What is the Ketogenic Diet?
If you’re trying to lose weight, feeling sluggish, or are in need of some mental clarity, then a low carb ketogenic diet might be for you. All you have to do is reduce your carb intake to 5% of your daily caloric intake, which for most people is about 30 grams of carbs, and then your liver will use fat for energy by turning your fat into ketones. Once that happens your body will be in “ketosis” and you’ll be enjoying benefits such as accelerated fat loss, elevated mood, and improved focus. You’ll also be joining the ranks of celebrities like Halle Berry, LeBron James, and Megan Fox. They all do the ketogenic diet!
That’s the short version of it. But, as anyone who’s fallen in love with the ketogenic diet can attest, there’s a long version too. And, if prompted, a keto enthusiast will happily rattle off the ins and outs of the diet. You’d sing its praises too if it changed your life in the same way it’s changed the lives of so many.
What It’s Like to do the Ketogenic Diet
Your body turns carbohydrates into a sugar called glucose. Glucose then enters the bloodstream and, thanks to a hormone called insulin, is absorbed by cells. But when you’re on the ketogenic diet, where only 5% of your daily caloric intake comes from carbs, your body burns through all its glucose and then your liver begins to turn stored fat into ketone bodies. Once this occurs, you enter a state known as ketosis, which is when your primary source of energy is ketones.
It usually takes a one to three days to get into ketosis once you’ve adopted the right ratio of carbs to fat to protein. Exercise can help get you into ketosis because you burn glucose while doing physical activity. Exogenous ketones can also help people enter into ketosis. Something that’s exogenous is something that’s created outside the body, which, in this case, is beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB), a ketone body that the human organism naturally makes on its own. BHB supplements are useful if you’ve eaten more than your allotted share of carbs, need help getting into ketosis faster, or if you just want a boost of energy.
You’re in ketosis when the amount of ketones in the bloodstream reaches the range of 0.5–3.0 mmol/L. This can be tested by blood tests, but is more commonly measured using keto strips. The strips test ketone levels in urine. They change colors depending on the amount of ketones collected in the sample and are compared to a guide that's usually printed on the keto strip packaging.
For many people, the first few days of doing keto means experiencing the “keto flu”, a constellation of negative side-effects that usually end in a couple of days as the body adjusts to being in ketosis. These symptoms may include lacking energy, decreased mental prowess, hunger, difficulty sleeping, nausea, and digestive discomfort.
Being in keto can also throw off your body's mineral balance, which can translate into muscle cramps and stomach pain. To remedy this, people can consume an added 3,000–4,000 mg of sodium, 1,000 mg of potassium, and 300 mg of magnesium daily. Adding salt to drinking water also has the effect of relieving these symptoms.
Once the keto flu passes, however, people begin to experience a lot of positive side effects that are caused by ketones being a more reliable source of energy than glucose. Energy levels are consistent, which means no more sugar crashes or food comas. And since your brain is running on ketones, your focus is consistent as well. Additionally, by not eating foods that are high in carbs you avoid blood sugar spikes, you don't become hungry again soon after eating; nor do you become tired or unfocused.
Additionally, the first few days of the keto diet are often marked by a significant loss of water weight. That's because your body stores extra carbs in the form of glycogen, which retains water. It's not uncommon to drop three to five pounds in water weight right away on keto, although that weight will come back once carbs are reintroduced into one's diet. It's for this reason that a scale is not necessarily the best measure of a diet success.
Eating On Keto
There’s more to the ketogenic diet than just cutting carbs; you also have to weigh total carbs vs net carbs. Total carbs are, as their name suggests, the total amount of carbs in a given product. A food’s net carbs is the number of carbs that actually count toward your daily allotment of carbohydrates given that soluble fiber and some sugar alcohols are not turned into glucose. To get the amount of net carbs in your meal simply subtract the grams of fiber per serving from the total number of carbs per serving.
