The keto diet has turned into one of the fastest-growing diet trends that even celebrities are trying. If you’re looking to lose weight or improve your health, it’s natural to want to know “What is the keto diet?” and “Is it all that it’s cracked up to be?”
The ketogenic diet, also called a keto diet for short, is essentially a low carb high fat (LCHF) food plan designed to help fuel the body through a process known as ketosis.
Let me be straight with you. This is not just another diet fad. It works. I followed a ketogenic diet a year ago for 30 days and lost 10 pounds. That’s an average of 2.4 pounds a week. I had gained extra pounds from living a sedentary lifestyle and wanted a quick but healthy way to burn fat.
Your body’s preferred choice for fuel is glucose (sugar) which is found in abundance in carbohydrates, one of the three macronutrients in foods. It converts glucose to energy to help you stay active and perform daily tasks. Insulin is also produced to process glucose in your bloodstream.
Meanwhile, your body stores fat and leaves it as a last resort for fuel. This makes you prone to weight gain and health conditions related to excess body fat and high cholesterol levels.
Unlike other low-carb diets that focus on protein, the keto diet puts emphasis on fat as the main macro. By starving your body of carbs and feeding it more fat, you will force it to enter into a metabolic state called ketosis. It will also have no choice but to burn fat for fuel since the small amounts of carbs are quickly burned.
As you continue reading, you’ll learn more about how the keto diet works through ketosis, the rules for starting your keto diet, and some important benefits of the keto diet plan. I’ll then wrap things up with drawbacks and risks followed by answers to top frequently asked questions about the ketogenic diet.
Why Does the Ketogenic Diet Work?
A keto diet mainly consists of high-fats, moderate proteins, and very-low-carbohydrates. The breakdown of macronutrients is approximately 55% to 60% fat, 30% to 35% protein, and 5% to 10% carbohydrates. The distribution of nutrients is still considered healthy since you’re consuming all the macros, just in different amounts.
The keto diet works because the high fat and protein keep you feeling full. Fat also becomes your body’s main source of energy once you restrict carbs and the body enters into ketosis. Ketosis is where the body starts to break down stored fat into ketones and use it for fuel.
You’ll still need to watch your overall calorie intake for the diet to get noticeable weight loss results.
How We Fuel Our Bodies
Glucose is a type of sugar that comes from carbohydrate foods such as fruits, grains, and vegetables. It is also the main source of fuel for our cells. Glucose can be used immediately as fuel. When not immediately needed, it is stored as glycogen in our liver and muscles for use later on. The amount of carbs you eat will determine the level of your glycogen stores.
The body is constantly using and replenishing its glycogen stores. If it is not getting glucose from food or requires a quick boost of energy, glycogen is converted back into glucose and released into the bloodstream to provide energy.
Fat is stored as triglycerides. It is then broken down into fatty acids and carried through the blood to the muscles for fuel. Fat provides more than two times as much potential energy as carbohydrate since it is the most concentrated source of energy. Yet, the body prefers carbs!
The keto diet basically flips the script on the standard method of providing fuel. As you overload the body with fats and significantly limit carbs, it will start to produce and burn ketones as the primary source of energy. Ketones are made when fats are broken down in the liver.
What Is Ketosis and How Do I Reach It?
Ketosis is a natural way for the body to produce energy when food intake is low. The body is said to reach this metabolic state when blood ketone levels reach around 0.5 mmol/L. But it can take a few days to reach this point.
Here are some things you can do to increase the levels and reach ketosis:
- Restrict carbs: Many keto dieters aim for a minimum of 20g net carbs and a minimum of 35g total carbs per day. There are online calculators that can help you determine your keto carb limit based on your Body Mass Index (BMI).
- Restrict protein: The goal is to eat a moderate level of proteins in order to boost ketone levels and speed up ketosis. The recommended amount of proteins should be between 0.6g and 0.8g per pound of lean body mass.
- Increase fat: No need to go light on fat. It is the primary source of energy on keto.
- Fast: Fasting between meals can prevent insulin spikes and help keep ketone levels consistent throughout the day.
- Drink plenty of water: You can drink as much as one gallon of water per day. Water hydrates, keep you feeling full, and help optimize body functions.
- Exercise: Consider doing at least 20-30 minutes of exercise even if it’s just walking or jogging. It can help regulate blood sugar levels, burn fat, and increase weight loss.
The higher the carb deficit, the faster you should reach ketosis. Signs you’re in ketosis include dry mouth, bad breath, weight loss, increased energy and focus, decreased appetite, frequent urination, and high-smelling urine.
Keto Diet Plan Rules – How To Start Keto Diet
There are different types of keto diet, so choose the one that suits your weight loss, weight gain, or overall health goals. Once you’ve identified the goal, it’s time to make a plan to get started. Here are some tips:
- Prepare mentally: Do further research to learn more about the keto diet, benefits, drawbacks, and risks.
