Is it just the social media echo-chamber amplification, or does the science behind the keto diet make a difference? The ketogenic diet or keto diet is a very low-carb, moderate protein, and high-fat diet. It mimics the positive effects of fasting, aiming to condition the body to extract its energy from fat rather than glucose resulting in fat loss. This diet offers numerous health benefits, including better heart health, weight loss, and protection against cancer [1, 2, 3].
Keto Diet, What Is It?
The ketogenic diet is simply low carb, moderate protein, and high-fat diet. The aim is to condition the body to extract its energy from fat rather than glucose resulting in fat loss. Lower carbs put the body in a metabolic state known as ketosis.
The diet targets various issues that cause weight gain, including insulin resistance along with high levels of blood sugar, hunger pangs, and hormonal imbalances. The ketogenic diet has been in existence since the 1920s when it was introduced to treat epilepsy by researchers at Johns Hopkins Medical Centre . The ketogenic diet was created to mimic the positive effects of fasting.
According to research, intermittent fasting:
- Helped to reduce the number of seizures suffered in patients.
- Had positive effects on blood sugar, body fat, hunger levels, and cholesterol.
However, fasting can only be practised a few days and therefore was not a feasible long term option, thus the creation of the ketogenic diet to mimic the positive effects of fasting. There have been mixed reactions to the ketogenic diet. The diet was tested for short-time results. It is not clear if it is safe for long-term results .
How Does the Keto Diet Work?
Just like other low-carb diets, the keto diet works by eliminating glucose. The body extracts energy mainly from two sources:
- Carbohydrates- they are broken down into glucose which is stored at the liver and various muscles in the form of glycogens.
- Fats- Naturally, your body derives energy from glycogens. If you take a diet with adequate carbs and fats, the carbohydrates will provide energy and the fats will be stored. In normal conditions, your body does not fulfil its energy requirements from fats.
Even so, the body produces energy from proteins and fats under circumstances such as:
- During steady and lengthy cardio exercises. The body breaks down muscles to use proteins for energy provision. This explains why most marathoners have low muscle.
- During high-intensity cardio or exercises, that require high energy in a short time such as sprinting. The body quickly needs energy which glycogens cannot provide. The body switches to the reserve mode and uses fat and some muscles for energy. This explains why most sprinters are hypertrophic .
- Reduced intake of carbohydrates to the extent which glycogens are completely exhausted. This is the science behind the keto diet.
A ketogenic diet shifts the metabolism to ketosis. You usually only enter ketosis by starving yourself for some days. It turns out eliminating carbs from your body has results similar to starving yourself. When there is a scarcity of glucose in the body, the body produces small molecules called ketones, the body’s back up energy supply.
The liver breaks down fat to produce ketones to supply energy, especially for your brain. The brain requires lots of energy to run. It only runs on ketones or glucose. No matter the amount of fat and protein you eat, your body needs to break down the fat to ketones for your brain.
What Ketosis Means and How Do You Get Ketosis?
Ketosis is a state of metabolism which the body derives most of its energy from ketone molecules rather than glucose. The term “keto” comes from ketosis. This is why the ketogenic diet is sometimes referred to as the ketosis diet.
After an extremely low intake of carbs for a few days, the glucose stores are depleted. The liver can break down proteins into amino acids and make some glucose through gluconeogenesis. However, glucose is not enough to meet the high energy demand of the brain.
The liver, therefore, breaks down the fat you consume and that stored in the fat reserves to supply energy constantly. In ketosis, the liver produces ketones rapidly. There are three ketone molecules, namely: acetoacetate, acetone, and beta-hydroxybutyrate.
Even on a high carb diet, your liver still produces ketones regularly, mostly when you are asleep but in small amounts. When the amounts of ketones in the blood reach a certain threshold, your body is said to be in ketosis. The ketone levels are measured in mmol/L of BHB. The threshold for ketosis is at least 0.5 mmol/L of BHB
How to Get into Ketosis
A ketogenic diet only works when your body gets into ketosis. How do you achieve the ketosis metabolic state? Here’s how to get into ketosis and burn body fat:
- Cut down on glucose consumption. Starchy vegetables, fruits, and grains are high in carbohydrates.
