Wondering to yourself, “What is the Keto diet?” With all the buzz around low-carb diets, Paleo diets, or Whole30, there is certainly plenty of confusion.
The Ketogenic (keto) diet is a very low-carbohydrate, high fat diet. It’s aim is to consume increased levels of fat to put your body into ketosis.
Ketosis? Ketones? Key what?
Ketosis promotes the burning of fat rather than glucose (sugar) for energy. The increase in fat consumption also helps to keep you feeling full, so your desire to snack is lowered.
Ketosis takes a few days for your body to reach the proper levels of ketones in your body, this is achieved by eating less than about 40 grams of carbohydrates per day. You read that right. Not per meal, per day.
Ketones are present in everyone’s body. Your body produces them when there isn’t enough insulin to turn sugar into energy. During Ketosis, your body turns to another source (fat). Your liver turns fat into ketones instead and sends them to your bloodstream so your body can use it for raw fuel.
What are the benefits of the Keto diet?
While many of these low carb diets, Keto included, are controversial, there are many reports the following benefits:
- Lowered cholesterol
- Decreased chances of heart disease
- Reduced appetite
- Weight loss
- Reduced blood sugar
- Reduced levels of insulin
- Lower blood pressure
- Reduced inflammation
- Extreme mental clarity
- Reduced acne
- Reduced risk of Diabetes
- Reduction of seizures for people with epilepsy.
What are the concerns of the Keto diet?
- Ketone breath (bad breath, fruity or metallic taste in your mouth)
- Loss of electrolytes
- Dehydration if not properly hydrated
- Decreased fiber levels
- Loss of muscle
This sounds too risky, is Keto safe?
If you’re eating according to the plan, your body controls how much fat burned for energy, and your body will normally regulate the amounts of ketones in your body. Ketosis is not harmful. Ketoacidosis, however, is harmful. Ketoacidosis occurs when there are too many ketones in the body and can potentially be a fatal metabolic state. Typically only diabetics and alcoholics are at risk. Eat properly according to Keto guidelines and you’ll be fine.
Keto Flu? But I got the flu shot!
As your body transitions from burning sugar for energy to burning fat for energy, you may encounter flu-like symptoms.
- Ways to mitigate the effects of the Keto-Flu include:
- Increased the amount of water you drink
- Take vitamin supplements (sodium, potassium, magnesium)
- MCT oil
- Plenty of sleep
How do I start?
Pick a week that will be an easy one. No parties, no family gatherings, no temptations. Slowly ease into it starting a week or two before until you are fully immersed on the date you choose. There’s nothing worse than starting a new diet and immediately getting hit with keto flu. Not fun.
Remove all temptations from your house. All high carb junk foods, sugary things, cereals, etc. It’s difficult to eat properly when you have candy, cake, or soda, staring back at you.
Restock your pantry and refrigerator with keto-friendly foods.
Plan on eating enough fat, and very low amounts of carbs (30-40 max per day)
What can I eat on Keto?
- All meats (beef, poultry, pork, lamb, veal, etc.)*
- Seafood (tuna, mackerel, salmon, cod, etc.)*
- Nuts and seeds
- Plenty of healthy fats.
- Bone broths
- Organ meats from animals
- Leafy greens (kale, spinach, etc.)
- Cabbage, cauliflower, zucchini, lettuce, asparagus, mushrooms
- Fermented vegetables (sauerkraut, kimchi)
- Butter, ghee, tallow, heavy cream, sour cream, cheese (both hard and soft)
- Avocados, berries
- Oils (Olive, coconut, sesame, macadamia, MCT, avocado, etc.)
- Herbs and spices (no added sugars)
*Not breaded or fried. The higher quality meats and seafood such as grass-fed, wild-caught, pasture-raised or organic is preferred, but choose the quality of meats you can afford
What can I drink on Keto?
- Water (infused with lemon or herbs for extra taste)
- Seltzer / Sparkling Water (Can infuse these with lemon or herbs for even more taste)
- Coffee (No sugar, but you can add cream!)
Controversial Keto Drinks
- Low carb energy drinks*
- Low carb alcohol*
- Diet soda*
- Juice alternatives
*Low carb anything may not have a lot of carbs, but you still need to fit into your macros and ensure you read the labels carefully. There may be loads of sugars in it and not necessarily Keto-friendly. Some fellow Keto’ers include alcohols such as hard liquor, light beer or wine. It depends on the person. Just remember, that as your body is digesting the sugars from the alcohol, your body is not burning fat for energy.
What can’t I have on Keto?
