The Beginner’s Guide To The Ketogenic Diet
If there was a “viral” diet, then keto would be it. The ketogenic diet has taken the online sphere by storm and it’s becoming more popular each year. In this article, I’m going to answer some basic fundamental questions about what the ketogenic diet is, why people do it and for the bulk of the article, how to actually try it out to see if it’s something which will suit you.
What Is The Ketogenic Diet?
For those who don’t know the ketogenic diet is a low-carb, high-fat diet (LCHF) with some distinct advantages.
It involves drastically reducing carbohydrate intake, usually to around 5% of one’s caloric intake a moderate amount of protein (not high) and a majority (generally 75%) of fat intake.
Fat becomes the replacement for carbohydrates as the dominant fuel source for the body. I’ll explain how that exactly works in a second. The reduction in carbs puts your body into a metabolic state called ketosis.
When you reduce carbohydrates and protein to a certain extent your body essentially switches into a metabolic state of ketosis.
This is called nutritional ketosis when it is achieved by dietary changes and fasting ketosis when it is achieved by fasting (which essentially does the same thing).
I like to see the ketogenic diet as fasting while full.
Usually, our body is running off of glucose, but if you go into ketosis for long enough your body becomes adapted to being fuelled by fat. This is referred to as keto-adaptation. You’ll hear people saying that they’re keto-adapted.
A common analogy given to describe the difference between ketone bodies and glucose is like an electric car (ketones) vs a gasoline car (glucose). This doesn’t necessarily mean that keto is better for the environment 😉
Your body becomes incredibly efficient at burning fat for energy, or at least this is what proponents of the diet claim. More on this soon.
The fat you consume on a ketogenic diet doesn’t fuel the body and brain directly, fat needs to be metabolised into ketone bodies in the liver.
These ketone bodies – beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB), acetoacetate, and acetone – move through the bloodstream and are utilised by organs in the body.
What Are The Benefits Of The Ketogenic Diet?
There are a number of benefits to the ketogenic diet, such as:
• Reverse type 2 diabetes (insulin resistance)
• Treating Epilepsy
• Helps with Alzheimer’s disease
• Fights cancer
• Potential Cognitive performance
• High blood pressure control
• Weight/fat loss
• Reduced triglyceride levels
• Lowered inflammation
• Increased BDNF (neurogenesis)
• Increased insulin sensitivity
• Less mitochondrial waste
Many anecdotal reports go on to say that when they are in ketosis they feel happier, calmer, more focused and more productive. It’s clear there’s a direct effect of ketosis on the brain.
This is due to the change in fuel sources and it appears that there’s potential with the ketogenic diet being particularly advantageous for the brain, as with intermittent fasting.
Just like intermittent fasting, weight loss is the main reason a large majority of people pursue the ketogenic diet. Fair enough, I mean there’s so much confusion about what “works”, many people get quick results on keto and so more people are drawn to it.
Low-carb diets have always been known for their “magical” properties when it comes to weight loss. But the truth is they are no better or worse for overall weight loss compared to any other dietary intervention.
But there are certain states this diet will put you in that make it effortless to lose large amounts of weight. Furthermore, just like fasting, there’s promise of being able to lose more fat as opposed to overall weight (including lean body mass) which means that perhaps shifting into ketosis allows you to lose weight in a more optimal way.
However, the research on the latter question still needs to be looked into with trials and more convincing studies.
The most obvious and commonly cited benefits are the decreased insulin levels. This is why fasting becomes a great solution to people’s type 2 diabetes, Cushing’s disease and many other metabolic diseases.
Fasting as well as the ketogenic diet increases insulin sensitivity improves insulin resistance and allows your body to use the hormone insulin more effectively (which is important for fat loss).
Variations Of Keto
The main variations of the ketogenic diet are.
• Standard ketogenic diet
• Cyclical ketogenic diet
• Targetted ketogenic diet
Today I’m going to speak about the standard which is both the most popular and also more simple to understand.
The reason people do the targeted and cyclical ketogenic diet usually comes down to athletic performance and manipulating carbohydrate consumption in order to maximise one’s ability to both perform anaerobically and put on muscle, as insulin is important for muscle hypertrophy.
Okay, so let’s give an example of a person who wants to do the ketogenic diet. Let’s make someone up.
