What Is Keto Diet?
Keto or ketogenic diet is a low-carb, high-fat diet. It entails significantly reducing carbohydrate intake while simultaneously increasing fat intake.
The ketogenic diet works by replacing carbohydrates with fat as the primary energy source for the body. Typically, the Keto diet is composed of a maximum of 5% carbs and 60%-75% fats enabling the body to trigger ketosis.
Ketosis is a state of metabolism where fat is turned to ketones and used as a source of fuel in place of glucose. Low carbohydrate intake means no glucose for instant energy hence the body has to shift metabolism and burn fat instead.
There are up to 10 different varieties of Keto diets with the same principles but different approaches. These include:
- Standard Keto Diet – allows only 5% carbs and is best suited for those seeking weight loss.
- Strict/Therapeutic Keto Diet – allows the lowest carbohydrate intake and is best for treating epilepsy.
- Targeted Keto Diet – Allows 25g of carbs 30-45 minutes before a workout. It is best for athletes and fitness enthusiasts.
- High-protein Keto Diet – Allows a higher intake of proteins and is best for bodybuilders
- Cyclical Keto Diet – It is not as restrictive as it allows intervals of carb intake. For example, one can have five days of Keto diet, then break from the diet with two days of carbohydrate intake. It is suited for people who have a difficult time adhering to healthy diets.
- Lazy Keto Diet – Involves keeping track of your carbohydrate intake only by keeping it at 50g per day. You can play about with fat and proteins as you please. Best for those who have a hard time tracking calorie.
- Mediterranean Keto Diet – Similar to standard Keto diet but focuses on the quality of fats ingested. Emphasizes high-quality Mediterranean fats like Omega 3 rich fish and olive oil.
- Dirty Keto – Similar to standard Keto diet with the only difference being that you can acquire the macronutrients from any source including processed foods. It is convenient for those who have little time for meal prep.
- Clean Keto Diet – The opposite of dirty Keto. In this diet, macronutrients are sourced from organic and whole foods only.
Note, however, that research into Keto diet is focused on Standard Keto Diet and High-protein Keto Diet as does this article. While the above Keto variations give you options, there is minimal research into the long-term effectiveness.
How Does Keto Diet Work?
To understand how the Ketogenic diet works, we need to understand the body’s metabolism process.
The body relies on glucose or blood sugar as its primary source of energy. Glucose is produced when carbs are broken down during digestion.
Glucose is an instant source of energy and is absorbed into the bloodstream immediately. Excess glucose, however, is converted to fat or adipose tissue and stored in the body for future use.
During low glucose states like fasting or prolonged exercise, the body breaks down the stored away fat for energy. The switch in energy source from glucose to fatty acid is known as Ketosis.
Now you know where Keto diet gets its name from.
When ketosis is triggered by natural causes such as diet, the process is referred to as Physiologic ketosis. Physiologic Ketosis is safe for you because the acid-base homeostasis in the body is maintained.
During Ketosis, there is an elevation of ketone body fatty acids in the blood in response to low glucose levels. The ketone bodies are produced by the liver through a process called ketogenesis that occurs in the mitochondrial liver cells.
Ketone bodies are used as an alternative source of energy for body cells and organs including the brain
The low carb intake required for Keto diet naturally forces the body into a state of Ketosis known as nutritional ketosis. Burning adipose tissue for energy explains why Keto diet is effective for weight loss.
Once you start on the Keto diet, Ketosis is usually triggered within three to seven days. The key to reaping maximum health benefits from Keto diet is maintaining the Ketosis state.
What Food Can I Eat on the Keto Diet?
As a general principle, the macronutrient composition of a proper Keto meal is:
- 5%-10% of calories from carbs.
- 60-75% 0f calories from fat.
- 15% – 30% calories from proteins.
The limited carbohydrate consumptions can appear to be quite restrictive because all the good stuff is carbs. Imagining a life without pasta, potatoes, or pastries can paint a rather grim culinary picture.
Carbs aside, however, there are still plenty of awesome food groups to make delicious meals with and fuel your body. Below are some healthy, tasty, and versatile food types you can enjoy while on a Keto Diet.
1. Seafood and Fish
Seafood and fish are not only rich in protein, but they are also packed with other nutrients like Vitamin B and potassium. Fatty fish like salmon and tuna are rich in Omega 3 fatty acids .
Some health benefits associated with omega 3 include increased insulin sensitivity and improved mental health.
Note, however, that some shellfish have trace amounts of carbs in their composition. You may want to factor in the shellfish carb content when making your meal plans.
2. Non-starchy vegetables
In a Keto diet, low carb vegetables are preferable to starchy root vegetables. Above ground vegetables have lower net carbs and are also rich in Vitamin C, iron, and fiber.