- Decide what foods you’ll eat: The right foods are key to getting into ketosis and seeing the results you want. Your list should include meats, fish, nuts, low-carb vegetables, and healthy oils. You won’t need whole and refined grains, starchy vegetables, dairy products, or beans, peas, and legumes. These are so not keto-friendly. Also pick foods that you will be excited to eat.
- Plan meals ahead of time: Meal planning helps keep you on track with the foods you need to eat and avoid. Try to plan meals and snacks at least a day in advance. Some people find it easier to plan for the entire week.
- Start slow: Your body will need time to adjust to the new food plan. You can slowly decrease your carb intake with one carb-free meal a day and then pick up the pace on carb reduction as your body adjusts.
- Think of the bigger picture: View the diet as one aspect of your health goals. Help boost your chance of successful weight loss by eating nutritious foods and including exercise, quality sleep, and stress management in your wider plan.
What are Macros?
“Macros” is short for macronutrients. The three main macronutrients are carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. You can use an online keto calculator to figure out your daily needs. Each macro has a certain calorie content.
- Fats: Provide 9 calories per gram
- Proteins: Provide 4 calories per gram
- Carbohydrates: Provide 4 calories per gram
These nutrients impact ketosis differently because of how they are metabolized. As you may suspect, carbohydrates are 100% anti-ketogenic because they spike glucose and insulin levels and interfere with ketone production. Proteins are the second-most non-keto friendly macro being 58% anti-ketogenic. Fats, on the other hand, are 90% keto-friendly plus it packs more calories per gram than proteins and carbohydrates.
How Many Carbs on Keto Diet?
The average carb intake is between 20 grams and 50 grams per day if you’re doing the standard weight loss keto plan. Many dieters try to keep it to 20g-30g per day. You can use the keto diet calculator to get your recommended daily macro intake. You will need to input information such as your gender, age, height, diet goal, and daily activity level.
I calculated my macros using this keto calculator. My suggested result is 1460 calories per day by consuming 111g fats, 20g net carbs, and 96g protein. Your calorie needs may be higher if you’re active or exercise daily.
Beware the Hidden Carbs
You should not eat grains, sugar, fruits, and tubers on a ketogenic diet. Focus on meats, fish, leafy green and above-ground vegetables, nuts and seeds, high-fat dairy, berries, avocado, as well as fatty oils, butter, and salad dressings.
Meanwhile, diet smart by keeping an eye out for hidden carbs that will kick you out of ketosis or prevent you from reaching it. They include these sneaky edibles:
- Health bars
- Candies and chewing gums
- Liquid cold medicines
- “Sugar-free” sugar or products, e.g., Splenda, sports drink, jams, or jellies
- Condiments, e.g., ketchup, BBQ sauce, and Worcestershire sauce
- High-carb nuts, e.g., pistachios, cashews, and peanuts
You can find a more detailed list of keto food on Ruled.Me.
Biggest Benefits of Keto Diet
Optimizing ketone levels can provide the following impressive health benefits.
The keto diet naturally lowers blood sugar levels and weight, making it an attractive food program for people living with type 2 diabetes. According to one study, the diet helps improve insulin sensitivity. The pancreas makes the hormone insulin when you eat carbohydrate foods.
Insulin levels lower when you restrict carbs. The ability of the diet to help control sugar levels may mean glycemic control and a reduced need for diabetes medication.
If you’re wondering how the keto diet measures up to similar diets such as the Atkins diet, studies find that it is more effective for managing and preventing diabetes. But I must point out that a potentially serious condition called ketoacidosis can occur as a result of the body being in ketosis.
Weight loss seems to be the number one reason many people are opting to try the keto diet. Rapid weight loss is attributed to eating fewer carbs. Consuming higher levels of carbs throughout the day only leads to frequent spiking of blood sugar and insulin levels. It also makes you feel hungrier.
High-fat meals keep you fuller and provide the body with a steady supply of energy and a reduction in hunger levels. Thanks to the steep drop in insulin which turns your body into a fat-burning machine.
People generally see better weight loss results compared to low-fat and high-carb diets. The initial weight loss results from loss of water when you restrict carbs. Carbohydrates cause the body to store extra water. Once they are used up, actual weight loss can begin as the body switches to burning body fat for fuel.
Doctors have suggested the keto diet to people with epilepsy including children since the early 1900s. Researchers found evidence that, when properly followed, the diet can significantly reduce the number of seizures. It can also promote less use of seizure medications.
Results from a 2016 study published in the journal Epilepsy & Behavior show that the diet reduced the frequency of seizures among the participants. Some participants also experienced weight loss although that was not the reason for the study.
It seems as if the low-carb, high-fat combination minimizes seizure attacks by altering the ‘excitability’ of the brain. Nevertheless, the Epilepsy Foundation reported that the diet is less frequently recommended to adults because it is highly restrictive and difficult to maintain.
Insulting resistance, also known as impaired insulin sensitivity, is when the body is unable to respond to the amount of insulin it is producing. Insulin resistance is a hallmark of prediabetes and an underlying cause of type 2 diabetes. Individuals at risk of the disease may benefit from the keto diet which may help the body better use insulin.
