The Keto Diet Explained: A Detailed Guide
Category: Healthy Living
Posted on February 6, 2021
Vanessa is a health writer and blogging expert. Her specialities are medicine, health and wellness. She is proud to call Vancouver, BC her home where she enjoys the ocean and mountains with her dog Mr. ChowChow.
Over 40% of American adults are now clinically obese.
With the beginning of a new year, lots of people will be setting their sights on losing weight and regaining their health.
A great way to lose weight and significant amounts of body fat is through a keto diet. But what exactly is it and how can you get started?
In this detailed guide, you will have the keto diet explained to you clearly and simply in an easy to follow style. Then you can join the millions of disciples who have given up the low-fat lifestyle in favor of the obesity-busting ketogenic diet.
What is the Ketogenic Diet?
Often shortened to the 'keto diet' or 'keto', the ketogenic diet is a way of eating that reduces the number of carbs you eat and replaces them with fats and proteins.
On the keto diet, you use fats as your primary sources of energy in the body. In simplistic terms this means you stop eating bread and pasta and start eating bacon, avocados, and cheese.
When on a ketogenic diet you will often hear people talking about their 'macros'. This refers to the percentage of calories you get from each food type: Carbohydrates, Fats, and Proteins.
You will want to eat less than 50g of carbohydrates a day. Some diets take this even further to less than 20g of carbs a day if they are following a particularly strict form of the diet.
On the average keto diet, you will be looking to get 10% of your calories from carbs, 20% from proteins, and 70% from fats.
To achieve this requires you to follow quite a strict eating regimen and to avoid certain foods and drinks. Doing so will put your body into a state known as nutritional ketosis which will enable you to lose fat quite rapidly if the diet is maintained.
What Happens When You Eat Carbohydrates?
When you consume food high in carbohydrates your body releases insulin into the bloodstream. This is to help break down the carbohydrates into sugar molecules called glucose. Insulin then stores the excess glucose in your cells as fat.
Your body does this so that you have a regular easy access energy supply. This was great for our ancestors who needed to sprint for days when hunting or fleeing from predators. In our modern, more lethargic lifestyle this has become a problem.
The fat stores grow and over time become less responsive to the insulin due to a process known as insulin resistance. The glucose does not get absorbed and remains in your blood. The pancreas responds by releasing more insulin.
Too much insulin causes inflammation in the body, and you start to feel lethargic and unwell. Your head feels foggy, and you find it difficult to concentrate. You lack energy, so you eat more carbs to try and energize yourself, and the cycle self-perpetuates.
You become trapped.
Ultimately, if left untreated for many years, the constant inflammation starts to trigger other metabolic diseases like Type 2 Diabetes, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, and sometimes even Cancer.
What is Ketosis?
Ketosis is a state in which the body has low levels of glucose and insulin in the blood but high levels of a body chemical known as ketones.
Ketones come from the liver. They enter the bloodstream when the body does not have enough glucose to breaking down for energy. They become a different fuel source for the body to use.
Ketosis is the state that keto diet followers want to achieve. It usually takes 3-5 days of following the diet to get into ketosis. This is so all your blood glucose can be used up. Once it is gone and not replaced by eating more carbohydrates you will enter into ketosis.
Do not confuse the state of ketosis with ketoacidosis, which is another metabolic state that diabetics enter into when they can no longer metabolize sugars.
Ketoacidosis is a very dangerous and unhealthy state for the body and can end in death. Ketosis is perfectly healthy and will actually benefit your body in the long term.
How Does Ketosis Work?
When you eat reduced amounts of carbohydrates your blood glucose lowers naturally. Low carbohydrate food contains very limited glucose and as a result, the body does not need to release very much insulin into the blood.
Without a continuous supply of glucose on tap, the body turns to the next energy supply, your fat stores. The liver then breaks down your fat into ketones as an energy source for your brain.
You then start to feel clear-headed and energized and are less likely to crave a sugary drink or biscuit for more energy to get through the day.
The longer you stay in ketosis the greater your fat burn will be. People on a keto diet report losing considerably more body fat than more traditional diets.
The only downside to entering into a state of ketosis is the early effects on the body. This is a state that dieticians refer to as Keto Flu.
What is Keto Flu?
The Keto Flu is the name given to the transition period for people switching from one fuel source to another. If your body has grown content on a sugar-rich glucose food source it will not want to give that up without a fight.
When you first stop eating carbs the results will be a few days of feeling tired, irritable, and bloated. You may even have a headache or nausea.
This is caused by the chemical changes taking place in your body and is a good sign that the transition from glucose to ketones is working.
The main causes of Keto Flu are dehydration and electrolyte loss. Make sure you are supplementing yourself with salts like magnesium, sodium, and potassium. Drink lots of water every day.
Persevere through this stage, and you will find yourself in ketosis shortly afterward. Trust in the process. Once you are through you will never look back, and you can begin your life free from sugar.
What are the Benefits of Keto?
