You may have already heard about the keto diet. It is the diet that makes you lose weight fast and with relatively little effort by reducing your carbohydrate intake. Aside from weight loss, it has numerous other benefits. This includes improved general health, naturally reduced feeling of hunger and even reversing type 2 diabetes!
For this and many more reasons this diet is recommended by doctors and diet specialists throughout the world.
How Does Keto Diet Work?
Your body needs fuel to run. Most of the time, that comes from carbohydrates. One of the most common ones is glucose (which is a fancy word for simple sugar). For your body, glucose is a molecule that is easy to access and has and can quickly provide a lot of energy in short time. For this reason, your body always uses glucose if it is available.
When you go on a ketogenic diet and reduce your carbohydrate intake, your body naturally starts lacking glucose. So, what happens when your body starts lacking glucose? When this situation happens, your body starts producing a special molecule called a “ketone” which can be used as an alternative fuel for your bodily functions. (1) The great thing is – ketones are produced by the liver by burning your fat reserves!
Once this process kicks in, your body enters a special state called ketosis. Which essentially means that you are burning fat 24/7 by doing nothing, all because your body is now using fat as primary fuel for energy.
All keto diets focus on entering and keeping your body in the state of ketosis. This can be achieved by sticking to a couple of simple rules when picking your food, drinks or dietary supplements.
What to Eat on a Keto Diet?
Your body turns every gram of carbohydrate into glucose. So, in order to keep the ketosis going, you need to keep your carbohydrate intake to a minimum. The maximum amount of carbohydrates you can eat whilst still remaining in ketosis varies from person to person, but the rule of thumb is to try to keep it between 20-50 grams. (2) You can calculate your exact carbohydrate intake recommendations by using this macronutrients calculator.
TIP: people tend to underestimate the number of carbohydrates they eat. For this reason, you should always aim for lower numbers.
Foods that are good for keto diet:
- All meat
- All fish and seafood
- Vegetables that grow above ground
- Natural fats (butter, olive and sunflower oil, etc.)
Foods that you should avoid for keto diet:
- Chocolate, pastries and candies
- Vegetables that grow below ground (including potatoes, carrots, etc.)
As you can see, you must avoid foods that have sugar (e.g. candies, fruit) or starch (e.g. potatoes, pasta). Ideally, you should also aim for foods that are high in fat and less in protein. Protein is not particularly bad on keto but the body is capable of turning it into glucose when needed. Aim for the ratio that looks like this: 70% fat, 25% protein and 5% carbohydrates (of course, the lower the better). Here you can find the full keto shopping list.
TIP: always read the label and pay attention to serving sizes
What to drink on a keto diet?
- Tea (no sugar)
- Coffee (no sugar)
- Red wine
What not to drink on a ketogenic diet?
- Soft drinks
- Energy drinks
- Ice teas
- Vitamin water
Warning: some drinks claim to be “diet” and have 0 sugar. Always check the label to make sure. Even when there are no carbohydrates, keep in mind that they use artificial sweeteners that may trigger your body’s cravings for sugar.
What Are The Benefits of a Keto Diet?
Keto diet has numerous benefits and, compared to other low-carb diets, it has a magnified effect. However, the side-effects (discussed further) may be more pronounced. (3)
Quick Weight Loss
On keto your body switches to ketosis and is continuously burning fat. Obviously this results in a positive side effect which is weight loss and reduced body fat percentage. According to numerous scientific articles low carbohydrate diets are one of the most effective in losing weight.
Unlike other diets that limit the amount of food you eat, keto diet is accompanied by the reduced feeling of hunger. This makes the diet sustainable and much easier to stick to.
Control of Appetite
A great benefit of keto diet is that eventually you will start feeling less and less hungry. This reduces the cravings for snacks throughout the day. It is not unusual for people who are in ketosis to only eat twice a day (often just lunch and dinner).
It’s also very likely that over time you will be satisfied and full with a smaller serving of food. This is normal considering foods rich in fat and protein make people feel more full than the foods rich in carbohydrates.
Reduced Cravings for Sugary Foods
At the very beginning, you will be craving for sugary foods, pasta, pizza, potatoes or whatever else you were eating before entering ketosis. It’s normal as this is what your body expects after years of consuming food like that. It’s extremely important to push through these cravings at the very beginning. It could take you anywhere from several days to a month for this to end.
However, once the initial cravings are over you will start noticing how the candy bars in your local supermarket or the smell of freshly baked pizza no longer affects you as much. Once this happens, resisting the temptations will be very easy. This not only helps you stay away from unhealthy foods but also helps you keep the keto diet going.
