We’re bombarded with messages all the time to eat healthy to control our weight and avoid disease. There are a variety of ways one can “eat healthy,” and one that’s gained followers in recent years is the ketogenic diet.
“The classic keto diet is a high fat, adequate protein, low carbohydrate diet designed to produce ketosis through mimicking the metabolic changes of starvation,” says Cathy Leman, a registered dietitian nutritionist and founder of Dam. Mad. About Breast Cancer, a nutritional consulting firm aimed at helping breast cancer patients and survivors. “Keto diets force the body to use fat as its primary source of energy,” and the diet was developed in the 1920s “as a therapy for epilepsy.”
What Is Keto?
The keto diet can be restrictive and requires that you carefully measure out the various macronutrients — fat, protein and carbohydrates — to keep your body in ketosis and gain the benefits of the diet. “This original classic keto diet is 90% fat, 6% protein and 4% carbohydrate,” Leman says, and is still used to treat epileptics who haven’t found relief from other treatments.
“Since the 1960s, different variations of ketogenic diets have also become widely known as weight-loss methods,” she says, and for some Americans, it’s become their go-to way to control their weight. This might be a good option for some people, Leman says, because “the emphasis on ‘whole foods’ such as fish and seafood, low-carb vegetables, nuts, seeds and berries as the foundation of a keto diet is certainly healthier than the calorie-dense, nutrient-poor, refined, processed foods that form the foundation of the standard American diet.”
In fact, Daryl Gioffre, celebrity nutritionist and author of “Get Off Your Acid,” says that “anything is a good alternative to the standard American diet. The SAD diet is an extremely acidic diet that’s pumped up with inflammatory foods, fats and sugars. It’s literally wreaking havoc on peoples’ health.” The ketogenic diet — when done correctly — can be a great alternative, he says.
When advising clients on the ketogenic diet, Gioffre says he recommends seeking a ratio of 50% to 70% healthy fats. “This is where people make the biggest mistake,” he says. Healthy fats come from things like avocados, raw nuts, seeds and extra virgin olive oil. Instead, some people see that fat is considered a good thing on the keto diet and select dairy products, eggs, cheese, butter and bacon.
In addition to a substantial proportion of calories from fat, a keto diet should incorporate about 20% whole, organic vegetables, Gioffre says. The diet should include 10% to 15% of calories from protein and just 5% of calories from fruit and starches. Gioffre recommends opting for plant-based proteins when possible, and if you’re choosing animal proteins, select fatty fish like salmon. But be sure it’s wild-caught. “Wild-caught seafood is better because farmed seafood is fed a corn and soy diet, and that creates inflammatory fats.” Wild seafood has eaten a more varied diet and is thus higher in good omega-3 fatty acids.
Similarly, if you’re eating land-based animal proteins, Gioffre recommends selecting grass-fed, organic and pastured meat products. And he steers people away from chicken, which he says is “the most inflammatory of all meats.”
Getting the Right Balance Is Tricky
Maintaining the right ratio of macronutrients (fat, carbohydrates and protein) is an important part of the ketogenic diet, and Gioffre says you should shoot for a maximum of 50 grams of net carbohydrates per day. To calculate the net carbs, simply subtract the grams of dietary fiber from the total carbs.
Getting enough fiber is important, and it’s something that the keto diet doesn’t provide enough of, Gioffre says. You need fiber to help move waste through the digestive system, and if you don’t get enough, it can cause digestive problems and elevate the risk for several types of cancer. Fiber also confers heart-health benefits.
Gioffre also notes that research has shown that people who vary their diet are healthier. That means not sticking to the keto diet 24-7. “The body loves variety and dietary variation. If you have less than 50 grams net carbs for four or five days, increase it to 150 grams — that will prevent your body from going into a starvation mode where it stores fat.” Giving your body a rest a couple days a week can actually make the ketogenic diet much more effective as a means of weight loss.
However, despite its upsides, the diet has some drawbacks. “The exclusion of whole grains, beans, legumes and a broader variety of vegetables and fruits eliminates a wide variety of beneficial nutrients, all of which are included in other healthy eating plans like Mediterranean and vegan/vegetarian diets,” Leman says. Many dietitians will tell you any diet that excludes whole groups of foods isn’t the healthiest long-term solution. “Research on long-term effects of the keto diet is underway, but as of now, data is lacking,” Leman adds.
Companies That Deliver Keto Meals
In the meantime, if you’re interested in trying the keto diet, you might consider looking into a meal delivery service to help you keep up with the strict nutrient ratios. “Keto meal delivery services are growing in popularity,” Leman says. “For people who don’t cook or don’t have the time or patience to plan and prep keto meals, a meal delivery service is certainly worth considering. Although cost is also a factor, the value of having a keto-approved, prepared meal home-delivered could outweigh the monetary concerns.”
Several companies offer keto-specific meal plans. Below is a breakdown of some of the top keto meal delivery options, both ready-to-assemble programs that require some prep and cooking and some pre-made meals that simply need to be reheated.
