The Keto Diet Is Super Hard—These 3 Variations Are Much Easier to Follow (2023)

Typically, the macro breakdown for the ketogenic, or keto, diet includes restricting your carb intake to just 5% to 10% of your calories. As a result, your fat intake increases to 55% to 60% of your calories. The remaining 30% to 35% of your calories are protein.

Proponents of the keto diet say that the approach helps you lose weight, manage type 2 diabetes, and prevent chronic illnesses like cancer and heart disease. Others claim the keto diet is hard to implement for long-term fat loss because of its restrictiveness.

Read on to learn about four variations of keto macros that may help make the diet easier to sustain than usual.

The Keto Diet Is Super Hard—These 3 Variations Are Much Easier to Follow (1)

The keto diet focuses on a high-fat, low-carb, moderate-protein intake. With the keto diet, people generally eat less than 50 grams of carbs daily.

Your body usually gets energy from glucose (sugar) from carbs. The idea behind the keto diet is that your body enters ketosis if you lessen your carb intake. In ketosis, your body burns fat instead of glucose for energy.

As a result, entering and staying in ketosis may lead to weight loss. Research has found that people on the keto diet may lose weight after maintaining ketosis for 12 months. Early weight loss on the keto diet may be water weight loss. Some evidence suggests that weight loss may be from eating fewer calories, not ketosis.

Ketosis may induce weight loss from appetite suppression and hormonal changes. The keto diet protects against increases in the hormone ghrelin, which makes you hungry. Although, the exact level of ketosis to suppress hunger is not clear. The keto diet may improve resistance to insulin and leptin, or hormones that help regulate weight.

Who Might Benefit?

Healthcare providers initially developed the keto diet to aid children with epilepsy, which causes seizures. The classic keto diet for epilepsy differs from the keto diet that people typically follow for weight loss. The classic keto diet focuses on a high-fat and low-protein and carb intake, which is usually too restrictive for people to sustain.

Research has found that many people use the keto diet to help them lose weight and manage other health conditions, including:

  • Alzheimer's disease, a common type of dementia that impairs memory and the ability to do daily activities
  • Cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), liver damage that occurs due to fat build-up
  • Obesity
  • Type 2 diabetes

Reach out to a healthcare provider before starting a new diet, including the keto diet.

Generally, the keto diet requires you to eat a few carbs, a lot of fats, and moderate amounts of protein.

On the keto diet, the breakdown of your macros may look like this:

  • Carbs:5% to 10% of your calories
  • Fat:55% to 60% of your calories
  • Protein:30% to 35% of your calories

While no food is "bad" or "good," understanding the nutrients in your food is essential. Different types of carbs, fats, and proteins can affect your health in various ways.

For example, eating foods high in saturated fat—like beef, butter, cheese, and fried foods—can affect your cholesterol levels and increase your risk of heart disease.

Instead, the American Heart Association (AHA) advises eating unsaturated fats like:

  • Avocados
  • Herring
  • Liquid vegetable oils
  • Olives
  • Salmon
  • Trout
  • Walnuts

Keto Diet Variations

Following a keto diet requires you to calculate your macro ratio to eat specific portions of carbs, fats, and proteins every day. Counting macros and cutting your intake may be challenging to sustain and restrictive.

A few more flexible keto variations exist. An article published in 2018 summarizes four types of modified keto diets that help your body go in and out of ketosis.

Learn the macro ratios of the standard keto diet and its variations below.

Standard Ketogenic Diet

On the standard keto diet (SKD), your macro ratio may look like this:

  • Carbs: 10% of your calories
  • Fat: 70% of your calories
  • Protein: 20% of your calories

The SKD is the strictest. On a 2,000-calorie diet, you'll eat less than 50 grams of carbs each day.

The initial phase of the SKD may require eating less than 20 grams of carbs daily. That carb intake restricts several nutrient-packed foods like fruit and whole grains.