- Your body finds an alternative source of fuel. Coconut oil, avocados and salmon contain healthy fats.
- Lack of glucose will make the body burn fat in its reserves to produce ketones.
- The ketone levels increase to enter into ketosis
- High ketone levels result in a fast and constant loss of weight to reach a healthy body weight.
How many carbs should you eat? The ketogenic diet created for epileptic patients contained: 75% calories from fats, including fatter meats and oils, 20% from protein and 5% from carbs. A less strict version of the ketogenic diet can still aid in weight loss fast and safely.
To start, consume 30-50g of carbs daily, which is less overwhelming. You can lower your carb intake to about 20g, considered the standard amount, once you adjust to the “eating keto.”
Types of Keto Diet
There are a few variations of the ketogenic diet that are more flexible. Each one of the following carb-restricted diets has a specific purpose. You just need to choose the one that best suits your goal.
- Standard Ketogenic Diet (SKD)-This diet is low in carbs, moderate in proteins and high in fat.
Macronutrient ratio: 5% carbs, 20% protein, 75% fat
- Cyclical Keto diet (CKD) – You simply cycle in and out of the keto diet. For five days, you take the traditional ketogenic diet and a balanced diet on two days.
Macronutrient ratio on keto days: 5% carbs, 20% protein, 75% fat
Macronutrient ratio on off days: 50% carbs, 25% protein, 25% fat
- The targeted keto diet (TKD) – The TKD diet is popular among active individuals such as athletes. You can add carbs around high-intensity exercise.
Macronutrient ratio: 10-15% carbs, 20% protein, 65-70% fat
- High-Protein Keto diet (HPKD)- This diet is almost similar to the standard keto diet by allows you to take more protein and less fat.
Macronutrient ratio: 5% carbs, 35% protein, 60% fat.
- The modified ketogenic diet (MKD) – This diet is Moderate in carbs and proteins and higher in fats.
Macronutrients ratio: 30% carbs, 30%protein, 40% fat
Why Try The Diet? Health Benefits
The ketogenic diet was initially created as a means for helping to treat neural conditions , e.g., epilepsy. Past studies have indicated that the diet does, in fact, possess a number of additional benefits. They include:
- Weight Loss
Weight loss is deemed to be the number one benefit associated with the keto diet. The reason for this being that it not only happens swiftly and with ease, but also because the diet is by itself substantial. Often, when you consume a small amount of food that is filled with carbohydrates, your body starts to release a lower amount of insulin.
Low insulin levels mean that your body will not store any extra energy. The extra energy is often stored as fat to be used by the body later. A keto diet will typically have high amounts of healthy proteins and fats. The two will help you fill up much more quickly.
In return, it helps you reduce overeating unhealthy items such as junk foods, empty calories, as well as sweets.
- Lowers Your Risk of Developing Type2 Diabetes
The fat burning process has more benefits than simply helping you get rid of the unwanted weight. It comes in handy in helping you lower your insulin hormone levels. The hormone is associated with an increased risk of developing type2 diabetes.
Consumption of carbohydrates leads to the release of insulin. The body releases it as a reaction to elevated blood glucose. Insulin ends up signalling the other cells in the body to start storing as much glycogen and fat as it can.
What the keto diet does for your body ensures that it gets rid of all carbohydrates. This, in return, ensures that the body does not release too much insulin after you have taken some food.
In the process, it helps to create normal blood sugar levels. This plays an important role in reversing body resistance to insulin, which is one problem that often leads to the development of symptoms associated with diabetes. In the past, a low carb diet has been seen to assist in improving blood pressure, and the secretion of insulin .
