What is a Ketogenic Diet?
A ketogenic diet consists of low carb, high-fat foods, with modest protein intake. It is very similar to other low-carb, high-fat diets, such as Atkins, except that protein consumption is limited. There seems to be a lot of confusion as to whether a ketogenic diet is a high-protein or low-protein diet. The truth is somewhere in the middle; too much protein can hinder ketosis, while too little protein can cause serious muscle damage.
Achieving ketosis will help you meet your health and weight loss goals, as well as your physical and mental performance goals. I will go more in depth on how to adapt to reach optimal ketone levels, and how to measure ketosis, later. There are several benefits to eating a ketogenic diet, such as weight loss, changes in the composition of the body, as well as improvements to your overall health and performance.
Introduction to the Low Carb Diet
When you hear the term ‘low carb diet,’ you probably just think that it consists of foods low in carbohydrates. They are also commonly associated with higher portions of fat as well, and different diets that follow this go by different names. Low-carb, high-fat diet is the term used most often, but the ketogenic diet also falls under this category.
Isn’t it unhealthy to consume higher portions of fat?
For decades, it is argued that consuming higher portions of fat is unhealthy. We have been told, time and time again, that food high in fats is bad for you. In fact, if you go into your local supermarket, you’ll likely find the shelves full of so-called “low-fat diets.” If you read the ingredient list on any of those products, you’ll see that they’re full of sugars and other potentially harmful ingredients. Is it a coincidence that the acceptance of the high-fats myth coincided with the beginning of the obesity epidemic? It’s unlikely.
The truth, however, is that there is no reason to fear natural fats.
In fact, fats can actually be good for you. When on a low-carb diet, you also take in low amounts of sugars and starches. Consuming fewer sugars and starches than your body is used to causes your blood sugar to stabilize while your insulin levels drop. To compensate, the body burns more fats, which in turn will cause you to feel fuller, longer. So, you’re able to eat enough to keep you satisfied, but you are still able to lose weight because you’re not constantly hungry.
What is Ketosis?
Simply put, being in ketosis makes the body produce small fuel molecules called ketones, which are used when blood sugar is low. Consuming low amounts of carbohydrates and moderate protein will force the body to use different resources to create energy, typically fat. In ketosis, fat becomes the primary energy source for your body because it is the easiest resource to tap into.
The combination of low carb, high fat, and moderate protein will lead to fat stores being used to produce ketones in the liver. These ketones are used as fuel throughout the body, including the brain. While it is true that the brain cannot run directly on fat, it can run on glucose or ketones.
How to Achieve Ketosis?
There are many factors that contribute to ketosis, all of which are connected to your diet. Not only is it important to pay attention to what you eat, such as carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, but you should also be aware of when, how much, and how often you eat. Staying in control of your eating habits and keeping to a strict low-carb diet is the best, and healthiest, way to achieve ketosis.
Lower your carbohydrate intake. Generally speaking, taking in less than 100 grams of net carbohydrates a day is required to enter ketosis, although it can be as few as 20. The average between the two, however, seems to be somewhere in the 20 and 50 grams of net carbs per day range.
Limit your protein consumption. Try curbing your protein to 1 gram per day, per lb of body weight. While limiting your carbohydrates is important, the most common thing that stops people from reaching optimal ketosis is too much protein. In fact, if you’re trying to lose weight, it could be more beneficial to lower your protein take even more. Instead of consuming 1 gram of protein per lb of your body weight, limit it to 1 gram of protein per lb of your goal body weight.
Eat enough fats. The majority (60-70%) of your caloric intake should be from fats since it is the main source of fuel during ketosis. Again, if you’re trying to lose weight, lowering your fat intake, even more, may be beneficial. However, getting less than 50% of your calories from fat is unrecommended.
Avoid snacking when you’re not hungry. You don’t have to starve yourself to achieve ketosis, nor should you. That is why it is important that you make sure you’re full after every meal and avoid snacking. We often mistake thirst for hunger, so try drinking water before breaking out the snacks. Unnecessary eating slows weight loss and reduces ketosis.
If necessary, add intermittent fasting. Fasting is not necessary to achieve ketosis, but it may be something you want to consider if the prior methods are not enough. There are different methods used when it comes to intermittent fasting. You can try skipping meals, such as breakfast or lunch. You can also try limiting eating to certain time-frames, or ‘windows.’ For those more experienced with ketosis, a 24-48-hour cleanse may be the optimal choice. Intermittent fasting is very effective at boosting ketone levels, as well as accelerating weight loss and type two diabetes reversal. The most accepted methods of intermittent fasting include the 16/8 Method, Eat-Stop-Eat, and the 5:2 Diet.
The 16/8 Method: Also called the Leangains protocol, it involves skipping breakfast and restricting your daily eating period to 8 hours, for example from 1 pm to 9 pm. Then you “fast” for 16 hours in between.
Eat-Stop-Eat: This involves fasting for 24 hours, once or twice a week, for example by not eating from dinner one day until dinner the next day.
The 5:2 Diet: On two non-consecutive days of the week, only eat 500-600 calories. Eat normally the other 5 days.
How Do You Know That You’re in Ketosis?
There are tests for your urine and blood, as well as a breath analyzer that will tell you if you’re in ketosis. Each of these types of tests has their benefits, and their issues, depending on your circumstances. Read up on the pros and cons of each type of test below to determine which is right for you. Additionally, you should watch out for the symptoms associated with ketosis.
Of these, urine strips are the most simple, cheap, and effective way to measure ketosis. They are widely available anywhere there is a pharmacy, and you can even order them online. It is also the first option for most beginners. They’re fairly simple to use. You just dip the stick in your urine and wait 15 seconds. The color will change to a dark purple color if ketones are detected, and you will be able to tell that you’re in ketosis.