Improved General Health
Especially if you are overweight, just the fact that you’re losing weight itself makes your health markers make a turn for the better. But that’s just one side of the story, keto diet also improves your cholesterol levels, blood pressure and insulin levels. All of these improvements are big contributing factors in reducing the chance of heart disease and stroke.
Improvement of Mental Performance
When your brain is fueled by carbohydrates, it gets the energy in relatively irregular intervals, based on your recent carbohydrate intake. Because of this many people tend to have reduced productivity at random intervals throughout the day. For some, this can even last for the entire day until their next meal.
With ketones, it’s different. Remember, they are produced in the state of ketosis as a result of burned fat. As this process is continuous and happens throughout the day and night, brain gets a steady stream of fuel (a.k.a. energy) and can operate better. This results in improved mental performance, focus and concentration.
Ketogenic Diet Side Effects
Below you will find the most common side effects of ketogenic diet. (4)
One of the most common side-effects is the so called keto flu (also sometimes called induction flu). When this happens, people experience flu-like symptoms several days after starting keto diet. The symptoms can last 2-4 days.
It usually involves feeling headaches, being tired or in a bad mood and lethargic. Rarely, people also feel nausea. The good thing about this is the fact that it usually passes quickly and it’s harmless. Also, the symptoms can be greatly reduced by increasing your fluid intake as most of these symptoms are a result of dehydration that occurs due to frequent urination.
To quickly reduce the symptoms, you can drink a large glass of water, mixed with half of a teaspoon of salt. This should replenish your body’s need for water and electrolytes that you lost through urine.
Leg cramps are not uncommon for people who start eating low-carb diets. Rarely this symptom is a cause for concern but it can make you feel uncomfortable. Just like with keto flu, the reason is similar – loss of minerals through frequent urination.
Then again, this can be fixed by increasing your water intake. Magnesium or special keto supplements can compensate for the lack of minerals.
Some people experience a distinctive smell from their breath that vaguely reminds them of nail polish remover. It is caused by a ketone body called acetone. Fortunately, this can be easily fixed by maintaining good oral hygiene and drinking plenty of fluids. As a temporary solution you can always use a breath freshener.
Just like most keto symptoms, this is usually temporary and should pass within a week or two.
Reduced Physical Performance
At the very beginning of your keto diet you will most likely experience a reduction in your physical performance. If you are regularly working out, this may have a big impact on your routine.
Like before, drinking lots of water (mixed with some salt) will help to relieve part of this. However, in most cases you will just need to wait for a week or two while your body adapts to a low-carb diet.
Remember, all of the side effects mentioned above are a result of your low-carb diet. This means that if any of the side effects do occur and they make you feel uncomfortable, you can always increase the amount of carbohydrates in your daily diet. This will immediately reduce (or remove completely) the unwanted side-effects.
However, please keep in mind that at the beginning some level of discomfort is expected and it is normal. If the side-effects become difficult to bear or they last for a long time, consult your medical professional immediately.
Eating More Fat to Lose Fat?
If you have tried dieting before and this is the first time you’re hearing about keto, it’s quite likely that you are a bit confused.
More often than not, people are told to reduce the amount of food they eat and avoid high-fat foods. Even though that sounds intuitive and it has been (wrongfully) recommended by healthcare professionals for many years, the food industry has adapted and this is no longer true.
Food manufacturing companies started introducing “low-fat” alternatives to well-known products to target them at people who are trying to lose weight and improve their health. However, fat makes products taste amazing, so it had to be replaced by something else. Guess what they used? Sugar.
The problem is – once your body gets more sugar than it needs, it converts it to fat. This way it can be used as “backup” energy when glucose is not readily available.
This introduces a paradox when people who are trying low fat diets and low-fat products end up with more fat in their system.
Keto diets resolve this issue by restricting your body’s access to excess sugar. This leaves your body in a state where the primary fuel is fat – whether that would be from food you ate or “backup storage” you have under your skin.
Meal Planning for Keto Diet
As long as you stick to the rules described earlier when picking the foods (low carbohydrate, high fat), you should be okay with every meal. Also, never forget to double-check the nutrition labels if you’re buying something new.
The meals below are just a guidance. Use your imagination when prepping your meals and it’s okay to mix and match (e.g. going with breakfast meal on dinner)!
Bacon and eggs is something a lot of people enjoy on keto. If you don’t want bacon, you could prepare yourself an omelette with cheese or scrambled eggs with some side salad.
