The ketogenic diet is a diet meant to turn you into a fat burning machine, well that is what the experts say. The science behind it is that your body begins to produce more ketones, because of the high fat consumption, and therefore force your body to run on fat stores rather than glycogen (carbohydrate) stores. Carbohydrates are consumed in very small amounts, and are quickly converted into glucose to level blood sugar. Protein is also dropped slightly as excess amounts of protein can be converted into glucose, and we want the least amount possible. Just enough for blood sugar to stay level and allow the body to continue carrying out normal functions. If you need/want to better understand macronutrients you can check out my blog here.
The body has no preference on what it uses as fuel for energy. If you feed it carbs, it will form glycogen and use that. If you feed it fat, it will form ketones and use that. There is no right or wrong way create energy, but most people’s bodies prefer one or the other. Some people feel better eating carbohydrates and some people feel better eating fats, but you cannot eat a high amount of both. Otherwise we have an excess amount of fuel and therefore the body will begin to store fat rather than burning what is consumed and tapping into the storages.
When following a keto diet, we are trying to force our body into a state of ketosis (which is a natural body process that keeps us alive in a state of starvation). When calories are low, our liver uses fat to produce ketones. The keto diet is meant to force our body into this starvation mode, not by restricting calories, but by restricting carbohydrates. So we therefore get into ketosis by restricting carbs. The tricky part is getting the body into ketosis, and staying there. Some people can get into ketosis easily, within a few days, and others take a few weeks to reach. It is also difficult to keep yourself in ketosis until you have your body figured out on how much fat is needed and how much carbohydrates need to be lowered.
The level of ketones needed to ensure you are in ketosis ranges from 0.5-3.0mM. Below this means you are still burning carbohydrates as fuel and above this means you are in ketoacidosis which is very dangerous.
Ketosis can be measured by blood ketone meter, breathalyzer, urine ketone meter and signs/symptom observation.
Researchers have proven significant benefits of the ketogenic diet. Most people follow, or are interested in following, the keto diet for weight loss. This is achieved through the keto diet by suppressing the appetite and lowering blood glucose levels, resulting in decreased stored fat.
It has also been proven to reverse the events of serious illness’ such as Diabetes, Epilepsy, cancer, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Now, I am not saying this diet is going to 100% kick these diseases to the curb if you have them, but it may lessen the symptoms or slow the progression.
Because of Ketosis lowering insulin levels in the body, it not only benefits those wanting to lose weight and get their diabetes under control, but also those who suffer with PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) and IBS (irritable bowel syndrome).
The Keto diet can also benefit your endurance and performance levels because it can increase mitochondrial function, lower lactate load and reduces oxygen consumption during exercise.
It also has the everyday benefits of increased energy levels, lower inflammation, increased brain function, mood stabilizing, increased cholesterol and decreased triglycerides and so much more.
One final thing i wanted to touch on, since it is what everyone is talking about lately, is the benefits a keto diet has on gut health. Research has shown that those with unhealthy gut biome can benefit from a keto diet. This is because it increases the number of Bacteroides and decreases Firmicutes, which in turn decreases inflammation and helps to promote good gut flora. The gut microbiome needs fiber, and fiber comes from leafy greens and vegetables. By making these the only source of carbohydrates for the gut to feed on, the number of good bacteria will increase and bad bacteria to die off. Too much refined sugar and carbs causes a reverse reaction, and therefore leading to issues like leaky gut, SIBO and Candida.
To start, there are a few different types of keto diet protocols you can follow.
Standard ketogenic diet (SKD): Here are the macros for a keto diet. This is a very low-carb, moderate-protein and high-fat diet. It typically contains 75% fat, 20% protein and only 5% carbs.
Cyclical ketogenic diet (CKD): This diet involves periods of higher-carb refeeds, such as 5 ketogenic days followed by 2 high-carb days.
Targeted ketogenic diet (TKD): This diet allows you to add carbs around workouts.
Typically the cyclical and targeted versions are used mostly by bodybuilders and people more advanced in the keto world. Beginners to the ketogenic diet should use the standard diet protocol.
It will start out as a lot of trial and error. But once you have figured out your ratios of macronutrients, just start to follow it. Most people begin tracking their food with an app, such as myfitnesspal, until they get into ketosis and can stay there. Tracking your food does not have to be forever, but just until you get the hang of just how much of each nutrient you need is. You can continue to change up your ratio until you find one that works best for you and your body.
There are a few signs and symptoms you should be aware of before starting a keto diet. This includes the “keto flu.” The symptoms include fatigue, nausea, irritability, dizziness and brain fog. Sounds scary, but it is just flu like symptoms that come on when you drastically lower your carbs. It is almost as if it is your bodies way of detoxifying and reducing cravings of sugar and carbs, much like from a drug. It can also be from your sodium and electrolyte levels dropping. Which means you can combat it by adding more salt into your diet!
Cravings for sugar
All of these can occur when you first begin your keto diet protocol but will surpass after you have reached ketosis and your body gets used to the new changes.
There are a lot of questions about what you can eat on a keto diet.
Well, as mentioned in just about everything I write that is nutrition based, calories are specific to eat person. VERY rarely will you get multiple people eating the same caloric intake. When starting a keto diet i would recommend eating the same total (maintenance) calories that you have been eating.