Plenty of fiber in Keto meals is important because it slows down digestion allowing you to feel full for longer. Non-starchy vegetables are also rich in antioxidants that protect body cells from damage .
Low carb vegetables are also great substitutes for tasty comfort carbs. Zucchini noodles and spaghetti squash for instance can replace pasta and spaghetti.
Other great non-starchy vegetables for Keto diet include, spinach, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, kale, and cauliflower. That should give you plenty to work with.
3. Butter and Cream
Both butter and cream only contain trace amounts of carbs but are loaded with good fats. They
Cheese is a textbook example of Keto-friendly food. It is high in fat, has close to zero carbs, and has the bonus of being quite tasty.
Other nutritional elements associated with cheese include calcium which is great for muscle mass and strength. Cheese also contains conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which has been linked to weight loss and general body wellness.
5. Lean Meat and Poultry
Poultry and lean meat from grass-fed livestock are rich sources of high-quality protein. They are also rich in Vitamin B and minerals including potassium, zinc, and selenium.
Meat is essential in low-carb diets like Keto because it helps preserve body muscle.
Meat from grass-fed livestock also contains higher levels of CLA, anti-oxidants, and omega 3 compared to meat from grain-fed livestock. You may want to consider this when shopping for your meat.
Avocado is the poster child for the Keto diet. I bet every time you have searched keto diet online you must have seen an avocado.
Well, that is because avocados are super healthy. They are low in carbs but rich in fiber, mono-saturated fats, vitamins, and minerals like potassium.
Avocados have also been linked to improved cholesterol. They help reduce LDL or bad cholesterol while simultaneously increasing HDL which is the good cholesterol by up to 11%.
If you want to go vegetarian, avocado can also be a great substitute for animal fat.
Eggs are another Keto diet staple. They are low in carbs and are rich in quality proteins.
Eggs are also rich in Vitamin D and other nutrients like lutein and zeaxanthin as well as antioxidants. Although eggs have high cholesterol, they have been proven to modify the shape of LDL hence reducing the shape of heart disease.
Other health benefits of eggs include improved eye health. Eggs also make one feel full for longer enabling better appetite control hence lowering calorie intake.
8. Natural Healthy Oils
Healthy oils and fats are an essential part of the Keto diet because they are burnt for fuel. Coconut oil and olive oil are highly recommended for a Ketogenic diet.
Coconut oil contains medium-chain trygylcerides (MCTs). MCTs are easily taken up by the liver and converted to ketones to produce instant energy.
Coconut oil also helps with weight loss.
Olive oil is a healthy mono-saturated fat ideal for keto diet. It contains oleic acid which has been proven to reduce the risk of heart disease.
Extra virgin olive oil is also rich in antioxidants that reduce inflammation while improving arterial function.
9. Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are low-carb, high-fat, and incredibly healthy. They are also rich in fiber.
Nuts and seeds like almonds, cashew, pecans, macadamia, walnuts, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds are great snack options while on keto diet.
The health benefits of nuts and seeds include healthy aging and reduced risk of heart disease.
10. Plain Yoghurt
Plain yogurt is low in carbs but rich in protein.
Yogurt makes one feel full for longer. Plain Greek yogurt is also a healthy Keto diet snack.
Berries are a saving grace for keto diet. Unlike other fruits, they are low on sugar and rich in fiber.
Blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries, are also rich in antioxidants.
12. Butter and cream
Both butter and cream only contain trace amounts of carbs but are loaded with good fats. They also contain CLA which is associated with weight loss.
13. Dark chocolate and cocoa powder
Dark chocolate and cocoa powder are powerful antioxidants. They also contain flavanols that reduce the risk of heart disease.
Dark chocolate contains between 3-10g of carbs per ounce. You may want to factor that into your meal plan.
14. Unsweetened tea and coffee
Here are some beverages of choice to quench your thirst while on keto. Tea and coffee are both carb-free.
They also contain caffeine which is a stimulant for mental alertness. A dash of heavy cream in your coffee is great for Keto.
What Foods Should I Avoid on a Keto Diet?
To keep your body in nutritional ketosis, there are some foods you should never touch.
Ideally some of them might be healthy. For Keto diet, however, they just have too many carbs and will interfere with ketosis.
Grains like oats, barley, wheat, sorghum, rice, or rye are high-carb. Foods made from these grains including brown bread and brown pasta are not pro keto either.
While fruits are usually considered healthy, they just have too many carbs and sugar for keto diet. Anything from apples and pears to mangoes and pineapples just won’t cut it.
Dried fruits like dates and raisins as well as fruit juice smoothies will have to go too.
You can however opt for low glycemic fruits like the berries discussed above. Lemons and limes are good for Keto diet too.
