A ketogenic diet (AKA a keto diet) is a low carb, high-fat diet that is said to improve overall health and help you lose weight. The body, through the ketones it produces, offers you an alternative source of energy – fat. Essentially, it turns your body into a fat-burning machine to produce the energy it needs.
So what are ketones exactly?
Ketones are your body’s emergency supply of energy. It is produced from fat when there is not enough sugar (glucose) that can be converted into energy. Under normal circumstances, glucose is our primary energy source. Our body chooses glucose over other energy sources because it’s the easiest molecule that it can break down. But when we switch to a keto diet, we use the fat our bodies normally store to produce ketones.
How do we get the body to produce ketones?
We get the body to produce ketones by creating conditions for it to reach a metabolic state called ketosis. Ketosis is the natural body process that helps us survive when our usual high-carbohydrate diet is unavailable. It is only through ketosis that our bodies are able to easily access our stored fats and break it down for energy.
How do I induce ketosis?
Before anything else, you have to drastically reduce carbohydrates from your meals. This isn’t equivalent to fasting, where we completely eliminate all food. We’re just starving ourselves of carbohydrates instead of calories. This is how we induce ketosis.
Should I go on a ketosis diet?
The great thing about the the keto diet is that it’s not a one-size fits all diet. Healthline lists four types of ketogenic diets: the Standard Ketogenic Diet (SKD) and the High Protein Ketogenic Diet, which have been studied extensively, and the Cyclical Ketogenic Diet (CKD) and Targeted Ketogenic Diet (TKD), which are often methods employed by bodybuilders and athletes.
The standard ketogenic diet is the most recommended type of ketogenic diet. It’s the best choice for beginners because it’s the most researched. For SKD, meals are composed of very low carb, moderate-protein, and high-fat. A good ratio to follow is 75% fat, 20% protein, and 5% carbs.
If you change the ratio to 60% fat, 35% protein, and 5% carbs, you get the high protein ketogenic diet. Like the SKD, the high protein ketogenic diet is also extensively researched. The only difference between it and the SKD is the amount of protein.
The cyclical and targeted ketogenic diets are more advanced methods. For CKD, dieters often follow 5 days of keto diets and then 2 days of high-carb days. The TKD is a little more flexible than the CKD since it allows you to just add carbs to your meals based on your workouts.
Who SHOULDN’T Go On A Diet?
Ketogenic diets are generally safe for most people… unless you fall under these categories:
- Pregnant women. According to diabetes.co.uk, prolonged maternal ketosis can lead to developmental problems for the child.
- Breastfeeding women. Maintain a moderate carb intake instead of a very low one. There is not enough research on the effects of ketogenic diets on breastfeeding women so it’s best to keep away.
- People on hypo-causing medication. These medications are designed to increase insulin. But being on ketogenic diet means lowering insulin by cutting down on carbohydrates. Continuing to follow a ketogenic diet despite these meds can increase your risk. For a full list of these medications, check out diabetes.co.uk.
What Should I Eat On This Diet?
You need to limit yourself to low-carb meals, moderate protein, and high-fat food. These include:
- Meat. You don’t need huge amounts of meat since a keto-diet is not a high-protein diet. Excess protein could turn into glucose. Try to go for organic, grass-fed meat as processed meat often has carbs in them.
- Seafood. Avoid breading and you’re good to go.
- Eggs. Boiled, scrambled, omelets, or fried in butter? It doesn’t matter. Eggs are good all around.
- Vegetables that grow above the ground. These kinds of vegetables are very low in carbs and are a great way to include good fat in your keto diet.
- Berries. Eat this in moderation. If you’re craving for sweets, pair this with real whipping cream.
- Natural fat and high-fat sauces. Condiments are a great way to add fat content to your keto diet aside from your meat, fish, and eggs. Try cooking in butter or coconut fat or smother your salad in olive oil.
- High-fat dairy. Butter, cheese, full fat yogurt… you name it. Fat is really your friend when it comes to keto diets.
Here is a great infographic by Swedish doctor Andreas Eenfeldt, MD, of the dietdoctor.com:
What food should I avoid?
Keep these foods out of reach when you’re on the keto diet:
- Any Type of Sugar
One teaspoon of sugar has about 4 net grams of carbs, while every tablespoon has about 12 net grams. Sugars include: white, brown, cane, raw and confectioner’s sugar, syrups like maple, carob, corn, caramel and fruit, honey and agave, any food made with ingredients such as fructose, glucose, maltose, dextrose and lactose.
- Any and All Grains
One slice of bread, or small serving of grains, can have anywhere from 10–30 net grams of carbs! Cereals and cooked grains typically have 15–35 grams per 1/4 cup uncooked, depending on the kind.
- Nearly All Processed Foods, such as: crackers, chips, pretzels, etc., all types of candy, all desserts like cookies, cakes, pies, ice cream, pancakes, waffles and other baked breakfast items, oatmeal and cereals
- Sweetened and Caloric Beverages, like: soda, alcohol (beer, wine, liquor, etc.), sweetened teas or coffee drinks, milk and dairy replacements (cow’s milk, soy, almond, coconut, lactaid, cream, half and half, etc.), fruit juices
What about side effects?
The keto diet is generally safe but you might experience the ‘keto flu’ as your body adapts to the drastic change. The keto flu, or the induction flu, includes:
- Increased hunger.
- Sleep issues.
- Digestive discomfort.
- Low energy.
- Poor mental function.
The keto flu usually lasts for a few days, depending on how your body handles the switch. Some people experience it for two to four days while there are a rare few who experience the keto flu for up to 15 days.
You won’t be able to skip the keto flu but you can do a few things to lessen its effects like drinking more water or adding extra salt to your meals. Elowcarbfoodlist has great tips for lessening the effects of keto flu.
Am I in ketosis?
According to ruled.me, you will know you’re on the right track if you notice any the following symptoms:
- Increased Urination. Because ketones are a natural diuretic, you’ll have to make more frequent trips to the bathroom, especially for beginners.
- Dry Mouth. Increased fluid discharge leads to a dry mouth and increased thirst. Make sure to drink lots of water and don’t forget to replenish your electrolytes (salt, potassium, magnesium) as well.
- Bad Breath. This only happens in the earlier stages of the diet while your body is still adjusting. This is caused by a type of ketone body called acetone, which diffuses in the lungs and exits the body by exhaling. This can give your breath a sharp smell, similar to overripe fruit or nail polish remover. The good news is it’s only temporary.
- Reduced Hunger & Increased Energy. Once your body has adapted to the diet, you will experience lower hunger levels and a clearer, more organized mental state.
What are the benefits of going on a ketogenic diet?
Tapping into an energy source like ketones gives you a tremendous amount of energy. That extra energy improves physical endurance and mental clarity to carry out tasks. And because it burns fat to produce that energy, you also lose weight.
The lowered carbohydrates control the blood sugar levels in your body which, in turn, boost health markers such as cholesterol profiles, insulin levels, and blood pressure. Consistent keto dieting could even reverse type 2 diabetes. It can also resolve constipation and relieve cramps. Other benefits include less acne, fewer migraine attacks, and less heartburns.
The ketogenic diet is great for everyone. Especially those who are overweight, are suffering from diabetes, or just want to improve their metabolism. But like with any other diet, consistency is key. The ketogenic diet only works if you stick with it for the long term.