Targeted Keto Diet

The targeted keto diet (TKD) allows extra carbs for active people and athletes who live a keto lifestyle but need more energy.

The TKD macro ratio may look like this:

  • Carbs: 10% to 15% of your calories
  • Fat: 65% to 70% of your calories
  • Protein: 20% of your calories

Healthy carb sources include:

  • Fruits
  • Milk
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Yogurt

Cyclical Keto Diet

Keto cycling is a way to cycle in and out of ketosis while eating a balanced diet. For example, the cyclical keto diet (CKD) approach may include five "keto days" and two "off days."

Your "keto days" may include the SKD macro ratio, while your "off days" look like this:

  • Carbs: 55% of your calories
  • Fat: 30% of your calories
  • Protein: 15% of your calories

A study published in 2020 found that the cyclical keto diet helped reduce body weight among healthy young men. In contrast, the approach did not effectively improve aerobic or strength performance.

High-Protein Keto Diet

The high-protein keto diet (HPKD) entails the following macro ratio:

  • Carbs: 5% of your calories
  • Fat: 60% of your calories
  • Protein: 35% of your calories

Some people may find the HPKD easier to follow than others since it allows you to eat more protein and less fat than the SKD. Still, the approach may not result in ketosis. Your body may convert protein into glucose for fuel.

Some people develop the "keto flu" shortly after starting the keto diet.

The keto flu generally involves short-term side effects, such as:

  • Constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

After starting the keto diet, you may have trouble sleeping or working out. For example, a study published in 2018 found that people had difficulty performing anaerobic exercise, or high-intensity, short bursts of activity, after four days on the keto diet.

Is the Keto Diet Safe and Sustainable?

The keto diet may lead to short-term weight loss, but research on its long-term health effects is lacking.

The keto diet is restrictive and may be challenging to follow for long periods. For example, restricting your carb intake may lead to nutrient deficiencies. Carb sources, like fruits, milk, and whole grains, have essential nutrients like calcium, fiber, potassium, and vitamin D. Finding keto-friendly sources of those nutrients is vital.

Research has found that the keto diet may be unsafe for people with type 1 diabetes. Similarly, whether the keto diet is safe for pregnant people is unclear.

It's worth mentioning, too, that weight loss is a personal decision. Losing weight does not automatically make you "healthier," and discussing your weight loss goals and methods with a healthcare provider may be helpful.

An article published in 2020 concluded that a "well-formulated keto diet" does not pose significant safety concerns for the general public. Still, the researchers noted that "high-quality clinical trials" are needed to know the keto diet's long-term effects and full potential.

What’s the Best Macro Ratio for Fat Loss?

Research has found that a calorie deficit is more important than your macro ratio when it comes to fat loss. A study published in 2020 noted that eating a balanced, healthy diet helps manage weight more easily than eliminating or restricting macros.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) says that a balanced diet typically yields the following micronutrient ratio:

  • Carbs: 45% to 65% of your calories
  • Fats: 20% to 35% of your calories
  • Proteins: 10% to 35% of your calories

Successfully losing fat requires realistic goals and steady lifestyle changes that are easy to maintain. In contrast, some evidence suggests that the keto diet is more suitable for short-term weight loss than other diets.

Instead, try aiming for a balanced diet that includes food groups like:

  • Fruits
  • Lean proteins
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains

Reducing your added sugar, processed foods, and refined grains intake is critical to a balanced diet.

9 Fruits You Can Actually Eat on the Keto Diet

The keto diet might lead to short-term weight loss, but its long-term effects are unclear. Modified keto diets may be less restrictive and easier to sustain than the standard approach. For example, you may try keto cycling, following the keto diet five days per week.

Talk to a healthcare provider before starting a new diet. The keto diet may be unsafe for pregnant people and those with type 1 diabetes. Low-carb diets may lead to nutritional deficiencies if you do not incorporate keto-friendly sources of essential nutrients.

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