What is a ketogenic diet?
A keto diet is a way of eating where the majority of caloric intake consists of fats. While on this diet, one has to make sure that the protein intake is sufficient (but not too high), in order to be provided with amino-acids, essential for basic functioning. The carbohydrate intake should be minimal (below 50 grams a day), and its source should mostly consist of vegetables. The diet is also called LCHF (low carb high fat) diet, or sometimes simply low carb diet. Still, many healthy individuals out there, who have gone keto for no particular medical reason other than trying to become healthier, will tell you it is rather a lifestyle than a diet.
A ketogenic diet is generally a diet with high fat and low carbohydrate intake. It forces the body to start using fat instead of carbohydrates as an energy source. This state is called ketosis. Scientific studies clearly show that some neurological and metabolic patients’ symptoms improve with this diet.
How does the Ketogenic diet work?
The keto diet shifts the body as well as the brain metabolism to ketosis. This state is marked by an increased amount of ketones in the blood. Ketones are formed during fat decomposition, which begins when not enough glucose is available. To simplify, we can say that on a keto diet the body metabolism changes, and this change resembles fasting.
Why go on a ketogenic diet?
The world of nutritional and medical science has revealed that the carbohydrate intake is not actually essential for functioning, while the protein and fat intake is. We can’t deny that certain cells and tissues need glucose to function properly (e.g. some parts of the central nervous system). On the other hand, our bodies are completely capable of adapting to a given situation, even to a restricted carbohydrate/glucose intake through food. If the glucose is not there, it can be derived from ketones, for example.
Contrary to carbohydrate intake, we have to make sure that we consume enough fatty acids of certain kinds. Such essential fatty acids are omega 3 and omega 6. These two, plus another eight amino acids, are absolutely necessary for our functioning and survival, as our organism is not capable of forming them itself. That is why we need to get them by eating the right kind of food.
According to popular opinion, glucose (carbohydrates) is the best source of energy since it’s also the fastest source of energy. Human body is equipped with some excellent mechanisms that can regulate blood glucose (with the help of insulin), and use it quickly and efficiently. Well, if it weren’t so, we’d be in real danger consuming carbs, since too much glucose in our blood can actually be toxic. That is why the organism tries to normalise blood glucose levels as quickly as possible. The glucose is thus used for glycogen formation in liver and muscles, andit then used either as a short-term energy source, or it is transformed into fat that represents a long-term energy source.
The idea behind keto diet, being more and more scientifically backed-up, is that fats are by far the greatest source of energy. They offer energy, derived from fatty acids, ketones, and glucose, which is derived from glycerol – a fat component. Additionally, fats supposedly cause the least oxidative stress to the body.
Of course, the problem is, most of us are not adapted to exploit the fat intake optimally, being used to a constant high intake of carbohydrates. But, the good news is that our bodies are evolutionarily adapted to low and infrequent intake of carbohydrates. So the basic idea is to get your body into ketosis, where it stops burning carbohydrates as a fuel and uses fat instead, which becomes a lifestyle that supposedly our ancestors used to have. As more and more scientific and individual reports show that it works, the keto diet has gained its popularity among people who are trying to maintain blood sugar levels and lose body fat. In short, people usually live a keto-lifestyle to be healthier.
How to reach ketosis?
You can find a few variants of keto diet out there, but the basic principle behind all of them is a relatively radical restriction of carbohydrate intake. The maximum amount of carbs consumed daily is supposedly 50 g, (or rather between 5% and 10% of your caloric intake), but this amount highly depends on one’s gender, lean body mass, amount of activity, etc. At the same time, the fat intake should be high (around 70% of your caloric intake). You should keep your protein intake on moderate levels, since too much protein can keep you (or kick you) out of ketosis. The recommended protein intake is around 25% of your caloric intake, but this can again slightly vary in dependence of your activity level. If you don’t do lots of sports and/or heavy lifting, you should probably stay within the 20% – 25% limit. This is because our body tends to derive glucose out of certain amino acids, and it can do it efficiently enough to prevent ketosis.
Image source: Ketogenic.com
5 Benefits of a keto diet (to name only few)
- Weight loss: Since the body starts burning fat as the main source of energy, it will, in time, start burning your fat stores to produce ketones.
- Stabilised blood sugar: Restricted carbohydrate consumption is the best way to lower blood sugar levels and insulin levels.
- Lack of hunger: Fat is naturally more satisfying than carbohydrates, you just need to wait a bit longer to feel satiated after the meal. The full state also lasts longer than when eating a high-carb meal.
- Lower blood pressure: Yes, the keto diet can actually help with your blood pressure. Do talk to your doctor before you start the diet if you’re on blood pressure medication.
- Improved cholesterol profile: Arterial buildup is most associated with cholesterol and triglyceride levels, which have been shown to improve with this diet.
