Keto Diet Overview
Dieting is a part and parcel of life for many people. Some use it to gain weight but more often than not, diets are used more commonly to lose weight. There are so many diets out there like the Atkin’s Diet, Intermittent Fasting, Paleo diet, raw food diet, Juicing and so many more. Do they work? Or are they all fads?
It’s hard to tell with diets because nutrition is far from fully understood, and even today there is all kinds of evidence in the form of scientific studies that prove that nutrition and diets are not as easy as they appear. An example of this is the fact that many people think juices are healthy, and while that’s not entirely untrue, people are better off eating the whole fruit because juice is mostly sugar.
Another prime example of the above is the Keto Diet or Ketogenic diet. This diet is high in fat and goes against the popular belief that fat is bad for you, but the Keto Diet is not only gaining in popularity, many people are seeing positive effects in their fitness goals and their lives. Here, we delve into the world of Keto and answer any questions you might have about this diet and whether it is right for you.
What is the Keto Diet?
The Ketogenic Diet or Keto for short is a fairly popular diet that is low carb and high fat (LCHF) in which the body produces ketones in the liver as a source of energy instead of using carbohydrates. The Keto diet is a variation of a low carb diet. It also relies on a fairly high protein intake to help with weight loss or weight gain depending on what your body needs, because of this, it can be tricky to keep things vegetarian but not impossible.
The keto diet gets its name from ketosis. Ketosis is a state the body goes into where it switches its source of energy. When you eat something that is carb heavy, the body produces glucose and insulin. Since glucose is so easy to for the body to convert into and use as for energy, it is normally chosen as the default source of energy over any other. What this means is that fat, which can otherwise be burned for energy gets passed over to glucose because the body can make it more easily.
When you lower your carb intake significantly your body begins to use fat as a source of energy instead because it is not making enough glucose, this state that the body goes into is ketosis.
How does the Keto Diet Work?
To understand how the Keto Diet work, it’s important to understand ketosis and its role in the diet. Ketosis is an everyday process for the body, some amount of fat is used as energy on a daily basis, however, if your diet is carb heavy, this just means much less fat is burned. Switching to a low carb, high fat diet simply ramps up the process of ketosis, which is a totally normal and safe reaction.
Ketosis normally occurs when the body has no access to food and/or it has depleted glucose for energy (for example, when you go to sleep at night). The body burns fat to create ketones which are then used as a source of energy for the body.
The keto diet works using ketosis to achieve your fitness goals. Fat is traditionally meant to be the source of energy for the body because many people eat carb heavy diets, the body doesn’t get a chance to burn fat, which gets stored on the body. The keto diet works by switching the body into ketosis and burning fat as a more effective fuel.
Many keto dieters see dramatic changes in weight initially, and with dedication, many meet their fitness goals with great ease. Most keto dieters do not need to go the gym or exercise much while on this diet, but this is entirely flexible to your needs, more on this below.
What Should You Eat on a Keto Diet?
The simple answer to this is to cut out most carbs, and increase the intake of fat and protein, however for those who are seriously considering this diet, it’s important to go about it the most effective way. Since food today is still fairly carb-centric, some planning will have to go into it. On a keto diet you would have to keep your carbs down to 20 – 30g net carbs, daily.
Every food item has a certain amount of fiber, net carbs are simply the total carbs minus the fiber. For example, one cup of broccoli contains 6gms total carbohydrates and 2g fiber. Net carb would be 4 gms (6-2). How much fat and protein you should eat depends entirely on your physical makeup.
Fat, Protein and Carbohydrates are macronutrients that make up most people’s diet in one ratio or another. You can easily find many macro calculators that will tell you how much of each you need to achieve your goal. There are also keto calculators online specifically to help you plan macros for a low carb diet. Using this method, you can be more effective in pursuing your fitness goals, and it also means that the keto diet is for everyone, however, the general ratios for a ketogenic diet are 75% fat, 20% protein and 5% carbs.