Max is a 26-year-old male, he’s overweight and wants to try the ketogenic diet. What should he do first? Should he cut out carbohydrates completely on day one, should he just eat a block of butter.
There are different ways to get into ketosis. I’ve listed them below. I won’t explain each, but I’ll explain the simple and straightforward way to enter nutritional ketosis which works for most people.
I suggest getting into ketosis as quickly as possible. The reason being that you’ll spare any potential muscle loss this way and it’ll make the process quicker.
Some people go through a “keto-flu” meaning they feel like shit for a few days as their body is screaming WHAT are you doing to me. Therefore I think it’s important to take measures to make the metabolic switch quickly.
How To Get Into Ketosis
• Minimise your carbohydrate intake
• Don’t overeat protein (it turns into sugar through gluconeogenesis)
• Increase your physical activity to deplete glycogen stores (walking works great on an empty stomach).
• Try intermittent fasting or a prolonged fast (48-12hours)
• Eat enough fat
Foods To Avoid
• Sweet Fruit
• Dairy (yoghurt, milk)
• Refined vegetables oils and margarine
Foods To Eat
• Butter, coconut oil, lard, ghee and MCT oil
• Dairy (cheese, butter, cream)
• Vegetables (especially green vegetables)
• Avocado, macadamia and olive oil
If you can opt for grass-fed sources of meat and dairy.
You may want to minimise dairy depending on how well you tolerate it.
Drinks: Drink a lot of water, bone broth is great to replenish sodium and balance electrolytes. Lemon water is good. Tea is great. Coffee is a good fit for keto too but drinks it in moderation.
Alcohol and diet sodas can be consumed but are not recommended. Avoid any alcohol with carbohydrates. Dry red wine is fine in moderation, as with hard liquors.
Eating out: If you’re eating out then simply order a normal meal but replace the carbohydrates with extra vegetables. Avoid most sauces as they’re usually loaded with sugar.
Which Fats Should You Eat?
75% fat can seem like an overwhelming thing to understand. Here’s a breakdown of the different types of fats and how much 0f each you should be consuming.
Saturated fats: Eat these, sources include coconut oil, lard, ghee.
Monounsaturated fats: This is the main fat in avocado, olive oil which you can use to drizzle on top of salads and other dishes. You can cook with these despite popular belief, but it tastes better used as a dressing
Polyunsaturated fats: These are spouted as the “healthy fats”, which is true to an extent, but it’s important to understand which you’re getting. Omega-3 is great. The EPA and especially the DHA is important for the brain, neuroplasticity and inflammation. You can buy either fish oil, algae (if you’re plant-based) or my personal recommendation krill oil.
Avoid omega-6. We all are consuming too much omega-3 and this causes inflammation. Avoid cottonseed, soybean and other refined vegetable oils.
Trans fats. Avoid margarine which is titled as a “healthy alternative” like the devil. This stuff is bad. Trans fats (not from meat) but from processed foods, also known as hydrogenated fats, are horrible for our health and are linked directly to heart disease. Avoid these as much as possible.
The transitionary period is commonly known as the ketogenic or “keto-flu”.
As your body is adapting you may find yourself with flu-like symptoms (ket-flu), general fatigue, lethargy, urine smell, breathe smell, constipation.
Potassium is important. When you go keto your sodium levels will drop and so does potassium as it’s expelled through urine. Increase dark leafy vegetables like spinach.
Dark green vegetables are also a great source of magnesium which is another important mineral. Supplementing with magnesium citrate can help too. The most important thing is to just drink enough water. Don’t forget to do this!
Keto is a low carb (5%), high fat (75%) and moderate protein (20%) diet (these macros may be slightly different as per individual).
Eating this way invoked nutritional ketosis. With time you become keto-adapted. This means your primary source of fuel is now fat. Dietary fat is converted into ketone bodies which fuel the body and brain.
Ketogenic benefits include:
• Less inflammation
• Control over insulin
• Weight loss
• Cognitive performance
It’s not better or worse than any other diet for weight loss. It may or may not be better for preserving muscle when losing fat.
Keto can be a great way to test yourself, try something new. But it;’s not for everyone.
Do keto the right way, eat the right foods and don’t use the prospect of bacon as an excuse to eat unhealthy foods.
Give it more than a few days and a few attempts before coming to your verdict about the ketogenic diet as it takes the body time to adapt.