The ketogenic diet is a low carb, moderate protein, and high fat diet which puts the body into a metabolic state known as ketosis.
That’s a pretty boring description but it is accurate. Essentially what this means is that when you figure out your macros (more on that later) then you’ll find that you’re eating mostly fats (these are good for you), some protein, and very little carbs.
Getting into ketosis is the goal of the ketogenic diet.
When you’re body is in a state of ketosis, the liver produces ketones which become the main energy source for the body and this all revolves around the consumption of fat.
This can be a complete mind twist for some people because “fat” just isn’t a good word but your body loves to live off of healthy fats. We’ll talk more about this later on.
The ketogenic diet is also referred to as keto (key-toe) diet, low carb diet, and low carb high fat (LCHF).
So why is it so awesome and why is it taking the world by storm?
Because it completely reverses how your body functions (in a good way) along with changing how you view nutrition.
It’s based around the premise that your body was designed to run more efficiently as a fat burner than a sugar burner.
Fat Burner vs Sugar Burner
When you eat something that is high in carbs (that yummy donut), your body will produce glucose and insulin.
- Glucose is the easiest molecule for your body to convert and use as energy so that is why it’s the preferred energy source for your body.
- Insulin is produced to process the glucose in your bloodstream by transporting it around your body.
This sounds pretty efficient, right? The problem with this is that when glucose is used as a primary energy source, fats are not needed for energy and therefore are stored.
With the average person’s diet, glucose is the main energy source because there is an abundance of it.
This initially doesn’t seem like a problem until you realize that the body can’t store that much glucose. This becomes an issue for you because the extra glucose gets converted into fat which is then stored.
Hopefully you’re starting to get the picture about how great your body is at storing fat.
Because your body uses glucose as it’s main energy source the glucose that is converted into fat doesn’t get used.
When your body runs out of glucose it tells your brain you need more so you end up reaching for a quick snack like a candy bar or some chips instead of burning the fat that is being stored.
You can begin to see how this cycle leads to building up a body that you don’t really want.
So what’s the alternative?
Become a fat burner instead of a sugar burner.
This means you have to begin to train your body to stop relying on glucose and to start relying on fats.
When you lower your intake of carbs, the body begins to look for an alternative energy source and your body enters a metabolic state known as ketosis.
Ketosis is a natural process and makes perfect sense when you think about the human body.
Real quick, if you want to do a deeper dive and learn more about ketosis then check out What Is Ketosis? Understanding the Benefits of Ketosis.
You’ve probably heard of the fact that you can go weeks without food but only a couple of days without water.
The reason for this is ketosis. Most people, for better or for worse, have enough fat stored on them to fuel their body for a while. This is great in survival situations but terrible in everyday life.
When your body is in a state of ketosis, it produces ketones. Ketones occur from the breakdown of fat in the liver, hence the importance of consuming enough fat daily.
You might be thinking why isn’t the body constantly breaking down fats in the liver? Well, when your body is producing insulin, the insulin prevents the fat cells from entering the bloodstream so they stay stored in the body.
When you lower your carb intake, glucose levels, along with blood sugar levels, drop which in turn lowers insulin levels.
This allows the fat cells to release the water they are storing (it’s why you first see a drop in water weight) and then the fat cells are able to enter the bloodstream and head to the liver.
This is the end goal of the keto diet. You don’t enter ketosis by starving your body. You enter ketosis by starving your body of carbohydrates.
This is very important to remember because the name ketogenic diet might sound off alarms in your head about how you need to starve yourself to lose weight.
In keto, you don’t starve. In fact, you’ll eat less and feel more full. It’s weird.
When your body is producing optimal ketone levels you begin to notice many healh, weight loss, physical and mental performance benefits.
Benefits of a Ketogenic Diet
When people say that the keto diet changed their life they are not exaggerating.
When you decide to switch over to the ketogenic diet, you quickly realize that it is more than just a diet.
It’s a completely new lifestyle that offers numerous benefits.