Therefore, if you are a diabetic currently taking insulin, you need to get in touch with your physician before you can consider taking the ketogenic diet. However, there is a chance that your insulin dosage may be adjusted.
- Heart Diseases
A keto diet helps to minimise risk factors associated with heart diseases, e.g., blood sugar, body fat, blood pressure, HDL, and cholesterol levels.
Who Should Not Do a Keto Diet?
We have seen the benefits associated with the keto diet. But as the diet continues to become the trendiest diet of the year, there are some precautions to consider. There is a need to consider its safety before jumping on to the bandwagon.
The following are people who should stay away from this diet:
- Individuals who choose ice-cream and bacon over fresh produce
Abandoning fresh produce in favour of fatty foods like peanut butter, bacon, and ice cream will not do any good to your body. Going keto will require you to include food items such as lots of vegetables into your diet. You will also need to incorporate essential fats . Neglecting fresh veggies will only lead to the creation of more health issues.
- Athletic Performance
There are instances where using fuel to energize your body may not help produce the energy you require to engage in various exercises. Although this is a hotly debated topic, experts believe that CrossFit and other high-intensity activities may not provide the same results as say, distance running, which is a low-intensity activity.
Some individuals will perform optimally when using a low carb diet, while others will find that their performance may become hindered. If you feel that your performance has become affected by the diet that you are on, consider incorporating some carbs in your post-performance diet.
You can get the carbs you need from gluten-free grains and safe starches.
- Growing Kids
Studies conducted in the early (the 1910s) showed that children on a ketogenic diet tend to experience stunted development. This is because the kids are not taking enough proteins, which they need for them to continue growing.
- Lipid profile—People with high cholesterol levels
Academicians and researchers who have been promoting the benefits associated with the ketogenic diet have come to acknowledge that the diet can cause a change in a person’s lipid profile.
There are some who may notice a change in their LDL cholesterol levels. Often, the levels end the uprising. Additional research is required to help establish what may be causing this increase.
If you notice that your LDL has increased, you could consider adding some carbs to your ketogenic diet. The addition of carbs may help to address the imbalance.
It will also be best to regularly check in with your physician to confirm that your levels are indeed healthy, and not out of sync.
- Individuals with Kidney stones
Ketosis has, in some cases, been seen to affect the acidity levels in the urinary tract. Increased acidic levels contribute to the development of kidney stones and uric acid. To address this situation, you will need to add a small amount of lemon juice or potassium citrate to your current keto diet.
Keto Diet Foods: What Foods to Eat
The keto diet has recently become very popular . This is mainly due to its many ketogenic benefits. Numerous studies have indicated that the high-fat, low-carb diet helps with weight loss, epilepsy, and diabetes-related symptoms.
Scientists have also come across evidence that suggests that it could also play an essential role in certain conditions such as Alzheimer’s and other cancers. The following are foods to eat when on a ketogenic diet and you can cook the foods on any stove, eg one of our reviewed induction stovetops
Shellfish and fish are known to be keto-friendly foods. Salmon happens to be very rich in selenium, potassium, and vitamin B. It is, however, free from carbs.
You should note that the carbs in varying kinds of shellfish are likely to vary. Even though shrimp may not contain carbs, there are other types of shellfish that comes laden with them.
Mackerel, sardines, and salmon contain high amounts of omega-3 fats and are known to help lower insulin levels. You should, therefore, aim to consume at least two servings of seafood each week.
Cheese is not only delicious but is also nutritious . While there are hundreds of known cheese types in existence, all of them happen to be very low in carbs but high in fats. This helps make them ideal for use in a ketogenic diet.
Another important fact to note is that cheese is high in saturated fats. However, it is not known to increase the risk of developing a heart-related condition. There are, in fact, studies that state that cheese can assist in protecting your heart from known heart conditions.
Frequent cheese consumption helps reduce muscle loss associated with the ageing process.
Avocados are very healthy food items. A single avocado is said to contain 9 carb grams. But of these, 7 grams is fibre. This means that it only has 2 grams of carbs.
