You may have heard the terms “Keto” or “Ketogenic Diet” lately, but just in case you haven’t, let me give you a quick rundown.
The Ketogenic Diet is a low-carb, high-fat diet that has become popular in recent years for weight loss. The idea behind it is changing how your body burns energy for fuel. Currently, most people on the SAD (Standard American Diet) are eating a diet full of carbohydrates. When we eat carbs, our bodies process those as glucose, and then use glucose as our energy source. The problem with this is that not only does our body never end up using our own fat reserves for energy, but it actually encourages your body to hold onto that extra glucose and convert it into body fat.
The Keto Diet limits the carbohydrates you put into your body, and instead you consume a diet high in fat (think olive oil, avocados, etc.). When your body no longer is receiving carbs (glucose) to use as energy, it then turns to the next available energy source that you’re feeding it: fat. Your body learns to burn fat as the energy source instead, and can then tap into your own body fat reserves as well.
When your body enters this state, it is called ketosis.
What Are Macros?
The percentage of these that you consume is what is important on Keto. Typically, you want to be consuming 75% fat, 20% protein and 5% carbohydrates. You can use an online keto calculator to figure out approximately how many calories you should be consuming as well.
In order to get your body into ketosis and start burning fat for fuel, it is recommended that you not eat more than 20g NET carbs per day. Now I want to clarify that net carbs are not the same as total carbs.
Net carbs = total carbs – fiber.
For example, one zucchini typically has about 6 grams of carbs and 2 grams of fiber. So your total net carbs would equal 4g.
Protein is also very important. I hear a lot of people trying to lose weight say things like “protein, protein, protein.” However, if you’re following a Keto diet, it’s important to know that if you consume too much protein, your body will convert the excess into glucose in your body and burn it just like it would the carbohydrates. I made this mistake early on and noticed a huge difference once I corrected it.
Ah, fat. So many people have such a negative connotation associated with this word. Most of us remember the low-fat movement of recent decades, started in 1977, and how everyone was told to eat less fat in order to achieve weight loss and health. But what happened? Instead, as a country, we are heavier than ever, heart disease and diabetes have skyrocketed, and the list goes on and on. Many people have a hard time mentally making this switch when they’ve been told for so long that fat is bad, but fat is actually great for your body and very necessary. This article is a great starting source for understanding why the war on fat was one of the biggest mistakes made by the nutrition industry.
My Cautions with Keto
Overall, I really love Keto as a weight loss tool and way of eating. However, in my research with recipes and meal plans, as well as being a member of many online groups, I have a few gripes with some people’s mentality behind it.
Clean eating must come first. I see many people using this as a way to cheat their way into weight loss without actually making a healthy lifestyle change. If that’s the case, you better believe that weight is coming right back once you quit Keto and start eating processed junk again. I recommend a Paleo Keto Diet if you’re going to try Keto, possibly with a few dairy modifications. Just because it is low-carb does not make it acceptable to put in your body. Let me say that again.
Just because it is low-carb does not make it acceptable to put in your body.
I see so many people posting photos of their “low carb” treats, with an ingredient list a mile long (none of which I can pronounce). I see people adding Diet Coke to their meal plans and I physically cringe. “Low Carb,” just like “Low Fat,” is a marketing ploy that encourages people to think that food is a freebie. Please make sure to read all ingredients and approach Keto as a modification to a clean way of eating.
Recently I was listening to the Joe Rogan podcast with guest Chris Kresser (HIGHLY recommend listening to this), an expert on nutrition and alternative medicine. He was talking about how he rotates between a Keto and Paleo diet. He notices that at first, he feels amazing on Keto, but after a couple of weeks, he finds it necessary to return to Paleo. He talks about how our ancestors, while reaching ketosis often, were not meant to live in a state of ketosis. For example, they might go weeks between a hunt or finding food (at which point their body would then enter ketosis to burn their own fat reserves for fuel), but they would always eventually break ketosis when eating certain foods again.
My point of this is to tell you to listen to your body! Some people love being in ketosis and feel great for long periods of time on the Keto Diet. Others may want to change it up and go back to a Paleo or clean eating lifestyle for a while. Make sure you’re listening to your body.
The Best Things About Keto
So all that being said, when eating a clean Keto diet, I really do love it. Why? So glad you asked!
- Weight Loss
For me, the Paleo Diet is just not quite enough if I’m looking to lose a little bit of weight. To be fair, it’s not intended for that. A lot of people experience weight loss with Paleo as part of the clean eating lifestyle switch, but if you already eat clean, sometimes you need something a bit more tailored to weight loss.