There are a few downsides to the urine test. For example, the amount of water you drink before taking the test can affect the results. Also, they don’t show exact ketone levels; they only give you a vague idea of the range your ketone levels. The biggest problem with the urine test is that it may stop working for you after you have been ketos for an extended amount of time. Your body will start reabsorbing ketones from your urine, and the strips will show a false negative.
Blood tests for ketosis, or Blood-Ketone meters, are the industry standard. This is because they provide the most accurate results. They are reliable and display the exact and current ketone levels in your bloodstream. They are also fairly simple to use. You simply prick the tip of your finger and allow the test strip to absorb a droplet of blood.
Blood tests are the way to go if you want to know your precise ketone level, but not if you’re on a tight budget. A kit that includes the meter, ten ketone test strips and 30 needles will run you about $120. Then, once you’ve used up all the strips included in the kit, you’ll have to fork over another $3 per test strip. That can get very expensive in the long run, not to mention all the finger-pricking you’ll have to endure.
Breath-ketone analyzers are somewhere between urine and blood tests in both cost and reliability, with the added benefit that you can reuse the single device multiple times. The work similarly to a breathalyzer test for alcohol, except that they detect ketone molecules in the breath.
The breath test costs more than the blood test, up front, but the fact it is a one-time fee, and you can use it over and over again might make it worth it in the long run. Unlike the blood test, however, the reading is not exact. Similar to the urine test, colors are used to indicate the general level of ketones in the breath. Another drawback of using this type of test is that you have to have the device connected to a computer for it to read the results, making it less portable than other options.
There are also several symptoms which are commonly associated with ketosis that you should look out for.
Frequent Urination. The ketone body, acetoacetate, can often be found in your urine while you’re in ketosis. In fact, it is what the urine tests pick up to indicate ketones. These specific ketones increase the need for urination and are the number one reason behind another symptom, dry mouth, and increased thirst.
Dry mouth and increased thirst. Even if you drink enough water, if you’re in ketosis you might experience excessive dry mouth and even thirstiness. First, make sure that you’re drinking enough.
Keto Breath. Another ketone body is acetone, which has a distinctive fruity smell, similar to nail polish remover. While this is often associated with the smell of a person’s breath, it can also come off in your sweat as well.
Reduced hunger. It is common for people in ketosis to experience a reduction in hunger. Since the body is now used to adapting to low energy by fueling itself off its fat stores, you can find yourself going longer between meals. Doing so is a form of intermittent fasting.
A lull, followed by increased energy. In the beginning, you may feel exceptionally tired for a few days. But once that feeling passes, many experience a noticeable increase in energy. Some people describe the feeling as clear thinking or even as a sense of euphoria.
Benefits of a Ketogenic Diet
There are many benefits of going on a ketogenic diet. One of the most known side effects of the ketogenic diet is lower insulin levels, which offers many benefits on its own. Of which are weight loss, lower blood sugar levels, and possible type II diabetes reversal.
Other benefits include:
· Mental focus. Ketones are essentially fuel for the brain, and being in ketosis results in increased focus and improved concentration. It is a common misconception that eating high-carb foods is required for proper brain function, but that is only true when ketones aren’t available.
· Increased endurance. Eating a ketogenic diet allows your fat stores to be used as fuel, consequently giving it access to a constant energy supply. The usual way the body creates energy will only last for a few hours of intense exercise. Fat stores, however, carry enough energy to last for days or weeks at a time (or longer).
· Prevent epileptic seizures. The ketogenic diet has been used since the 1920’s as a way to control epilepsy in both children and adults. Many patients forewent anti-seizure medication because of nasty side effects such as drowsiness and personality changes.
· Fewer aches and afflictions. Eating a ketogenic diet has been shown to lead to fewer cases of heartburn, upset stomach, sugar cravings, migraines, and even acne. Additionally, blood pressure, blood lipids, HDL cholesterol, and LDL particle size all normalize.
Who Should NOT Do a Ketogenic Diet?
The ketogenic diet is safe for most people. However, there are exceptions. You should not do a ketogenic diet if you:
· Are on certain medications for chronic illnesses such as diabetes or high blood pressure. The ketogenic diet causes significant changes in body chemistry, which can potentially have an effect on medications.
· Have medical conditions that make it more difficult to digest or process fats. Conditions such as gallbladder disease, pancreatic insufficiency, some rare metabolic disorders, and even some surgeries can all make it difficult to process fats.
· Are currently pregnant or breastfeeding. Limiting your protein intake while pregnant or breastfeeding can be detrimental to both mother and child.
Foods You Should Eat on a Ketogenic Diet.
· Grass-fed/wild meat. Grass-fed beef, lamb, and venison. Wild-caught and fresh fish and other seafood. Pastured poultry (and poultry products like eggs) and pork.
· Vegetables. Non-starchy vegetables, which grow above ground. Leafy greens such as spinach, chives, and lettuce are good. Other great non-starchy vegetables include celery, dark leaf kale, radishes, cucumber, asparagus, and summer squash.
· Natural Fats. Saturated fats from butter, some poultry, and even coconut oil are good for ketosis. Polyunsaturated omega 3s are also extremely beneficial and are in some seafood.
· Snacks. Avocados are high in fats and a great snack. Nuts and seeds like macadamia nuts, pecans, walnuts, sunflower seeds, and almonds.
· Liquids. Water, black coffee, tea.
Foods You Should Avoid on a Ketogenic Diet.
· Sugars. Artificial sweeteners, tropical fruit, soft drinks, sweet beverages, candy.
· Starches. Grains, such as bread, pasta, rice, wheat, potatoes, oats.
· Factory-farmed meats. Such as pork, poultry, beef, and fish.
· Processed foods. Many processed foods contain ingredients that can be harmful to your health and diet.