3. Starchy vegetables
High-carb vegetables while generally healthy have too many carbs and not enough fiber. Fiber is important in Keto diet as it helps with digestion and keeps you fuller for longer.
The culprits here are mostly below ground vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, beets, and cassava. Peas and artichokes are also starchy so avoid them too.
Legumes are nutritious high-quality proteins. But they just have too many carbs hence are not pro ketosis.
Avoid eating chickpeas, all types of beans, and lentils
5. Processed meat
Processed meat may contain hidden carbs infused during production. Check the package for nutritional information before purchasing processed meat, or avoid them altogether.
Although hone is the most natural food on earth, it just has too much sugar for keto.
You will have to give up a lot of beverages. No sweetened tea or coffee, soda, ales, juices, smoothies, vitamin water, tonic water, or hot chocolate.
You can have as much water as you want though. A slice of lemon or lime in your water is ok.
Unsweetened tea or coffee is also acceptable.
Health Benefits of Keto Diet
Scientific research into Keto diet has linked the diet to the following health benefits.
1. Weight loss
Keto diet is rich in fiber and low in carbs letting one feel fuller for longer and limiting calorie intake. The fat-burning mechanism will also help one lose unnecessary visceral fat.
Research study into weight-loss diets has shown that low-carb diets like Keto are more effective compared to low-fat diets. People on low-carb diets have more dramatic weight loss results over shorter periods.
2. Improved cholesterol
High-density lipoproteins (HDL) are good fats while low-density lipoproteins (LDL) are bad fats. The higher your HDL levels are relative to your LDL levels the lower your risk of heart diseases and vice versa.
Fat is a better source of HDL compared to carbs that’s why high-fat keto diet is good for the heart.
Smaller particles of LDL mean higher LDL levels in the blood and thus greater risk of heart disease. How Keto diet works is that it morphs the LDL particles making them larger but fewer.
Fewer LDL particles mean reduced LDL levels in the blood hence reduced risk of heart disease.
3. Reduced blood sugar and insulin
Scientific research shows that reducing the amount of carbohydrates ingested drastically reduces the amount of blood sugar and lowers insulin levels.
People with type II diabetes on Keto diet can reduce their medication by up to 50%. However, if you are on medication ensure that you consult your doctor before taking up any diets.
Apart from the above general health benefits, Keto diet has also been proved to be efficient in managing the following health conditions:
- Heart Disease
Keto improves HDL levels, blood sugar, and blood pressure. It eliminates the risk of high blood pressure, hardened arteries, or any other conditions that may lead to heart disease.
Keto diet has been proven to treat and slow down the growth of certain cancers. However, more research is being undertaken on the same.
Keto diet was specifically designed to treat epilepsy among children in 1920. It has been used to significantly reduce seizures and even cure epilepsy.
- Alzheimer’s Disease
Although Alzheimer’s has no cure, Keto diet has been shown to slow down the progression of the disease.
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.
One of the causes of polycystic ovary syndrome is excess insulin. Keto reduces insulin levels hence reducing the risk of polycystic ovarian syndrome.
- Parkinson’s Disease.
Keto diet has also been proven to improve the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
Carbs and high insulin levels may trigger hormones that cause acne. Low carb diets like Keto cause a drop in insulin for better skin.
Will Keto Diet Help Me Lose Weight?
There is plenty of research and user testimonials that prove that Keto diet can indeed aid weight loss.
When you go on a keto diet you have to drastically cut down your carbohydrate intake. Switching carbs for fiber-rich vegetables and quality protein will leave you feeling fuller for longer.
Feeling full will help you manage your calorie intake hence stop you from gaining weight.
Second, when the body is in a state of ketosis it burns fat to produce ketones for energy. The body not only burns the fat available in your diet, but it also burns visceral fat.
Visceral fat is the unwanted fat deposited around the abdominal area. If you strictly adhere to the keto diet, all that flabbiness will go away.
There are plenty of testimonials about dramatic weight loss in just three to six months from people on keto diet. Note however that there isn’t enough research into the long-term effects of keto diet on weight loss.
Also, our bodies respond differently to different situations. While keto can help with weight loss, it wouldn’t hurt to manage your expectations.
Is There Any Health Risk?
Keto diet is generally safe because nutritional ketosis is a natural process and has no potential harm to the body. The nutritious foods recommended for keto diet will also help in the overall well-being of the body.
However, some people may suffer some side effects or two especially at the beginning of the keto journey. Here are some symptoms to watch out for.
- Keto Flu: Since the body is used to carbs, transitioning to ketosis may be rough. While switching metabolism to ketosis one may experience flu-like symptoms. The symptoms include nausea, dizziness, fatigue, headaches, and constipation. Keto Flu will wear off in time but you have to hydrate with plenty of water.