On the keto diet, you would need to avoid most carb heavy food items such as bread, pasta, rice, most grains, potato, fruits, and sugar. Instead, you would eat things like:
- Low carb vegetables
- Meat and poultry
- Healthy fats (olive oil, coconut oil, butter)
The list goes on. While sugar is not allowed low carb sweeteners like stevia are popularly used as a substitute. It’s important to focus on all the great things you can eat, instead of what you are not allowed.
What would a day in the Keto Diet look like?
To give you a better idea of what you could expect to eat on a diet like this below is a sample menu:
- Breakfast – Coffee or tea with heavy cream instead of milk, eggs (cooked to preference) and sausage
- Lunch – Chicken broth and chicken and mayo served in lettuce instead of bread
- Dinner – Cauliflower crust pizza
- Snacks – cheese cubes or half an avocado with some salt and pepper or a handful of mixed nuts.
Since the keto diet has become so popular, there are many websites and blogs dedicated to keto recipes and living a keto lifestyle and because the diet only restricts carbs, you have many options to get creative with your food.
You might notice that the above sample menu is heavy on animal products and meat, but it is absolutely possible and easy to make vegan and vegetarian substitutions. It might limit your options, but it is not impossible or difficult.
- Boosts brain function – using fats as fuel is far more effective for brain function
- Increase in energy – Because you are burning fats for a more effective fuel, you will find you have a lot more energy
- Weight loss – switching your body to fats means you have less fat on your body, a pretty breakdown of how keto works for weight loss
- Increasing Muscle mass is easier – For people looking to gain weight and increase muscle mass, this diet is perfect because it is high protein.
- Controlling blood sugar – because your body isn’t making glucose, it becomes easier to keep blood sugar in check. This diet has been used to successfully treat type 2 diabetes in some patients.
- Reduces bad cholesterol – Lowered bad cholesterol lever means lower risk of heart attacks and other heart problems.
- Better skin – A great side effect of the keto diet is that the skin improves and many people have seen a huge difference in their complexion in terms of having healthier, glowing skin.
Limitations and things to keep in mind
The ketogenic diet almost sounds too good to be true, after all, most famous diets say low carb AND low fat. Being able to eat butter, cheese, heavy cream, coconut oil, all kinds of other healthy fats and only giving up carbs in return sounds like a dream come true, but there are definitely things that need to be taken note of before starting this diet.
In the keto diet, because our body is changing the way it processes fuel, it also changes the way you retain water, in that you don’t really retain much water or sodium in the body. It is normally recommended to increase water and salt intake. You have to be smart about the kind of salt you use, a sea salt is a good option.
The “keto flu” is an ailment most keto dieters have to deal with when they first start out. Symptoms include headaches, fatigue, low energy and feeling foggy. Switching out the main way your body processes its energy is a big change and there is an adjustment period of about 1 to 2 weeks, which can be discouraging for people who are looking for quick results. This will definitely pass if you stay dedicated. Many dieters find that increasing their water and salt intake helps to reduce the symptoms of keto flu.
There is some amount of forethought and planning required to successfully follow this diet to your fitness goals. This means more cooking at home and less eating out, looking for keto options when you do eat out, but this is true of most any diet that has any kind of restrictions.
If you do not like being restricted in your diet and have a hard time letting go of carbs, then this diet might not be right for you.
Final Say on the Keto Diet
Dieting is difficult because many people hope and expect to see dramatic results quickly when that doesn’t happen, they fall off the wagon. It can be very discouraging, but the good news is, that if you enter any diet with dedication and the patience to wait it out, the changes will come. Diligence is key and not everyone can follow the same diet to succeed. Keto has helped many people meet their fitness goals in a way that the can sustain in the long term. It is important for you to know whether keto is sustainable for you. Consider everything carefully, and make the transition. Ultimately, there is only one secret to meeting your fitness goals – It’s not just a change in diet, it’s also a change in lifestyle.
Alexa Bauer has a Master’s degree in nutrition from the University of Maryland and works as a full-time researcher at Swol Headquarters. Alexa Bauer spends her spare time blogging about cardiovascular health and nutrition. She’s specialized in weight loss.