Keto dieters have a new champion: celeb chef and nutrition coach Rocco DiSpirito. “I discovered firsthand that a keto diet helps you burn fat and improve your health at an astounding rate,” he raves. “But I found that the food does gets boring after a while.”
So DiSpirito hit the kitchen, coming up with ultra-low-carb recipes for jalapeño poppers, chicken Parmesan, even pot pie and meat lovers’ pizza. “Unless you love what you’re eating, you won’t stick with it,” he explains.
As his clients tested the creations, they were hooked — and losing up to a pound a day, week after week. “It’s joyful food,” raves one. “You don’t even think about cheating!” That was DiSpirito’s goal: “We’re drawn to food with a ‘comfort factor’ that reminds us of childhood and happy times”, he says. “If that food also happens to fan our fat-burning flames, it’s easy for all of us to get lean and stay lean!” And so he wrote his new cookbook, Rocco’s Keto Comfort Food Diet ($19.69, Amazon).
Flash back two years: DiSpirito had signed on to develop the menu for a new restaurant and was soon tasting, tweaking, and packing on pounds. He’d heard buzz about the keto diet and decided to dig deeper.
What did he learn? “At its most basic, it’s a way of eating that’s super low in carbs and high in fat,” explains the author, who consulted a host of top doctors and nutrition pros while writing his latest book. “When the body doesn’t have carbs to burn for energy, it starts tapping into stored fat instead. It’s a process known as ketosis.”
Studies show ketosis triggers rapid fat loss and, at the same time, releases natural compounds into the bloodstream that kill hunger. But what a lot of people don’t realize is that these same compounds do pretty amazing things for our brains.
Why Brains Love Keto
“One advantage of the keto diet that doesn’t get enough credit is that you start to feel a lot better — not just physically but also mentally,” says DiSpirito.
“When I started on my keto diet, I felt more alert and focused than usual. It was very noticeable. And I often hear from clients that their moods are elevated, particularly compared to other diets that left them irritable and depressed.”
It’s more than just a little boost too. Internationally known neurologist and author David Perlmutter, M.D., notes that going keto triggers a surge in brain activity, even stimulating the growth of new brain pathways. “It’s like super fuel for your brain”, he says.
There’s also evidence that a keto diet increases the production of a neurotransmitter called GABA that helps alleviate anxiety and depression, notes women’s health expert Jennifer Wider, M.D. Turns out, that’s basically how calming drugs like Xanax and Valium work!
As DiSpirito puts it, “Your brain is happier on keto. You have a diet that, biochemically, helps improve your mood and energy. On top of that, you get to eat so many feel-good foods that give you a psychological lift. Usually we associate a diet with misery, but keto comfort foods make you feel better than you would eating any other way.” You’ll smile all the way to your happy weight!
The Keto Comfort Food Solution
DiSpirito says clients he coaches get their best results when they keep carbs to 30 grams per day, keep protein portions moderate and get plenty of high-quality fat. For a bonus boost, DiSpirito suggests a late breakfast /brunch since increasing the gap between dinner and breakfast has been shown to trigger joy-boosting hormonal shifts. To stay well hydrated, sip plenty of water, tea and coffee. As always, get a doctor’s okay to try any new plan.
Keto Comfort Food Sample Day
Brunch — Bake 2 eggs in a halved avocado 12 to 15 min. at 425 degrees Fahrenheit; season and enjoy with crispy bacon and an optional side salad drizzled with olive oil vinaigrette.
Snack — Divide ⅓ cup shredded Parmesan in 3 mounds on a lined sheet; bake at 400°F until edges brown, 6 to 8 min.; cool and dip in no-sugaradded marinara sauce.
Dinner — Layer a thick burger with toppings like cheese, bacon, sautéed veggies, avocado, mayo and/or mustard; serve in lettuce with a side of pickles or sautéed green beans.
This article originally appeared in our print magazine.