- Risk of Kidney Disease: Fat rich foods that are recommended for Keto diet may cause urine to change pH and be more acidic. The pH change means more calcium is produced and puts one at risk of kidney stones.
- Nutritional deficiencies: Keto prohibits lots of nutritious foods like fruits, root vegetables, and legumes. Excluding all these foods from your diet may lead to deficiencies, especially vitamins.
- Digestive issues: Since Keto prohibits the intake of starchy vegetables, most fruits, and legumes, it lowers fiber intake significantly. Low fiber intake leads to constipation and other digestive issues. Fibers in the gut are also beneficial to friendly digestive bacteria. Low fiber amounts can cause these bacteria not to work properly.
- Dangerously low blood sugar: While keto diet’s ability to lower insulin levels may be good for type II diabetes it may endanger people with type I diabetes. People with type I diabetes may have more frequent episodes of low blood sugar.
Keto may put people with pre-existing conditions at greater risk too. If you have pre-existing conditions consult your doctor before starting a keto diet.
Pregnant and nursing mothers should consult the doctor too before starting any diet plans.
How to Start the Keto Diet
The most difficult part of any diet is always starting. Keto is no different.
While starting Keto diet is no easy feat, here are a few things you can do to get you into the zone.
1. Know what to eat
Keto diet is rather restrictive. There are so many ordinarily healthy foods that you cannot eat.
Find out which foods are pro keto and which ones aren’t.
It is not just about the quality of food; it is the quantity too. You can always look for a keto calculator to help you define your macronutrients and food quantities.
2. Have a meal plan
Now that you know what to eat, determine what you will have for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a snack. Having a meal plan will help you achieve your macronutrient and calorie requirements for the day.
3. Grocery shopping
Your diet has changed, so should the contents of your pantry. Buy only the food types that you will need to avoid temptations.
When shopping; check the nutritional information on products to avoid carb-rich products.
4. Meal Prep
While on a diet, convenience is key. Introduce convenience to your lifestyle by making meals in advance and freezing them for later.
You can also opt for easy prep meals like salads.
5. Know the side effects
Keto Flu may be harder on some than others but it will occur. Be mentally prepared for it so that it doesn’t crush you.
One way of managing keto flu is by upping your electrolytes. Since the body produces more urine while in ketosis, consume more sodium and potassium to keep your electrolytes in check.
Typical Keto Diet Meal Plans
There are plenty of resources to help you with your keto meal planning. You can find 7-day, 14-day, and even 28-day meal plans.
Here is a typical 7-day keto meal plan.
A pro keto tip: eating the same breakfast will make it easier for you. Always rotate the meats because each provides different nutrients.
Can Keto diet prevent or control diabetes?
Keto diet has been proven to lower blood sugar and insulin levels significantly. Low insulin levels reduce the risk of getting type 2 diabetes.
People with type 2 diabetes who are on keto diet have reduced the dosage of their medication by up to 50%. However, if you have type 2 diabetes you have to consult a doctor before making any decisions.
Does Keto diet allow for restrictions and preferences?
There are different types of keto diet. So yes, you can select a keto diet plan that will accommodate your dietary restrictions and lifestyle preferences.
Is Keto diet nutritious?
While keto diet restricts the intake of starchy carbs and sugars, it encourages the intake of other quality foods. Foods like leafy vegetables, cheeses, lean meat, poultry, seeds, and nuts are packed with vital vitamins and minerals.
So yes, Keto diet is nutritious.
How much weight can you lose in a month of Keto?
It depends. There is no straight answer on how much weight you can lose over a specific period while on Keto diet. This is because different people respond differently to the diet.
Can you lose belly fat on Keto?
Keto diet has been proven to burn visceral fats. Visceral fats tend to lodge themselves between organs in the abdominal area.
The abdomen is the most difficult part of the body to get rid of fat even with exercise. But because when the body is in ketosis it can burn visceral fat too.
Note, however, that while the body burns fat while in ketosis, the weight loss is not targeted. You just have to wait and see if you lose belly fat.
Keto diet sounds enticing especially for people looking to lose weight and or improve their general metabolism. There are testimonials as well as research to back up the weight-loss claims.
Like with any other diet, it is not simple because it requires a lifestyle overhaul. When starting keto ensure that you are in a frame of mind that will accommodate the drastic dietary changes.
While keto has been purported to improve the management of certain illnesses like diabetes and Alzheimer’s there isn’t enough research into the claims. If you have a pre-existing condition, please consult your doctor first before trying out the diet.
Apart from keto flu while transitioning to ketosis, keto is generally safe and healthy. The keto diet is a great lifestyle option even for people who are just seeking to adopt healthier habits.