At the beginning of a new year many of us stop to think about our lifestyle choices. The willingness to lose weight and to feel better make us want to try out new diets. Over the last few years, one of the most popular diets used particularly for weight loss has been the ketogenic diet, or keto diet. Keto diet focuses on replacing carbohydrates with fats, bringing the body into ketosis which eventually results in weight loss. In addition to weight loss, many people swear on keto diet to improve general wellbeing, with increased focus.
How does a keto diet work in practice and what can you eat when on it? Are there any drawbacks to following a keto diet? Read further to find out!
What is a keto diet?
Though the ketogenic diet has become wildly popular in recent years, it is not a new invention. The keto diet was initially developed in the 1920s by doctor Russel Wilder as a way to treat children with epilepsy to decrease the frequency of their seizures – with excellent results. Going even further back in time, fasting which results in ketosis was popular already back in Ancient Greece 2500 years ago.
Ketogenic diet is based on cutting down carbs and replacing them primarily with fat. The intake of carbs is drastically reduced in a ketogenic diet which puts the body in a metabolic state called ketosis. In ketosis, the body uses fat instead of carbs as the primary source of energy, resulting in weight loss. Ketosis is a natural state for the body to survive a temporary lack of nutrition. The purpose of ketosis is to ensure that the brain gets enough energy even when nutrition is scarce.
What happens in ketosis?
When you eat carbs the body turns them into glucose which is fuel for the body. If no glucose is available in the body the liver starts to produce ketones from the body fat to replace glucose. The body uses up its stored carbs in 12–24 hours after which the liver starts to produce ketones. During this process, the insulin levels of the body remain low and fat burning accelerates. It typically takes 4–6 weeks for the body to adjust to ketosis.
Though effective in terms of fat burning, ketosis is also a fragile state and can be difficult to stick to – though the rules of it are quite simple to follow. That is, if you eat a portion of wheat pasta, it will unfortunately knock you out of ketosis and you will have to start all over again the process of getting into ketosis.
Another thing to know is that when the body is adjusting to ketosis, a common state that people experience is the keto flu. Keto flu is not actually flu but the symptoms of it resemble the symptoms of a common flu: fatigue, headache, mental fog, nausea, constipation, muscle cramps. These symptoms are caused by an excessive loss of liquids, electrolytes and glycogen and also because the body is not yet adapted to use ketones efficiently as an energy source. The keto flu usually subsides in a couple of weeks and though the symptoms are uncomfortable, there is no need to get worried. Drinking plenty of water and consuming more electrolytes can help to relieve the symptoms.
Why follow the keto diet?
Weight loss is the main benefit of the keto diet for many. This happens in several ways, such as activating metabolism and reducing appetite which is why the daily calorie consumption remains lower. This is what inevitably happens as long as ketosis is maintained.
Keto diet also enhances the function of the mitochondria and reduces oxidative stress in the cells. This may be why many people in ketosis report an increased level of focus and vitality.
Keto diet also seems to improve blood sugar levels for patients with type 2 diabetes. In addition to type 2 diabetes, it may also reduce the risk of coronary diseases.
Ketogenic diet is also still used to treat epilepsy as complementary to medication.
How long should you follow the keto diet?
In spite of being an effective help in weight loss, the keto diet is not meant to be followed for the rest of your life. The keto diet is a very restrictive diet with its own risks from developing nutrient deficiencies to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease when followed for a long period of time. It is best to be considered as a temporary solution for spurring weight loss.
The keto diet is recommended to be followed for 3–6 months. Since the keto diet is not a long-term solution, you should have a good strategy in place for life after keto as well to avoid returning to your old eating habits and regaining the lost weight. Carbs should be reintroduced back into the diet slowly. It is actually likely that you won’t even feel the need to consume as many carbs as before going on keto.
What can you eat on a keto diet?
Ketogenic diet is a low-carb and high-fat diet. Ketogenic diet consists of 70–80 % fat, 15–20 % protein and 5–10 % carbs. When starting a keto diet, many foods need to be eliminated from the diet, such as grains, most fruit, legumes and sugar. Since foods which contain electrolytes can hardly be consumed on a keto diet, it is important to include some kind of electrolyte supplement in the diet to avoid developing an electrolyte imbalance, especially in the beginning of the diet.
As the keto diet is based on a high amount of fats, it is important to focus on the quality of fats consumed. Unsaturated fats are recommended over saturated fats as they are more heart-friendly. Consuming a lot of saturated fats, such as bacon and butter, can increase blood cholesterol levels though they are also keto-friendly products. Therefore it is good to find a balance between the fats consumed while on a keto diet as well as spreading out your fats evenly throughout the day.
Keto-friendly fats include for example:
- avocado and avocado oil
- nuts and nut butters
- organic butter
- virgin coconut oil
- virgin olive oil
- hemp oil
- coconut cream
- raw cocoa mass
- MCT oil
- caprylic acid
- bone broth
- coconut manna
Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are a good source of fats. They can also be used for making keto breads since regular breads don’t have a place in a keto diet. Ketogenic breads are made from different nut or seed flours, such as almond flour, coconut flour or pumpkin seed flour.
Low-carb nuts and seeds include for example:
- macadamia nuts
- pecan nuts
- almonds and almond butter
- hemp seeds
- sesame seeds
- chia seeds
- sunflower seeds
- pumpkin seeds
It is also good to invest in the quality of proteins while on a keto diet. Avoid highly processed proteins and choose organic proteins whenever possible. A high consumption of highly processed meats has been linked to a higher risk of heart disease.
Good sources of protein include:
- organ meats
- fatty meats
- full-fat dairy
- organic poultry
- bone broth
Vegetables should be selected based on the amount of carbs they contain. It is also good to favor vegetables which contain lots of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.
Keto-friendly vegetables include:
Starchy vegetables such as beets, potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips and parsnips should be avoided as they contain too much carbs. Also legumes such as lentils and beans should be avoided. An exception to this is sprouted beans in which the majority of carbs have been broken down.
Fruits and berries
Fruits and berries are usually not included in the keto diet, especially the ones with higher amounts of carbs. However, a limited amount of certain fruits and berries can be consumed.
Fruits and berries suitable for a keto diet include:
Some dairy can be included in a keto diet. Suitable dairy products include for example butter, fatty cheeses and cream, if these don’t cause other problems in the body such as rash, acne or stomach problems.
In case you wish to bake low-carb pastries or cakes, stevia and erythritol are good sweeteners. The sweeteners which don’t have a place in the keto diet include white sugar, glucose syrup, natural sweeteners (for example dates, honey, coconut palm sugar) and artificial sweeteners (for example aspartame, sucralose and saccharin).
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