Most people look into a specific diet to lose weight and the keto diet is one of the most effective ways to lose weight in a healthy manner.
Because the ketogenic diet is using body fat as an energy source, your body will begin to burn the unwanted fat causing obvious weight loss benefits.
On keto, your insulin (the fat storing hormone) levels drop which allows your fat cells to travel to the liver and get converted into ketones.
Your body effectively becomes a fat burning machine.
Control Blood Sugar
Unfortunately, many people suffer from diabetes which is caused by your body’s inability to handle insulin.
Keto naturally lowers blood sugar levels due to not eating as many carbs so your body can’t produce glucose.
Keto has been shown to have huge benefits for people that are pre-diabetic or have Type II diabetes.
Because the ketogenic diet helps you to maintain more consistent blood sugar levels you find that you have more control of your everyday life while on keto.
This is one of those benefits that has to be experienced.
You can’t understand how cloudy carbs make your thinking until you can ween yourself off of them.
When on the ketogenic diet you experience increased mental performance.
In fact, many people partake in keto simply for this reason.
The reason why you experience an increase in mental performance is that ketones are a great fuel source for your brain.
The increase in fatty acids has a huge impact in brain function.
Increase in Energy
You’ve already learned that keto helps your body turn fat into an energy source.
But, did you know that this helps to increase your energy levels?
Because your body can only store so much glucose, when it runs out it means your body has run out of fuel (energy) and it needs more.
Carbs also cause spikes in blood sugar levels and when those levels drop you experience a crash.
Keto helps to provide your body with a more reliable energy source allowing you to feel more energized throughout the day.
Better Appetite Control
When eating a diet that is heavy in carbs you can often find yourself hungry a lot sooner than you expected after eating a meal.
Because fats are more naturally satisfying they end up leaving our bodies in a satiated state for much longer.
That means no more random cravings along with feeling like you’re going to collapse if you don’t get something in you immediately.
Keto has been used to treat epilepsy since the early 1900s. It’s still one of the most widely used treatments for children suffering from uncontrolled epilepsy today.
A big benefit of the ketogenic diet for people that suffer from epilepsy is that it allows them to take fewer medications which is always a good thing.
Cholesterol & Blood Pressure
The ketogenic diet has been shown to improve triglyceride levels and cholesterol levels.
Less toxic buildup in the arteries allowing blood to flow throughout your body as it should.
Low carb, high fat diets show a dramatic increase in HDL (good cholesterol) and a decrease in LDL (bad cholesterol).
Studies have shown that low-carb diets show better improvement in blood pressure over other diets.
Because some blood pressure issues are associated with excess weight, the keto diet is an obvious warrior against these issues due to its natural weight loss.
Insulin resistance is the reason why people suffer from Type II diabetes. The ketogenic diet helps people lower their insulin levels to healthy ranges so that they are no longer in the group of people that are on the cusp of acquiring diabetes.
One of the more common improvements that people on the keto diet experience is better skin.
What Do I Eat on a Keto Diet?
Unfortunately, on the ketogenic diet you can’t eat whatever you want. However, unlike many other diets, once you find yourself in ketosis your cravings for the things you can’t eat usually disappear and if they don’t?
Well, there are plenty of alternatives for the things you are used to eating.
Remember, that the goal of the ketogenic diet is to get your body into a state of ketosis and to do that you need to reduce your carb intake.
It’s important to understand that carbohydrates are not only in the junk foods that you love, but also some of the healthier foods that you enoy.
For example, on keto you nee to avoid wheat (bread, pasta, cereals), starch (potatoes, beans, legumes) and fruit.
There are small exceptions like avocado, star fruit, and berries as long as they are consumed in moderation.
