The low-carb, high-fat eating plan known as the ketogenic (keto) diet seems to be all the rage these days. We’re seeing more and more of this diet in the news and on the Web. But the keto diet isn’t all that new really. This diet was developed back in the 1920s as a way to treat childhood epilepsy. Since then, scientists have been discovering other potentials of this diet, just one of which is weight loss.
If you’re interested in following this low-carb eating plan yourself, there are things you need to familiarize yourself with to really make keto work. The diet comes with many rules and caveats. But with a bit of researching and practice, anyone can go keto the right way. Here are just a couple of beginner’s tips to help get you started.
First, What Is The Keto Diet (Ketogenic Diet)?
The ketogenic diet is, by definition, a very-low-carb diet. On this diet, you eat only around 50g of carbohydrates a day. However, the exact amount of carbs you can eat on keto may vary depending on your activity levels and the exact type of keto diet you are following (yes, there’s more than one way to do keto).
Besides restricting carbohydrates, the ketogenic diet requires that you increase your fat intake. Fat makes up 65-75% of your daily calories on this diet. And last but not least, protein intake needs to be moderate on a keto diet, making up around 25% of your daily calories.
When you eat this way, you create somewhat of an energy crisis because your body normally relies on carbohydrates to make energy. To counteract this crisis, the body starts oxidizing fat, which the liver then converts into molecules called ketones. Ketones then serve as an alternative fuel to glucose, primarily in the brain.
While the diet was originally used to treat epilepsy, it grew in popularity as a weight-loss diet. Other benefits of keto include glycemic control, diabetes reversal, acne fighting, cancer prevention, and improved brain health.
What Is Ketosis?
Ketosis is also commonly observed in patients with diabetes, as the process can occur if the body does not have enough insulin or is not using insulin correctly. Problems associated with extreme levels of ketosis are more likely to develop in patients with type 1 diabetes compared with type 2 diabetes patients.
Fast facts on ketosis
- Ketosis occurs when the body does not have sufficient access to its primary fuel source, glucose.
- Ketosis describes a condition where fat stores are broken down to produce energy, which also produces ketones, a type of acid.
- As ketone levels rise, the acidity of the blood also increases, leading to ketoacidosis, a serious condition that can prove fatal.
- People with type 1 diabetes are more likely to develop ketoacidosis, for which emergency medical treatment is required to avoid or treat diabetic coma.
- Some people follow a ketogenic (low-carb) diet to try to lose weight by forcing the body to burn fat stores.
In normal circumstances, the body’s cells use glucose as their primary form of energy. Glucose is typically derived from dietary carbohydrates, including:
- sugar – such as fruits and milk or yogurt
- starchy foods – such as bread and pasta
The body breaks these down into simple sugars. Glucose can either be used to fuel the body or be stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen.
If there is not enough glucose available to meet energy demands, the body will adopt an alternative strategy in order to meet those needs. Specifically, the body begins to break down fat stores to provide glucose from triglycerides.
Ketones are a by-product of this process.
Ketones are acids that build up in the blood and are eliminated in urine. In small amounts, they serve to indicate that the body is breaking down fat, but high levels of ketones can poison the body, leading to a process called ketoacidosis.
Ketosis describes the metabolic state whereby the body converts fat stores into energy, releasing ketones in the process.
How To Get Your Body Into Ketosis
The more energy that a person uses during the day, the more food they need to eat for fuel. Exercise helps a person deplete the glycogen stores in their body. In most cases, the glycogen stores become replenished when a person eats carbs. If a person is on a low-carb diet, they will not be replenishing their glycogen stores.
Reduce your carbohydrate intake
Ketosis occurs when a lack of carbohydrate forces the body to use fat as its primary energy source instead of sugar. A person looking to reach ketosis, whether for weight loss, to reduce the risk of heart disease, or to maintain and control blood sugar levels, should aim to reduce their carb consumption to 20 grams (g) per day or less. However, this is not a set number. Some people may be able to eat more carbohydrate and still get into a state of ketosis, while others will need to eat less.
Fasting for a short period of time
Fasting, or going without food, can help a person achieve a state of ketosis. Many people can actually go into ketosis between meals. In some controlled cases, a doctor may recommend a longer fasting period of between 24 and 48 hours. A person should speak to their doctor before deciding to fast for longer than a few hours at a time. Fat fasting is an alternative form of fasting. Fat fasting involves significantly reducing calorie intake and eating a diet consisting almost entirely of fat for no more than 2 or 3 days.
Early research indicated that this might have a positive effect on weight loss. However, fat fasting is difficult to maintain and may not be the best option for most people. Very small sample sizes and the lack of more robust evidence mean that people should be cautious about taking this approach.
Increase your healthy fat intake
As carbohydrate intake decreases, most people replace the loss of carbohydrates with an increase in healthful fats. Some fats that a person can eat include:
- coconut oil
- olive oil
- avocados and avocado oil
- flaxseed oil
However, for people looking to lose weight, it is important to keep the total calorie count in mind as well. Eating too many calories in a day can make it harder to lose weight.
Testing ketone levels
One method that can help a person achieve a state of ketosis is monitoring the levels of ketones in the body. There are several tests available for this, including:
Using one or more of these tests can help a person track their progress, allowing them to make educated adjustments to their diet.
