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The keto diet: Its highs and lows plus 5 recipes
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The keto diet: Its highs and lows plus 5 recipes

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My friends Mike and Robin have been on the keto diet for a couple of years. They lost a ton of weight, and they look fit and trim — better than I’ve ever seen them, and I’ve known them more than 30 years.

Their results are not unusual. The keto diet often leads to rapid weight loss.

The trick lies in keeping it off. Mike and Robin have done it well, but a lot of people can’t. And therein lies a problem, according to Jennifer McDaniel, a registered dietitian and the owner of McDaniel Nutrition Therapy in Clayton.

“While you might gain benefits in the short term just like any other restrictive diet, most people — like, 90 percent of the people — have trouble staying on it. When they lose the weight and they can’t maintain the weight that they attained, that’s just another failed diet,” she said.

The keto diet is a high-fat, low-carbohydrates diet — “it’s like the Atkins Diet on steroids,” McDaniel said. People on the diet strive to consume 70% to 80% of their calories through fats, as little as 5% through carbohydrates and the rest through protein.

This helps us lose weight because it forces our bodies to burn fat for energy instead of its preferred fuel, carbohydrates.

McDaniel recommends that her clients not go on the keto diet. The diet changes the microbiome in their bodies (the bacteria, fungi and more that live inside us). It is difficult for people on the diet to consume enough fiber, which can lead to constipation and other gastrointestinal nastiness. And because carbohydrates hold onto water, people on the diet are often dehydrated, she said.

And yet, as Mike and Robin and thousands of others can attest, it works. So I decided to try a few recipes to see how they tasted.

The rules of the keto diet are highly restrictive, which can make cooking difficult. You need to avoid fruit, sugars, grains, beans and legumes, rice, potatoes, candy and juice.

Ingredients to be encouraged include meat, fatty fish, eggs, butter and cream, cheese, nuts and seeds, certain oils (olive, avocado, coconut) and low-carb vegetables — most green vegetables, tomatoes, onions, peppers and the like.

It’s a lot to take in, so I began with a simple and entirely wonderful dish of Citrus-Marinated Olives. These are a marvelous treat, combining the heady earthiness of olives with bright notes of orange and lemon. Though the flavors are disparate, they work surprisingly well together.

Best of all, you make them in mere minutes.

Another winner was Keto Egg Cups, a dish that concisely presents everything that is good about keto cooking: Little cups made from prosciutto hold eggs mixed with cream, spinach, roasted red peppers and mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses.

It’s a delightful conglomeration of high-fat goodies that come together into a hand-held snack. And it’s just as fun at room temperature as it is warm.

Two entrees came next. First, I took a recipe for Instant-Pot Keto Mediterranean Chicken and made it a recipe for Keto Mediterranean Chicken Without an Instant Pot. It only took about five minutes longer than the Instant-Pot version, and it was deeply satisfying.

I’ll admit, though, that I could not commit to full keto cooking with this one. As written, the recipe calls for searing six chicken thighs and then cooking the dish in the resulting fat.

My six thighs rendered out a half cup of fat. I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t cook with — and I certainly couldn’t eat — that much fat. I know the keto diet requires what seems like a shocking amount of fat to work, but I just couldn’t see it. I poured out half of the fat, and the dish still felt greasy to me.

Greasy, but delicious. Meaty chicken thighs are paired with olives, capers, oregano and a cutting splash of vinegar. It’s presented with a fresh-tasting yogurt sauce, making an impressive presentation. I’d happily eat it anytime, especially if I poured out all but one tablespoon of that fat.

The other entree, Keto Breaded Chicken Cutlets, isn’t bad — but I’d only make it again if I were on the keto diet. The chicken is dredged through almond flour before frying, which gives it a duller flavor than wheat flour.

With wheat flour, the same recipe would be excellent, if familiar. If you’re on the keto diet, almond flour is definitely the way to go. Just be sure to use a lot of salt.

The last dish I made was a dessert called Black and White Keto Fat Bombs. Seriously, that’s the name, and seriously, that’s what they are. They are chocolate-and-vanilla candies that are made with coconut oil and almonds, plus low-carb, powdered sweetener, sugar-free vanilla extract and unsweetened cocoa powder.

How did they taste? Not bad, actually, or at least not too bad. But the texture was so oily and off-putting that most taste testers threw away their samples. One said it was like eating butter.

If you’re on the keto diet and you’re looking for an extra infusion of fat, then I’d say to go ahead and make it. Otherwise, this is one to avoid.

My friend Robin swears by the keto diet and says she is passionate about it. Her health indicators are all great, and she says she has higher energy and alertness. And though the diet is restrictive, she likes what she can eat: cheese, olive oil, butter, nuts and dark chocolate.

The biggest thing she misses is fruit, but she does not miss the 40 pounds she lost.

Then again, I have another friend, Roger, who lost 65 pounds. He just eats more healthfully and mindfully, and walks every day. That sounds easier.

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