Maintaining a low-carb, high-fat diet (keto diet) is beneficial for weight loss. Most importantly, according to an increasing number of studies, it helps reduce risk factors for diabetes, heart diseases, stroke, Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, and more.
The keto diet promotes fresh whole foods like meat, fish, veggies, and healthy fats and oils, and greatly reduces processed chemically treated foods.
It’s a diet that you can sustain long-term and enjoy. What’s not to enjoy about a diet that encourages eating bacon and eggs for breakfast!
Carbs (sugar) cause blood glucose spikes, which result in
crashes soon after, followed by cravings for more carbs. This
cycle causes constant spikes in insulin and eventually may lead
to prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.
Studies consistently show that a keto diet helps people lose more weight, improve energy levels throughout the day, and stay satiated longer.
The increased satiety and improved energy levels are attributed to most of the calories coming from fat, which is very slow to digest and calorically dense.
As a result, keto dieters commonly consume fewer calories because they’re satiated longer and don’t feel the need to eat as much or as often.
Why Go Keto?
When you eat a ketogenic diet, your body becomes efficient at burning fat for fuel. This is great for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which is that fat contains more than double the calories of most carbs, so you need to eat far less food by weight every day.
Your body more readily burns the fat it has stored (the fat you’re trying to get rid of), resulting in more weight loss.
Using fat for fuel provides consistent energy levels, and it does not spike your blood glucose, so you don’t experience the highs and lows when eating large amounts of carbs.
Consistent energy levels throughout your day mean you can get more done and feel less tired doing so. In addition to those benefits, eating a keto diet in the long term has been
- Result in more weight loss (specifically body fat)
- Reduce blood sugar and insulin resistance (commonly reversing prediabetes and type 2 diabetes)
- Reduce triglyceride levels
- Reduce blood pressure
- Improve levels of HDL (good) and LDL (bad) cholesterol
- Improve brain function
Getting into Ketosis
When eating a high-carb diet, your body is in a metabolic state of glycolysis, which simply means that most of the energy your body uses comes from blood glucose.
In this state, after each meal, your blood glucose is spiked causing higher levels of insulin, which promotes storage of body fat and blocking the release of fat from your adipose (fat storage) tissues.
In contrast, a low-carb, high-fat diet puts your body into a metabolic state called ketosis. Your body breaks down fat into ketone bodies (ketones) for fuel as its primary source of energy.
In ketosis, your body readily burns fat for energy, and fat reserves are constantly released and consumed. It’s a normal state—whenever you’re low on carbs for a few days, your body will do this naturally.
Fats (fatty acids) and protein (amino acids) are essential for survival. There is no such thing as an essential carbohydrate. It simply does not exist.
Most cells in your body use ketones and glucose for fuel. For cells that can only take glucose, like parts of the brain, the glycerol derived from dietary fats is made into glucose by the liver through gluconeogenesis.
The main goal of the keto diet is to keep you in nutritional ketosis all the time. For those just starting the keto diet, to be fully keto-adapted usually takes anywhere from four to eight weeks.
Once you become keto-adapted, glycogen (the glucose stored in your muscles and liver) decreases, you carry less water weight, your muscle endurance increases, and your overall energy levels are higher than before.
Also, if you kick yourself out of ketosis by eating too many carbs, you return to ketosis much sooner than when you were not keto-adapted.
Additionally, once you are keto-adapted, you can generally eat up to 50 grams of carbs per day and still maintain ketosis.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU HAVE DIABETES
If you have diabetes, a low-carb diet can still work for you. For type 2 diabetes, it can begin to reverse the condition; for type 1 diabetics, it can greatly improve blood sugar control.
Always consult with your doctor before beginning a low-carb diet, especially with type 1 diabetes, because if you take medications, you may have to immediately decrease your doses.
Your doctor may recommend doing a trial under their supervision so they can monitor your blood glucose levels and insulin doses.
Additionally, for type 1 diabetes, you should eat over 50 grams of carbohydrates per day to prevent ketoacidosis. Ketoacidosis is a toxic metabolic state that occurs when the body fails to regulate ketone production.
The result is a severe accumulation of keto acids, which causes the pH of the blood to decrease substantially, making the blood more acidic.
The most common causes of ketoacidosis are type 1 diabetes, prolonged alcoholism, and extreme starvation, which can result in diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), alcoholic ketoacidosis, and starvation ketoacidosis, respectively.
Ketoacidosis rarely occurs for reasons other than type 1 diabetics.
Living in Ratios
Just like the USDA’s Food Pyramid, the keto diet is built on ratios. It’s important to get the right balance of macronutrients so your body has the energy it needs and you’re not missing any essential fat or protein in your diet.
Macronutrients are what foods are made of. They are fat, protein and carbohydrates. Each type of macronutrient provides a certain amount of energy (calories) per gram consumed.
- Fat provides about 9 calories per gram
- Protein provides about 4 calories per gram
- Carbohydrates provide about 4 calories per gram
On the keto diet, 65 to 75 percent of the calories you consume should come from fat. About 20 to 25 percent should come from protein, and the remaining 5 percent or so from carbohydrates.
Keep in mind that 2000 calories are just an example—the number of calories you consume daily should be tailored to your body, activity levels, and goals.
The number of calories you should eat depends on a few factors, including:
- Current lean body weight (total body weight minus body fat)
- Daily activity levels (do you work in an office, wait tables, compete as a professional athlete?)
- Workout regimen? If so:
- The types of workouts (weight lifting, cardio, or both)
- Hours per week of each type
- Lose weight
- Maintain weight
- Gain muscle
There are many ketogenic-based macro calculators available online, such as tasteaholics.com/keto-calculator and ketogains.com/ketogains-calculator.
You can also find plenty of others through a quick Google search for “keto calculator.” You’ll be able to easily and quickly plug in your numbers and get an immediate estimation of your body’s caloric needs.
One of the great things about the keto diet is that it’s not necessary to track each and every number to hit your goals.
Yet if you want to track, it’s a great way to speed up your progress, and tracking will give you a visual reminder to stay on the course every day.
It’s crucial to drink plenty of water when beginning the keto diet. You may even notice that you’re visiting the bathroom more often, and that’s normal!
This happens because you’re cutting out a lot of processed foods and have started eating more whole, natural foods instead.
Processed foods have a lot of added sodium, and the sudden change in diet causes a sudden drop in sodium intake.
Additionally, the reduction in carbs reduces insulin levels, which in turn tells your kidneys to release excess stored sodium.
Between the reduction in sodium intake and flushing of excess stored sodium, the body begins to excrete much more water than usual, and you end up low on sodium and other electrolytes.
When this happens, you may experience symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, coughing, sniffles, irritability, and/or nausea.
This state is generally known as the “keto flu.” It’s very important to know that this is not the actual influenza virus.
It’s called the keto flu only due to the similarity in symptoms, but it’s neither contagious nor a real virus.
Many who experience these symptoms believe the keto diet made them sick and immediately go back to eating carbs.
But the keto flu phase actually means your body is withdrawing from sugar, high carbs, and processed foods, and is readjusting so it can use fat as its fuel.
The keto flu usually lasts just a few days while the body readjusts. You can abate its symptoms by adding more sodium and electrolytes to your diet.
Getting Ready to Go Keto
Now that you understand the benefits and science behind the ketogenic diet, you’re ready to get started.