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High-fat, very low-carb for weight loss
The keto diet has gained a lot of attention as a quick way to lose weight. It emphasizes weight loss through fat-burning by removing nearly all carbohydrates. This way, the body can't rely on its preferred fuel, glucose, which is a type of sugar that comes from carbs. Instead, the body burns stored fat for fuel, a process called ketosis. The body makes byproducts called ketone bodies when you're in that target fat-burning zone, hence the name.
The keto diet was originally developed in the 1920s to help children with intractable epilepsy find relief from seizures. This very strict form of the diet limits carbs to just 4% of daily caloric intake. Fat constitutes 90% of the diet, and 6% of calories should come from protein.
Conforming to these ratios can be a tall order for the average eater, so somewhat less restricted or modified versions of the keto diet have emerged. However, in order for these variations to work, they must still be very high in fat, usually at least 80%, and limit carbs, typically to less than 10%.
Making a challenging diet sustainable
Hitting these targets can be challenging. While the keto diet has helped many people drop pounds quickly, it can be difficult to stick with long term. These were two issues that the staff at America's Test Kitchen were aiming to solve with their recent book, "Easy Everyday Keto: Health Kitchen-Perfected Recipes," says Jack Bishop, chief creative officer at America's Test Kitchen.
"We do a lot of research before we do any project, and we got a lot of feedback -- just a steady drumbeat of folks who really felt like the keto diet was working for them. But that they were really frustrated by the lack of variety," Bishop explains.
But this is exactly where the Test Kitchen can excel. "We put a team of half a dozen recipe developers on this, really trying to think about how can we maintain the principles of the diet but feel like you're eating more than just steak and eggs." The hope was that by getting creative and providing "more possibilities beyond the basics," the diet could become more sustainable for the average person.
Transitioning to keto
Because the keto diet can be so radically different from what most of us eat normally, transitioning over can be a challenge. "I think with keto, the principles of the diet are pretty complicated, and there's a fair amount of math involved," Bishop says. But, "relying on trusted sources for recipes" that you know provide recipes "for food that tastes good" is a good way to work around this potential problem.
Bishop also recommends making small changes that can add up over time. Losing weight or eating for better health is "really about habits."
He cites the example from his own life that "about five years ago, I stopped having sugar in my coffee. It seems kind of silly, right? But I used to have a teaspoon of sugar in two cups of coffee every day. Do the math: I have coffee 365 days a year, two times. So that's 730 teaspoons of sugar that I didn't really need."
That works out to roughly 32 calories saved per day or 11,680 calories over the course of one year. "Thinking about small things, especially things you can do every day, definitely can be more impactful and a simpler place to start," adds Bishop.
A day's worth of keto meals
Doing some regular meal planning should also help make the initial transition period easier. Start with a few days' worth of menus and experiment with some new recipes and flavors to help you build new habits.
In the following slides, America's Test Kitchen shares a day's worth of recipes that conform to the strict rules of the keto diet. These meals and many others in the book "Easy Everyday Keto: Health Kitchen-Perfected Recipes" can help you stay in the ketogenic fat burning zone deliciously and without having to rely on processed meats and other less-healthy options.
Why this recipe works:
Perfect pancakes should be fluffy, tender, lightly sweet and easy to make. To create a keto recipe that would stand up to its traditional counterparts, ATK chose an acceptable non-grain flour: almond flour.
Its mild, subtly sweet, nutty flavor worked well in a breakfast application. By mixing the liquid ingredients in a blender until the mixture was frothy, then adding the dry ingredients and processing the batter a minute longer helpedincorporate air into the batter, ensuring a smooth, pourable mix that made fluffy pancakes. Erythritol gave the pancakes just enough sweetness; a generous amount of vanilla extract offset any egginess. You can substitute your favorite low-carb sweetener. An electric griddle set at 350 degrees Fahrenheit can be used in place of a skillet. Serve with butter or keto maple syrup.
Serves: 4 (8 pancakes).
Total time: 40 minutes.
-- 3/4 cup water.
-- 3 large eggs.
-- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled, divided.
-- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract.
-- 1 3/4 cups (7 ounces) blanched, finely ground almond flour.
-- 2 tablespoons granulated erythritol.
-- 2 teaspoons baking powder.
-- 1/4 teaspoon table salt.
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 200 degrees. Set wire rack in rimmed baking sheet and spray with olive oil spray.
2. Process water, eggs, 3 tablespoons melted butter and vanilla in blender until light and frothy, about 30 seconds. Add almond flour, erythritol, baking powder and salt and process until thoroughly combined, about 1 minute.
3. Heat 1 teaspoon melted butter in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-low heat until shimmering. Using paper towels, carefully wipe out butter, leaving thin film of butter on bottom and sides of skillet. Using 1/3 cup batter per pancake, portion batter into skillet in 2 places and spread into 4-inch rounds. Cook until edges are set and first side is golden, 2 to 4 minutes.
4. Flip pancakes and continue to cook until second side is golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Serve immediately or transfer to prepared rack and keep warm in oven. Repeat with remaining batter, adjusting heat and using remaining 2 teaspoons melted butter as needed.
Lunch: seared tuna sushi bowl
Why this recipe works:
If you love sushi, you'll love this keto bowl reminiscent of sushi flavors, without the carb-heavy rice. The team at ATK wanted it to be hearty enough for a meal, so they combined tuna with cauliflower rice, adding cucumber, seaweed, scallion and Japanese-inspired seasonings for satisfying taste. Make the sauce first to give the flavors of the mayo, sriracha and vinegar time to meld.
Then cook the cauliflower rice, seasoning it with a dressing of rice vinegar, soy and ginger. Although sushi traditionally uses fish in its raw form, briefly searing the tuna gives it a crisp, browned exterior, while the interior stayed tender and juicy. Most cooked proteins need time to rest before slicing, but cutting the tuna immediately prevented carryover cooking and kept it at rare to medium-rare. If you prefer your tuna steaks cooked medium, observe the timing for medium-rare and tent the cooked steaks with foil for 5 minutes before slicing.
Total time: 1 hour.
-- 1/4 cup mayonnaise.
-- 1 tablespoon sriracha.
-- 4 teaspoons unseasoned rice vinegar, divided.
-- 2 teaspoons soy sauce.
-- 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger.
-- 8 ounces cauliflower florets, cut into 1-inch pieces.
-- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided.
-- 1 (12-ounce) tuna steak, 1 inch thick.
-- ¼ teaspoon table salt.
-- ¼ teaspoon pepper.
-- 1/3 English cucumber (5 ounces), halved lengthwise and sliced ¼-inch thick on bias.
-- 1/2 avocado (4 ounces), sliced ¼-inch thick.
-- 1 scallion, sliced thin
-- 1 sheet toasted nori, halved lengthwise and sliced into thin strips (optional).
-- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds.
1. Combine mayonnaise, sriracha and 1 teaspoon vinegar in bowl; set aside. In medium bowl, whisk soy sauce, ginger and remaining 1 tablespoon vinegar together; set aside.
2. Pulse cauliflower in food processor until chopped into 1/4- to 1/8-inch pieces, 6 to 8 pulses, scraping down sides of bowl as needed.
3. Bring 1/4 cup water to simmer in large saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in cauliflower. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until cauliflower is tender, about 12 minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons oil and half of soy sauce mixture and continue to cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until cauliflower rice is almost completely dry, about 3 minutes. Divide cauliflower mixture evenly between individual serving bowls; set aside.
4. Pat tuna dry with paper towels and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Cook steak until opaque at perimeter, translucent red at center when checked with tip of paring knife, and registers 110 degrees (for rare), or reddish pink at center when checked with tip of paring knife and registers 125 degrees (for medium-rare), 1 to 2 minutes per side. Transfer tuna to cutting board and immediately cut into 1-inch pieces.
5. Add cucumber and remaining 1 tablespoon oil to bowl with remaining soy sauce mixture and toss to coat. Top prepared serving bowls evenly with tuna, cucumber and avocado. Drizzle with mayonnaise sauce and sprinkle with scallion, nori (if using) and sesame seeds. Serve.
