Beginners Guide To The Ketogenic Diet
A keto, or ketogenic, diet, is a high -fat, low- carbohydrate diet that many people use for its associated health and weight- loss benefits. The standard American diet relies heavily on carbohydrates, which are broken down into glucose (sugar) and used as the body’s main source of fuel. When carb intake is limited, the body is forced to instead break down fatty acids into the form of ketone bodies.
This means that eating more healthy fats, along with a generous supply of protein, while avoiding foods like bread or pasta will naturally cause your body to shift into ketosis. Right now you may be crying “No bread or pasta? Are you kidding me?” Don’t let that discourage you, though, as there are still many delicious ketogenic-friendly foods and recipes that will leave you asking yourself why you ever thought you would miss carbs in the first place.
WHAT IS KETOSIS AND WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?
Ketosis is essentially an adaptive survival mode, designed for when calorie and glucose intake is low. However, it is also an extremely efficient metabolic state for your body and can help combat many of today’s contemporary health issues.
For instance, a ketogenic diet helps to regulate blood sugar.1 By consuming less carbs, blood sugar levels remain low and thus less insulin is secreted. This means:
- Avoiding big blood sugar spikes after meals, and having consistent blood sugar levels throughout the day. This is especially key for diabetic or pre-diabetic individuals. 2
- Keeping insulin production low. Insulin is the hormone responsible for the fat storing process. 3 Insulin has received a bad reputation in the media, perhaps a bit unfairly, as the hormone that makes you gain weight. While insulin may play a role, high caloric intake and the types of food you eat are the real culprits. A ketogenic diet not only helps regulate insulin, but is also a lower calorie diet by default. A high-fat, low-carb diet is satiating and includes less food, and therefore, fewer calories to feel full.
HOW TO START KETOSIS
We’ve established that a ketogenic diet requires restricting your carbohydrate intake. “But by how much?” you ask. The general rule of this is this: Aim to keep carb consumption to 30 grams or less. By doing this, you will deplete the glycogen stores found in the muscles and liver. After those stores are burned through (in a matter of several days), your body’s metabolism will transition into ketosis. Once this occurs, you’ll need to keep your carbohydrate intake consistently at this level to remain in a state of ketosis.
With only 30 grams of carbs, you may be wondering what makes up the bulk of the ketogenic diet. Macronutrients (macros) are nurtrients that are needed in large amounts for survival, and consists of protein, carbohydrates, and fats. The macros for a ketogenic diet look generally like this: 70% fats, 25% protein, and 5% carbohydrate.
However, these macros can be tweaked depending on your overall goals. Those who are looking to lose weight may need to adjust their fat levels to a lower percent, especially the leaner they get. These individuals may need 60-65% fat as an example. Ideally, you want your body to be using the fatty acids already stored in your body as fuel, instead of the fat that you’re eating as part of the diet. This may mean lowering your fat intake, especially as you hit weight loss plateaus.
If this all seems a bit overwhelming right now, don’t worry. There are plenty of online keto macro calculators to help you determine what your ideal macro levels should be for you personally, when starting out. And as you can see, this article doesn’t stop here.
Real quick, there is one thing that you need to keep in mind when tracking your carbohydrate intake, and that is a concept referred to as “net carbs”. Your net carbs are your total dietary carbohydrates, minus the total fiber. Nutritional labels include fiber in the total carbohydrate count, but fiber doesn’t get digested and absorbed.
So, let’s say you eat half an avacado, which has around 9 grams of carbs and 7 grams of fiber. By subtracting the fiber from the total carb count (9 grams carbs – 7 grams of fiber), you can calculate your net carb total to be 2 grams. This 2 grams amount is what you should use when counting toward your daily carb limit.
So what does the ketogenic diet actually look like? Here’s a list of some foods that are low carb, and typically make up the majority of a ketogenic diet:
- Lean and Fatty Meats: fish, beef, lamb, poultry, eggs, etc.
- Leafy Greens: spinach, kale, etc.
- Above-Ground Vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, etc.
- High-Fat Dairy: hard cheeses, high-fat cream, butter, etc.
- Nuts and Seeds: almonds, macadamias, sunflower seeds, etc.
- Avocados and Berries: raspberries, blackberries, other low carb berries
- Sweetners: stevia, erythritol, and other low carb sweetners
- Other Fats: coconut oil, avocado oil, MCT oil, etc.
When starting out it’s important to keep in mind that certain vegetables have higher carb counts. Below are some examples of low-carb and high-carb vegetables.
NOT ALL VEGETABLES ARE CREATED EQUAL
EXAMPLES OF LOW-CARB VEGETABLES
- Greens: lettuce, spinach, chard, etc.
- Hearty Greens: collards, mustard greens, kale, etc.