Ketone test strips are available to purchase online.
Consume high protein in your daily diet
It is vital to eat adequate amounts of protein throughout the day when trying to achieve ketosis. Protein provides two essential health benefits when a person is trying to lose weight:
- helping maintain muscle mass
- providing amino acids to the liver so that it can continue normal functioning
If protein intake is not adequate, a person may experience a loss in muscle mass.
Consume coconut oil
Coconut oil may help a person reach or maintain a state of ketosis. According to a study focusing on Alzheimer’s disease, adding coconut oil to the diet may help people increase their ketone levels. Coconut oil contains fats called medium-chain triglycerides or MCTs. The body can absorb MCTs quickly and easily. It then sends these fats directly to the liver, which turns them into either ketones or energy.
Benefits Of The Keto Diet
- Promotes weight loss
- Reduces acne
- May help decrease the risk of cancer
- Improves heart health
- May protect brain functioning
- Possibly decrease seizures
- Improves health in women with PCOS
How To Start The Keto Diet
The keto diet involves more than restricting carbs and eating fatty foods. The diet needs careful planning to work and to help you stay well-nourished and healthy. Below are foolproof tips to help you succeed on this diet.
1. Stock up on keto foods
Some foods are better to eat on a keto diet than others. Wheat, corn, and potatoes are all high in carbohydrates and can quickly get you well over your daily carbohydrate limit. In order to get enough vitamins, minerals, protein, and fat while keeping carbohydrate intake low, you need to eat only keto-friendly foods like bacon, butter, coconut oil, avocados, nuts, seeds, leafy greens, and berries, to name a few. Make sure to research keto-friendly foods and to learn which foods you need to avoid on this diet.
2. Track your macros
Diet apps make following this diet a whole lot easier. Logging in what you eat each day can help you know you’re eating within the recommended keto macronutrient (macros) ratio, which is usually 5-10% calories coming from carbohydrates, 20-25% from protein, and 60-75% from fat. However, the exact amount of each macronutrient you should take can vary depending on your age, sex, weight, activity levels, and so on. That’s where keto calculators come in handy. Click here to calculate your exact keto macros today.
3. Measure your ketone levels
Keto diet beginners may benefit from measuring their ketone levels. There are several ways you can do this but using ketone urine test strips is the most affordable and noninvasive way. You can easily purchase urine strips online or at your local pharmacy. Having ketones in your urine is a sign you’re in ketosis and that your diet is working. Other ways to check if you are in ketosis is to use a blood ketone meter, a ketone breathalyzer, or to look for signs of ketosis such as having a fruity breath (aka keto breath) and reduced appetite.
4. Prepare for the keto flu
The keto flu is a popular way of referring to uncomfortable symptoms that happen when you transition into ketosis. What usually happens is that your body’s glycogen stores become depleted, and with that glycogen, you also lose a lot of water (glycogen is three to four parts water). When you lose water, you also lose important electrolytes like sodium and magnesium, which leads to the aforementioned keto flu symptoms. Ways to prepare for the keto flu is to boost your sodium and magnesium intake and stay well-hydrated.
5. Consider making lifestyle changes
Whether your goal is to lose weight or manage illness with the help of a keto diet, it’s a good idea to include lifestyle changes. Exercising and stress management is examples of things that you should consider when making keto your lifestyle. Both are helpful in improving health outcomes but may also make the diet more effective. Exercising, for example, breaks down muscle glycogen and boosts insulin sensitivity – both important for keto dieters. Sleeping regularly is also confirmed to enhanced metabolic health.
6. Consider keto superfoods and supplements
Foods like grass-fed butter and coconut oil are popular keto diet staples. The first because it’s higher in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants than conventional butter, the latter because it’s rich in medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), fatty acids that boost ketone production. Keto dieters also like to get their MCTs directly from MCT oil, a popular keto diet supplement and even take exogenous ketones (ketones in a pill).
7. Check your fiber intake
A major setback of the keto diet is that it’s low in fiber when poorly planned. Inadequate fiber intake on a keto diet leads to constipation and other digestive issues. To boost your fiber intake on this low-carbohydrate diet, make sure to eat plenty of low-carb vegetables like kale, broccoli, cauliflower, and avocados. Also feel free to indulge in nuts and consider adding flax meal or fiber supplements to your keto smoothies, shakes, and breakfast yogurt.
8. Practice caution when necessary
Most people can tolerate the keto diet well. However, those with diabetes and pregnant and lactating women may want to be careful with this diet. The diet is known to keep blood sugar at stable and low levels, so you may need to adjust your insulin when starting this diet if you have diabetes. We also don’t know much about the safety of keto diets during pregnancy and breastfeeding, so caution is necessary. And if you suffer from rare medical conditions like porphyria or fat-metabolism disorders, then this diet is definitely not safe in your case.
The ketogenic diet is great for a number of things, but weight loss and glucose control seem to be the most sought-after benefits of this diet. If you’ve heard about the many benefits of going keto, then it’s a good idea to become informed before taking the leap into low-carb living. The ketogenic diet requires lots of planning and preparation to be successful. But once you have been practicing this diet for a while, you’ll see that it becomes easy to maintain for a long time, preferably until you reach your desired goals.
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