Let’s use me as an example for figuring calories and macros on a keto diet.
I have been maintaining the same weight for awhile now, but I actually don’t know how many calories I have been consuming. Well, there is a way to determine, roughly, your maintenance calories. But, if you do know how many you are eating while staying relatively the same body weight, use those.
Calculating maintenance calories:
First you must find your BMR (basal metabolic rate, or how many calories you burn at rest just with normal body functions and no movement).
Men: 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (y) + 5
Women: 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (y) – 161
Then you multiply that by an activity factor.
Most people who sit most of the day at an office job and workout 1 hour a week are still somewhere between sedentary and lightly active.
The calculations for me would be as reads: Remember of Order of Operations!
Women: 10 x (58) + 6.25 x (160) – 5 x (24) – 161
BMR = 1,299 k/cal
1,299 x 1.55 = 2,013 calories (roughly)
Now if you are someone who has a lower metabolism or hormonal issues (ie females) then I would lower the calories a bit until you can get your metabolism to speed back up again (because we tend to also under eat which hinders progress)
From there we need to calculate our macros for a keto diet. As you know, this is a very low carb diet!
Most people say to follow the 75% fat, 20% protein, 5% fat rule.
For me that means: (if I use 1,800 maintenance)
1,350 fat calories
360 protein calories
90 carb calories
Then we need convert the calories into grams.
9 calories per gram for fat
4 calories per gram for protein
4 calories per gram for carbs.
So divide your calories by those multipliers to get your grams.
150 grams of fat
90 grams of protein
22 grams of carbs
From there you can adjust depending on your weight fluctuations and how easily you do or don’t get into ketosis.
Now there are no foods that are “off limits” in a keto diet! Whatever fits your macros is free game, but remember that eating volume will make you feel fuller. So you want the bulk of your carbohydrates to come from vegetables to keep you fuller longer. Fruit is not ideal because it has so much sugar it could throw you out of ketosis, but again, everyone is different so it is a lot of trial and error.
Below is an image created by Kettle and Fire that is a great food list for a keto diet.
Here is another great resource for what to freely, moderately, and rarely consume on the keto diet!
Although the keto diet has been proven to have several health advantages, it does come with a few downfalls.
Hard to adhere to: A keto diet is very strict, low-carb diet that most people are not used to following on a daily basis. Carbs are everywhere, and we are used to eating them frequently so a lot of people have a hard time sticking to a keto diet for a long period of time. This is also hard because it isn’t just about eating high fat. It is about eating quality fats, while keeping your carbohydrates at a very specific number and if fat loss is the goal – staying in a caloric deficit!
Hinders athletic performance: the keto diet has also been shown to decrease performance in athletes or people with high demanding jobs or routines. This is because ketones might now be able to produce enough energy these people need without burning through them and being depleted.
Metabolism damage: When sticking to the keto diet for a long period of time, it can cause the metabolism to downregulate (like any other restrictive diet or lifestyle). So it is important to remember to take yourself off of a strict schedule for a period of time to decrease that internally stress you are putting on the body. It is also important to note that women especially need carbohydrates for hormone health. We need those sugars for energy to carry out the female body process’.
Micronutrient deficiencies: Because the allotted carbs in a keto diet are so low, people tend to get deficiencies in vitamins and minerals because they are eating fewer vegetables and fruits. This is where a supplement can come in handy, but make sure you track it! Also remember not all supplements are created equal – aka you get what you pay for! So make sure it is quality!
Altered blood lipid profile: This changes from person to person. Some people can actually decrease cholesterol levels on a keto diet, while some increase it. It is all about eating healthy fats rather than lower quality fats!
In general, the disadvantages of a keto diet can be prevented in most cases. It is important to be smart and educate yourself and listen to your body when you are following a strict program. I want to also remind you that this diet isn’t for everyone. You may have seen people have insane results – but that doesn’t mean you are going to. Everyone is created…different. That means depending on your body type you may be someone who runs well on fats, or you may be someone who runs well are carbs – and neither is right or wrong. Just remember there are both pros and cons to this diet, and it is after-all, a diet. Which means if you cannot stick to it long term, is it really beneficial?
My advice to you: If you are looking to change things up or reap the health benefits of a keto diet (epilepsy, PCOS, gut problems etc) try the keto diet! It has had amazing results for some people in this case. If you have a healthy relationship with food and think high fat is something you can stick to, give it a whirl. I just suggest that after 3-4 weeks of keto that you come off if for a few days. Eat some carbs, enjoy yourself on holidays or special occasions and then get back into ketosis. This is great for both your sanity, and your metabolism to show the body that it can still have carbs here and there. Once you have been on keto (on for weeks and off for a few days) for about 8-12 weeks, I would begin to slowly take yourself off of it. Add in carbs around your workouts, then slowly into each meal and take about 4-6 weeks to wean yourself out of ketosis. This way it’s not such an immediate shock to your body when you start eating a regular diet again. This can also prevent any hormonal or metabolic issues that can arise from strict diets/schedules. Again, I am not going to tell anyone to do (or not do) the keto diet, I am simply here to share all the facts and allow you to make the right decision for you!