How challenging it is for someone to be on the ketogenic diet depends on how challenging it is for someone to give up foods high in carbohydrates. There’s keto friendly fast food you can eat if you’re in a pinch and you can even learn how to eat sweets on the keto diet. It’s even possible to drink alcohol while doing keto so long as you stick to whisky, brandy, tequila, vodka, and gin.
So, it’s not like you have to give up everything to go keto. And while giving up sodas, candies, breads and pastas may prove to be difficult, the rewards are worth it.
Keep in mind that a diet rich in unprocessed foods will lead to many health benefits while also providing the body with its daily recommended allotment of macronutrients. Some staples of the keto diet include meat, avocados, eggs, fish, berries, salad greens, nuts, olive oil, and even chocolate. In fact, given how high in fat and low in sugar some chocolates can be, the ketogenic diet can be a chocoholic’s dream!
Some people find it useful to consume medium chain triglycerides (MCT) while on the diet. MCTs are fats that, due to their shorter length, are turned more quickly into fuel by the body. And if you’re in ketosis, that means MCT turns straight into ketones. Not only that, but the National Institute for Health (NIH) reported that MCTs can help release more of the hormones peptide YY and leptin, which provide feelings of fullness. While coconut and palm oil are both natural sources of MCT, they also contain significant percentages of long chain triglycerides. For this reason, many people opt for MCT oil, which contains nothing but MCTs.
The keto diet is highly customizable. Some people do keto practice carb cycling. That's when you go five or six days in ketosis, and then you allow yourself to eat some carbs. This is a way to satisfy any carb cravings that you may have. If not eating carbs is making you so miserable that it's undermining your commitment to being keto, then indulging once or twice a week might be right for you.
You can also practice targeted ketosis, which is when you consume 10 to 20 grams of carbs before or after exercising so you can exercise harder. This is also another opportunity to eat carbs while doing the keto diet. In the case of both carb cycling and targeted ketosis, however, the goal is not to eat carbs as much as it is to eat carbs as a way to get the most out of the ketogenic diet.
You can even do a vegan version of the keto diet! As one would expect, tofu would play a large part, which is good news because it's high in protein and has a decent serving of fat. Nut butters and tahini are also staples of the vegan keto diet, as are yogurt alternatives such as those derived from coconut cream. If you're in the mood for rice or mashed potatoes, cauliflower can be used to provide keto friendly versions of both. And you can even have low-carb cookies!
There’s even an abundance of keto friendly recipes that provide low carb versions of many foods, including bagels and cakes. This is accomplished primarily by substituting wheat flour with almond flour, which comes loaded with its own set of beneficial properties like being high in Vitamin E, an antioxidant, and magnesium, which can help reduce anxiety. Almonds are blanched in boiling water to strip them of their skins, after which they are ground and sifted into a fine flour that contains 11 grams of fat, 6 grams of protein, and 3 net carbs per 1/4 cup.
Much has been written about how a low-carb diet may help people with diabetes, a condition that affects over 400 million people around the world. Type 2 diabetes, also known as adult-onset diabetes, is a chronic condition that affects your body's relationship with glucose due to a disruption of your body’s insulin levels. Your body’s in becomes either insulin resistant or doesn't produce enough insulin, the result of which is that you're unable to maintain normal blood sugar levels.
Studies show that, more and more, the type 2 diabetes affects children due to the rise of childhood obesity. Some symptoms of type 2 diabetes include fatigue, blurred vision, increased thirst and hunger, and weight loss due to your body's inability to run on glucose and, as a result, its need to run on alternative sources of energy. The ketogenic diet may help prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes. The condition is often linked with excess fat, which the diet can help remedy. There are also numerous studies that suggest ways in which the diet may be helpful, including one by the NIH study found that 75% of participants had improved insulin sensitivity.
A study by the NIH showed that a ketogenic diet may help lower risk factors of cardiovascular illness. According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death for American men and women, accounting for 610,000 deaths per year (one out of every four deaths). A ketogenic diet that helps you reduce your body fat can go a long way to preventing heart disease.