Foods to Avoid
- Grains – wheat, corn, rice, cereal
- Sugar – honey, agave, maple syrup
- Fruit – apples, bananas, oranges
- Tubers – potato, yams
Foods to Eat
- Meats – fish, beef, lamb, poultry, egg
- Leafy Greens – spinach, kale
- Above ground vegetables – broccoli, cauliflower
- High fat dairy – hard cheeses, high fat cream, butter
- Nuts and seeds – macadamias, walnuts, sunflower seeds
- Avocado and berries – raspberries, blackberries, and other low glycemic impact berries
- Sweeteners – stevia, erythritol, monk fruit, and other low-carb sweeteners
- Other fats – coconut oil, high-fat salad dressing, saturated fats, etc.
Understanding macros is a key component to being successful on the ketogenic diet.
What are macros?
They are the main sources of calories in your daily diet.
The macros that you need to keep an eye on are:
Because the ketogenic diet is a high fat diet, the majority of your daily calories will come from fats.
The general ratio of macros to follow is 70% fats, 25% protein, and 5% carbohydrates.
This means that 70% of your calories will come from fats, 25% from protein, and 5% from carbs.
When starting off on keto your daily, net carbs shouldn’t exceed 20g. That means even if your recommended daily macro carb count is 27g, you still want to stay below 20g.
Totals Carbs vs Net Carbs
It’s important to understand that not all carbs are treated equal when looking at a nutrtion label.
On nutrition labels you’ll Total Carbohyrates along with a further breakdown of Fiber and Sugars.
On keto, you care about net carbs which are Total Carbohydrates – Fiber = Net Carbs.
Because fiber doesn’t have an affect on your blood sugar levels it is considered a net zero carbohydrate.
To understand the role macros play on the ketogenic diet then check out Understanding What Macros Are on a Ketogenic Diet.
Vegetables on a Ketogenic Diet
Vegetables are tricky on a ketogenic diet because we’ve been raised under the idea that vegetables are healthy and they are. However, almost all of the vegetables that you consume today contain carbs.
Some more than others so it’s important to understand the ones that have a safer number of Net Carbs.
|Spinach (Raw)||1/2 Cup||0.1|
|Bok Choi||1/2 Cup||0.2|
|Lettuce (Romaine)||1/2 Cup||0.2|
|Cauliflower (Steamed)||1/2 Cup||0.9|
|Cabbage (Green Raw)||1/2 Cup||1.1|
|Cauliflower (Raw)||1/2 Cup||1.4|
|Broccoli (Florets)||1/2 Cup||2|
|Collard Greens||1/2 Cup||2|
|Kale (Steamed)||1/2 Cup||2.1|
|Green Beans (Steamed)||1/2 Cup||2.9|
Getting Started With Keto
So how do you get started with keto?
However, if you want to run wild on your own then here is what you need to do:
- Understand meal planning and plan your meals so you don’t have missteps
- Calculate your daily macro goals
- Drink enough water
- Get enough sleep
When getting started on the keto diet you don’t want your daily macros to exceed 20g of carbs. You want to cut out all sugar and have most of your carbs come from vegetables.
The reality of it is, if you want to get started you can dive right in after you’ve caclulated your macros and planned some meals.
If you aren’t in the mood to plan meals right now then you can just go off of what your body tells you and eat what when you feel hungry although this usually means you fall short of your macro goals.
It’s important that you make food that you enjoy. Being on keto isn’t about missing out on food you love. It’s about finding the food you love that is great for your body.
How to Reach Ketosis
While you don’t need to reach ketosis as quickly as possible, many people consider ketosis as their first successful milestone on the keto journey.
The following steps will help you great in achieving that:
- Restrict your carbohydrates: Because you can’t reach ketosis when your body still has a supply of glucose to burn you need to restrict your net carb intake to 20g or less than a day.
- Restrict your protein: Protein is a sneaky one in this diet because if you eat too much it ends up being converted into glucose which will keep you out of ketosis.
- Stop worrying about fat: To lose fat on keto you need to consume healthy fats so you have to get rid of the mental block you have regarding it. You don’t lose weight on keto by feeling hungry all of the time.