- Herbs: parsley, cilantro, basil, rosemary, thyme, etc.
- Bok Choy
- Brussel Sprouts
- Peppers: red, green, jalapeno
- Summer Squash
- Jicama: great for when you crave sweets!
- Avocado: exception to the fruit rule
- Green Beans
EXAMPLES OF HIGH-CARB VEGETABLES
- Winter Squashes
- Sweet Potatoes
Also, in general, fruit should be avoided. There are exceptions to that rule. For instance, berries are a great addition to the diet in small servings. Certain nuts also have a higher carb count in comparison to others. Luckily, all this information is easy to find online, and it doesn’t take very much time to get a good idea of what to eat and what to avoid.
With practice and careful planning, if you really want to work the occasional higher carb vegetable into your daily meal plan, it is not impossible. You just need to watch your total carb count for each day. Generally, most people just learn to avoid these higher carb items for convenience and simplicity.
“KETO FLU” AND ELECTROLYTES
As I mentioned, Ketosis takes several days to reach, typically anywhere from three to five, depending on your activity level and how restrictive you are with your carbohydrate intake. The downside to this process is known as what people call the “keto flu”.
Not every person experiences it, but a vast majority of people may. In the first week, many people report headaches, mental fogginess, dizziness, and aggravation. 4 These symptoms are generally a result of a loss of electrolytes. Once carb consumption is decreased, fluid is lost from the body. In fact, your initial drop in weight will be due to a loss in water weight. Unfortunately, this means that electrolytes go, too.
So, what can you do to combat the keto flu? Increase your electrolyte intake. Many new keto-ers will add salt to everything, or drink a cup of chicken broth daily. Others may supplement with BHB salts. Sodium is not the only electrolyte to watch out for, potassium and magnesium are also crucial.
If you want to avoid having to add supplements to your diet, you can look for these electrolyte-rich foods:
- Containing Potassium: avocados, nuts, dark leafy greens, salmon, and mushrooms
- Containing Magnesium: nuts, cacao powder and dark chocolate, artichokes, fish, and spinach
DON’T BE AFRAID TO HAVE SOME FUN
Diets don’t have to be the end of the world. If you’re looking to make the ketogenic diet part of your lifestyle, there are many ways to be creative and still find ways to enjoy food and cooking.
There are so many recipes available online to keep the keto diet fun and enjoyable -(keto- friendly pizza anyone?)- and many useful tools to make cooking easy. Crock pots and pressure cookers can be a lifesaver for those who lead busy lives and struggle to find the time to cook, but want to stay on track with their nutritional goals.
There are also lots of calculators and apps out there designed to help you keep track of your macros, making carb counting simple. With the right tools, a ketogenic diet can be the right fit for you, so you can harness all the health benefits that keto has to offer.
5 INTERESTING KETO FACTS AND TIPS
- The Ketogenic diet has been around for nearly a century, originally developed in the nineteen twenties 1920’s to treat epilepsy. 5
- Studies have found the ketogenic diet to be helpful in treating cancerous tumors, and especially promising for brain-related cancer. 6
- MCT oil is a useful supplement on a ketogenic diet, designed to provide energy and increase ketone levels. 7
- There are several versions of the ketogenic diet. The standard keto diet, as discussed above, the cyclical ketogenic diet that is typically 5 days of low carb and 1-2 days of high carb days, and a targeted ketogenic diet that structures carb intake around workouts.
- Foods to avoid: sugary foods, grains and starches, beans and legumes, carb-heavy condiments or sauces, root vegetables and tubers, and most fruit.
RECOMMENDED FOR YOU
- Effect of a low-carbohydrate diet on appetite, blood glucose levels, and insulin resistance in obese patients with type 2 diabetes.Yancy, William S., et al. Nutrition & metabolism 2.1 (2005): 34.
- A low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet to treat type 2 diabetes.Boden, Guenther, et al. Annals of internal medicine 142.6 (2005): 403-411.
- Obesity and insulin resistance.Kahn, Barbara B., and Jeffrey S. Flier. The Journal of clinical investigation 106.4 (2000): 473-481.
- Starting the Ketogenic Diet.Irvin, Chris.
- The ketogenic diet for the treatment of childhood epilepsy: a randomised controlled trial.Neal, Elizabeth G., et al. The Lancet Neurology 7.6 (2008): 500-506.
- Targeting energy metabolism in brain cancer with calorically restricted ketogenic diets.Seyfried, Thomas N., et al. Epilepsia 49.s8 (2008): 114-116.
- TInsulin and ketone responses to ingestion of medium and long-chain triglycerides in man.Pi-Sunyer, F. Xavier, Sami A. Hashim, and Theodore B. Van Itallie. Diabetes 18.2 (1969): 96-100.