An avocado also happens to be high in numerous minerals and vitamins, e.g., potassium. It is an important mineral that many individuals rarely ever get enough of. As such, frequent consumption of avocados can help increase your potassium intake.
This will, in return make it easier for you to transition into a ketogenic diet. Additionally, the avocado may also help improve your triglyceride and cholesterol levels.
Many fruits tend to have a very high concentration of carbs. It is the reason why they are not included in the ketogenic diet. However, berries have proven to be an exception.
They are high in fibre and low in carbs. In fact, blackberries and raspberries tend to have as much fibre as the digestible carbs.
Foods to Avoid
- Unhealthy low-carb, high-fat foods
Not all low carb, high-fat foods are good for your body. Just because you have come across a food item that is low in carbs does not mean that you should include it in your keto diet as it may not be ideal for your health.
Fats to avoid including in your keto diet will include:
- Fully or partially hydrogenated fats/oils
- Processed foods containing a high amount of omega-6 fats, e.g., canola oil, peanut oil, soybean oil, and vegetable oil.
- Foods cooked using any of the fats mentioned above
It is important to make sure that your fats mainly come from fatty plant foods, e.g., macadamia nuts, coconuts, and avocados. Alternatively, consider high-fat animal produce, e.g., wild-caught fish, pasture-raised meats, and high-fat dairy
- Factory farmed meats, milk, and all-low fat dairy
Protein intake has a crucial role to play in your body as it helps your muscles to develop, as well as curb any cravings that you may have. However, not all protein sources are considered healthy or even keto-friendly.
As such, you need to avoid high-protein foods like:
- Dairy, eggs, and factory-farmed meat—from the carbs, protein, and keto perspective, these foods may appear to be friendly, but the reality is that they may not be optimal for your health. This is because the food tends to have a lower nutrition level as opposed to fish caught in the wild or animal products coming from pasture-raised animals.
- Low-fat dairy products and milk—you need to include low-fat cheese, cream, evaporated skim milk, low-fat yoghurts, and reduced-fat cheese into your list of food items to avoid.
What to Drink on a Keto Diet?
A keto diet is traditionally known for being restrictive. It calls for you to ration your carb intake, which means that you need to avoid all sugary foods as well. So what should you take to ensure that you do not go outside the recommended keto-friendly food items?
- Reduced sugar juice or diet juice
Many fruits tend to have a very high carb concentration, a fact that makes them bad for the keto diet. But this does not mean that you should swear off ever retaking juice.
There are very many brands that provide reduced sugar juices with a low carb concentration. The problem, however, is that they are packaged in the same manner as the full-calorie version.
What you need to do is check the labels to ascertain the nutrition levels in each drink. Go for the juice with the lowest carb count.
- Unsweetened tea and coffee
Many people looking to start a keto diet will often wonder whether they can still take coffee and tea. The answer is yes, you can. But you have to ensure that it is black and unsweetened.
Taking your coffee with milk may pose a problem . When on the keto diet, it may be better for you to consider switching to heavy cream as opposed to taking a whole cup of milk.
Keto diet tips and tricks
How to know if a keto diet is working for you!
The purpose of the ketogenic diet is to help you induce ketosis. This is a process that will help your body to burn fat at a much faster pace. Knowing the signs associated with ketosis will help you know whether your preferred keto diet is working, or whether it is time to make changes.
Signs to check for include:
- Increased ketones
The presence of ketones in your body is probably the only indicator you need to know that your diet is indeed working. Your physician may use a breath or urine test to check for the presence of ketones. However, the two tests are not as reliable as the traditional blood sample.
You can acquire a home testing kit to help you check for the presence of ketones in your body. If the diet is working, blood ketone levels in your body should be in the 0.5-3 millimoles per litre range .
- Weight Loss
Studies have indicated that the low-carb diet helps individuals struggling with weight loss shed off the extra weight.