The primary benefit of a keto diet is significant and often rapid weight loss. It is a great tool in the fight against the obesity epidemic.
This is brought about by better blood glucose control and less sugar in your body. This can reduce your risk of Type 2 Diabetes and even in some cases has treated the disease completely.
Other benefits will include lower blood pressure due to the lack of inflammation in your blood vessels. Cholesterol levels are lowered and improved which can lead to a reduction in dependence on taking medicines such as statins.
Insulin sensitivity will also be improved and returned to normal levels over time.
You may also notice an increase in your mental capacity as you will be able to think clearer. The keto diet is rich in fatty acids which feed the brain and will improve your moods and learning ability.
A diet high in fats will also keep you fuller for longer. Satiety will be notably increased, and you may find yourself sometimes forgetting that it is time to eat a meal. Your sugar cravings will be reduced and eventually will disappear.
The symptoms of thrush are also substantially reduced whilst on a ketogenic diet. This is because the bacteria that cause the condition thrives in a high sugar environment. Without the sugar, they will wither and die off naturally and symptoms will be greatly reduced.
What Can You Eat on Keto?
Keto foods are very specific. You need to make sure you are eating the correct foods for your macros. Foods that are high in good fats and low in carbohydrates are top of the list.
Avoid processed foods. These contain hidden sugars that will throw you out of ketosis and ruin your diet. It is better to eat a diet of freshly cooked and prepared foods.
Meats and Seafood
Steak is back on the menu! On a keto diet, you can enjoy a fatty cut of steak without the usual guilt. Just make sure that you avoid any sides such as fries or sugary coleslaw.
Bacon is a ketogenic food. As unbelievable as it may be to hear that bacon is actively encouraged on a diet, bacon is actually a staple of the keto. High in fats, moderate in protein, and with basically no carbs it is almost the perfect keto food.
Kinds of seafood such as salmon which are high in fatty acids and omega-3 oils are also a perfect addition to a ketogenic diet.
Try to find grass-fed meats as these will be healthier and less likely to contain contaminants.
Fruits and vegetables
High fructose fruits are out. No apples, oranges, grapes, or any fruit that tastes too sweet. Check a keto carb counter to be sure. A good rule of thumb is that if it tastes sweet it is high in sugar.
Fruits that can be enjoyed are berries especially blueberries and blackberries. Strawberries and raspberries can also be enjoyed in moderated amounts. It is however best to avoid them in the early stages of the diet.
Low-carb vegetables tend to be green. Spinach, broccoli, and asparagus should be enjoyed without much concern for carbohydrates. Avocados are full of good healthy fats and will fill you up for most of the day.
Cauliflower is a keto wonder food. It can be used to replace a variety of baked goods. Fancy a pizza? Cauliflower base. Want some rice? Shred up cauliflower in the blender. Mash it up for a potato substitute. The list is endless.
Cheese and Eggs
Dairy products on keto should be full fat. That's right, the more fat the better. In fact, some dieters use full-fat cream in place of milk in their coffee and tea.
Cheese has no carbohydrates so can be enjoyed freely. Though you will need to maintain a reasonable level of daily calories so don't go hog wild! Also, be careful of highly processed cheeses. They often sneak in hidden sugars.
Sugary sodas are out. Diet sodas should be used sparingly as the jury is still out on whether the sugar replacements spike your insulin levels or not. Better to be safe and come off them altogether.
Drink lots of water. Fat break-down depends on good hydration levels. You will be breaking down a lot of fat on the ketogenic diet so make sure you remain hydrated. Good hydration is also essential for a healthy bowel.
Teas and Coffee can still be enjoyed. In fact, black coffee is encouraged as it helps with satiety and the caffeine will help with digestion.
As you will be drinking much more water on this diet it is important to ensure that your electrolytes remain supplemented.
Take a daily vitamin and also supplement your magnesium, sodium, and potassium levels.
If you find your bowel has turned quite sluggish at the start of the diet as can often happen with beginners, try supplementing with psyllium husk to up your fiber intake without the carbs.
Power Up Your Keto Diet with Intermittent Fasting
The keto diet is a fantastic way to lose weight safely and rapidly. But it can be improved further with a few extra steps to help improve your chances of significant weight loss.
Intermittent fasting is when you do not eat for a period of time during the day usually for a period of time between the evening and late morning. A traditional fast lasts for 16 hours with an 8-hour eating window.
Fasting teams well with keto because they both support and encourage a state of nutritional ketosis. Fasting encourages your body to use its glucose supplies so supports keto in removing glucose and insulin from the blood.
People have experienced excellent weight loss results when combining the two together.
The Keto Diet Explained
That's it. With the keto diet explained fully and a list of foods that you can start shopping for, you can now start planning the next steps of your ketogenic journey.
It may seem difficult at first especially during the first 2-6 weeks, but if you persevere you will feel the benefits for a lifetime. Good luck with your ketogenic diet!
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