A ketogenic diet is a low carb, high fat diet. One of its main goals is to train your body to get its energy from a whole different source – ketones, rather than glucose.
When you eat carbs, your body naturally converts them into glucose and insulin. Glucose is the easiest molecule for your body to convert into energy and is your body’s immediate go-to for fuel. Insulin is what carries the glucose all through your bloodstream and gets the converted energy to where it needs to go.
Because of this process, the fats you eat don’t often get used and end up getting stored away. They are considered as more of a backup for your body and because of the high amount of carbs the majority of people consume, fats rarely get touched.
The ketogenic diet (AKA keto diet) breaks this cycle.
Through the dramatic drop in carbs, your body starts to go into a state known as ketosis. This is what happens when the amount of healthy fats you eat greatly outnumber the amount of carbohydrates you eat. When you start doing this, your body has no choice but to resort to this ketosis state. The fats you eat will start getting converted into ketones through your liver and those ketones will become your body’s main source of energy.
This is a whole different way to get your body into a metabolic state. Rather than starving it of calories, you are starving it of carbs, training your whole system to make ketones as your body’s main source of energy.
Different Types Of Ketogenic Diets
- Standard Ketogenic Diet (SKD) – This is the typical form of the diet. It is very low carb and moderate protein. 75% fats, 20% protein and 5% carbs.
- Cyclical Ketogenic Diet (CKD) – This is a more advanced form of the diet, typically used by athletes. It involves high carb days. For example, 5 keto days will be followed by 2 high carb days.
- Targeted Ketogenic Diet (TKD) – This is also a more advanced form used by athletes, which allows you to add more carbs around workouts.
- High-Protein Ketogenic Diet – This is very similar to the standard form of the diet, it just includes more protein. 60% fat, 35% protein and 5% carbs.
Keto macronutrients (or macros) are the general amounts of healthy fats, proteins and carbohydrates you should aim to eat each day. These amounts can vary from person to person depending on age, height, body fat percentage, activity levels, etc., but generally you want to aim for about 75% fats, 20% protein and 5% carbs.
To calculate your own, more specific keto macros, check out this keto macro calculator. Calculators like this will give you your macros in grams, which can be much easier to track than percentages.
What You DO Eat On Keto
In basic terms, you should base the majority of your diet on meats, butter, eggs, nuts, healthy oils, avocados and low-carb vegetables.
- Healthy fats – Saturated (coconut oil, butter, chicken fat), monounsaturated (avocados, macadamias, olive oil), polyunsaturated omega-3s (animal sources, fatty fish).
- Meats – Chicken, beef, lamb, preferably free range and grass-fed.
- Eggs – Preferably from free range sources.
- Cheese – Use raw, unprocessed and organic if possible, make sure it’s full fat.
- Butter/cream/ghee – Organic, grass-fed sources are best.
- Fatty fish – Things that are fresh caught, like salmon, tuna, flounder, catfish, halibut, tuna, etc.
- Nuts and seeds – Macadamias, walnuts and almonds are best, cashews and pistachios are high in carbs, so be careful with those. You can also use nut and seed flours (almond flour, milled flax seed, etc.).
- Healthy oils – Olive oil, coconut oil. Go for organic and virgin or extra-virgin oils.
- Avocados – Best fruit source for the keto diet.
- Low-carb veggies – Most green veggies, tomatoes, peppers, onions, etc.
- Some berries – Strawberries, black berries, etc.
- Some condiments – Sea salt, pepper and healthy herbs and spices (cinnamon, turmeric, cayenne pepper, ginger, garlic, etc.).
- Natural sweeteners – Stevia (liquid form), sucralose (liquid form), erythritol.
- Liquids – Water is obviously best, tea is awesome and coffee is fine in moderation.
What You DO NOT Eat On Keto
You should do what you can to avoid any carb-based foods, sugars, starches, legumes, rice, wheat and unhealthy fats.
- Sugars – If it has sugar, avoid it (candy, desserts, ice cream, chocolate chips, etc.).
- Grains/starches – Everything from wheat to pasta, even quinoa should be avoided.
- Beans/legumes – Peas, chickpeas, kidney beans, black beans, lentils, etc.
- Most fruits – Most fruits are high in carbs and sugars that can alter ketone levels.
- Root vegetables and tubers – Potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, etc.
- Diet products (low-fat, sugar-free) – These are often highly processed and also contain sugar alcohols, which alter ketone levels.
- Unhealthy fats – Avoid processed vegetable oils, mayonnaise, etc.
- Most condiments and sauces – Most are often made with sugar and are full of carbs.
- Alcohol/sodas – Alcohol have carb contents that can throw you out of ketosis, sodas are flowing with sugar.
Benefits Of A Keto Diet
1. Weight Loss
Because the keto diet is designed to convert your body to burning fat for energy instead of sugars, you become a fat burning machine. Studies have shown that the keto diet does a far more efficient job at helping you drop those pounds; in fact, people tend to lose more fat on a low-carb diet than they do on a calorie-restricting diet. Along with the healthy fats you eat, the longer you’re on a keto diet, the more your body can begin to dig into the fat you’ve had stored within your body and you will eventually start to see it melt away.
