What is the Ketogenic Diet?
Contrary to general dietary recommendations which have proven to be false, the ketogenic diet is a high-fat, moderate protein, low-carb diet. It’s a diet that causes ketones to be produced by the liver, shifting the body’s metabolism away from glucose and towards fat utilization. The ketogenic diet is an effective weight loss tool and has been shown to improve several health conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, epilepsy and even cancer. Healthy cells can use ketones for energy, but some types of cancer cells cannot use ketones.
How does it work? Very simply said, when you eat food high in carbs, your body produces glucose and insulin. While glucose is used as the main source of energy, insulin enables glucose to move from your bloodstream into your cells. Insulin is also responsible for storing fat in your body and if your body produces too much of it, you put on weight. Excessive carbs, typical in modern diets, combined with lack of physical activity will likely result in weight gain. Based on a comparison of several scientific trials, low-carb diets outperform calorie-restricted diets in terms of long-term weight loss and health effects.
A common misconception is that our bodies, especially our brains, needs glucose. Although glucose is known to be the primary source of energy (your body naturally prefers glucose), it’s nowhere near as efficient as ketone bodies, especially for the brain.
Depending on your goals and on how much you exercise, you can follow any of the four types of ketogenic diets: standard, targeted, cyclical or restricted ketogenic diet. All of them vary based on the daily carb intake and the timing of your meals. Recent studies show that in fact, carbs before or after exercise are not needed once you get keto-adapted and your body will happily run on ketones
How Do I Know I’m in Ketosis?
There are a few ways for you to find out whether or not you are in ketosis. Although the most accurate way is to use a blood ketone meter, you can also use urine ketone strips or simply your common sense and listen to your body signals.
However, it’s not just about carbs and ketones and you need to know your macros. Many people don’t eat enough protein and overeat fat simply because they’ve been given the wrong advice.
Get Your Macros Right
When you follow the ketogenic diet, it is critical that you get the macronutrient ratio right. Ideally, you should be eating:
- 5-10% of calories from carbs (net carbs). Typically, 20-30 grams of net carbs is recommended to start with, this keeps you in ketosis.
- 15-30% of calories from protein and
- 60-75% of calories from fat. If your goal is to lose weight, your fat intake might even go below 60%. Fat is used as a “filler” and should make up the remaining calories.
You may find it easier to use an app to track your macronutrients. There are many FREE apps you where can track your macronutrients and do a lot more to help you achieve your goals. Examples: My Fitness Pal, Carb Manager.
Should I Count Calories?
It’s a common misconception that you can eat unlimited amount of calories and still lose weight. You can to maintain, but not to lose. In fact, you can put on weight even on a low-carb diet. Although this doesn’t happen often, you will need to understand a few basic principles and avoid common mistakes.
Low-carb ketogenic diets are natural appetite suppressing effects This is why you’ll eat less and won’t need to count calories which is one of the three main effects of the ketogenic diet.
However, if for any reason your weight is stalling for more than 2-3 weeks, you may need to consider keeping an eye on your energy intake (calories). Reaching a weight loss plateau may be caused by several reasons and you don’t necessarily have to be eating too much, in fact, you may discover that you haven’t been eating enough. In my experience, losing body fat becomes more and more difficult as you get close to your target weight.
What to Eat and What to Avoid
In short, you should eat REAL food (meat, eggs, nuts, yogurt, vegetables and occasionally some fruits). Apart from the obvious limitation of net carbs in food, it is also recommended to avoid processed food and any food that may contain preservatives and colourings.
The Keto Diet Basics
1) Basic Principles
- Stick with the keto ratio: 60-75% of calories from fat, 15-30% calories from protein and 5-10%calories from net carbs.
- Start by getting the daily net carbs (total carbs without fiber) down to less than 40 grams, preferably 20-30 grams. Increase slowly to find the optimal carbs intake. Most of you will be able to stay in ketosis at 20-30 grams of net carbs per day. Find the carbs limit that allows you to stay in ketosis. (example, mine is 15 grams. Any higher and I’m bumped out of ketosis.)
- Keep your protein intake moderate.
- Increase the proportion of calories that come from healthy fats (saturated, omega 3s, monounsaturated)
- If your net carbs limit is very low (20 grams and below), avoid eating fruit and low-carb treats. (Sugar alcohols can bump you our of ketosis if sensitive to them)
- Eat when you are hungry, even if it’s a meal a day. Don’t let others dictate what you eat or how often you eat. (unless fasting)
- You don’t have to limit quantities of food deliberately, but you should stop eating when you feel full, even if the plate is not empty — keep it for later.
- Don’t count calories — listen to your body, including hunger and fullness signals. Ketogenic and low-carb diets have a natural appetite control effect and you will eat less. Keep an eye on your calorie intake only if you reach a weight loss plateau, then lower them to get to your next plateau or goal.
- Increase the amount of water you drink — at least 8 glasses a day.
2) Stock your pantry with healthy foods
- Learn to eat real food like eggs, meat and non-starchy vegetables. Contrary to what we have been told for decades, these are good for you!
- If you need to snack, opt for healthy foods high in fat (foods containing coconut oil, macadamia nuts, avocados, etc.)
- Include healthy foods like fermented foods, bone broth and offal in your diet.
- Don’t be afraid of saturated fat and use it for cooking (coconut oil, butter, ghee, lard, tallow, palm oil – organic from sustainable agriculture).
- Use unsaturated fats for salads (olive oil, nut oils, sesame oil, flaxseed oil, avocado oil – organic, extra virgin). Some can be used for light cooking.
