What is a ketogenic diet?
A ketogenic diet is any diet that causes ketones to be produced by the liver, shifting the body’s metabolism away from glucose towards fat utilization. Typically on a moderate to high carb diet, the body will prefer glucose for fuel (usually from dietary carbs), but by restricting carbs, the body will prefer fat for fuel. By inducing ketosis, a series of adaptations will take place.
Ketosis is also an effective way to control your blood sugar. When you eat something high in carbohydrates, your body produces insulin to get rid of all the sugar in your blood. But since there is already carbs to be used for fuel, your body will be storing fat cells and not releasing any to be burned. So by reducing carbs and being in ketosis, your insulin levels will be regulated at a lower level, and your body will want to access your body fat for fuel instead. In most cases this means impressive weight-loss!
With controlled blood sugar levels, you will experience less hunger and cravings. Paired with an adequate protein and high fat intake, you will feel both satisfied and satiated by the diet.
What do I eat?
A typical ketogenic diet is any diet which restricts carbohydrates between 0-50g of carbs per day. The general recommendation of /r/keto is to start with 20g of net-carbs per day. This limit will guarantee ketosis for the vast majority of the population. It also does a good job of eliminating junk foods, refined carbohydrates and any other “fattening” foods.
Net-carbs are the total carbs minus the fiber carbs (fiber doesn’t count because your body doesn’t absorb it). For example, a cup of chopped broccoli is 6g of total carbs and 2g of fiber. 6g – 2g = 4g net carbs.
Your carbs should ideally come from whole-food sources such as vegetables, nuts, dairy, etc. Try your best to avoid refined carbohydrates such as breads, pastas, cereals, starches (such as potatoes), beans/legumes, and other refined sugars such as white sugar, HFCS, and even sugar from fruits.
Most meals should focus on a protein and a fat with a side of vegetables. Some examples would be: a steak with a side of sauteed spinach or chicken thighs with a side of broccoli and cheese sauce. Snacks can include nuts and seeds, cheese, or anything “keto-friendly”. When in doubt, check the nutrition label or Google the carb count to see if it fits within your daily carb goal.
Side note: Be wary of claims such as ‘effective carbs’ or ‘net carbs’. Many of these items will use sugar alcohols, which do in-fact count (at least partially) and will have an effect on your blood sugar.
Adequate protein is also a very important aspect of the Ketogenic Diet and it will help you preserve muscle mass.
What portion of fat/protein/carbs do I need?
The easiest way to figure out your macro distribution (fat, protein, carbs) is to go to the following website (http://keto-calculator.ankerl.com/) and enter in all your body statistics. It will guide you through how to calculate how much protein you should be eating and how to distribute the rest of your daily calories into fat.
In case the website is unavailable, the basic gist is to set protein intake to 0.8-1.2g/lb of lean body mass (visually estimate your body fat %; Google ‘body fat percentage pictures’), minimize carbs, and fill up the rest of your calories with fat. If you want to lose weight, you eat less fat. If you want to gain weight, you eat more fat. Carbs and protein are more or less non-negotiable, so you use the fat macro to meet your weight goals. Note that ratios or percentages are not important. Use the actual gram amount of each macro.
Do I need to count calories?
In many cases, a ketogenic diet will help you reduce your caloric intake naturally. Some people don’t count calories while others do, it’s really a personal decision! But if you aren’t counting calories and you find your weight-loss is stalling, then consider tracking.
What happens when my body adapts?
As you begin to adapt to ketosis, your body will begin to deplete its glycogen stores. Your body is normally trained to use this cheap, fast and easy-to-process energy source, and it needs some time to get used to running off fat as its primary source of fuel. To be blunt, you may feel like crap while adapting.
You may experience nausea, headaches, dizziness, mental fog and other flu-like symptoms. This phenomenon is often called ‘keto-flu’ or ‘carb-flu. Many times this is the result of your electrolytes being flushed out along with water weight. If you drink some traditional chicken or beef broth you can replenish your electrolytes and ease your symptoms. It is also incredibly important to drink plenty of water! Your water intake will keep you hydrated and it will help flush out excess ketones.
Fun fact: The body can excrete up to 100 calories worth of ketones per day.
This total adaptation process takes about three weeks to happen. During this time you may be continuing an exercise regimen or you may even be starting a new one. You may find that you don’t have as much endurance and strength as you are used to, and this is normal. Once you are fully keto-adapted, your body will be trained to operate on fat as its primary source of fuel, and you will see an improvement in your energy levels. Many even report having more energy, and more stable energy levels while in ketosis.
How do I guarantee I’m in ketosis?
An easy way to know for sure when you first get into ketosis is to use Ketostix. These little sticks can be found in most pharmacies and even online. One important aspect of Ketostix is that they will only tell you when you enter into ketosis the first time. Because they only measure excess ketones excreted in urine, they are not a dependable method to determine ketosis after your first time. Other signs of ketosis might be: a funny/metallic taste in your mouth, your urine will smell different, or you’re incredibly thirsty. But the best method is to just stick with your macros: if you have been eating less than 20g of net carbs a day, you are more than likely in ketosis.
I don’t think I can give up carbs!
Once you get over the initial hump of carb cravings, they go away! Since keto will stabilize your blood sugar, it will also stabilize your hunger and cravings. Since your body is now adjusting to a low-sugar diet, you will find that your taste buds will change as well and you can now easily detect the sugar content in certain foods. Items such as carrots and dark chocolate now taste sweeter. The longer you stick to keto and the stricter you are, the less you will miss carbs. Carbs and sugar are truly addictive, and like anyone else trying to break an addiction, the best method is to cut out the source of the problem.