- Drink water: Water is a huge deal on keto. You need to consume a lot of it. You need to stay hydrated and be consistent with the amount of water you drink. To make it easier, consider drinking water with fresh lemon in it or grab some MiO with Electrolytes.
- Careful with snacking: One thing you have to keep in mind is that even while eating keto you can suffer from small insulin spikes. Less snacking means less of those giving you a better chance of losing weight.
- Consider fasting: Fasting in this case means intermittent fasting. Instead of eating throughout the day, you block off an 8-hour window and in that window you eat all of your meals.
- Add exercise: A simple 20-30 minute walk everyday can help regulate weight loss and your blood sugar levels. An increased workout routine usually means an adjustment in macros so just because keto gives you more energy don’t assume that things can stay the same when you run a marathon.
- Look at supplements: Supplements can help you reach ketosis quicker but they aren’t necessary.
Always check food labels to see the ingredients being added. If sugar is at the top of the list then runaway.
How to Know if You’re in Ketosis
There are a couple of different ways to see if you’re in ketosis.
One common way is by using ketone test strips but these aren’t meant to determine if you’re body is in ketosis. They just let you know the level of ketones that your body is getting rid of.
Another method is by using a blood glucose monitor. The issue with this is that the blood strips can be expensive over time and once you’re in ketosis you start to understand your body a bit more so you won’t keep running back to the monitor.
You can also check for ketosis by keeping an eye on these symptoms:
- Increased Urination: Keto is a natural diuretic, so you’ll find yourself going to the bathroom more than usual. Especially with how much water you are consuming. Acetoacetate (say that 3x fast), a ketone body, is excreted through the urine so this is another cause for more frequent bathroom breaks.
- Dry Mouth: The more fluids your body is releasing, the more you may experience dry mouth. This is your body telling you that you need more electrolytes. This is why we add MiO with Electrolytes to our water. Also keeping salty things around helps like pickles.
- Bad Breath: Acetone is a ketone that is partially excreted through your breath. It doesn’t have the most pleasant smell but thankfully it disappears in the long run.
- Reduced Hunger and Increased Energy: This is the most telltale sign of ketosis. You find that you don’t get hungry as often and you can go much longer without food because you have more energy.
The last thing you want to do is drive yourself crazy measuring and testing your ketone levels. Once you get a handle on things, you’ll learn to see the signs that your body is giving you.
Types of Ketogenic Diets
A common question, especially from people that workout, is whether or not you can build muscle while on keto and the answer is yes.
Many workout programs have you consuming a large number of carbs to fuel your workouts. While on keto you don’t need to bulk up on the carbs but you can fill up your glycogen stores so that you have glucose ready for a workout.
If you wish to add mass to your body while on keto it is suggested that you consume 1.0 – 1.2g of protein per lean pound of body mass.
This is also why there are different types of keto diets because some people have different needs.
- Standard Ketogenic Diet (SKD): This is the classic keto diet that everyone knows and most people stick with as they are aiming for weight loss.
- Targeted Ketogenic Diet (TKD): This is a small variation where you follow SKD but intake a small amount of fast-digesting carbs before your workout.
- Cyclical Ketogenic Diet (CKD): This is the more complication variation that is usually used by bodybuilders. In this variation you give yourself one day a week to carb up to resupply glycogen stores.
Which one is for you? If you work out pretty hard then you might want to do TKD or CKD.
Exercise on Keto
The concern of people that exercise is that keto will affect their physical performance and while this isn’t true in the long run, in the short term you might experience a small drop.
Your body needs a small amount of time to adjust.
The good news is that studies (on trained cyclists) have shown that the ones on the ketogenic diet didn’t find a compromise in their aerobic endurance or a loss of muscle mass.
Dangers of a Keto Diet
Are there dangers to the ketogenic diet?
If your body is producing too many ketones then it enters ketoacidosis.
This is highly unlikely to occur in normal circumstances because for most people it’s a challenge to get into optimal ranges for ketosis so getting into the range where you need medical intervention isn’t likely.
