There’s plenty of evidence that a ketogenic diet works wonders. Originally developed to help epilepsy patients control seizures, the high-fat way of eating has skyrocketed in popularity, thanks to its ability to melt off up to 10 pounds a week, plus improve memory by 62 percent, boost mood by 52 percent, and decrease triglycerides by 300 percent. But as anyone who’s tried keto knows, sticking with the food formula can be challenging. We start with the best of intentions and feel motivated as the pounds fall off, but symptoms like headaches, body aches, fatigue, and brain fog (aka the “keto flu”) make staying the course difficult. In fact, experts report that 75 percent of women who try keto struggle with such issues.
Why is keto so tough to maintain? “A ketogenic diet is a high-acid diet,” asserts Lynda A. Frassetto, MD, a professor of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco Medical Center. She explains that the animal proteins and dairy that make up the bulk of the keto diet are broken down into acidic compounds that can have a corrosive effect on the body’s tissues. “When we eat a high-acid diet, the body is able to neutralize the acid, but we pay a price,” notes Dr. Frassetto. That’s because the body begins to scavenge acid-neutralizing minerals such as potassium and calcium from other tissues to deal with the excess acid. This mineral depletion slows metabolism and causes those flu-like symptoms.
If intake of acidic foods remains high, the body steps up its defenses with a fail-safe measure: It packs on fat. “The body accumulates fat as a way of storing the acidity it can’t process,” explains natural-health expert Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD. “Fat is damage control; when your fat stores are growing, it’s a sign of acidic buildup that the body is trying to buffer.”
The good news: You can get the slim-quick benefits of keto without the downsides. The key is to enjoy foods that are rich in the alkalizing minerals that counter the harmful effects of high acid levels. “Vegetables and nuts contain precursors that the body can metabolize into compounds that neutralize the acids,” explains Dr. Frassetto. Research shows consuming more acid-reducing foods can lower the body’s overall acid level by as much as 68 percent to eliminate symptoms.
Enjoying alkaline vegetables and fruits makes the keto diet work even better. Researchers at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston report that as the body’s acid levels come down, the function of slimming organs like the liver and thyroid improves to speed up metabolism.
And according to research at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, when the body is in an alkaline state, it actually produces more ketones — the fat-burning fuel produced by a ketogenic diet. “Studies show that within about three days, your body starts burning its own body fat for energy, helping you lose weight quickly,” says Anna Cabeca, DO, who specializes in anti-aging medicine. “In this state, the body will also burn the nutritious fat that you’re consuming through your diet.” More proof: Women FIRST spoke with report losing up to 22 pounds in just nine days on an alkaline keto plan.
Speedy weight loss is just the beginning. “You’ll experience dramatically improved focus, memory, and motivation, as well as better sleep,” promises Dr. Cabeca. “Once you’ve replenished the body’s supply of alkaline minerals, you’ll notice more beautiful skin and a youthful appearance.” Plus, studies show that an alkaline diet improves bone density and boosts the body’s defenses against everything from the common cold to cardiovascular disease. Read on for the strategies that will help you get slim effortlessly, plus success secrets from women who have transformed their health.
The Keto Diet and Longevity
A ketogenic diet can help us live longer and maintain vibrant health as we age, suggests research at the University of California at Davis. In the study, mice put on the diet experienced a 13 percent increase in median life span compared with mice on a higher-carb, lower-fat diet. “In humans, that would be seven to 10 years.”
“But equally important, the mice retained quality of health in later life,” says Jon Ramsey, PhD, who worked on the study. Indeed, keto was shown to boost memory and coordination — benefits that relate to humans as well. “Many of the things we’re looking at [in mice] aren’t much different from humans,” Ramsey notes. “At a fundamental level, humans follow similar changes and experience a decrease in overall function of organs during aging.”
