Keto 101: A Beginners Guide to the Ketogenic Diet
Fat is back!
The ketogenic diet has been trending for a while now, and it’s not going ANYWHERE! Keto products have been popping up all over the place – keto breads, keto breakfast, keto ice cream, keto snacks…they’re everywhere! So what’s all the buzz about the ketogenic diet, and what exactly IS the ketogenic diet? We’ve got the deets for you here in our Keto 101 article:
What is the ketogenic diet?
The ketogenic diet means specifically eating foods that are super high in fat (YES you read that correctly), foods super low in carbohydrates, and a moderate amount of protein. Think low carb diet and high fat diet. Here’s how that breaks down on a daily basis:
- Fats: 75-80% of your daily calories in dietary fat
- Protein: 15-20% of your daily calories
- Carbs: Less than 5% of your daily calories
Obviously, this looks pretty different than the commonly recommended macronutrient distribution of of 20 to 35 percent protein, 45 to 65 percent carbohydrates, and 10 to 35 percent fat! But there’s an important reason for that: Ketosis.
What is Ketosis?
Ketosis is the KEY to the success of the ketogenic diet! Ketosis is a natural and normal process that happens when your body runs low on glucose (sugars). Normally, your body can run very well on glucose/sugars. Glucose is produced when the body breaks down carbohydrates. Breaking down carbohydrates for glucose is a very simple process, which is why it’s your body’s preferred way to produce energy. The easier the better…except for your waistline!
When starting the ketogenic diet, you reduce your carbohydrate intake significantly and up your protein intake. Naturally whenever there isn’t enough carbs to turn into glucose, or just haven’t eaten in a while, your body will look for other sources of energy to fill the void. That’s where fat comes in! Fat is typically your body’s second choice for an energy source. When your blood sugar drops because you’re not feeding your body carbs, fat is released from your cells and flood the liver. The liver uses the dietary fat to start producing ketones, balancing your blood sugar, which your body uses as its second choice for energy – and helps you lose weight, among other benefits!
Basically, eating low carbs and high fats/protein means your body burns fat instead of sugars, turning your body into a fat-burning machine and helping you lose weight!
What Foods Can You Eat on the Ketogenic Diet?
Contrary to popular belief, the ketogenic diet isn’t just steak! There are tons of great healthy options for you to start your keto journey:
- Heavy cream
- Low carb vegetables
- Low-carb fruits
- Cream cheese
- Sour cream
- High fat, low sugar salad dressing
- Full fat dairy
- Grass fed butter
This short list is only the beginning, but the point is that you WILL probably need to cut out your favorite carb-heavy foods. Things like grains, rice, beans, potatoes, sweets, milk, cereals, fruits, and even some higher-carb veggies are cut out when you’re doing a low-carb, high-fat diet like keto. Eatingwell has a great complete list of foods you can and cannot eat on the keto diet for more reading.
What are the health benefits of the ketogenic diet?
While not always EASY, empirical research shows that the keto diet can have a lot of therapeutic benefits, especially when treating epilepsy! Here are just some of the areas science has show a ketogenic diet shows may be beneficial:
Research suggests that when patients with Alzheimer’s stick to the ketogenic diet, their cognitive functioning can improve! Scientists think that this benefit has something to do with improving mitochondrial function by providing the brain with a new fuel (fats – not glucose).
One of the key features of Parkinson’s disease is the abnormal accumulation of a protein known as alpha-synuclein. Research funded by the Michael J. Fox Foundation has in the past explored a ketogenic diet to stimulate the breakdown of these proteins, reducing the amount of alpha-synuclein in the brain and helping with Parkinson’s symptoms.
In one small study from 2016, patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) utilized a ketogenic diet for six months. After six months, many patients reported an improvement in their quality of life, as well as physical and mental health. Before doctors or researchers can make a concrete connection between keto and MS, more research is necessary, but the initial findings are extremely exciting!
