The popularity of the ketogenic diet has skyrocketed during the last few years. It has been featured in many health news stories and is often trending on social media. Wellness experts and even celebrities promote its countless health and disease-fighting benefits.
As a very low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet, though, it asks you to rethink everything you were taught about nutrition. We all learned that low-fat foods are healthy when actually, they created an obesity epidemic in this country.
The ketogenic diet (also known as the keto diet) recognizes that the real culprit in creating disease is sugar, not fat. But when carbohydrates make up the bulk of your meals, eliminating them can be intimidating. Having the right information makes the transition process much smoother.
If you are just starting out on this diet, what do you need to know? What information will help you be successful, lose weight, and stay fit?
What is the Keto Diet?
The ketogenic diet is an extremely low-carbohydrate diet. By reducing your carbohydrate intake to almost zero, you change the way your body makes energy. Instead of using sugar, it ends up using fat.
Carbohydrates are such a big part of the average American’s diet, but they are basically sugar. A bowl of pasta, some rice, or a doughnut–they all produce insulin and glucose in your body. The glucose then becomes your primary energy source.
Unfortunately, though, as you eat more carbohydrates, your body keeps producing glucose. It makes more than it needs, and the extra glucose ends up stored as fat.
Insulin prevents your body from accessing this extra fuel, and it just stays there as fat. Your brain, which requires an enormous amount of energy to function, soon asks for more fuel. But because you can’t access this power source, you end up with one of those sugar cravings that are so hard to resist! You eat a candy bar or another doughnut, and the cycle starts all over again.
You can see what a big problem this is. The glucose cycle makes it almost impossible to lose weight or stay fit.
But if you reduce both your carbohydrate and protein intake, your body will look for a different fuel source. If you also eat large amounts of fat, your body will use fat–not glucose–as fuel.
This process is called “ketosis,” because your liver begins producing “ketones.” They are made as the liver breaks down fat. This is why fat is such an important part of this diet.
The longer you eat this way, the lower your glucose and insulin levels will be. Insulin will no longer be able to block access to fat stores. Ketones become your primary energy source. As power-hungry organs like your brain use up fat stores, you are able to lose unwanted weight easily.
This is the same process your body goes through when you are fasting or starving, but you can’t fast forever. You can, though, stay on the keto diet indefinitely. It has the health benefits of fasting without the accompanying suffering.
In fact, you will notice how much better you feel on the keto diet. In addition to losing weight, you will be more alert mentally and more physically fit. Let’s explore some of these benefits in the next section. Read on.
Advantages of the Ketogenic Diet
Americans have been told since the 1970s that a low-fat diet is the best option to prevent disease and be healthy. But we now know that a low-fat, sugar-laden diet is not healthy. Numerous studies demonstrate that low-carbohydrate diets help you lose weight and prevent disease.
The keto diet was first developed to control and reduce seizures in epileptics. It is still used successfully today in epileptic children whose seizures do not respond to medication.
It has additional benefits not related to epilepsy, some of which are remarkable. Studies show the keto diet helps reduce the symptoms of or prevents:
- Type 2 Diabetes and Prediabetes
- Heart Disease
- High Blood Pressure
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
Most notably, though, the keto diet helps you lose weight and keep it off. Your body will be able to take advantage of unwanted fat stores as energy sources, instead of leaving them to accumulate.
Besides, you just don’t feel as hungry if you have eaten fats and proteins for your meal. They fill you up in a way that carbohydrates can’t do.
Many people also report an increase in mental focus and physical energy after starting the ketogenic diet. By using ketones as fuel, your body is no longer subject to blood sugar swings. This helps your brain stay alert, and your thinking and concentration will improve.
The same process applies to physical performance. Glucose as an energy source lasts for only a short period of time, and then it needs to be replenished. Fat stores, on the other hand, can be burned indefinitely.
Now you know the benefits of this diet, but how do you follow it on a daily basis? Removing carbohydrates from your diet can be challenging. It is a big change for most of us.
What do you need to know to be successful?
What Can I Eat?
The goal of the keto diet is to enter the metabolic state of ketosis. To do this, you need to lower both your carbohydrate and protein intake and dramatically increase the amount of fat you eat.
