Plan advocates a high-fat, low in carbs diet. “A Keto diet focuses on foods such as plain red (beef, lamb, pork) and plain white (chicken, turkey) meat," says Dr Ruxton. "Some foods containing meat may include batter or breadcrumbs or other coating which may provide carbohydrate. It includes fatty fish (salmon, trout, tuna, mackerel) eggs, nuts and seeds, oils such as olive oils and seed oils, avocado, green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, onions, peppers. Some Keto dieters would include butter and cream (because they are high in fat and low in carbohydrate). But consider focusing on plant-based sources of fat for environmental sustainability and health."

With Keto, you also need to think about what foods you need to avoid. If you want to know how to eat less carbs and sugars, this could be the diet for you. “A Keto Diet Plan would avoid carbohydrate-based foods like grains (cereals and bread), sugars, beans and legumes, rice, potatoes, pasta, and most fruits (except for small portions of berries like strawberries and blueberries). A Keto Diet Plan would contain no more than 50g of carbohydrate each day.” suggests that these foods should make up the bulk of your Keto Diet shopping list:

Keto Diet Plan: vegetables

  • Lettuce (Boston, butter, endive, field greens, iceberg, matcha, romaine, and watercress)
  • Greens (collard, kale, mustard, spinach, Swiss chard, and turnip)
  • Asparagus, avocados, bok choy, celery, eggplant, herbs, kohlrabi, mushrooms, radishes, rapini (broccoli raab), tomatoes, and zucchini
  • Artichokes, broccoli, broccolini, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumbers, fennel, green beans, jicama, okra, snap peas, snow peas, and turnips
  • Blackberries and raspberries

Keto Diet Plan: meat and fish

  • Beef, chicken, game, lamb, pork, and veal
  • Bacon, organ meats, and sausage
  • Fatty fish and white fish
  • Crab, lobster, mussels, octopus, oysters, scallops, shrimp, and squid
  • Sliced chicken, corned beef, ham, pancetta, pastrami, prosciutto, roast beef, speck, and turkey

Keto Diet Plan: dairy

  • Butter and ghee
  • Softer cheeses (blue, buffalo mozzarella, brie, camembert, colby, goat, gouda) and harder cheeses (cheddar, havarti, mozzarella, parmesan, pepper jack, muenster, provolone, and Swiss)
  • Eggs
  • Heavy cream
  • Full fat crème fraîche, feta, cream cheese, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt (plain), mascarpone, ricotta, and sour cream
  • Whole milk, used sparingly

Keto Diet Plan: other foods

  • Avocado oil, cocoa butter, coconut oil, nut oils, and olive oil
  • Duck fat, lard, schmaltz (chicken fat), and tallow
  • Canned fish or seafood (anchovies, crab, salmon, sardines, and tuna)
  • Canned or jarred olives and sauerkraut
  • Bouillon cubes and broth
  • Dried herbs and spices
  • Club soda, coffee, tea, and unsweetened cold brewed coffee or iced tea
  • Almonds, Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, walnuts, and pili nuts
  • Seeds (chia, flax, hemp, and pumpkin)
  • Canned coconut milk
  • Cold brewed Bulletproof coffee

Why the Keto Diet Plan could work for you

“A ketogenic diet is sometimes said to be an effective way to lose weight," says Dr Ruxton. "It can be simple to follow due to the focus on some foods and removal of most carbohydrate from the diet.” 

And for those of you who enjoy a fat-rich diet, there is good news. Fat is absolutely essential to our health and a low-fat diet is just as risky as a high-fat one.

Sources of ‘healthy’ fats – that’s unsaturated fats, monounsaturated fats and omegas 3 & 6 – include free-range eggs, good quality oils, nuts, seeds, avocados and oily fish.

Why is the Keto Diet Plan bad?

There are dangers of omitting carbohydrates from meals. “As the body shifts into metabolic ketosis, you may experience fatigue, headaches, mental fogginess and irritability," says Dr Ruxton. "However, some people report feeling more energetic and clear-minded after the first few days." 

Plus, the Keto Diet Plan is not that easy if you are following any other diet restrictions. "Given that many plant foods are off limits, this diet is difficult for vegans and vegetarians," says Dr Ruxton. "And it can be hard to eat out or with friends and family as the diet is restrictive."