— Gluten-free, non-GMO, “keto-friendly” meals that are low in carbs and high in fat and protein.
— Choose three meals per week.
— Family-friendly options serve four.
— Easy to assemble and cook recipes.
— Calorie counts vary by recipe but range from about 400 to 700 calories per serving.
Green Chef’s keto-friendly plan “offers tantalizing and satisfying dinners made for low-carb lifestyles,” its website reports. These meals are also gluten-free. These all contain no grains, excess sugar, fruits, tubers, peanuts or soy ingredients. Subscribers can choose up to three meals from five recipes weekly. Green Chef’s keto meals in a box include organic and non-GMO ingredients that do not contain any pesticides, antibiotics, growth hormones or steroids.
The company also promises “quick and easy recipes,” with step-by-step instructions, tips and photos. Most meals can be ready in about 30 minutes and involve basic cooking skills and utensils. Green Chef was acquired by HelloFresh in 2018, and is a division of that company, which is the largest meal kit delivery company in the U.S.
Green Chef’s pricing is “based on the plan you choose and how many people will be eating each dinner.” The two-person plan includes three dinners for two people or six servings per box. With the family plan, each box contains two dinners for a family of four or eight servings per box. The keto plan costs $12.99 per meal, but do not include shipping, handling or sales tax. Green Chef offers new subscribers $75 off and free shipping on the first box. The company delivers to most of the continental United States, but doesn’t serve Alaska, Hawaii and parts of Louisiana.
Sample meal: pork chops with tzatziki, served with roasted garlicky tomatoes and chard salad with feta cheese.
— Cook time: 35 minutes.
— Serves: 2.
— Calories per serving: 420.
— Net carbs per serving: 13 grams.
— Total carbohydrates: 16 grams (3 grams dietary fiber, 4 grams sugar).
— Total fat: 23 grams.
— Protein 39 grams.
— Cholesterol: 110 milligrams.
— Sodium: 650 milligrams.
— Choose from 18 meal options per week.
— Organic produce and “clean ingredients,” such as wild-caught seafood.
— Family option serves four.
— Quick recipes designed for busy people.
— Everything is delivered in recyclable or compostable packaging.
— Calorie counts vary by recipe but range from about 550 to 800 calories per serving.
Sun Basket offers a “carb-conscious meal plan,” which features meals that close in at about 550 to 800 calories per serving. These contain 25 to 35 grams of net carbs or fewer per serving and have at least 25 grams of protein per serving. It also offers “good fats” that are “rich in omega-3s” sources from olives, nuts, seeds and “responsibly raised, antibiotic and hormone-free meats and pasture-raised, organic eggs.” It sources wild-caught seafood that is recommended as Best Choice or Good Alternative by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Program. It also touts organic produce and “awesome sauce,” which it describes as “our own signature sauces for delicious flavors you won’t find anywhere else.”
Sun Basket also offers a variety of other diet-based meal plans, including paleo, vegan and gluten-free. Its classic menu, which is the most popular plan, offers subscribers the option to choose two, three or four recipes from 18 options each week. The price per serving is $11.99 for the classic package. They also offer a family value package, which includes two, three or four recipes each week from six family-friendly options. Those packages feed four people and cost $10.99 per serving. Sun Basket ships to most of the United States but excludes Alaska, Hawaii, Montana and parts of New Mexico. A current offer promises $35 off your first order. Some cooking skills and equipment are required to assemble Sun Basket meals.
Sample meal: pork piccata with lemon-caper pan sauce and sauteed zucchini.
— Menu: carb-conscious, dairy-free, diabetes-friendly, gluten-free, lean & clean, Mediterranean, paleo, soy-free
— Cooking time: 25 minutes.
— Serves: two.
— Calories per serving: 340.
— Ready-made meals, just heat and eat.
— Jumpstart program makes getting into ketosis easy.
— Two free consultations with a nutritional coach.
— Meals are dairy-free, soy-free and contain no artificial sweeteners.
— Offers breakfast and lunch options too.
— Calorie counts vary by recipe but range from about 500 to 700 calories per serving
Kettlebell Kitchen’s Complete Keto program offers “high-fat/low-carb meals that prompt the body to use fat instead of carbohydrates for fuel.” Not just a dinner subscription, KBK also offers breakfast and lunch options. Subscribers can select plans that include up to 24 meals per week. They range in price from $10.15 to $11.95 per meal.
In addition to meal delivery plans, the company offers its KBK Method program, a 48-meal, four-week program to help kick-start your nutritional goals. This program helps subscribers build healthy habits that can last long after the subscription may end by including two free consultations with a nutritional coach, weekly texts and emails from a success coach and a journal to track your progress towards your goals.
Sample meal: General Tso’s chicken with broccoli and carrots.
— Calories: 390
— Carbs: 29 grams
— Fat: 13 grams
— Protein: 41 grams
— Contains eggs, nuts and coconut.
— Cost: $11.95
— Ready-made meals, just heat and eat.
— No subscription or commitment required.
— Choose from meals, snacks and bars.
— Calorie counts vary by recipe but range from about 500 to 850 calories per serving.