- No Hunger Pains
Once your body adjusts to burning fat, you often do not find yourself getting mid-day hunger pains or snacking, because your body is much more satiated.
- Dairy Is an Option!
Many people incorporate dairy into their Keto Diet. Dairy is a good source of healthy fats. Choosing whether or not to incorporate dairy is completely up to you – I know many people who love being able to have this in their diet, while others find that it starts to hinder weight loss at a certain point. Again, listen to your body and adjust as necessary. If you find that your stomach is gurgling after eating dairy, it may be a good indication that your body isn’t processing it well. If you DO choose to eat dairy, please make sure it is high quality dairy products and that you are again reading all your labels – they will sneak a lot of ingredients into these. (For example, did you know that shredded cheese has more carbs per serving than a block of cheese? In order to ensure the shredded cheese doesn’t stick together, they add chemicals and additives.)
- Easier to Be a Social Butterfly
When you’re following a certain diet, it can be very hard to maintain a social calendar. Whether it’s just eating out with your family, business dinners or drinks with an old friend, finding something to eat can be challenging. One of my favorite things about the Keto Diet is how easy it is to follow in situations like this. Sure, you still have to skip the bread basket, but you’re not asking the server a million questions, asking to substitute olive oil for butter, hold the cheese, etc.
- You Can Have Wine!
Okay, I do have to give a little disclaimer to this: alcohol “pauses” ketosis while it processes the alcohol, but it does not kick you out of it (unless you over-indulge). So, if you have a girls’ night and want a couple of glasses of red wine, go for it!
Watch Out for Those Sneaky Carbs!
We know that Keto means limiting carbs. However, besides the obvious, you would be surprised at the places you can find those extra pesky carbs. A few examples:
- Bread and any sort of bread product (crackers, tortillas, etc.);
- Rice or quinoa;
- Any form of sugar – avoid at all costs;
- Fruit – most sweet fruits will kick you out of ketosis. Even an apple. Stick to raspberries, blackberries, cucumbers and avocadoes (yes, those are fruits);
- Below-ground vegetables – typically vegetables that are grown below ground contain more carbs and starch than others – potatoes, for example. Be wary of how many of these you are eating.
- Track Your Macros
I think this is the #1 difference between seeing results and getting frustrated that it’s not working. Use an app like MyFitnessPal and add in everything you eat. You’d be surprised where some of your carbs are coming from. Once you get the hang of Keto, you may decide you don’t need this on a daily basis, but it certainly helps keep me accountable.
- Don’t Eat Too Much Protein
Once you figure out your macros and find out how many grams of protein you should be eating, try not to go over that.
- Can’t Get Enough Fat?
Try adding a tablespoon of olive oil and an avocado to your meal. You’d be surprised at how much healthy fat that will add.
- Drink Electrolytes!
This one is huge, guys. On a Keto Diet, you are flushing out a lot of toxins and fat from your body, but with that goes a lot of necessary minerals as well, such as sodium, potassium and magnesium. It’s SO important that you replenish your body with these. My favorite is this variety pack, which you can also buy in a larger container. Drinking your electrolytes will also help reduce the “Keto Flu”, which tends to kick in on your first few days.
- Meal Plan and Prepare!
One of the things I started doing was adding my meals for the following day to MyFitnessPal the night before. It allowed me to see where I was at with my goals before I actually ate the food, which in turn allowed me to adjust as needed and make sure I was getting the recommended amount. While Keto is much easier to follow on-the-fly, preparation truly is the key to success.
- Buy Ketone Test Strips
This is certainly not necessary, but it is kind of a fun way to see if you have hit ketosis. There are multiple ways to do this – they range from very cheap to very expensive. Personally, I use the urinalysis strips (like these), which are not quite as reliable as other methods, but they’re also only about $8, so whatever. One thing to keep in mind – the shade of the strip does not matter, so long as you are in ketosis. When starting out, most people think that the darker the strip, the better, but that is not true. If your strip is very dark, there’s a good chance that your body is dehydrated and you are expelling the extra ketones rather than having your body use them.
- Keep Calories in Mind
You probably know that I am not a huge fan of counting calories. However, they certainly play a part in weight loss, although it’s much more complicated than the calories in/calories out mentality. Think about it this way: if all your macro percentages are perfect, but you’re eating an extra 1,000 calories a day, your body is spending its time burning that extra 1,000 calories and not getting a chance to tap into your fat reserves.