You’ve probably heard people going on about trying a keto diet in more recent times. This is because it has become a popular phenomenon worldwide as people attempt to shed a few extra pounds. Yep, you guessed it – a keto diet is used primarily for weight loss. But it does provide some other health benefits as well, which we will get to shortly.
What is the theory behind keto?
Those who follow a keto diet, also known as a ketogenic diet, will consume a very low amount of carbohydrates and a much higher amount of fat. It sounds contradictory, to fill your body with fat when that is actually what you are trying to lose. But it works! And here’s how: put simply, when you severely restrict your body from digesting carbs, it allows you to enter a metabolic state known as ketosis.
When you are in a state of ketosis, your body will burn the fat that it stores. The fats also turns into energy in the form of ketones in your liver. Liver ketones provide a great source of energy for your brain too, which helps to protect your brain function.
Tip: It’s important to remember that fat is a nutrient, which is different from actual body fat. Because both are called ‘fat’, for a long time people assumed that eating fats meant you’d get fat. This is not the case as it is widely known that the ultimate factor in determining weight loss and weight gain is calories, not the specific nutrients they are derived from.
Who is the keto diet most suitable for?
Putting yourself into ketosis by following a keto diet will be most suitable for people who are overweight and want to lose weight, as well as for people who want to better their overall health in terms of their blood pressure or blood sugar levels. It can also be good for those who simply want to cut out or drastically reduce their carb intake for whatever reason.
Who is the keto diet not suitable for?
A keto diet may not be suitable for people who are professional athletes for example, as they will want to avoid risking muscle loss and maintain high energy levels, which can be difficult to do during ketosis, particularly during the early stages. People that should also avoid putting their bodies through ketosis would be anyone who has previously suffered from any type of eating disorder, as restricting food intake could cause a trigger or relapse.
Others that should avoid a keto diet include anyone with type 1 diabetes, because lowering your blood sugar could be very harmful and indeed dangerous. In addition, if you suffer from thyroid disease, it would be wise to stay away from keto too as the carbohydrate reduction can cause a a further drop in T3 (the active thyroid hormone).
Calories and macro-nutrient ratios required to attain ketosis
That title may sound a bit scientific, but getting into a state of ketosis is fairly simple. Well, in theory. In practice, it requires a fair bit of willpower, especially if you’re a sandwich-loving carb freak like me.
As mention in an earlier section, it is simply a case of eating a very low number of carbohydrates and consuming a high amount of fat. A fairly moderate amount of protein should be consumed in an attempt to prevent the body from becoming catabolic, which is a fancy word meaning muscle-breakdown, AKA the opposite of ‘gains’.
So, what constitute a ‘very low’ number of carbohydrates? It’s probably lower than you imaged. As a guide, approximately 5% of your total daily calorie intake should be from carbohydrates. This is widely recognised as being low enough for the body to enter ketosis. Therefore, as an example, someone on a 2,000 calorie diet would be able to consume 100 calories per day from carbohydrate sources. How does this translate to carbohydrates? Well, as there are 4 calories in every 1 gram of carbohydrate, that means (100/4) 25 grams of carbohydrates per day.
So, the big question: what can you get for your 25g carbohydrates? Well, not a lot, I’m afraid. For 25g carbs, you can have:
- An average slice of bread or small bread roll
- A (very) small bowl of cereal
- A small bag of potato chips or crisps
- An apple
As you can see, it really is an extremely low amount of carbohydrates. There are variations of this diet, where people have reported still seeing results with a slightly higher carbohydrate intake of around 10% which, using the same 2,000 daily calorie intake example, would equate to 200 calories from carb sources equaling 50g of carbohydrates.
Whilst fruits and vegetables contain essential vitamins and minerals and should still be consumed for health, there are some which are preferred over others, as some are higher in carbohydrates and sugars than others.
Fruits which can be consumed include blackberries, strawberries, rhubarb, cantaloupe, raspberries, watermelon, star fruit, lemon.
Vegetables that are non-starchy are the best for a keto diet, and include broccoli, asparagus, peppers, cauliflowers, spinach, kale, cauliflower, onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, green beans, celery, cucumber.
The majority of your daily intake should consist of fats. Specifically, 60% – 65% of your daily calorie intake should be from fats. But don’t worry, as already stated, this alone won’t make you fat!
Using the 2,000 daily calorie intake example, 60% equates to 1,200 calories coming from fat sources. Since there are 9 calories in every gram of fat, that means you would consume approximately 133g of fat per day.
This is where the keto diet can be fun: you can eat a lot of food types which you would have to be careful around on other diets providing they are low in carbohydrates, of course). These include:
- Full-fat yogurt (the lower-fat versions will contain more sugars)
- Fatty cuts of steak and other meat
- Whole eggs
- Butters and creams
Be aware though, this high-fat diet is not a licence to eat copious amounts of cake and saturated fats – you still need to keep your heart healthy, so choose your fatty foods with care!
