Just what is the “keto” diet?
At One Fitness Camp we don’t believe in extreme diets since successful and healthy weight loss is achieved by long term lifestyle and nutritional changes that don’t deplete your body from nutrients. However as the ketogenic diet is currently trending we will review the basics and analyze what is the keto diet.
If you’ve noticed a lot of press about a “new” diet recently, one that supposedly will make you lose weight quickly and keep it off, you’ve likely been hearing about keto. A ketogenic diet is one that eschews carbs and sugar for meat, eggs, and vegetables. Though it’s similar to a “paleo” diet, keto allows high-fat dairy, making cheese and cream accessible, which for some people makes it easier to follow.
The thing, however, is that keto isn’t “new” by any stretch – in fact, doctors have been using a ketogenic diet plan to treat childhood epilepsy for over 100 years. Not only does it effectively and safely treat the epilepsy, but the kids are healthy, with no ill effects from the lack of carbs.
So then what does the keto diet entail?
It requires you to restrict the intake of carbs below 50 grams a day. This restriction induces a state called “ketosis” in the human body, where your body shifts from using glucose as fuel to using ketones. Ketones themselves are derived from the breakdown of triglycerides (fat, essentially). Your entire body can utilize these ketones for energy, and in fact some parts actually function better in ketosis, like the brain and heart.
The primary benefit of the state of ketosis is that your body utilizes its fat stores more efficiently. When your body is a sugar burner, it keeps insulin levels high, storing most fat and much of the carbohydrate you eat. This creates a cycle of weight gain that can eventually lead to “insulin resistance”, and eventually to type 2 diabetes.
When your body is a fat burner, it gives insulin a chance to reset, and your body’s insulin response to return to normal. As cells become less insulin resistant, systemic inflammation goes down. This reduces the biomarker A1C, which when elevated is a classic hallmark of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and is generally a bad thing. In addition, as a fat burner, your body will naturally decrease hunger, because the cycle of sugar spiking insulin is what drives out-of-control hunger and leads to weight gain. Without that cycle, your body’s natural hunger cues can return, making it easier to eat less, and begin the process of losing excess weight and healing.
This sounds great, how do I start?
Since keto is about restricting your carb intake, the best place to begin is by cutting out carbs. This can be done gradually, or drastically, and both approaches have benefits. Regardless of how quickly you lower your carb intake, the target amount is around 50 grams a day.
While any diet that is under 100 grams of carbohydrate a day will eventually put you in sustained ketosis, restricting your carbs under 50 grams virtually guarantees that you will be in ketosis quickly and reliably. In addition, 50 grams is restrictive enough that you won’t be tempted to add in sugary treats, a random potato, or a slice of bread – the limit simply doesn’t allow for that.
Gradual carb reduction
If you want to lower your carbs over a longer period of time, the best thing to do is figure out your average carb intake for a day, and then lower it by 20 or 30 grams a day over the course of 7 days. This helps you ease into what can be a jarring shift in your eating habits, especially if you’re very carb addicted.
The benefits to gradual carb restriction are:
- Easier to maintain initially
- Reduction in the “keto flu” symptoms (more on those in a later paragraph)
- Better adjustment to ketosis if you’re an athlete
You won’t see the quick results this route, but in some cases, gradual carb restriction just works better for some people.
Drastic carb reduction
For most people who start a low carb, ketogenic diet, the route they follow is one where they drastically restrict carbs immediately, and keep their intake low for at least 2 weeks. A maximum amount of carbs around 20 grams a day for 2 weeks, in a period called “induction”, is the standard. While the quick, sudden reduction in carb intake can be jarring, it’s exceptional in producing the benefits of ketogenic eating in a short time. The benefits include:
- Very fast weight loss – sometimes 15 pounds in two weeks
- Reduction in bodily inflammation
- Quicker transition to being “fat adapted”, where your body prefers fat as fuel (fat burner mode)
The best way to officially start should look like this:
- Map out a meal plan that allows you to stay around or below 50 carbs a day
- Choose your start date, and the night before, stop eating at 8 or earlier
- Add in about 30 minutes of exercise a day, even if it’s just walking. This helps your body burn up stored glycogen in your liver and muscles, making ketosis happen faster
- Remove all temptation foods from your house – breads, pastas, or anything else you might eat that’s carb-laden
- Remember that ketogenic eating is high fat, low carb, moderate protein, so don’t be afraid of butter, coconut oil, olive oil, etc. Replace your old vegetable oils with healthy fats
When your body is a sugar burner, it will convert some of the carbs you eat into glycogen to store in your liver and muscles. During the first couple weeks of keto, it will burn up all the glucose in your blood, then scour out the glycogen you’ve stored. Once that’s gone, your body will release a lot of water, so you’ll be heading to the bathroom a lot. This is because glycogen is stored in your body within water. Once you don’t have glycogen to store, your body doesn’t need all that excess water, so you’ll notice a lot of reduction in bloating. This will also cause some dramatic weight loss, and even though it’s all water, you’ll still lose quite a bit of fat those first 2 weeks, so it’s great encouragement.
What are the benefits of the state of ketosis
Ketosis, in addition to being the most efficient fat-burning state your body is capable of, has an array of positive effects on nearly every system within you. This makes it a powerful tool for overall health, even if you don’t have excess fat to lose.
Because processed foods, particularly sugar, cause system-wide inflammation, the most obvious benefit is that by cutting them out, you reduce that inflammation. While most immediately this leads to a reduction in symptoms from gout, arthritis, potentially fibromyalgia, and other inflammatory diseases, it also has a dramatic effect on diabetes and heart disease as well. Lowering that inflammation means your body can heal your veins and arteries, where plaque builds up and can lead to heart attacks or strokes.
The state of ketosis also stops the cycle of blood sugar and elevated insulin. This can treat or even reverse type 2 diabetes, and make type 1 more manageable.
A keto diet is also incredibly muscle-sparing. Typically, your body will scour itself for glucose if you’re in sugar-burning mode, which can lead to muscle breakdown when you restrict calories. Keto avoids this by making fat your primary fuel source; it doesn’t need to break down muscle for glucose, because it needs so little of it.
Some tips to get started with the Keto diet
Keto provides a wealth of benefits for weight loss and health, so you’re probably excited to get started. Here are a few parting tips to make transition easier!
- Stay hydrated – your body purges a lot of water on keto, so make sure you’re drinking it all day!
- Salt is your friend – because your body purges all that water, you’ll lose sodium. This can account for the “keto flu” people experience. The headaches, fatigue, and nausea can be alleviated to a degree by increase your salt intake
- Don’t be afraid of fat! Add coconut oil, butter, ghee, bacon grease, and other healthy saturated fats to your diet
- If you’re not hungry, don’t eat! We’ve been trained to believe we need 3 meals a day, but if you aren’t hungry, your body will simply use stored fat for energy.