Many of the foods that become staples of the ketogenic diet contain macronutrients that may reduce anxiety. Eggs, for example, are high in an amino acid called tryptophan that plays a role in serotonin production, which effects mood, sleep, and behaviour. Scientists believe that serotonin plays a part in reducing anxiety. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to improve mental health, and are found in fatty fish like salmon. And even dark chocolate may reduce stress thanks to its high levels of polyphenols, which are plant based micronutrients, and flavonoids, which are plant pigments. A study by the NIH has shown that these compounds may lead to reductions in neuroinflammation and cell death.
Exercising on Keto
The ketogenic diet doesn’t just stop in the kitchen. You also need to exercise to see the best results. There's many reasons why you should do cardio on the keto diet. Cardio has anti-aging benefits, helps you destress, and speeds up your metabolism.
Cardio also helps improve your cholesterol levels. When Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) sticks to your veins, you start to enter the early stages of heart diseases. High-density lipoprotein (HDL), however, helps clean your veins, and doing cardio helps your body produce more HDL. Cardio can also improve blood pressure by training your heart to handle more physical activity, which, in turn, actually shrinks the size of your arteries and makes your blood pressure go down.
Cardio is especially helpful during the ketogenic diet because you burn glucose while exercising, which will help you stay in ketosis. And since you’re training your body to better handle stress by doing cardio, you’re less likely to practice poor eating habits inspired by stress. When you do two cardio workouts two or more times per week for 45 minutes, you end up raising the amount of human growth hormone (HGH) in your body. HGH helps build and repair muscles, keeps your energy up, and provides anti-aging properties. Lastly, cardio speeds up your metabolism, just further accelerating your weight loss.
How to Make Sure the Keto Works for You
There are at least eight reasons why you might not be losing weight on the keto diet. Many people, for example, report that they feel more satiated doing the ketogenic diet by virtue of consuming less sugar, which lets you avoid spikes in blood sugar. But it’s still important to maintain a caloric deficit. It's also important to make sure you're eating enough calories as well. Too few calories and your metabolic state will slow down and you’ll begin to store fat. Other symptoms of eating too few calories include hair loss, sleep problems, irritability and anxiety, and general weakness.
After the initial water weight comes off, you may find yourself frustrated by the pace of your weight loss. There's a number of things to keep in mind. If you're strength training while in keto you may actually be gaining muscles, which ways 15 to 20% more than fat. You may also be expecting the weight to come off too quickly. People think that burning 3,500 calories means burning a pound of fat. However, the body is a dynamic system so, as pointed out by Life Hacker, it's more regular to expect that burning 7,000 calories is what it takes to burn a pound.
It's important to get plenty of sleep. Too little sleep will mean a greater abundance of stress, which leads to poor decision making and your body holding onto stress (just as it does when you don't get enough calories). Additionally, sleep plays an important part in regulating your metabolism.
You’re also better off trying to lose weight with others as opposed to on your own. A study by the NIH compared how well people lose weight when they do it on their own vs with a group. Among participants, 76% finished the program and 24% maintained the weight they lost for 4 to 10 months. Of those who did the program with others, 95% finished the weight lose regime and 66% kept the weight off.
It’s better not to weigh yourself daily, especially considering that how much you weigh is not necessarily the best indicator of how close you are to your goal. Body fat comes off like the layers of the onion and noticing a difference is contingent upon factors such as body frame, muscle mass, and the percentage of body fat lost. Often times, noticing that you actually look different due to weight loss will even take you by surprise.
Make the Change
Weight loss takes a lot of work and time. That’s why it’s useful not to solely focus on losing weight when you adopt a healthier lifestyle. Appreciate that you feel better, are healthier, are decreasing your susceptibility to illnesses like heart disease, and that you’re sharpening your self-discipline.
It’s also okay for weight loss to take a while because you want keto to be a part of or at least lead you to a healthy lifestyle as opposed to using keto as a way to just lose weight. Yo-yo dieting has a lot of adverse health effects, so if you really want to lose weight and keep it off you need to change your life rather than go on a diet. And keto is a perfect life change.