2. Helps With Diabetes
The keto diet helps you burn away excess fat, which is linked to type 2 diabetes, prediabetes and metabolic syndrome. It also has shown to help regulate insulin levels and improve insulin sensitivity. There have even been instances where people have been able to lessen the amount of medication they were taking, if not wean themselves off it completely.
3. Prevents Heart Disease
When your body is carrying around excess fat, your blood pressure and sugar levels can be affected and as a result, your risk for heart disease can increase. The keto diet burns this excess fat away, also burning away the risk. High amounts of carbs and wheat have also been known to be causes for heart disease, so naturally, reducing and cutting these out of your diet can take your risk for heart disease down by a lot. Studies have also shown that the long term effects of the keto diet can help improve and balance cholesterol levels.
4. Slows Cancer Growth
Sugar is one of the top substances that feeds cancer cells and triggers them to grow. Since carbs are broken down into glucose, while your body may be using that glucose for energy, that glucose could also be feeding cancer cells in your body. Taking your carb count down literally starves cancer cells and prevents them from growing. Studies are also being done to show the effectiveness of the keto diet on combating and preventing cancer.
5. Improves Mental Health
There have been studies that have shown how the keto diet can help slow down and reduce symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. The keto diet has also helped people with concussions and brain injuries recover more quickly and smoothly. Along with that, the foods you eat can have a dramatic impact on your gutand therefore, your mood as well. Taking out carbs and sugar from your diet can lessen the amount of toxins and bad bacteria that build up in your gut and also help it cleanse itself, which naturally helps elevate your mood as well as your energy levels.
6. Boosts Energy Levels
This one doesn’t really need to be said, but once your body gets used to functioning on a keto diet, burning ketones for energy, your energy levels can be improved by a lot. Fats have proven to be a more reliable and sustainable source for energy than glucose and can keep you going all day long.
7. Reduces Acne
Within just a few months, studies have shown how the keto diet can significantly help clear the skin of acne and other lesions and blemishes. Sugars and high insulin levels tend to be heavy causes of acne and other skin conditions.
Potential Side Effects Of Keto
When starting any new diet or eating plan, your body is naturally going to react to the changes, sometimes in negative or uncomfortable ways. These are some of the more common side effects of starting a keto diet. Just know that they are temporary and that there are simple adjustments that you can make to prevent and also remedy any of these potential side effects.
- Frequent Urination – When you start eating a low-carb diet, your body starts to clear out extra glycogen (stored glucose) from your muscles and liver. This process releases a lot of water and can make you have to pee several times for the first few days.
- Nausea (“Keto Flu”) – This is one of the most common side effects and is often due to a mineral/electrolyte deficiency (sodium, potassium and magnesium). When your body starts to produce more urine, more of these minerals and electrolytes get processed through your body than you’ve been used to. Increasing your intake of sea salts and natural electrolyte supplements can help remedy this.
- Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Sugar) – When you suddenly drop your carb intake, your body can get thrown off because it was used to producing a certain amount of insulin to deal with the glucose and sugars in your body. This can be an alarming symptom, especially if you were previously eating a particularly high carb diet. Find out more here about how to help calm and balance your blood sugars again.
- Fatigue And Dizziness – This can also be a side effect of a deficiency in minerals and electrolytes. When your body lacks essential nutrients, it can become very tired. Keeping your salt intake up and also supplementing with magnesium and keeping lots of green veggies in your diet (for vitamins and potassium) can help prevent this.
- Headaches – These can occur while your body is in the process of adapting to the change in diet. Be sure to keep salt in your diet and also drink lots of water to stay hydrated and to keep things functioning as they should.
- Muscle Cramps – These can occur due to a deficiency in magnesium. If you have kidney problems or are prone to them (kidney stones, failure, etc.), consult your physician before supplementing with magnesium.
- Sugar Cravings – When you cut carbs and sugars out of your diet, naturally you’re going to experience some cravings. Increasing your nutrient intake and keeping your protein levels up can help with this. Exercise and eating satiating foods can also help calm cravings. Overtime though, your low carb intake can naturally lessen these cravings and maybe even eliminate them for good.
- Constipation – This is another common side effect of switching to the keto diet. It is often related to dehydration, lack of sodium or too much dairy consumption. Keeping good amounts of salt in your diet, drinking lots of water and also cutting down on dairy can help with this. Good quality dairy products can be great sources of healthy fats and other nutrients, but just be careful not to overdo it.
As you can see, most of these symptoms are simply due to mineral and electrolyte deficiencies as well as just the process of adapting to a new way of eating. If you be sure to especially keep sodium (salts) in your diet, get natural sources of electrolytes and drink lots of water, most of them can be remedied and even avoided entirely. Just be careful and patient.