After calculating your required carbohydrate and fat intake, the remaining calories should be consumed in the form of protein.
Continuing with the 2,000 daily calorie intake example, we have determined that 5% coming from carbohydrates would equal 100 calories and 25g carbs, 60% coming from fats which is 1,200 calories and 133g fat that leaves 35% to come from protein, which equates to 600 calories and, with 4 calories in every gram of protein, 150g protein per day which, for most people, should be enough to maintain muscle mass. To summarize:
A planned daily intake of 2,000 calories:
- 5% carbohydrates = 100 calories = 25g carbs
- 60% fats = 1,200 calories = 133g fats
- 35% protein = 600 calories = 150g protein
Protein sources can be any protein-rich foods and will likely come from your fatty foods, such as:
- Fatty fish
- Most nuts
How do you know when you’re in ketosis?
Ketosis isn’t one of those words made-up by the sort of people who are selling unrealistic ‘lose fat fast’ programs. It’s an actual metabolic state characterized by an increase in ketone bodies in the blood or urine. Whilst being in this state means effective fat-burning, it isn’t necessarily obvious you’re in it. Here are some signs that can confirm if you’re in a state of ketosis.
Increased focus and energy
An initial decrease in focus and energy will likely be replaced with a significant increase after the first week or so. This is a sign that ketones are now being burned rather than glucose.
Loss of appetite
Appetite may be suppressed due to the increased consumption of high-fat foods, which can often be more filling, in addition to the increase in vegetables, which can also be filling.
Acetone is a type of ketone that leaves the body through breath and in doing so leaves a unique, fruity and unfortunately unpleasant smell. Not ideal but at least it’s confirmation that you’re in a state of ketosis!
Ketone test strips
Ketone test strips were originally developed to monitor type 1 diabetics for ketoacidosis (a condition in which a significant build-up of ketones occur) therefore, as they can determine ketone levels in the body, they can be used for the purpose of confirming whether or not a user is in ketosis.
They’re very easy to use: simply dip one of the ketone test strips into a urine sample and wait for a period of time as instructed on the box, then compare the color of the strip with the chart included to ascertain ketosis levels.
Examples of foods which should not be eaten on a keto diet
Foods that should be avoided into order to achieve ketosis include:
- Dried fruits
- Other fruits (including apples and bananas)
- Ice cream
- Most alcohol
- Grains including pasta, oatmeal, rice
- Lentils, peas & beans
- Crisps, pretzels, crackers, breadsticks
- Trans fat (which includes fast food, frozen pizzas, margarine etc)
- Added sugars and some sweeteners (including coffee creamer)
Should supplements be used alongside a Keto diet?
Although it is not 100% necessary to take supplements when in ketosis, it is recommended and it can help replace some of those key things your body is missing from the consumption of things like grains. A multivitamin would be good to take once a day, as well as magnesium. Magnesium is found in foods such as beans, bananas and grains – all things you can’t eat on keto! Magnesium helps carry out regular cellular functions, helps to boost the immune system and regulate nerves and muscles too. Calcium, iron and vitamin D would also be good to consider too.
This powerful multivitamin would be ideal.
Are there any negative side effects on a Keto diet?
As with any diet, or change to your food consumption, there are some unpleasant side effects that may occur. As we just spoke about, vitamin deficiency can occur due to the fact that you are restricting your intake of certain foods. You can rectify this with supplements.
In addition, you can also experience constipation due to the fact that you will have cut out fibrous foods (such as some fruits, beans and grains). To counteract this, you can eat chia seeds and flax seeds, avocado and almonds which are all full of fiber.
You could also experience what is commonly known as ‘the keto flu’. Keto flu can occur in the first few days or weeks that you enter ketosis. Unfortunately, keto flu can mimic the regular flu, with side effects including fatigue & low energy, dizziness, headache, stomach ache and feelings of sickness.
Why does this happen? Because when you eat carbs, your body knows to burn them into energy. When there are no carbs available, and there is only fat, it takes your body time to work out that it should transform the fat into energy, meaning you may feel tired at first until your body works out what to do.
The good news though is that this should only last for the first few days, or couple of weeks at most,before it subsides.
Muscle loss is also, sadly, a possible consequence.
Other benefits to a keto diet
There are many benefits of a keto diet other than weight loss. These benefits include:
Lowering your blood sugar levels – ketosis can help people who have an insulin resistance, such as type 2 diabetics, because it drastically lowers blood sugar levels.
Lowers blood pressure – following a keto diet can also help to lower blood pressure too, which in turn can help to minimize the risk of heart disease, kidney failure or stroke.
Improve acne – there have been studies that show that ketosis can improve your skin. Both high blood sugar levels and a high carb/dairy diet can lead to bad skin, which is why keto can help in this area.
Cholesterol – ketosis can help to increase high-density lipoprotein, which is a ‘good/healthy’ cholesterol, whilst also minimizing low-density lipoprotein, which is the ‘bad’ cholesterol. This can contribute to better heart health too!