Type 2 Diabetes
This population has been studied heavily with ketogenic diets since it’s technically as low-carb as you can get. While the research to date has been conducted in very small sample sizes, evidence suggests that an ultra-low-carb diet (like ketogenic diets) may help reduce A1C and improve insulin sensitivity by as much as 75 percent. In fact a ketogenic diet has been associated with better glucose control and better blood sugar control resulting in a reduction in medication use for diabetics. (also read: Smoothies for Diabetics)
Can the Ketogenic Diet Help with Weight Loss?
This is the big question, and the reason a lot of us start thinking about going keto is weight loss. This is the main reason the ketogenic diet it’s so popular, and you’re hearing so much about it: the keto diet gurus say you can drop a lot of weight in a short period of time – how can you go wrong? But is this actually true, and can it work for YOU? The answer is yes! Obviously, as with any major health concern or dietary change, you should talk to your doctor. But the best part of the keto diet is that it WORKS and it can work for you!
Here’s a breakdown of why the keto diet works – and might work for you:
- Calorie Restriction: When you severely restrict your food intake by cutting out high-sugar and high-carb foods, you’re cutting out a lot of excess calories – which means you’re very likely to lose weight!
- Appetite Control: The ketogenic diet is super high on proteins and fats, which means that feel fuller, faster, and don’t get hungry again so soon. The keto diet may also help suppress the hunger hormone, ghrelin, resulting in weight loss. For people who are always hangry, this is a huge deal!
Who SHOULD NOT Start the Ketogenic Diet?
As with any new diet, talk to your doctor! This is especially true for certain medical conditions where keto may not be the healthiest thing to do. So who should NOT go keto? Here’s a short list of issues that might mean a keto diet isn’t for you:
- Gallbladder or pancreatic issues: Fat is more difficult than other macronutrients for the body to digest, so this may be a strain for those with gallbladder or pancreatic disease, meaning a keto diet isn’t a great idea.
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women: Some changes to your metabolism that can happen during ketosis may impact fetal growth. Also, pregnancy isn’t the time to risk potentially under-nourishing yourself, as nutritional deficiencies and extreme weight loss can reduce milk supply and stunt infant and fetal growth. So wait for your pregnancy and breastfeeding days to be over before going full-blown keto!
- Healthy children: Children should never be subjected to a strict diet, never mind an extreme diet like the ketogenic diet, unless it is for serious health reasons (like epilepsy)
- Kidney issues: If you have kidney stones the keto diet may not be for you, due to the shifts in sodium, potassium, and fluid balance that can come with it.
- Those with a disordered eating history: The keto diet is extreme, and any type of diet that severely restricts or limits foods may perpetuate disordered eating thoughts. So PLEASE keep track of your mental health if you choose to try the keto diet. The reality is no diet should come before your own healthy thinking!
- Bariatric or gastrointestinal surgery patients: These people may have more limited digestive capacities, and should avoid the keto diet since fat is particularly difficult for the body to digest.
The Ketogenic Diet: The Bottom Line
The truth? There is no one-size-fits-all model for weight loss. Any “diet” needs to be supported by healthy exercise, attention to mental health and a holistic approach to your whole body to stay successful over time. In other words, don’t DIET, make LIFESTYLE changes. If the low carb high fat lifestyle sounds like it would work for you, then by all means absolutely give it a try! And if you’re still on the fence about going full-blown keto, start small. Start with cutting back on sugars and carbs, and see how you feel. Ultimately there are many different ways to be healthy, and keto is just one of them! But for many people, keto is the answer they’ve been looking for and works great as a sustainable lifestyle.
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Here are a couple of other great keto articles:
- The Best Keto Smoothie Recipes
- Weight Loss Smoothie Recipes
- Keto Smoothie Questions Answered
- Keto Smoothie Box
- Low Carb Smoothies
- Smoothie Subscription
- Green Smoothies for Weight Loss