What Happens to My Body?
Because you’re completely rewiring how your body works, your body isn’t going to be ready right away to handle the breakdown of fats for energy.
While switching over to keto you’ll have a transition period where your body uses up all of its glycogen stores and doesn’t have enough enzymes to breakdown fat to produce ketones.
This means your body doesn’t have an immediate fuel source which causes a lack of energy and general lethargy.
In the first week of keto, many people will report headaches, mental fogginess, dizziness, and aggravation. Sounds terrible, right?
This is caused by the loss of electrolytes so it’s important that you continue to replace them throughout the day. Keeping your sodium (don’t hesitate to salt things up) intake up throughout the day can prevent all of these side effects.
Sodium helps with water retention in the body along with replenishing the much needed electrolytes.
The groggy feeling and fatigue actually has a term and it’s keto flu.
Keto flu is a very common experience that some people go through when transitioning over to keto. It usually goes away in just a few days but if you don’t take active measures to find against it, it can stay around for much longer.
When transitioning to keto, you may feel some slight discomfort along with fatigue, headaches, nausea and cramps. It doesn’t sound fun but it’s important to understand why it is happening.
- Keto is a diuretic. Everytime you urinate you’re losing electrolytes and water. To combat this you can make a nice drink from a bouillion cube (makes a great broth) or by using MiO with Electrolytes and increasing your water intake. The goal is to replace the electrolytes that you’re using.
- You’re transitioning. All of the years of carb intake has trained your body to convert carbs into glycogen so when you transition over to keto, your body needs time to make the proper adjustments. You can’t simply make your car go electric by adding another battery.
For most people, eating less than 20g of net carbs a day will get them on track for ketosis within a matter of days. To ensure the process is sped up some you should aim for less than 15g of net carbs daily.
Continue to monitor your electrolyte intake along with how much water you are drinking.
Common Side Effects on a Keto Diet
As with any drastic change you make to your body’s chemistry there are going to be side effects. Of course, if you think about it, your current way of eating has side effects as well.
On keto there are known ways to combat each of these side effects so you’re in good hands.
Do to keto being a diuretic, when your body is losing out on fluids it can cause cramps.
To prevent these you do the same thing that you’re already doing to prevent keto flu and that is upping your water and sodium intake. If you find that cramps still persist then you might look into taking a magnesium supplement.
Because the most common cause of constipation is dehydration, you can help prevent it by increasing the amount of water you drink everyday.
You also want to ensure that the vegetables you eat contain quality fiber.
This sounds scarier than it really is. Your heart may begin to beat faster and harder when transitioning over to keto, it’s pretty standard.
If you the problem persists over a long period of time then you need to make sure you’re drinking enough water and eating enough salt.
If the problem continues to persist then you may need to add a potassium supplement to the mix.
Reduced Physical Performance
Since your body hasn’t fully transitioned to burning fat yet, it loses out on its energy source pretty quickly if you are exercising hard.
As your body shifts to using fat for energy, you’ll find that all of your strength and endurance will return to normal.
Saving Money and Budgeting on Keto
Some people believe that eating keto is more expensive but this isn’t true. Initially, you might find yourself needing to restock the pantry with keto-friendly items but beyond that, eating keto isn’t more expensive than eating normally.
You’ll find that you can buy meat in bulk and you can store the unused portion in the freezer.
Because you’re on keto, you’ll find that you are cooking more for yourself instead of going out. This shows significant savings along with helping you build your budget.
Cooking on Keto also doesn’t have to be time-consuming. Love your instant pot? Then here are instant pot keto recipes just for you.
Keto Has Changed Our Lives
To be honest with you I never thought that we would turn into health junkies but that is what keto has helped us become.
It sounds cheesy to say that this is a lifestyle and not a diet but that’s the truth.
When you experience a life where your body isn’t running on glucose you’ll notice that so many things are different.
You have more energy, you have clearer thinking and for most people you are just happier.