But, more seriously, you may be missing out on vital nutrients. “People who choose any type of low carbohydrate diet may have shortfalls of certain nutrients including thiamin, folate, vitamin C, magnesium and vitamin," says Dr Ruxton. "Thiamin, folate and magnesium are found in cereal based foods whilst vitamin C is found in fruits, vegetables and potatoes. Low carbohydrate sources of vitamin C include peppers, tomatoes and strawberries. Salmon and meat are reasonable sources of thiamine."

“However, many people in the UK already suffer from shortfalls in vitamins and minerals. Two report for HSIS showed below recommended intakes for minerals in particular amongst teenagers and young adults, age groups where diets are often tried.”

Keto Diet Plan - How much weight could you lose?

“Compared with a usual diet with a calorie deficit, the Ketogenic diet is claimed by some individuals to lead to a weight loss of up to 5kg in the first week," says Dr Ruxton. "This is compared to 1-2 kg weight loss for a standard low calorie diet and around 10kg in a month. Initial weight loss on a Ketogenic diet is likely to be due to a considerable amount of water. But the large amount of weight loss at the start can be motivating."

But what does scientific research say? "Some research shows that it may be as effective or slightly more effective for long-term weight loss than a low-fat diet," says Dr Ruxton. "A meta-analysis of 13 studies found that a long-term Ketogenic diet (12 months or more) was associated with an overall loss of 1kg in weight which was slightly more than with a lower fat diet. However, a more recent review concluded that, overall, there is no conclusive evidence that the degree of weight loss or the duration of reduced weight maintenance are significantly affected by the type of diet and its quantity and proportion of fat, carbohydrate and protein beyond effects attributable to energy (calorie) intake. "

“For weight loss to occur, calorie intake has to be less than calories burned," says Dr Ruxton. "The evidence is not consistent for the Keto Diet Plan.” 


Is the Keto Diet Plan worth the risks?

As lovely though it sounds to eat meat, eggs, butter and cheese for upwards of four weeks, the damage you could cause your body is worth noting.

“If you want to try the Keto Diet Plan you need to remember than any short-term success may not be maintained," says Dr Ruxton. "Also, given the risk of micronutrient shortfalls, take a multivitamin/mineral supplement containing recommended amounts of a wide variety of nutrients." 

This is especially important for women as women’s bodies are more sensitive to drops in energy and less nutrients coming in. So the promise of better health on a Ketogenic Diet may instead just wreak havoc on your menstrual cycle. "Women should in any case take a folic acid supplement (400 micrograms daily) throughout the reproductive period and everyone should take a vitamin D supplement (10 micrograms daily),” says Dr Ruxton.

What does the Keto Diet Plan cost?

The good news? “There is no need to ‘sign up’ if you want to follow this diet," says Dr Ruxton. "Some websites do have 28-day plans that you can sign up to and some of these would charge, but you can do this plan alone. There are also Keto Diet Apps such as Carb Manager and Keto Diet Tracker. Plus, there are plenty of recipes online." 

You may, however, end up spending more in the supermarket. "The cost of following the Keto Diet Plan is that the foods tend to be expensive (plain meat and chicken, compared with bread for example)," says Dr Ruxton. "If you eat out a lot and then follow a Keto Diet Plan cooking at home the diet need not be more expensive. Simply cooking at home may save money.”

Good luck, we hope it works for you.

Faye M Smith

Faye M Smith is an award-winning journalist with over 15 years experience in the magazine industry. Her continued work in the area of natural health won her the coveted title of theHealth Food Manufacturers’ Association (HFMA) Journalist of the Year Award 2021. 

Currently Acting Health Editor across several brands including woman&home, Woman and Woman’s Own, Faye specialises in writing about mental health, the menopause, and sex and relationships. In fact, having previously been the go-to sex columnist for Now magazine, there isn't much she won't discuss when it comes to women's health. This makes her the best person to review must-buy sex toys, describe how to have a mind-blowing orgasm or explain how to navigate sex in the shower without it ending in a medical emergency. 

While not anti-gym, Faye’s fitness routine is more focussed on finding inner balance rather than burning excess calories. An advocate of mindfulness, she loves power breathing, yoga and plenty of walking in nearby woodlands rather than a sweaty HIIT class. Follow her @fayetuned