According to the International Food Information Council, as many as 8% of Americans were on the ketogenic (keto) diet in 2020. Many use the diet for a short while to shed a few excess pounds, while others have adopted keto as a long-term lifestyle.

When it comes to dairy products, these individuals typically embrace cheese and butter while shunning milk and sweetened yogurt, and focus on grass-fed dairy when available. I decided to try the keto diet in early January.


The diet

The standard keto diet portions out calories as very low carb (10%), moderate protein (20%) and high fat (70%). There are variations, including cyclical, which allows five days of keto and two days of moderate carbs. Another option, a targeted keto diet, allows higher carbs after a workout.

These variations facilitate adherence by allowing for occasional pasta, pizza or pancakes. But for the diet to work, participants must avoid the urge to cheat by eating too many carbs.

Without carbs to use for fuel, the liver turns fat into ketone bodies, which can supply energy to the brain. This can cause significant reductions in blood sugar and insulin levels. One review of 13 studies found that following the keto diet was slightly more effective for long-term weight loss than a low-fat diet. The keto diet has been used as a treatment for epilepsy for more than 100 years, and it may have benefits against diabetes, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, but more studies are needed to prove those claims.


The dairy

My friend Deb Brown, coach and sales consultant for Fitness Systems, has been on the keto diet for six years. She eats grass-fed butter every morning, occasionally puts grass-fed whipping cream into her coffee, and eats cheese often with her evening meal. She does not drink milk. She has stuck with the diet because obesity runs in her family.

Many processed keto diet foods include milk protein or whey protein to reach the target protein level. SlimFast offers a keto meal shake that contains milk protein concentrate. Most other diet plans now offer a keto option, and there’s even a ketogenic version of “Diet-To-Go” for the time or cooking challenged.

When I tried out the ketogenic diet, two of my personal dairy favorites were Fage 5% Greek yogurt with fresh berries and nuts for breakfast and Vermont Creamery Wild Blueberry, Lemon and Thyme goat cheese as a snack. Creative home recipes I came across include one for melted shredded cheese to create a taco shell.

Robust scientific evidence continues to show that consuming dairy foods at all fat levels is associated with neutral or reduced risk for multiple chronic disease states. Read more about full-fat dairy in my February 2019 article.


The dangers

Concerns about the keto diet include the potential for increased risk of kidney stones and osteoporosis, as well as an increased level of uric acids in the blood, which can lead to gout. The keto diet also can create deficiencies of B vitamins, fiber, magnesium and energy.

Many of my friends have gone on keto as a couple, but it was very challenging for me, as my husband doesn’t diet. I lasted only one week on the keto diet, but did manage to shed a couple of pounds.

Dairy Foods editor Kathie Canning shared, “My husband and I were on the keto diet for about four months in 2019. We both lost weight, but meal planning was extremely difficult. And we got really tired of cauliflower.”

Overly restrictive diets can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food, but keto might deserve a closer look.