Continued good news: Nora is down to a 1.25:1 ratio today and still seizure free. We are in the home stretch!
Just a word about the “ratio” for newcomers to the ketogenic diet. Remember that the ratio is the amount of fat per amount of net carbs+protein in a food (and remember to first get net carbs by subtracting fiber from total carbs; fiber is good!).
Example: In 100 g of macadamia nuts, there are approximately 80 g fat, 6 g net carb and 8 g protein. The math:
80 g fat /(6 g net carb + 8 g protein ) = 80 g/14 g = 5.7
Thus, there are about 5.7 g fat for every 1 gram of net carbs + protein in macadamia nuts. They have a ratio of about 5.7:1.
The ratio is a “magic number” in the ketogenic diet, with higher fat telling your body to use fat as an energy source by turning fat into ketone bodies for fuel. The traditional form of the diet uses a 4:1 ratio. Nora’s highest ratio was 3.5:1 for 2 years. Since April we have moved it down by 0.25 increment steps (so 3.25:1, 3:1, 2.75:1, etc.) every 3 weeks.
As we have moved down the ratio step by step, I’ve realized that I have a way of thinking about keto foods by ratio when I am building a meal. In the beginning of the diet, the big challenge is to think low-carb. Then you add in the fat needed to get the ratio. But after doing this for so long and having a broader range of known low-carb foods, I’ve started thinking about foods by their ratio instead of their carb content alone. That helps us create keto meals that use naturally high-ratio foods, rather than taking big doses of fat on the side, and that gets much easier as we move down on the ratio.
The spreadsheet that we made to calculate meals shows us the ratio of each food that we are using, so as we changed ratios over the last 6 months I realized how much I was using that knowledge about the ratios. I hope that explaining it and giving some examples can be a guide to others.
At very high ratios, there are very few foods that are above the keto-standard 4:1 ratio on their own. Fat sources are critical to boost the ratio of any meal. All-fat foods that are served to achieve a high ratio are: heavy cream, butter, oil (Nora takes fish oil, others use lightly flavored oils like canola), and coconut oil for its ketone-availability.
Low-carb foods that Nora eats regularly but have very little fat: berries, red pepper, carrots, popcorn, apples, low-carb tortilla (Mission Carb Balance), sliced turkey or ham. We have to serve enough fat, either through the all-fat options or higher ratio foods in order to meet her fat needs at her current ratio.
Here is a table of regularly-used whole foods organized by their ratio, amounts given per gram of food served. Each color indicates a different ratio range:
Red = greater than 4:1
Orange = between 3:1 and 4:1
Green = between 2:1 and 3:1
Blue = between 1:1 and 2:1
Purple = Less than 1:1, but not insignificant fat content
If you start by thinking about your child’s ratio, you can see the foods that are above and below that ratio. Higher-ratio foods can support or increase the ratio when paired with lower-ratio foods. At the traditional ketogenic diet ratio of 4:1, macadamia nuts and kalamata olives are superstars, with avocado not far behind. But even though you can’t make a 4:1 meal without fat supplementation (actually you could, but it would be a lot of macadamia nuts!), you can choose higher-ratio foods in order to put less fat on the side.
If you move down the ratio to 3:1, you get a few more of those helpful foods. We looked at all of the cream cheese options at our grocery stores and use a brand called Primrose, which has a higher fat content than some other brands.
It’s interesting that there are not many whole foods in the 2:1 to 3:1 range (green) that we use regularly. Sour cream was the only other one in my master list, but Nora doesn’t like it. Some brands of cream cheese fall into this ratio too. Many of the baked goods I make are in the 2:1 ratio because you can mix fats, nuts, eggs, etc., to end up with a 2:1 ratio item.
When we went below 2:1 on Nora’s wean schedule, I realized that there were a lot more foods on either side of her ratio and it got me thinking about foods by their ratios. Now that we are at 1.25:1, Green & Black’s 85% dark chocolate is above her ratio! We can put dark chocolate on berries, maybe with some nuts on the side, and have a perfectly delicious at-ratio snack without a side of cream.
After our next step down in 3 more weeks, Nora will be at 1:1 which is considered the Modified Atkins Diet (MAD) and we can start estimating meals. Knowing which foods are above the 1:1 line, and which are just below the 1:1 line, will help us make combinations of food that keep her meals around 1:1 without all of the calculating and weighing.
This list also shows some interesting contrasts. Just look at the nuts. Macadamia nuts are a stand out by any measure. It is amazing that they stay solid when warm! Walnuts are also excellent. But almonds are pretty far down on the list as a ketogenic diet food. They are not bad, but if I were going to give nuts to Nora I would choose a higher-fat nut that does not require fat supplementation (if possible). Peanut butter is also fairly low ratio, although we would normally think of it as a creamy high-fat food. We have always supplemented it with fat by mixing it with butter. Almond butter is actually a better keto-choice because it is lower carb and higher ratio.
Cheeses are interesting too. Cream cheese has always been the keto diet food of choice. But cheddar (and Monterey jack, which has the same ratio as cheddar), beats out whole milk mozzarella. Both beat out string cheese, which was one thing that was hard to take away from Nora at the beginning, and is not going to be a go-to food even after moving to MAD because it is well below 1:1 ratio. Nora also loves cottage cheese, but it is very low ratio. She enjoys cottage cheese swimming in cream, like cottage cheese soup! It is easier to add fat to cottage cheese than string cheese.
Proteins are the same story. Eggs, pork and beef are higher in fat than chicken and fish, as we all probably know. But even in the chicken category, chicken thigh is 0.42:1 ratio and chicken breast (not listed above), is only 0.12:1 ratio. And chicken thigh is cheaper and tastier, an all round better choice.
There are a few fun discoveries on the list. I love that edamame has both protein and fat. It’s a fun veggie that works on the keto diet or MAD with other fatty foods. Traditional full-fat Greek yogurt is at-ratio right now for Nora! She has it for breakfast every morning, topped with a few berries and some of her granola (the current recipe I made is 2:1 and balances out the berries). The Flackers that she enjoys are now above-ratio too. But even if your child is on a higher ratio, they are a cracker that fits well with the diet and can be topped with a high-ratio food like cream cheese and butter.
No matter where the ratio lands in a diet therapy, you can make meals more palatable by serving some high-ratio whole foods and not putting so much fat on the side. It gets easier at lower ratios when you have a larger selection of foods that are naturally above a 1:1 ratio. These are natural, healthy foods for any body and even better for anyone on a diet therapy for epilepsy or other medical reason.