Snack: bacon-ranch cheese balls
Why this recipe works:
Keto eaters often lament that there are not enough savory snacks to eat on their diet, so ATK developed snack recipes that are easy to put together and have on hand for whenever a little nibble is wanted. Here they took the flavors of a make-ahead party recipe for a cheese ball and shrank it down into a delicious little keto snack.
To make individual servings, shape the mixture into 30 bite-size balls. Cover the balls with a mixture of crisp bacon bits and finely ground almonds to enhance their fat content and give them some crunch. To quickly soften the cream cheese, microwave it for 20 to 30 seconds.
Serves: 15 (makes 30 balls).
Total time: 30 minutes, plus 2 hours chilling time.
-- 12 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (3 cups).
-- 4 ounces cream cheese, softened.
-- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise.
-- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley.
-- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill.
-- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder.
-- 8 ounces sliced bacon, chopped.
-- 3/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted.
1. Process cheddar, cream cheese, mayonnaise, parsley, dill and onion powder in food processor until smooth, about 1 minute, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Transfer cheese mixture to bowl, cover and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.
2. Cook bacon in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until crispy, 5 to 7 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer bacon to clean, dry food processor. Add almonds and pulse until mixture is finely ground, about 8 pulses, scraping down sides of bowl as needed; transfer to shallow dish.
3. Divide cheese mixture into 30 equal pieces, about 1 tablespoon each. Using your hands, roll mixture into balls, then roll each ball in bacon-almond mixture, pressing gently to adhere; transfer to serving platter. Serve.
Dinner: chicken mole poblano
Why this recipe works:
A mole sauce is part of a family of sauces native to the Oaxaca and Puebla regions of Mexico. Its complex, layered flavors come from intricate blends of dried chiles, spices and fruits. For a quick keto version, ATK chose mole poblano, which uses spices, nuts and unsweetened chocolate, with a little dried ancho to keep the dish's deep, earthy flavor.
Total time: 1 hour.
-- 1 dried ancho chile, stemmed, seeded and torn into ½-inch pieces (¼ cup).
-- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided.
-- 3 scallions, white and green parts separated and sliced thin.
-- 1 garlic clove, minced.
-- 2 tablespoons tomato paste.
-- 2 tablespoons creamy unsweetened peanut butter.
-- 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder.
-- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon.
-- 1½cups chicken broth.
-- ½ teaspoon table salt.
-- ½ teaspoon pepper.
-- 8 (5- to 7-ounce) bone-in chicken thighs, skin removed, trimmed.
1. Toast ancho in Dutch oven over medium heat, stirring frequently, until fragrant, 2 to 4 minutes; transfer to bowl.
2. Add 2 tablespoons oil, scallion whites and garlic to now-empty skillet and cook over medium heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in tomato paste, peanut butter, cocoa, and cinnamon and cook until mixture is emulsified and bubbly, about 2 minutes.
3. Stir in broth, salt, pepper and ancho, scraping up any browned bits. Cook, stirring occasionally, until chile pieces are tender and mixture is slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Transfer mixture to blender and add remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Process until smooth, 30 to 60 seconds, scraping down sides of blender jar as needed.
4. Return sauce to now-empty pot. Nestle chicken into pot and spoon some of sauce over top. Bring to simmer over medium-low heat, then cover and cook until thighs register 185 degrees, 25 to 30 minutes.
5. Transfer chicken to platter, tent with aluminum foil and let rest while finishing sauce. Bring sauce to simmer over medium heat and cook until thickened and reduced to 1 cup, about 5 minutes. Return chicken and any accumulated juice to sauce and turn to coat. Serve chicken with mole, drizzling individual portions evenly with avocado crema and sprinkling with scallion greens.
A keto diet menu for a day:
-- Breakfast: almond-flour pancakes.
-- Lunch: tuna sushi bowl.
-- Snack: bacon-ranch cheese balls.
-- Dinner: chicken mole poblano.