Keto-friendly Food Development

Originally Published: November 18, 2019
Last Updated: February 4, 2021

DAVID PLANK, A SENIOR RESEARCH FELLOW at the University of Minnesota and Managing Principal of WRSS Food and Nutrition Insights, offered valuable insights into developing keto-friendly food products in his presentation titled “Product Challenges in the Development of Protein and Keto-friendly Food Products.”

The origin of the ketogenic diet can be traced back to 500 B.C., when ancient Greeks discovered that epilepsy could be controlled by fasting. In the 1920s, a ketogenic diet which mimicked the physiological state of fasting was developed to treat epilepsy. The current ketogenic diet fervor began in 1994, when a television program featured the successful use of a ketogenic diet to treat epilepsy in the son of a well-known Hollywood producer.

The ketogenic diet reduces the frequency of epileptic seizures, but its use is limited primarily to children—because dietary compliance can be problematic in adults. Ketogenic diets are also effective for weight loss and weight management and may be helpful in other conditions. Variations on the standard ketogenic diet have been developed to improve compliance and for specific populations, such as bodybuilders.

Many individuals initiating a ketogenic diet experience the “keto flu,” a constellation of flu-like symptoms, which can include diarrhea and constipation. Other risks associated with ketogenic diets include reduced athletic performance, high cholesterol, ketoacidosis, heart disease and kidney stones.

Plank used a case study to illustrate considerations that might be important when developing a keto-friendly food product. He began with business risks: In addition to compliance problems, the potential for side-effects and the inability to make validated health claims could constitute liabilities. To mitigate these risks, the company focused on developing a “keto-friendly,” nutritious product that could stand on its own. They also included wording in the product labeling that recommended consulting a doctor before initiating a ketogenic diet.

The fat, protein and carbohydrate content of almonds approximates that of a ketogenic diet.

For their product platform, the developers wanted their product to be natural; high in fat and protein; low in carbohydrates yet high in fiber; locally sourced; and healthy. Almonds (grown local to the company in California) were chosen for the product’s base. The composition of almonds (i.e., 51% fat, 21% protein and 20% carbohydrates) approximates that of a ketogenic diet, and almonds are well liked by consumers.

The protein content of foods is estimated using nitrogen conversion factors (NCFs). An NCF measured in 1898 has been used to assess the protein content of almonds. This factor was based on a single storage protein found in almonds, but other proteins within the nut have higher levels of nitrogen. Following a new analysis, a higher NCF of 6.25 (20% more than the original value) was obtained, which should allow it to be labeled with a higher protein content, increasing the final product’s value.

In choosing a sweetener for their product, cane sugar was rejected because of its negative perception by most ketogenic dieters (despite having a “clean label”). The developers eventually chose the sweetener allulose, a monosaccharide isomer of fructose, with 70% of the sweetness of sucrose and only 0.4 calories per gram. According to a new FDA draft guidance on allulose, the sweetener does not need to be counted in total or added sugars on labeling.

The lack of fiber in a ketogenic diet reduces mineral uptake and disturbs the gut microbiome; therefore, the developers wanted to enhance the product’s fiber content. Allulose inhibits an enzyme involved in starch metabolism, essentially turning starch into fiber. Almonds themselves are a good source of fiber, but even more fiber was desired.

The company decided to incorporate a viscous fiber into the product to enhance its overall fiber content. Due to current intellectual property considerations, Plank could not reveal its identity but noted that clinical data supports its role in weight management. Together with an existing EFSA-affirmed health claim for the fiber, future marketing claims for the product should be easily justified.

The addition of the viscous fiber to the almond butter product provides other benefits. The fiber gives the product structural stability. Importantly, the addition of the fiber also prevents oil separation in the product without the use of hydrogenated fats or emulsifiers, which consumers perceive negatively. Finally, the addition of the fiber allows intellectual property to be captured for the product formulation, providing a potential advantage in the marketplace.

“Product Challenges in the Development of Protein and Keto- friendly Food Products,” David Plank, Ph.D., Senior Research Fellow at the University of Minnesota; Managing Principal of WRSS Food and Nutrition Insights

This presentation was given at the 2019 Protein Trends & Technologies Seminar. To download presentations from this event, go to

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