Keto Diet Basics

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With so many diets out there it can be hard to understand how each one works and more importantly, which could be right for you. One of the latest trends in restructuring diets is the ketogenic, or keto, diet. While there are a few variations on the keto diet, this article examines the standard keto diet (SKD).

What is keto?

The keto diet is, quite simply, a low-carb, high-fat diet designed to assist your body in burning fat more effectively. Keto is designed to lower your glucose, or blood sugar levels, pushing your body into producing molecules called “ketones” to use for fuel instead[1].

Eliminating most carbs, keeping carb intake below 5% of your diet, and moderate amounts of protein deplete the blood sugar available in your system. When this happens your body switches over to developing ketones, essentially switching its fuel supply directly over to fat-burning. This state is called ketosis. Studies have shown that keto can be incredibly effective in assisting with weight-loss and other internal health benefits like increased focus and brain function[2].

That being said, Keto is not for everyone: it does not support people on specific sets of medications so be sure to always speak with your doctor before making any dietary changes or attempting the keto diet.

How do I implement keto?

Now that we’ve discussed the science of keto, we’ll get into the general dietary guidelines for following a keto diet. A rough breakdown is 75% fats, 20% proteins, 5% carbs. By focusing on the right macronutrients, you can ensure your body remains in ketosis.

  1. Restrict carbohydrates to less than 20g per day (larger individuals may need between 20-50g).

It’s almost impossible to eat regular bread, pasta, etc. on the keto diet. Instead, most of your 20g of carbs should be coming from vegetables, legumes, and pulses (beans). There are many online resources with more information on the number of carbohydrates in each food.

One thing to know about carbs in the grocery store: other than vegetables you’ll need to look for the net carbs in a product, not the total carb amount. Carbohydrates are broken down into sugars and grains. Anything with a nutrition label will tell you the total carbohydrates, then below it will note sugars and fibers. You need to subtract the fibers from the total carbohydrates to get the net carbs.

The reason for this added math is that fibers pass through our bodies without being absorbed. If you didn’t subtract the fibers from the total carbohydrates, then you would be over-estimating how many carbs your body was actually consuming.

  1. Eat moderate amounts of proteins.You need to eat protein to repair muscles and preserve your lean muscle mass. If you eat too little protein, you’ll lose muscle mass, aka strength, and not just fat.That being said, one of the most common mistakes people make while on keto is eating too much protein. You want to eat just what your body needs and no more. Luckily we have a simple formula for calculating this: 1.5g x your weight in kg. For a 200lb (~91kg) you’d need approximately 135g. If you eat too much protein, your body will convert it to glucose, taking you out of ketosis.
  2. Eat enough fats to fill satisfied.Don’t be afraid of eating fats. Unlike other diets where the focus is on restricting fat intake, keto is a high-fat diet. When you’re consuming all your fats, your body will start using it as its main energy source. An added bonus is that a high-fat diet will keep you feeling fuller for longer.With that being said, this diet is not a fat free-for-all. Avoid eating any processed fats as that will set you back. Eating the right fats is a crucial part of this diet. Get comfortable cooking with oils, butter, heavy cream, avocado, nuts, and seeds.
  3. Only eat when you are hungry.

Be aware of when you’re eating and why. Your brain can’t tell the difference between thirst and hunger, so it’s usually a good idea to drink 4-6oz of water before eating, wait 15 minutes or so and then check in with your body to see if it needs fuel or if it required hydration. Avoid mindless snacking: planning out your meals and rough eating times for the day helps.

What do I eat?

So we’ve discussed the science behind keto and the general guidelines for following a ketogenic diet, we’ll get you started with a list of a few foods to focus on including and a few to avoid while on the keto diet.

Foods to Eat

  1. Natural fats like butter, olive oil, and avocado: Fats make up the bulk of your diet, stick to unprocessed ones.
  2. Seafood: low in carbs, packed with protein.
  3. Meats: chicken, red meat, etc. Beware: do not consume processed meats or any deli meat containing sugar. Be sure to read all labels, purchasing raw and whole is the safest bet.
  4. Eggs: packed with protein and fat these beauties kill two birds with one stone.
  5. Vegetables that grow above the ground, ie. Broccoli: These types of vegetables, while containing carbs, contain fewer carbs and starch than their counterparts that grow below ground (think carrots, potatoes, etc.).

Foods to Avoid

  1. Fruits, including juices: Fruits contain sugars that will kick your body out of ketosis.
  2. Sugars: soda, chocolate, candy, etc. As a general rule of thumb avoiding all sugars and processed foods will help you stay in ketosis.
  3. Rice, bread, and pasta: these are packed with carbs, so it’s easy to go overboard.
  4. Potatoes: white and sweet: starchy and high in carbs these are a no-no for keto.
  5. Beer and alcohol: aside from health concerns related to alcohol consumption, a 12-16oz beer is roughly equivalent to 7 slices of bread.

How can I tell if my body is in ketosis?

Now that we’ve discussed the importance of keeping your body in ketosis by following the general guidelines and recommendations above you’re probably wondering how you know if you’re in ketosis.

There are three simple ways to tell if your body is in ketosis.

  1. Dry mouth and increased thirst. You may feel a dry mouth if you’re not drinking enough or are lacking electrolytes. Consistently drinking water throughout your day and adding a cup or two of broth will help.
  2. Increased urination. When your body first gets into ketosis, ketones may end up in the urine which can result in having to use the bathroom more frequently.
  3. Scented breath. Sometimes called “keto breath,” the ketone “acetone” can escape via our breath, causing our breath to smell fruity or similar to nail polish. This is usually temporary.

Finally, be sure to take complete care of you. Getting enough sleep (7-8 hours per night) is almost as important as the fuel you put into your body. Not getting enough sleep puts added stress on the body: raising glucose levels and makes it harder to resist temptations. Combining exercise, even in small doses can be helpful in maintaining a healthy lifestyle and may help your body get into ketosis. Don’t be afraid to start small by setting realistic goals. Begin with little things like walking for 5 minutes 3 times a day.

[1] Accessed 9 January 2019

[2] Accessed 9 January 2019

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