Acid-Reducing Foods and the Keto Diet
Adding alkalizing foods to a high-fat, low-carb ketogenic diet turbocharges fat burn to melt off up to 22 pounds in nine days. And getting the benefits is surprisingly easy and delicious, promises Anna Cabeca, DO: “Enjoying high-fat meals with plenty of alkalizing minerals will help you feel full and satisfied for hours, plus fend off some of the common pitfalls of the keto diet, like headaches, brain fog and difficulty sleeping.”
To get started, aim to eat a diet comprised of 70 percent fat, 25 percent protein, and just 20 grams of carbs daily. “Get your body into fat-burning mode by eating plenty of healthy fats like olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, and nuts,” advises Dr. Cabeca, author of the e-book The Secret Science of Staying Slim, Sane & Sexy After 40. And to hit your protein target, enjoy four ounces (the size of a deck of cards) of top picks like chicken, ground turkey, flank steak, and salmon at each meal. Dr. Cabeca suggests choosing wild or grass-fed cuts when possible because the feed given to grain-fed animals is acidifying, which makes the meat more acidifying. To find high-quality cuts of meat on a budget, visit your local farmers’ market or discount stores like Costco — you can often save as much as 50 percent this way.
Round out the rest of your plate with at least two cups of a variety of alkalizing greens (especially kale, chard, collard greens, beet greens, and dandelion greens) and non-starchy vegetables (like broccoli and peppers) that are loaded with minerals and are low in carbs. Also key: Cooking veggies and meat in plenty of healthy fats, like pastured butter or ghee, which has become so popular thanks to keto that you can now find it at Walmart and other grocery stores.
For best results, avoid dairy as much as possible. “When your body metabolizes milk and dairy products, they are acid-forming,” notes Schoffro Cook. “However, there are many delicious alternatives.” Try alkalizing coconut and almond milk as well as cheeses made from sheep or goat milk.
Researchers at Yale University also recommend avoiding acid-producing grains, sugars, and processed fats to keep pounds melting off at lightning speed. You’ll also want to limit the most acid-forming foods, including pasta and other refined carbohydrates, processed meats like bacon and hot dogs, artificial sweeteners (except stevia), and all soda and fried foods. To optimize results even further, follow the advice below.
1. Sip alkalizing drinks.
“When you start a ketogenic diet, you flush excess water and sodium out of your body in the first few weeks,” says keto expert Marc Bubbs, N.D. “As your sodium levels fall, so too will potassium levels. This can leave you feeling tired and sluggish.”
To the rescue: The women that FIRST spoke to raved about “ketoade,” a mix of alkalizing minerals including sodium, potassium, and magnesium that helps banish uncomfortable “keto flu” symptoms and speed slimming.
To make: In a half-gallon container, combine five cups of water, half cup of lemon juice, half teaspoon of light salt (also sold as NoSalt in supermarkets), quarter teaspoon of sea salt, two tablespoons of powdered magnesium (like Natural Vitality Natural Calm, $12 for 110 servings, drugstores) and 10 drops of stevia (optional). The resulting brew tastes like a salty lemonade. For best results, store your ketoade in the refrigerator and enjoy up to two eight-ounce cups per day. Drink unflavored or citrus-infused water the rest of the day.
2. Stick with these alkalizing fruits.
“The sugar content in some fruit overrides the minerals that would normally make a food alkaline,” notes Cook. Fortunately, the most alkalizing fruit picks — lemons, limes, tart cherries, unsweetened coconut, and grapefruit — are also low in sugar, which promotes the creation of fat-burning ketones.
Avocados and raw tomatoes (both technically fruit) are also alkalizing, although tomatoes, when cooked, become slightly acidic. Other fruits have many healthful phytonutrients, so Cook recommends eating them sparingly until you reach your goal weight, then adding them back into your diet so you don’t miss out on the health benefits they deliver.
3. Dial back stress.
“Stress causes an increased level of acidity,” explains Cook. That’s because the stress hormone cortisol is broken down into acidifying compounds. Cook’s suggestion: Take a few deep breaths when you feel overwhelmed. This has been shown to dial back cortisol creation by 50 percent and it helps alkalize your system.
