Ketogenic diets are known for drastic and quick weight loss. But, before deciding to give this diet a try, you might want to educate yourself on the pros, the cons and how your body might react to this new eating regimen.
Ketogenic diet definition
Following a ketogenic diet – keto, for short — means reducing your carbohydrate intake. To be more precise, it means not eating more than 20 to 30 grams net carbs per day. Net carbs are calculated by taking the total amount of carbohydrates and subtracting indigestible carbs like fiber and sugar alcohol.
If you plan to follow a keto diet, your macronutrient breakdown will look like this:
Fat: 70-75% of calories
Protein: 20-25% of calories
Carbs: 5-10% of calories
To meet these marks, the keto diet consists mostly of meat, fish, eggs, fat from oils, a few nuts and seeds, and some vegetables. If you’re eating nuts and vegetables, fruit should be skipped as fruits can easily put you over the 20 grams of net carbs limit due to their nutrient concentration. Grains, potatoes, pumpkin, corn and legumes contain high concentrations of carbohydrates, so those should be avoided entirely. Finally, when it comes to proteins, those should make up 20-25% of your daily caloric intake. Protein can kick you out of a state of ketosis because when carbs are low, protein can be broken down into glucose. More on that in a bit.
What does it mean to be in a state of ketosis?
When your body is in a state of ketosis, it means that the body has switched from depending on carbohydrates for energy and is now burning fats for fuel. Not only will dietary fats (olive oil, avocados, chia seeds, coconut)be burned, but also unwanted body fat around your waist.
Under normal circumstances, the body uses glucose as its main form of energy. Glucose is typically absorbed from carb-heavy foods, then used as fuel for the body or stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles. When there isn’t enough glucose available, the body needs an alternative strategy to meet the energy demands and to keep the body working properly.
If there aren’t enough carbohydrates from food sources, the body gets its glucose from triglycerides by breaking down fat stores. Ketones are a byproduct of this process. Ketones are acids and in small amounts, they indicate that the body is breaking down fats, but high levels can poison the body (ketoacidosis).
A healthy person usually enters ketosis after 3 to 4 days of following the diet. The body can also switch into a state of ketosis when fasting, after exercising intensely or if you have uncontrolled diabetes. The best way to test if you’re in a state of ketosis is by using ketone urine testing strips, often referred to buy the brand name, Ketostix.
Speaking of glycogen: Check out our article on glycogen depletion to educate yourself before deciding to adopt a ketogenic diet.
Why it can be risky
Because insulin levels go down during a ketogenic diet, your body starts shedding excess sodium and water. This can lead to those initial feelings of weight loss, however it’s important to be careful as sodium and potassium levels have an impact on your acid-base balance, blood pressure and fluid levels. As a result, many people on very low-carb diets may experience fatigue, lightheadedness, headaches and constipation.
Something else to consider before you start a ketogenic diet is your activity level. If you’re more sedentary, your body requires fewer carbs than if you work out regularly. Remember, carbohydrates are essential for brain, heart and nervous system function.
Other cons to consider are that:
Restricting carbs can slow down your metabolism
Oftentimes being in ketosis can lead to a pungent breath, smelling quite “fruity” or even “metallic.”
When is a ketogenic diet recommended?
Weight loss is a major benefit of ketogenic diets. Insulin levels are lower and the body is able to burn more stored fats. It can also be helpful for those struggling to control their blood sugar levels or for those with cognitive impairments, such as brain damage, epilepsy and symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
It’s best that keto diets are calculated individually and followed under strict medical supervision. As always, consult your physician before starting any diet or exercise program, especially if you have any preexisting conditions
How does low-carb differ from keto?
The definition of a low-carb diet is a bit vague. In most studies it’s defined as getting less than 30% of calories from carbohydrates. In contrast, the keto diet you receive only 5-10% of your caloric energy from carbs. In the keto diet, protein is reduced to 20-25% of total calories to help the body kick into a state of ketosis. In low-carb diets, the recommended amount of protein differs a lot but usually varies between 30-50%.
While carb-dense foods should be avoided as much as possible in the keto diet, some fruits, legumes and small amounts of grains can be included in a low-carb diet. Therefore, it’s less restrictive and there is more room for variation.
Your optimal carbohydrate intake will depend on your age, gender, activity level and various health factors. In our opinion, more important than the amount of the carbs is the type of carbs. Complex carbohydrates like quinoa, amaranth, whole grains, rice, oatmeal and beans don’t increase blood sugar levels dramatically. Plus, they provide your body with a lot of essential stuff: nutrients, fiber and sustained slow-burning energy that lasts all day.
Many of the carbohydrates found in 8fit recipes come from healthy, insoluble fiber — the kind that helps you to reach or maintain a healthy weight and lower your risk of diabetes and heart disease. Combining these carbs with protein and fat will help regulate blood sugar levels keep them even more constant.
A ketogenic diet is quite tricky to follow and requires quite a bit of planning. If undertaken without the proper preparation, it can and can result in a poor, limited diet that neglects different micronutrients. This means that you’ll need to take vitamin supplements to make up for nutrient loss.
If you follow a ketogenic diet, you’re likely to experience side effects, especially if you also work out. In order to improve weight maintenance and overall health, we recommend focusing on the type of foods you are eating. In each meal, include a wide variety of complex carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables, good quality protein and healthy fats.
For more information, check our full keto guide infographic.