A keto diet high in omega-3 fatty acids may help optimize the body’s ability to respond to and use insulting properly. Further, researchers did a study on a small group of type 2 diabetes patients with obesity who ate a low-carb diet for 14 days. The patients showed significant improvement in glucose levels, insulin sensitivity, and hemoglobin A1c.
Possible Drawbacks of Keto
In spite of the various benefits, the potential health risks are a major concern surrounding the keto diet. Another issue is the high chance of weight regain. The diet is also difficult to maintain long-term since it is so restrictive. Let’s say you do the diet for 30 to 60 days. You’re likely to gain weight once you come off of it and reintroduce more carbs back into your normal diet.
Ketoacidosis is also a present risk if ketone production in the body gets too high.
Other risks include:
- Nutrient deficiency
- Increase in LDL (bad) cholesterol (promotes heart disease)
- Mood changes
- Brain fog
- Liver problems
- Kidney problems
Considering the health risks, the keto diet may not be safe for everyone. In fact, long-term keto dieting has not been fully studied to understand the possible adverse effects. As a precaution, you should check with your doctor before going on any diet. A drastic change in macronutrients or your overall diet can cause health complications, especially if you have a medical condition, are pregnant or breastfeeding, take medication or are at risk of certain conditions.
Keto flu is a common effect of a ketogenic diet. It is marked by a group of symptoms that usually appear two to seven days after starting the diet. Symptoms include:
- Low energy or fatigue
- Foggy brain
- Stomach cramps
- Trouble sleeping
- Temporary decrease in performance
These symptoms are usually a sign that your body is adjusting to the new meal regimen. Some of it has to do with the loss of water and electrolytes. You can combat this by reducing carbs gradually and drinking lots of water and zero-carb electrolyte drinks. The discomforting symptoms typically go away after the first week on keto then you should start feeling highly energized.
Our bodies rely on ketones to burn fat during the keto diet. Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is a condition where there are dangerously high levels of ketones and blood sugar. It can be life-threatening for patients with insulin-dependent type 1 diabetes and can also affect the liver and kidneys.
The condition can happen from a steep reduction of carbs or if you’re not taking an adequate dose of insulin. DKA may also occur in keto dieters with type 2 diabetes who produce little or no insulin. Symptoms of ketoacidosis include:
- Fruity-scented breath
- Frequent urination
- Excessive thirst
- Nausea and vomiting
- Shortness of breath
Water, electrolytes, or a dose of insulin may help eliminate these unwanted symptoms. Speak with your doctor right away if symptoms get worse.
How Much Weight Can I Lose on a Ketogenic Diet?
Weight loss varies from person to person and some of it is owed to water loss instead of actual body fat. That’s because ketosis has a diuretic effect on our bodies. However, sticking to the diet, adding exercise, and practicing intermittent fasting to your regimen can help speed up your weight loss.
What’s the Best Way to Track My Carbs?
It’s really up to you, but there are many mobile apps that you can use to track your carbs on your phone or tablet. For example, the MyFitnessPal, FatSecret, and Carb Manager apps. Some apps allow you to track total and nets carbs. If you use one that doesn’t give you net carb information, simply subtract your total fiber intake from your total carb intake to get the net carbs.
What Can You Eat on a Keto Diet?
As mentioned earlier, feast on plenty of good fats such as meats, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, seeds, dairy, butter and oils high in saturated fats, avocado, and low-carb berries. Definitely consume lots of green leafy vegetables and vegetables that grow above ground. The main thing is to avoid sugars, rice, and refined foods such as bread, pasta, and foods with hidden carbs.
Check out our Is It Keto page to see if your favorite food is OK on the Keto Diet!
What Fruits Can I Eat on a Keto Diet?
Most fruits are like nature’s candy. Full of sugar! Your best bet is to eat fruits that are very low in carbs such as blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, plums, kiwi, cherries, blueberries, and clementine. One-half cup of raspberries or blackberries provides less than 5 grams of carbs. Do avoid mangoes, pineapples, bananas, apples, and pears. They are loaded with sugars!
How Many Calories on Keto Diet?
Remember that you still need to count calories on your diet. Now is a good time to utilize a nutrition or a keto calculator to determine your daily maximum calorie intake. You’ll be able to choose the total calorie deficit you want in the calculations. 15-20 percent deficit should be safe but it all depends on things like your age, current weight, exercise, and activity level.
Why Am I Exhausted on the Keto Diet?
The loss of water and electrolytes (dehydration) from starving your body of carbs are the primary reasons why people feel tired and exhausted on the keto diet. Don’t worry. You’ll bounce back and start feeling energetic between weeks 1 and 2. Carb restriction also tends to impact your hormones which can explain the tired feeling. Staying hydrating, getting at least 6 to 9 hours of rest daily, and managing stress can reduce the severity of exhaustion.
Going on a keto diet can be an excellent natural way to trim down, manage diabetes or prediabetes, or even reduce seizures. But it’s not a magic potion and there are potential risks. The important thing is to plan, research, ask questions, and talk with your doctor to ensure the diet is safe for you and suits your lifestyle.