— Weekly newsletter offers health recipes, menus, nutrition tips and promotions.
Billing itself as “the nation’s first and only fully prepared ketogenic meal delivery service,” Keto Fridge delivers fully prepared meals that simply need to be heated up, rather than actually assembled. It’s not a subscription-based service, rather if you want to use Keto Fridge, simply order your meals each week prior to Thursday at 11:59 PM EST. Orders are prepared the day before shipping and delivered on Tuesday or Wednesday depending on location. Keto Fridge recommends consuming or freezing meals within seven days of delivery.
Food items are priced individually. For example, a buffalo shrimp with keto cauliflower mac and cheese and cheddar scallion biscuits meal costs $19.99 and contains 700 calories, 39 grams of protein, 56 grams of fat, 19 grams of carbohydrates, 10 grams of net carbs, 9 grams of fiber and 895 milligrams of sodium. In addition to full meals, the company also offers snacks, sides and keto bars. The company requires a minimum order of $69.00 and delivers to all of the United States.
Sample meal: turkey taco bowl.
— Menu: dairy-free, gluten-free, low-carb.
— Calories: 610.
— Protein: 31 grams.
— Total fat: 50 grams.
— Carbohydrates: 12 grams.
— Net carbs: 9 grams.
— Fiber: 3 grams.
— Sodium: 671 milligrams.
— Cost: $14.99.
— Ready-made meals, just heat and eat.
— Choose your own meals or have a nutritionist do the thinking for you.
— Subscribers can schedule a free, 20-minute nutritional consultation with one of Factor 75’s nutritionists.
— Bulk order discounts available.
— Calorie counts vary by recipe but range from about 550 to 750 calories per serving.
Factor 75 offers fully prepared meals, delivered fresh to all 48 continental U.S. states. Their meals conform to ketogenic rules — with high-quality fats (avocado, healthy oils, nuts and seeds, etc.) constituting 60% to 80% of the calorie content, protein contributing 20% to 35% and low-glycemic carbs in the 5% to 15% range. Each meal contains less than 20 grams of net carbs. The company has “expert dietitians” in house to “nutritionally optimize every meal,” which are prepared by “gourmet chefs,” using fresh ingredients of “the highest quality,” its website states.
Factor 75 offers 4-, 6-, 8-, 12- and 18-meals per week plans that range in price from $11 to $15 per meal. Subscribers can choose their meals or let the Factor 75 team do the choosing for them. The company can accommodate certain allergies and all meals are free of gluten, soy, GMO, hormones, antibiotics, preservatives and refined sugars. Dairy-free options are available as well. The company notes that it can’t safely recommend its products for people with celiac disease.
Factor 75 also offers several “comprehensive wellness packages” to help subscribers develop healthy habits. For example, the Kickstart Package is a one-month package designed to help subscribers get started with the keto diet. All of the planning is taken care of in that package, so you don’t have to worry about any of it — just follow the instructions.
Sample meal: keto poblano bowl.
— Calories: 670.
— Fat: 53 grams.
— Carbohydrates: 13 grams (3 grams dietary fiber, 6 grams total sugars).
— Protein: 38 grams.
— Sodium: 740 milligrams.
— Cholesterol: 170 milligrams.
— All organic ingredients.
— No subscription necessary; order a la carte.
— Meals are packaged in microwave- and oven-safe materials to make reheating simple.
— Beef is 100% grass-fed and poultry, pork and eggs are 100% pastured.
— Calorie counts vary by recipe but range from about 400 to 650 calories per serving.
Ketoned Bodies, which sources its meals through an affiliated service called Ketoned Meals, offers pre-made, frozen ketogenic meals delivered to your door. All ingredients are organic and incorporated into recipes the company touts as “powerful and effective keto-style meals.” You can order meals a la carte or purchase a keto meal plan package. However, these also appear to be a la carte orders just made in bulk of 16 or 21 items per shipment. Orders are submitted by Thursday and are shipped the following Wednesday. The boxes contain dry ice to keep items frozen in transit. The company offers access to a nutritionist for people who are new to the ketogenic diet to answer any questions and help you get oriented. Ketoned Meals ships nationwide.
Sample meal: mom’s meatloaf.
— Calories: 650.
— Carbohydrates: 15 grams.
— Fat: 46 grams.
— Fiber: 6 grams.
— Protein: 43 grams.
What’s the Best Keto Option?
Bottom line, Leman says that she wishes people understood that the keto diet “isn’t a one-size-fits-all type of diet. There are different variations and interpretations of the diet. People trying keto on their own, without guidance from a qualified dietitian, may be missing the mark for nutrients, vitamins and minerals, and may be loading up on foods that may not support their health long term.”
Whether you opt for a meal delivery service or do it yourself, it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough of all the nutrients you need, so consider talking to a nutritionist at the outset. As with any new diet, talk with your health care provider or a registered dietitian to be sure you’re covering all your nutritional bases.
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Correction 10/02/19: A previous version of this story included the incorrect price points for Sun Basket’s products.