Results from a meta-analysis test conducted in 2013 looked at the findings from a number of randomized controlled trials  The tests were on people taking part in a keto diet.
The results of the study suggested that individuals on a keto diet are likely to start losing weight within a few days. However, the reduction will mainly be as a result of the body shedding of some water.
Actual fat loss is likely to take a few weeks for it to be noticed.
Mistakes and Precautions When Following a Ketogenic Diet
For obvious reasons, many people have fallen in love with the keto diet. But the reality is that many people getting into this diet tend to make a few mistakes during the first few days.
While mistakes are common, making mistakes when on a keto diet can prove to be a bad thing for you, as far as your mental status is concerned.
The following are common keto mistakes to avoid.
- Observing over the scale
The one thing you need to note is that people have a very different body. Just because someone has posted a success story after being on a diet for a few weeks does not mean that the same thing will apply to you.
Even though it is essential to keep track of your weight, this does not mean that you should obsess over it. Do not use it as your measure of success or failure.
- The wrong fats
As mentioned elsewhere in this document, not all fats are the same. Remember that fats are the basis for the keto diet.
You must take care to ensure that you are not consuming the wrong fats. What are the wrong fats you ask? They are processed fats. Avoid seed oils and vegetable fats. Often, you will find that these fats are processed, and may end up causing you more health problems such as the increased risk of cancer and heart disease.
Sample Keto Diet Meal Plan
A keto diet plan is an eating plan consisting of very low carb intake. The plan will force your body to use the fat stored in the body, as opposed to relying on glucose as the main source of energy.
When following such a plan, you will need to build your meals around fatty foods, and reduce your intake of proteins and carbohydrates. W
Following this plan helps ensure that ketones will get produced in your body.
Sample Meal Plan:
Take adventure coffee. This is a type of coffee that blends cocoa powder, butter, egg, heavy cream, coffee, and coconut oil. Consider incorporating cheese blintzes. Mix three egg whites and a cup of cheese in a blender. Ensure the blintzes are cooked like pancakes. Add some cream cheese, fresh raspberries, or smoked salmon
- Midmorning Snack
Full-fat Greek yoghurt
Grilled shrimp with cheese or green salad with chicken or salmon
- Afternoon snack
Almond butter with an apple
Cauliflower baked with shredded cheddar cheese or grilled salmon, green beans, and spinach
One ¼ square of dark chocolate
Risks of Keto Diet
As much as the keto diet is good for you, it also has some drawbacks. Even though you are likely to achieve your goal of losing the extra weight, the diet may come with some negative effects or health-related complications.
You need to know the following 4 things before you start the keto diet .
- The Keto Flu
There are individuals who will report feeling sick immediately they start ketosis. In some instances, there may be lethargy, fatigue, gastrointestinal distress, and even vomit. This is what is known as the keto flu.
It is not something to worry about as it will usually go away on its own after a couple of days. You can minimize the symptoms associated with this flue by ensuring that you get plenty of sleep, as well as take lots of water.
If you have recently found yourself having to run to the bathroom after every few minutes upon starting a keto diet, worry not as you are not alone. A quick search online will reveal that there are many other people experiencing the same issues as you.
Diarrhoea may come about due to a lack of fibre in the body. It often occurs when you reduce your carb intake and fail to supplement it with foods rich in fibre, such as fresh vegetables.
An intolerance may also cause diarrhoea to artificial sweeteners or dairy. It is likely that you have started eating more of these items after changing your diet.
When you finally achieve your goals, you could choose to keep practising the keto diet or consider incorporating more carbs. But keep in mind that maintaining the same keto diet may make it easier for you to maintain the new effects. Adding more carbs may lessen the effect that comes with the strict practice of this diet. You may, therefore, find yourself adding some more weight.
Sticking to a keto diet is similar to exercising and failing to exercise means that you will slowly start to revert to your old health and weight situation. The keto diet is only effective when you stick to its principles.