- Avoid all processed vegetable oils, margarine, hydrogenated oils, partially hydrogenated oils, trans fats, canola oil, soybean oil, grapeseed oil and corn oil.
- Eat organic dairy (or none in case of allergies). Look for raw, organic, and/or grass-fed dairy. Avoid milk (high in carbs) or use small amounts of full-fat milk.
- If you eat nuts, consider soaking and dehydrating them.
3) Increase your electrolyte intake (sodium, magnesium and potassium)
Macronutrients (fat, protein and carbs) are not the only aspect you should focus on – micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) are equally important. Those that are known to be deficient, especially in very low-carb diets such as below 20 g net carbs, are electrolytes. You can learn more about them here: “Keto-flu” and Sufficient Intake of Electrolytes
Here are a few tips to get your daily electrolytes:
- Potassium: eat avocados, mushrooms, fatty fish such as salmon and add potassium chloride to your regular salt (or mix 1/2 teaspoon in 1 litre of water and drink throughout the day). Be very careful with potassium supplements, never exceed the recommended daily intake!
- Magnesium: eat a handful of nuts every day to boost your magnesium intake and take magnesium supplement. If you eat less than 20-25 grams of net carbs, it will be very difficult to get to your daily targets.
- Sodium: Don’t be afraid to use salt (I like pink Himalayan rock salt) and drink bone broth or use it in your everyday cooking.
4) Beware of hidden carbs and unhealthy ingredients
- Read the labels and avoid hidden unhealthy carbs (Maltitol, Sorbitol, Sucralose, Dextrose, Maltodextrin, etc.), unnecessary additives, preservatives, colourings or artificial sweeteners. These could be found even in chewing gums and mints. Not only they can trigger cravings but they are also linked to many negative health effects. If you use sweeteners, you can find a suitable list in my BIG cookbook, or the Ebook here, opt for those with no effect on blood sugar.
- Avoid anything labeled as “low-fat” or “fat-free”, as it usually has artificial additives and extra carbs. It also has no sating effect and you will feel hungry soon after you eat it.
- Avoid products labeled “low-carb” or “great for low-carb diets”. It has been shown that most of these commercially available products are neither low-carb nor healthy!
- Beware of medications (cough syrups and drops and many others) containing sugar and try to find sugar-free replacements.
5) Don’t trust products labeled “low-carb” or “keto friendly”, focus on foods naturally low in carbs
Make sure you always opt for real unprocessed food and avoid prepared meals full of additives and deceptive labelling. Low-carb products are often higher in carbs than they claim to be and often contain artificial additives.
It’s no secret that aspartame, which is an artificial sweetener found in diet soda, has been shown to have many adverse effects on our health. Also, keep in mind there are strong financial interests to cover this up and deceive consumers.
6) Plan your diet in advance
To save time and money, you will need to plan your diet in advance, especially if you are new to it. Here are a few tips before you get started:
- Get rid of anything that is not allowed on the diet (flour, sugar and sugary snacks, bread, processed foods, etc.) to avoid temptation. Trust me, if it’s in your house, you will likely crave it. This way you will avoid unnecessary “fridge accidents” that may ruin your efforts.
- If you have sugar cravings, have a glass of water (still or sparkling) with fresh juice from 1/2 lime or lemon and 3-5 drops of stevia. Drink tea (green, herbal, black) and coffee with cream.
- Make a list of your weekly shopping for meals you are planning to cook. My Cookbook “The Best of Keto” has shopping info and meal plans.
- To save time and money, have hard boiled eggs and cooked meat ready to be used in salad or for a quick snack. Meats suitable for slow cooking are cheaper and can be cooked in advance. I use this slow cooker or you can simply cook it in the oven on low-medium covered with a lid.
- Make sure you always have keto-friendly foods on hand (eggs, avocado, non-starchy vegetables, meat, cheese or nuts. Foods rich in protein are very sating and will help you overcome hunger cravings.
7) Get an App to get started & track your progress
Planning and tracking your diet is highly recommended, especially if you are new to the diet. It’s very easy to go over your carbs limit or to miss your protein targets.
You can get an app which has been designed specifically for low-carb, ketogenic & paleo diets. Not only you will find many keto & paleo friendly recipes but you will also be able to easily plan and track your diet.
I have also authored several Keto Cookbooks to make the ketogenic lifestyle easy to follow.
8) Keep Motivated, You Are NOT Alone!
Join the Keto Diet Group or RATE MY PLATE KETO on Facebook and share your experiences and food creations. I’ve created these groups for sharing everything about low-carb, keto & low carb living including your favourite recipes, tips and success stories. Feel free to post your recipe creations, progress updates and any questions you may have about the ketogenic diet.
Tag me in your INSTAGRAM posts and lets share our keto worlds together! www.instagram.com/healthywholesomehomemade
A Few Last Words …
- Be strong during the first few days. Think of this time as something that will soon pass. There will be cravings and negative side effects over this period. Once it’s over you will feel great and full of energy!
- Imagine yourself a few pounds lighter wearing your old jeans and keep being positive! Stress will only have a negative effect on your weight loss.
- If there is any reason you cannot avoid eating more carbs than you should, remember to do some physical activity to burn them. It is recommended you do some exercise no later than an hour after you eat extra carbs. If you’re at a party, dance! And don’t get in the habit of eating more carbs than you should.
- If you disrupt your diet, don’t get depressed; just go back to your plan the day after!
- Finally, DON’T let anyone make you think you can’t lose weight! And don’t believe it’s genetics. People may think you eat the wrong food – ignore them; it’s your life and your health!