Three years ago when someone told me that you can eat fat to lose fat, I started laughing. Immediately disregarding keto as a new fad diet that would eventually fade away. However, lockdown led to a steady rise in the weighing scale so I decided to give the keto diet an honest shot. After getting over the initial hump, I’ve managed to stay on this diet for more than 8 weeks and lost 20 kilos in the process. I guess it’s safe to say that I am a believer now.
What Is the Keto Diet?
Keto comes from the word, ketogenesis (or ketosis) which simply refers to a process through which the body burns fat for energy. When given a choice, our body prefers to burn carbohydrates or glucose for energy and coverts excess carbs as fat. The keto diet restricts the intake of carbs to less than 5% and protein to 20-25%. When starved of carbs, the body dives into the (sometimes vast) reserves of fat for energy thereby burning the excess fat stores and effecting tremendous weight loss. Basically, in ketosis, you’re burning fats for doing anything. Literally sitting on your couch and scrolling through your phone will also end up burning fats!
Why Is the Keto Diet Difficult?
Both mentally and physically, we are dependent on carbs and sugar. Often believing that it’s essential for producing energy. Our bodies have adapted to burning sugars for so long that it relies on a host of enzymes and hormones such as insulin which make us crave carbs and also keep making you feel hungry. Moreover, food habits worldwide are centered around carbs. So much so that a plate of chicken or vegetables in a meal is referred to as the “side dish” with the bread, roti, rice or noodles being termed as the “main dish”. The body also struggles initially to become fat adaptive and therefore makes it difficult to kick into ketosis.
How Did I do It?
I was already cooking all my meals during the lockdown. I decided to combine it with intermittent fasting, which in my case simply meant skipping breakfast. After a dreadful first week, I started feeling a little better in the second week, and from the third week onwards, not only did I start feeling great but I started dropping inches like expletives in an Anurag Kashyap movie. Not only does the diet get easier, the results are motivation enough to continue.
What Did I Eat?
I started off simple. The idea was to take daily meals and adapt it to the keto diet so that I could ease into the transition. I read up about vegetables, meat, and dairy that are keto-friendly and rushed to the kitchen. A simple thumb rule is to avoid anything sweet or starchy and also, sadly milk. And secondly, keto cooking is all about sneaking in extra fats in every dish. The star dishes that I’ve staked my keto life are Cauli Rice, Spinach Soup, and Desi chicken curries. It’s really quick and easy to make these dishes. Let me get you started.
Every time I go to the market, I make sure I buy tons of cauliflower. It’s super keto-friendly with minimal carbs and amazingly versatile. The cauli rice is the most effective weapon in the keto arsenal.
Simply cut the stems and green leaves off the head of cauliflower. Now, if you have a food processor, simply blitz the entire head till you get gritty rice-like bits. Don’t sweat if you don’t have a food processor, you can use a grater too. Just be careful with those fingers. Now, heat 4 tablespoons of butter/ghee in a frying pan. You can just add the cauli grits directly to the pan and start cooking with salt and pepper or temper the butter with herbs like curry leaves, parsley or coriander, or even add spices like jeera, cinnamon or dry red chilies before adding the cauli rice. So, after adding the cauli grits, just stir fry for 7-8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and you’re done!
Spinach and Bottle Gourd Soup
Simple. Delicious. Filling and Healthy. This keto proof dish has been a mainstay of my journey. The best part is that it stores in the fridge for 3-5 days and fills you up with great fats and nutrients while being a great accompaniment to sautéed veggies or chicken.
Heat 4 tablespoons of butter and sautee half an onion and 4 cloves of garlic (both finely chopped) for 2-3 minutes. Now add 75 grams each of chopped spinach and bottle gourd and sautee till cooked. Now add the veggies to a blender and whip till you get a puree. Now add another tablespoon of butter and heat the puree. Add 100ml cream and bring to a boil. Simmer and add water to get the desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper and it’s ready to serve.
Keto Butter Chicken
Yes. You read it right. The keto diet is probably the only diet in the world that allows you to gorge on some gorgeous butter chicken. In fact, it’s not an indulgence, it’s recommended on the keto diet. The best part, it’s super easy to make.
Marinate 400gm of boneless chicken with a tablespoon of ghee, a teaspoon each of red chilli powder, coriander powder, cumin powder, salt, pepper and turmeric, and 2 tablespoons of ginger garlic paste for an hour at least. Preferably up to 4 hours. Now make a puree of 2 medium-sized tomatoes, 1 onion, 2 cloves of garlic, a 1-inch piece of ginger, and 2 green chilies. Add 4 tablespoons of ghee in a pan and cook chicken for 4-5 mins on each side. Use, generous amounts while flipping the chicken to ensure it doesn’t get stuck. Now add the puree, and 2 teaspoons of garam masala powder and cook on a medium flame for 5 minutes and the oil starts separating. Now add half a cup of water to make the gravy, add more if you want but start out small. Cook for 3-4 minutes on high and then add 100 ml of fresh cream. Bring to a boil and cook for a minute. Garnish with kasturi methi and coriander. Serve with steaming cauli rice.
My Sample Meal Plan
I have combined the keto diet with intermittent fasting. In my case, I eat within an 8-hour window while fasting for 16 hours. This meant skipping breakfast and only having black or bulletproof coffee. Essentially, I was having two meals a day. I followed this meal plan for the first week which worked wonders for me.
Now I understand that this plan is heavily tilted towards non-vegetarian options. But you can easily substitute chicken with paneer, tofu, and broccoli. Just find options that are very low on carbs and have adequate protein and you’re good to go.
(The author is a lawyer turned business intelligence consultant turned chef. He also designs weekly and monthly meal plans for clients and conducts baking and cooking workshops. The article is based on the author's personal experiments with cooking. Please consult a nutritionist to know if Keto Diet is for you)