LATEST PAPER
73° Good Afternoon
73° Good Afternoon
Eat and Drink

Keto: What to know about the trendy low-carb, high-fat diet

From substitutes to side effects, nutritionist Stephanie Pedersen breaks it down.

"Keto Lunches" by Stephanie Pedersen includes grain-free recipes like a chicken enchilada bowl, right. Photo Credit: Sterling Epicure / Bill Milne

Nutritionist Stephanie Pedersen first tried the ketogenic diet after several of her clients asked her about its weight-loss benefits.

Since then, she’s been seeing more buzz around the low-carb, high-fat diet, which is also used to treat neurological disorders and to manage health issues like type 2 diabetes.

“I’m definitely seeing interest in the product world, the book world and just people in general,” Pedersen, 50, said. “Everyone wants to talk about it.”

The author of more than 20 books, Pedersen explored the diet for her latest, “Keto Lunches: Grab-and-Go, Make-Ahead Recipes for High-Power, Low-Carb Midday Meals” (out March 20, $19.95).

amNewYork spoke with the Kips Bay resident about the diet.

I feel like I’ve heard more about the keto diet in the last few months.

It’s so interesting, because it’s a quote-unquote old diet. It started in the 1920s to help treat epilepsy. It works really well for that. I think part of the reason it’s become popular is we had Atkins, then paleo came along. Now we have keto, which I tell people is like paleo on steroids. It’s the strictest of those low-carb diets. I think it’s just an outgrowth of the whole Atkins, paleo thing.

What does the diet end up looking like?

When I say carbs, I mean all carbs, not just pasta. Sugar is a carbohydrate, so this diet is really low in fruit and even vegetables. It’s very restrictive of the types of vegetables that you can eat.

What are some key foods people end up stocking up on?

Avocado is one of the few plants. Bacon — it’s pretty hard to be a keto if you’re a vegetarian. Organ meats like liverwurst show up a lot. Pork, beef, salmon, chicken thighs versus chicken breasts. Coconut has a few carbs in it but it does show up. Nut butters and nuts show up a tiny bit; because they have carbs they are super-limited. Basically avocado and bacon — those are the two you’re going to see. A lot of keto people believe in a lot of full-fat dairy.

Was it challenging for you to come up with recipes?

It was funny to come up with the recipes. Basically, how many fats can we throw into this thing? But by the time I got to the 25th recipe I was like, man, these are going to start looking all the same unless we don’t start getting a little creative here. You can only use avocado and bacon in so many permutations. So there were challenges. The other challenge was, people like to look for what’s familiar, especially at lunch. How could I make this look like a sandwich even though we can’t use bread or wraps?

How did you solve that?

In the keto world, you start looking at green veggies, which are usually the veggies that are totally compliant. You’d get something like a big leaf — a chard leaf is really popular because they get really big — and you load it up with all the fillings and you wrap it. If you want something that looks more like two slices of bread, a lot of ketos — and we do this in the book, too — will slice low-carb vegetables like eggplant the same thickness as bread and grill them. And some ketos will actually use the meat as bread. You’ll see people take two burgers and stuff the inside of the burger with bacon and cheese and avocado. It’s hilarious.

Is this a diet you can do long-term?

That’s a question that comes up a lot with this particular diet. Some do get on it to get a health condition under control; there are a lot of people who do stay on this or try to for life. Because it is so restrictive, there are a lot of people who fall off the wagon and get back on.

Are there any negative side effects?

A lot of people at first will feel a lot of cravings for fruits and other sugars. That usually levels out after a week or two. Some notice when their body stops using glucose for energy and uses stored fat, they’ll notice some fatigue. That usually passes in a few days. The other thing is, you have to plan ahead. You have to bring your lunch, which is kind of a pain in the ass. You could be a difficult dinner guest. It could be hard to go out with friends. Those are things that are kind of a downside as well — your lifestyle is completely revolving around this.

Are there any misconceptions about the diet you wanted to address?

I think a lot of people do not realize that it is not quite the same as Atkins. Atkins is much less restrictive — there’s more fruit, more veggies. There are keto people who won’t use ketchup or condiments because they have carbs in them. Another misconception is it’s just another low-carb diet. What makes keto different from other low-carb diets like paleo or Atkins is its emphasis on fats; it’s not just a low-carb diet, it’s a high-fat diet.

Cauliflower rice to the rescue

Burrito bowls are a popular lunchtime pick but can be hard to do on the keto diet thanks to the high-carb rice. So Pedersen knew she needed to include an option in “Keto Lunches.”

Instead of rice, her chicken enchilada bowl uses cauliflower rice. “That’s how I solved a lot of the no-grain issues,” she says.

And it can be topped with compliant toppings of your choosing.

“It makes people feel like they’ve having a treat,” Pedersen said. “And it’s super easy for people who aren’t super comfy in the kitchen — it’s just easy and foolproof.”

Keto chicken enchilada bowl

Makes 2 servings

  • 2 uncooked chicken breasts
  • 3⁄4 cups prepared red enchilada sauce
  • 1 (4 oz.) can green chilies
  • 1⁄4 cup chopped red onion
  • 1⁄4 cup chicken bone broth
  • 1 (12 oz.) bag cauliflower rice
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Preferred toppings, such as chopped cilantro, sliced avocado, shredded cheese, etc.

1. Place a saute pan over medium heat. In the dry, hot pan, sear all sides of the chicken breasts until lightly brown.

2. Add the enchilada sauce, chilies, onions, and chicken broth to the saute pan with the chicken. When the mixture begins to simmer, lower the heat to medium-low and cover the pan.

3. Cook until the chicken is tender, about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and remove just the chicken.

4. Place the chicken in a large bowl. Shred the chicken using two forks.

5. Add the shredded chicken back to the sauce in the saute pan, and turn the heat to medium. Allow the mixture to simmer for 10 minutes or until any liquid has disappeared. Remove from the heat and set aside.

6. Meanwhile, prepare the cauliflower rice per the bag’s instructions and dice your preferred toppings.

7. To assemble the bowls: Place the cauliflower rice in the bottom of a sealable food container. Layer with the chicken mixture. Top with toppings of your choice. Seal and place in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Reprinted with permission from “Keto Lunches” © 2018 by Stephanie Pedersen, Sterling Epicure.

Eat and Drink photos & videos