- No grains as they are loaded with carbs (whole grains, wheat, pasta, rice, corn, quinoa)
- Beans (all varieties)
- Legumes (peanuts, soybeans, lentils, chickpeas, peas)
- High sugar fruits (mangoes, pineapples)
- Sauces or marinades with sugar
How much food do I need to eat to be “Keto”?
You need to eat enough fat at each meal to push your body towards ketosis. The portions themselves will be different for every person, however, the macros need to break down in a certain way.
What’s a macro?
Macronutrients are proteins, fats, and carbs, measured in grams. 1 gram of protein is 4 calories. 1 gram of fat is 9 calories, and 1 gram of carbs is 4 calories per gram.
Not all calories are the same. I know taste-wise, I would rather eat 100 calories of a donut than 100 calories of any vegetable. The number of calories would be the same per gram, but the serving size would be completely different.
While following Keto, ideally, about 70 percent of the calories consumed should come from fat, 20 percent should come from protein, and 5 percent should come from carbs. This is not the gold standard macro breakdown.
This is not a one size fits all. Depending on how many calories you need to have each day, the macros need to adjust. Aim for no more than 30-40 grams of carbs each day, and work backward from there to find the ratios you need.
One thing to note about carbohydrates. We are talking about net carbs, not just the number of carbohydrates. For example, the average 3.5 oz (100g) avocado has 14.66 grams of fat, 2g of protein, 8.53g carbs, and 6.7g of fiber.
Net carbs are very easy to calculate. Take the total amount of carbs and subtract the fiber. In this case, 14.66g of carbs – 6.7g of fiber equals 7.96g of carbs. That wasn’t too bad, was it?
I have children, can children follow this diet?
Absolutely. Ironically it was originally created for children as an alternative treatment for seizure reduction for children with Epilepsy. It was also used for other conditions where the body has trouble using glucose effectively.
The macros for children may be a little different compared to adults. For children, you may be advised to go 4:1 fat to protein and carbs (combined). For kids, there are many recipes that are Keto compliant but are ordinary foods you’d eat normally. Things like pancakes, waffles, pizza, smoothies, and cookies, just all Keto versions.
Kids today have higher tendencies of sitting on the couch with their tablets or watching television. The rate of obesity is only increasing each year. About one in six children and adolescents are obese. Not only will the children grow up healthy and strong, but they will also be less likely to be obese following keto.
Sure it may be difficult to completely avoid your children from eating their friend’s birthday cake or drinking soda and juices at other people’s homes, but with the right guidance, the children will have all the help and support they need to be healthy.
“Cheat” meals? How often are we talkin’?
As little as possible. Not only will cheat meals hurt your diet, but it will also set you back days or weeks of progress.
If you are going to go for it (face it, we are all weak from time to time), make sure to test your levels of ketones with ketone strips. Make sure you limit the cheat meals to one meal and don’t go absolutely crazy. On the day of, you can load up on fats, proteins, and greens.
You need to realize that your body has this recent influx of high levels of carbs and sugars, it won’t be burning fat for energy. You can kick yourself out of ketosis and you get to go through the Keto-Flu again.
The immediate effects of cheating on your diet will be increased water retention, water weight (bloating), spiked blood sugar, increased cravings (once you taste the food, you crave it more, especially if you haven’t had it for so long).
If you are often being exposed to parties where there is non-compliant food, you can start bringing your own food. I’d rather be boring and compliant, than experience the Keto flu every week. If you are looking to cheat often, then a Cyclical Ketogenic Diet may be what you’re looking for.
But, in my experience, if you are going to cheat, you may as well cheat overindulge with Keto-friendly desserts.
How do I eat out while being “Keto”?
Generally, eating Keto outside your home sounds pretty rough. However, it is easier than you think. Some of the best places to venture out include local steak houses, burger places, and diners. All of these restaurants will have Keto-friendly options – steaks, burgers, eggs, bacon, etc. If you are going out for Italian food, that may be more difficult, but generally sauce-less, non-breaded meat options can be asked for, make sure to ask for no pasta, at all. Even if its in front of you, it can be enticing to take a bite to try it out. No, you don’t need to compare it to nonna’s cooking.
This sounds way too expensive, can I still follow Keto?
Yes, you don’t need to eat expensive food at every meal. You don’t even need to buy the best quality of everything. What you need to do is be reasonable with your food budget, and stay under it. There are many recipes that are Keto compliant while being budget-friendly. Take the time to look for such recipes and you will be on your way in no time at all. Planning your meals and what you need to buy is very important in succeeding on this journey.