Side-effects of a keto diet
In the beginning, when your body is coming into a ketogenic state, it will use up all the glucose storage. This might likely cause a lack of energy, and a general lethargy. You may experience flu-like symptoms, which are called “keto-flu”. You may feel a bit lightheaded or even get headaches, caused by ketosis. Most common low-carb diet side effects are also tiredness, dizziness and muscle cramps. They can be mostly avoided by making sure you get enough mineral replacement, since all the water you damp will also take minerals along with it. Initially, you might also experience occasional low blood sugar levels, simply because the body is used to releasing a certain amount of insulin to take care of the glucose, which is suddenly no longer available in high amounts. In the first few days, people often report a lack of mental clarity or “mental fogginess.” And while the leftover glycogen in your liver and muscles is burning up, there’s a lot of water released in the process, so you will probably find yourself urinating a lot, at first. On the other hand, you’ll quite likely end up a little constipated because of dehydration, salt loss and a lack of magnesium. Try to avoid this by staying hydrated and by eating enough fiber. At last, but not least, carb cravings can be quite intense for the first couple of weeks, when your body is still in the process of adaptation to life without starch and sugar.
Do not give in; we’re here for you. If you get through the first few weeks, bake yourself a treat! 🙂
How to kick-start a keto diet (without giving up)?
What might really help, before you actually try to go keto, is reading some literature about it. There’s plenty of information out there already, just take your time. This will allow you to get familiar with what you’re getting yourself into, what you can expect, and what mistakes to not make if you want to succeed. Of course, if you can, it’s advisable to get yourself some professional support, either from a doctor who believes in the diet, or from a nutritionist. The first few weeks can be difficult, so the successful start does demand a rather high degree of self-determination.
Decide on how radical you want to go with the carb cutout when you begin. If you suddenly go down from 300 g carbs per day to 20 g per day, you might feel quite miserable for a while. You may want to try 40 g per day in the beginning. Of course, it’s for you to decide. Some keto practitioners advise that you go as low as possible at first, so that you get past the keto flu as soon as possible. That is because the higher the carbs, the longer it will take for your body to get into ketosis, but the side effects (keto flu) could be milder. Before you get completely miserable when you realise you reach the 40 g carb daily limit before noon, substract the fiber from the total carbs, and track the net carbs consumed.
Vegetables should be your only carbohydrate source, along with unsaturated and saturated fatty acids. Be aware that the fats can make you feel full with quite some delay, so eat your keto meals slowly. Depending on your body composition and activity level, try to eat just enough protein to satisfy your needs (between 70 g and 150 g daily).
Lowering your carb intake, you can start losing a lot of water along with minerals; so make sure you consume a bit saltier food than you’re used to in order to keep those minerals in your body. You might want to consider some mineral supplement
Constipation can be one of the side effects of going keto. The solution lies in drinking enough water, and eating enough fiber. Vegetables are a good source of fiber, but you may again consider taking supplements (e.g. psyllium husks).
Try to avoid sweeteners in the beginning, since they may prolong the adaptation process and can even be the reason your carb cravings don’t go away. This means you should refrain from trying out My Sweet Keto recipes in the first few weeks, but keep following us and pick out the recipe you find most intriguing, for when the time comes, you’ll deserve a reward! 🙂
If you are an active person and train a lot, you will probably find yourself having to lower exercise intensity for a while. But no worries, within a few weeks, you should be back on track. Again, do drink plenty of water, and take some extra salt in.
If you’ve got any serious medical conditions, such as defective carbohydrate metabolism, your immune system is weak or are an elderly person, do start this diet very gradually and under the supervision of a doctor or a nutritionist.
What can you eat on a keto diet?
- Dairy and eggs (watch out for sweetened and high carb products (i.e. milk and yoghurt)
- Coconut and its derivatives
- Fats and Oils (e.g. extra virgin olive oil)
- Nuts and Seeds (and flours and meals made out of them)
- Green vegetables
What can you drink on the keto diet?
- Unsweetened tea
- Limited amounts of lemon and lime juice
- Diet sodas (just don’t overdo it)
- Allowed alcohol:
- Dry wine
What should you avoid eating?
- Any variant of sugar, including:
- Corn syrup
- Maple syrup
- All grains and grain products
- Corn and corn products
- Potatoes and potato products
- Sweet potatoes
- Starchy vegetables (e.g. peas)
- Fruits (except berries in limited amounts, since they’re lower in carbs)
- Beans and lentils
What should you avoid drinking?
- Dessert wines
- Non-diet sodas
- Milk (specially skim milk and 1% milk which is full of lactose)
So, what’s on the menu for tomorrow? I suggest eggs and avocado, fried in coconut oil for breakfast, and a wild salmon fillet, grilled and soaked in virgin olive oil for lunch. Add some rosemary and green veggies. For a dessert, you can gather some ideas in our keto/lchf recipes.