That sounds easy, right? It can be, but that description doesn’t tell you exactly which foods you need every day to reach ketosis.
While on the keto diet, you want to focus on the following foods:
- healthy fats (like coconut oil, butter, ghee, lard, tallow, bacon fat, or olive oil)
- meats (this includes organ meats)
- fish and seafood
- high-fat dairy products
- non-starchy vegetables (especially leafy green vegetables)berries in small amounts
Foods you want to avoid include:
- sugary desserts
The correct combination of approved foods will bring about ketosis. Individuals on this diet use “macros” to help them decide which foods to eat and in what combination. Basically, you want your diet to be aprox. 75% fat, 20% protein, and 5% carbohydrates.
Sometimes people just beginning on the diet will use a macro calculator. This device figures out for you how many grams of each food you need to hit your macros daily.
Other devices that some beginners find useful are blood or breath ketone meters. They measure the number of ketones in your body through your blood or breath.
If you know those amounts based on what you ate that day, you can change your diet to increase or decrease your ketones. This can be helpful and motivating when you first start out.
Some Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them
Any lifestyle change requires commitment. The keto diet is no exception. What are some of the common stumbling blocks, and how can you prevent them?
Lack of Planning
Changing over from a carbohydrate-based diet to a high-fat, low carbohydrate one can be challenging. To be successful, you need to do some planning.
You will have to research keto recipes and then plan for those ingredients when you are grocery shopping. In addition, you will also want to remove carbohydrate-rich foods from your kitchen. This way, you won’t be tempted to give in only to regret it later.
Meal planning is essential for someone just starting out on the diet. What are you going to eat for breakfast? Lunch? Dinner? What kinds of snacks are you going to eat?
You have a lot of new, exciting options, and there are many resources to help you get going. Having a plan for your upcoming week is essential to success.
Sodium, Potassium, and Magnesium
Our heavily processed diets contain a lot of salt. By cutting those foods out, you cut your sodium intake.
Potassium is excreted more while on the diet, especially as you consume the recommended amount of water. Most people are magnesium deficient anyway. You might be even before starting.
When your electrolyte levels are low, you experience cravings and feelings of fatigue. Low electrolyte levels are one of the major causes of something called “keto flu.” Symptoms of keto flu mimic the real flu, and you can see why that would be a major roadblock when people are switching to a low-carb diet.
Supplements can help you get the correct levels of electrolytes. You can also add salt to your diet. One excellent way to get all three of these minerals back in your diet is bone broth. The addition of MCT oil to your food is an excellent option.
Don’t Forget To Eat Your Vegetables
When people first start out on the keto diet, they think about increasing fat and lowering their carbohydrate intake. This is natural given the macro requirements.
Even so, it is important to continue eating vegetables, especially leafy green vegetables. Avoid all vegetables, and you end up lacking key vitamins and minerals. That is obviously very unhealthy.
Some vegetables, such as onions and mushrooms, do contain a lot of carbohydrates. You can limit those. But there is no reason to restrict leafy green vegetables. You can eat them in salads, sauces, or green smoothies.
Don’t Forget to Exercise, and Drink Lots of Water
Exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. It’s easy, though, to forget about it when making such a large lifestyle change. If you are suffering from keto flu, going to the gym may be the last thing on your mind. Getting active also eliminates glucose (blood sugar) in your body. Use it up, get rid of it!
It’s essential to continue physical activity, even if you’re just walking. Exercise can also be done at home until you are fully adjusted.
Finally, we all know how important drinking water is to our good health. On the keto diet, you have to drink an a healthy amount of water. Again, it can be easy to forget about this component when you are thinking about all the different foods you can and cannot eat.
You need to know how much water is in your water bottle so you can calculate how much you need to drink per day. In general, the ratio is 0.5 oz to 1 oz of water per pound of body weight.
At first, you are going to the bathroom all the time. That won’t last forever. Your body will adjust, and you will go less frequently.
The keto diet is one of the healthiest diets out there. It comes with many benefits and can help you finally lose that stubborn weight. It will also make you fit, mentally alert, and healthy overall.