A method of weight loss that has gained popularity is called a ketogenic (keto) diet. It’s basic premise is to lose weight by burning more fat as your body enters a state of ketogenesis. It involves consuming a low amount of carbohydrates and higher amounts of fats. Long gone are the days of cutting fat to lose fat. The scientific reality is, our body needs fat in order to burn fat.
In this article, we are going to look at some things to consider before starting a ketogenic diet, what a ketogenic diet is, and how to lose weight on keto.
What is Keto
Keto is often the word used to describe a diet low in carbs and high in fats. Keto comes from the word ketogenesis. Ketogenesis is the biochemical process by we produce a group of substances collectively known as ketone bodies by the breakdown of fatty acids. As fat is broken down, ketones are produced by the liver and then used by the body for fuel, in the absence of blood sugar (which is what carbohydrates and proteins are converted to and is the body’s first choice for fuel). Because a ketogenic diet involves consuming a very low number of carbohydrates, moderate amounts of protein, and higher amounts of fat, there is less blood sugar available for your body to use for energy, so it switches to using fat stores for energy.
Things to consider before starting Keto
Before starting a Ketogenic diet, it is important to consider whether it is safe for your to do so. There are some fairly rare conditions that are absolute contraindications to doing a ketogenic diet. They are typically conditions that result in deficiencies that don’t allow for normal breakdown of certain proteins and fats. There are other more common conditions that should cause some pause. If you have history of any of the following conditions, it is best to try a keto diet only with the approval of your physician and preferably under some supervision by your physician.
- history of pancreatitis
- active gall bladder disease
- abnormalities in blood chemistry, such as abnormal liver enzymes
- history of kidney failure
- impaired gut function
- abdominal tumors
- gastric bypass surgery
Another thing to consider before starting keto is whether you are prepared for the change in diet. It drastically limits carbohydrates and protein in favor of fats. It does often come with some initial side effects as your body is detoxing from sugars and moving toward ketosis. Some initial side effects may include nausea, abdominal pain, irritability, headaches, decreased energy, sugar cravings, and constipation. You can help reduce some of the side effects by getting adequate sleep, staying well hydrated, adding more fats and choosing high fiber vegetables.
How does Keto work
The ketogenic diet is one in which your carbohydrate intake is severely limited, protein is moderately limited, and the predominance of your food intake is in the form of fats. Our body is built to use glucose (blood sugar) as it’s first choice for fuel. Glucose is most easily converted from carbohydrates. The second choice is the breakdown of protein for fuel. Fat is the body’s third choice for fuel.
The keto diet limits carbohydrate and protein so that the body is forced to burn fat for fuel, a process called ketosis. It generally takes several days after starting a keto diet for the body to reach a state of ketosis. Some people use ketone urine strips to test for the presence of ketones in their urine. The presence of ketones is an indication that you have reached a state of ketosis and are burning fat for fuel. Burning fat is what leads to effective weight loss.
The basic rules of Keto
Doing a keto diet does required a bit of planning up front. It is important to be sure you plan meals that have the appropriate amount of fat, carbohydrate, and protein. Of your total calories consumed in a day, a typical keto diet uses the following breakdown of macro nutrients:
- 70-75% fats
- 5-10% carbohydrates
- 20% (or the remainder) protein
There are several apps that can assist in setting and tracking calories and macro nutrients. My Fitness Pal allows you to set your nutrition goals, thus it allows you to set the target percentages for fat, carbohydrates, and protein. As you enter foods into your daily food diary, it will keep a running tally of where you are with macros. It is has a pretty large database of foods, allowing you to scan bar codes for easy entry, search the food database, or enter nutritional info manually. It will also assist in setting daily calorie goals based on your weight loss goals and activity level. There are a number of other keto calculator apps as well.
If you really can’t be bothered by calculating all of your macro nutrients and tracking them, there are a number of meal delivery programs that offer Keto-friendly options. Assuming you are a “do-it-yourselfer”, however, below are some simple guidelines for following a keto plan.
Keto approved foods
While on a ketogenic diet, you are allowed saturated and monounsaturated fats. It is wise, however to avoid processed foods and trans fats. Some examples of keto approved “staples”:
- shell fish
- fatty fish
- animal fat
- eggs (particularly the yolks)
- nut butters
- oils (including olive oil, coconut oil, macadamia oil, and avocado oil)
- macadamia nuts
- full fat dairy products (Greek yogurt, cheese, cream, sour cream…)
- dark leafy green vegetables (high in fiber, lower in carbs)
- coconut milk
- almond milk
*being mindful of appropriate protein amounts in relation to total calories consumed
Foods to avoid on Keto
Most higher carbohydrate vegetables, fruits and grains should be avoided when doing a ketogenic diet. They otherwise put you too quickly over your allotted number of carbohydrates. Some examples to limit or avoid:
- root vegetables
- citrus fruit
- other starchy or high carbohydrate vegetables/fruits
Sample day on Keto
A very basic sample of a day on a ketogenic diet may look something like this:
- Scrambled eggs
- Lettuce salad with ranch dressing and shredded cheese
- Chicken strips
- macadamia nuts or green olives
- Ribeye steak or salmon
- side salad with ranch or vinaigrette
General rules of thumb
Some strategies for doing a ketogenic diet successfully:
- Eat only when hungry
- Try to limit carbohydrates to 20 grams
- Consume higher fat meats (beef, pork), fish, poultry with skin on, eggs
- Have cheese but best to limit to 4 oz per day
- Avoid grains
- Use cream, not milk, but best to limit to 2-3 Tbsp
- Use oils (prefer olive or avacado) on vegetables/salads
- Try butter or coconut oil in coffee for added fat
- Have 2 cups leafy green vegetables such as spinach, kale, lettuce
Is Keto for you
As you may be thinking, keto is not for the faint of heart. It requires planning and commitment. However, studies have shown many benefits from doing a ketogenic diet that go beyond weight loss. Keto proponents report improved mental clarity, higher energy levels, increased physical performance, a feeling of satiety rather than deprivation, weight loss, decreased in PMS symptoms due to improved hormonal regulation, improvement in skin, stable blood sugars, and improved cholesterol.
If you have defined health and weight goals, are attracted to a satisfying higher fat diet that is sure to burn fat, are willing to plan and track your food intake (until you know what works well for you individually), and are looking for a different approach to eating and living, Keto just might be the plan for you!
If you have tried keto and have any helpful hints to share, please comment below.