If you don’t feel like eating breakfast – it’s okay (more on meal skipping later). Get yourself a coffee or a glass of salted water and proceed with your day!
For lunch you could with a salad (beware of salad dressings) or a soup without noodles. Things like Ceasar salad, chicken soup is also something that’s very popular for people on keto.
If you’re going out for lunch with your coworkers or friends, make sure to order something that fits the low-carb diet plan. Ask the restaurant personnel about the dressings they use. If possible, also ask for extra oil, butter or meat. If the dish contains ingredients with a lot of carbohydrates, ask if it’s possible to skip them (e. g. breadcrumbs in Caesar salad or buns of a burger).
For dinner, people usually go with slightly bigger serving sizes. Things like steaks, grilled chicken, casseroles and meat pies are very common.
People also tend to make more than they are going to eat for dinner and store the remaining food for tomorrow’s meals. This way you can save some prepping time.
As keto diets reduce the feeling of hunger, it’s not uncommon for people to skip meals. Many people insist on breakfast being the most important meal of the day and that skipping it is bad for you. However, this is not true.
Your body is in charge of requesting more energy by producing a hormone called leptin. What does leptin do? It makes you feel hungry.
No matter what part of the day it is – it’s okay to skip the meal if you’re not hungry.
Keto stalling (also sometimes called keto plateau) is something that occurs with almost anyone who stick to the diet long enough. (5)
When you start keto, you will very quickly lose a relatively high amount of weight (the so-called water weight). This is due to your body’s reduced ability to store the excess water. This is normal and usually no cause for concern. If anything, this makes people on keto more motivated and excited for their new healthy lifestyle choice!
Then, people usually go through another phase during which they keep losing weight, but this time at a slower and much more steady manner. The duration of this phase depends a lot on how strict you are with the food you eat, your physical activity and the amount of excess fat you have.
Then, stalling (plateau) happens. Your weight will stabilize and it will seem like every bit of progress you’ve had, stops. Why does this happen and what to do next?
How to Fix Keto Stalling?
If you are satisfied with the weight you are at, you may not to do anything at all, just continue eating low-carb diet and you should maintain the weight. However, people usually want to continue the weight loss.
If that’s the case, the first thing to understand is that the fact you’re not losing weight does not mean you’re not losing fat. Especially if you’re exercising or living an active lifestyle, losing fat and gaining muscle at the same time can keep the scales on the same number, even if your waist is getting slimmer.
Ideally you should not change anything at first. If it’s the fat and muscles balancing out, it will pass. Wait for a couple of weeks and if nothing changes, then consider adjusting your meal plans. The culprits of this phenomenon are usually either “hidden carbs” or just the amount of calories you eat.
Eliminating Hidden Carbs
If it’s hidden carbs, re-check the foods you are eating. It could be some sauce you put on your meats or some (underground growing) vegetables in salad that you buy during lunch. Either way, this is relatively easy to identify and fix. Just read the labels and make sure the serving size is correct.
If it’s the number of calories, then the fix is also easy but may require a bit more effort. It is a common misconception that you can eat as much as you want on a keto diet.
Partially it’s true as you do feel full with less food if you’re eating high-fat meals. However, it’s still a balance of calories in versus calories out. If you take in 3500 calories but your body needs 3000, the excess energy will still be stored as fat. This is the case even if the meals you eat match the keto diet plan.
Eating Smaller Meals
To fix this, you need to start limiting your meals sizes. Start by cutting back on some ingredients of a single meal (ideally for the meal during which you feel the least hunger) and track the progress.
Another solution that many people find much easier to stick to is intermittent fasting. This usually involves simply skipping some of the meals. At first it might be a bit difficult but eventually your body gets used to the schedule and you will not feel the hunger during the skipped meals.
Final Words on Keto Diet
Keto is a great diet that helped hundreds of thousands of people around the world to lose weight, improve health and even reverse some of the medical conditions that they had before.
It is still controversial because of how restrictive it is. After all, for many years we’ve been told that grain products are good for you! It is true to some extent, but the eating habits and misleading packaging led to people over-eating, especially on carbohydrates. The keto diet fixes this and the effects have been scientifically proven.
The beauty of this diet is how effortless the weight loss is. With many of your favourite meals remaining intact and the reduced feeling of hunger, it is truly amazing to see the weight reduce each week.
Of course, you will need to fight your cravings for sweet and starchy products, but the good thing is, this passes. In addition, there is a big community of people who are working towards the same goal. The progress of others is inspiring and motivating at the same time.