“Breathing is one of our body’s ways of maintaining pH balance because oxygen alkalizes the body. The deeper we breathe, the better we are keeping that pH balance,” Cook explains. Another smart move: Getting at least eight hours of slumber each night. Quality sleep has been shown to help lower cortisol output by as much as 45 percent.
Keto Diet Success
“My pain vanished & my energy soared!”
Joanne Raymond sat in her doctor’s office, shell-shocked by what he’d told her: “Your fatigue, migraines, and knee pain are all caused by your weight.”
“I was so mad at myself,” she shares. “I didn’t want to hear it, but I knew he was right. If I didn’t do something about my weight, I wouldn’t be alive to play with my grandchildren.” Joanne was no stranger to weight loss, having dropped — and regained — more than 100 pounds…twice. “I had tried low-carb diets before, but they left me feeling hungry,” Joanne explains. “It just wasn’t sustainable.”
Determined to find a plan that would deliver lasting results, Joanne turned to a keto-style diet that included more alkaline vegetables and healthy fats. Each morning, she drank water with lemon juice and apple cider vinegar to eliminate the cravings that had derailed her diets in the past.
Within 18 months, Joanne lost 131 pounds — and she’s kept it off for more than three years. “My headaches and knee pain vanished, and my energy soared!” Now Joanne is living life to the fullest, spending time with her first grandchild and traveling with her husband. “Instead of trying to squeeze in the airplane seat like before, I have room to spare!”
Keto “Coffee” With Triple the Slimming Power
Acidic ingredients in keto coffee can stall slimming. To the rescue: alkalizing tweaks that rev fat burn — even if you don’t do the plan!
1. Swap Out Coffee: Trade acidic java for alkalizing dandelion root tea (like Alvita, $7 for 24 tea bags, Vitacost.com). Bonus: The earthy brew is proven to help women slim 30 percent faster.
2. Use These Fats: Instead of the cream or butter used in traditional keto coffee, add alkalizing coconut oil and ghee, a clarified butter with a nutty kick.
3. Add Flavor: Nutmeg, cinnamon, and liquid stevia add carb-free sweetness and alkalizing nutrients.
Keto ‘Coffee’: Alkaline Recipes
Cinnamon Keto Latte: In large leakproof travel mug, combine 12 oz. of dandelion root tea, 1⁄2 Tbsp. of coconut oil, 1⁄2 Tbsp. of ghee, 1⁄4 cup of coconut milk, and 1⁄2 tsp. of cinnamon. Shake until frothy.
Keto Mocha Frappe: In blender, blend 8 oz. of dandelion root tea, 1⁄2 Tbsp. of ghee, 1 tsp. of coconut oil, 2 Tbsp. of cocoa powder, and 5 drops of vanilla stevia until frothy.
Keto Caramel Iced Latte: In blender, purée 12 oz. of dandelion root tea, 1⁄2 cup of coconut milk, 1⁄2 Tbsp. of coconut oil, 1⁄2 Tbsp. of ghee and stevia to taste until frothy. Pour over ice and drizzle with 2 Tbsp. sugar-free caramel sauce.
Alkaline Keto Diet Meal Plan
Breakfast: Veggie omelet: Prepare a three-egg omelet with diced red peppers and chopped spinach. Garnish with goat-milk mozzarella and parsley. Serve with a side salad.
Lunch: Cucumber Tuna Boat: Hollow out a cucumber and fill the cavity with tomato slices and tuna tossed with fresh dill, olive oil and lemon juice. Serve with coleslaw.
Dinner: Steak Dinner: Top a 4 oz. strip steak with 1 oz. of sautéed mushrooms. Serve alongside blanched green beans and 1⁄2 cup of cauliflower mashed with ghee.
Dessert: Berries and Cream: Whip 1⁄4 cup of full-fat coconut milk (from a can) with 5 drops of vanilla-flavored liquid stevia until stiff peaks form. Serve with fresh or frozen strawberries.
This article originally appeared in our print magazine.