The Ketogenic Diet (also known as “Keto Diet” or “Very Low Carbohydrate Ketogenic Diet”) revolves around the body entering into a metabolic state known as ketosis. Getting your body into this state requires knowledge of what your body actually needs in terms of calories, carbohydrates, fats, and protein but largely works off drastically reducing carbohydrate intake and moderately limiting protein intake. We will talk more about this in another post about understanding your macros. In this state, your body does a few things differently. The main things to focus on relates to the utilization of fat (both the fat in your body and the fats that you consume as food) and the resulting production of ketone bodies.
There are multiple different ketones that the body is capable of producing. Production of these ketone bodies takes place in the liver; this is done to create a new source of energy that can be used by the whole body – including the brain! These ketones, as well as the fat in your body and the fats that you are eating, take the place of glucose as the main source of energy (aka calories). This new source of calories burns cleaner and longer in the body than glucose and helps most individuals to experience more consistent energy levels throughout the day, decreased inflammation in the body, and helps to shed excess body weight.
While this way of eating is remarkably successful in reducing excess weight, there are many individuals who maintain their current healthy weight by adapting the number of calories they get from Fats, Proteins, and Carbohydrates. This way of eating requires a certain level of commitment on the part of the individual looking to become ketogenic because it requires you to know your body and what it needs to feed it – aka your macros. There are a number of macro calculators available online that can help you determine – based on your height, weight, age, gender, and activity level – how many calories, grams of fats, carbohydrates, and protein are required to fuel your body based on your nutrition goals (weight loss, weight maintenance, or even bulking). For many people turning to Keto to aide in losing weight, changing to this way of eating will require a reduction in total calories – the majority of which will come from the elimination of carbohydrates in the diet – and some may also need to limit their protein intake as well (but this is different for each person depending on their individual activity levels).
The Ketogenic diet has been utilized in a number of different countries around the world for a number of different reasons. In the United States, much of the medical/dietary research on this diet revolves around its use for patients with seizure disorders because of its predilection for reducing seizure activity in the brain. However, with the increasing incidents of diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and other chronic diseases in the Unites States and around the world, more research is being done on this diet and its applications for multiple chronic diseases – obesity and diabetes being among the most studied. It is important to know that not all people react to things the same and that this way of eating is no exception to that rule. Factors such as age, gender, family and personal medical history, and genetics can influence your body’s response to eating the specific macronutrients to keep your body in ketosis, and should be discussed with your medical provider or with a medical provider that knows your health history and has an understanding of the ketogenic diet.
While the Ketogenic Diet is said to be high in fats, it really is relative. Fats make up the larger percentage of your macros, making this a high fat diet. This is a big misconception. The Ketogenic diet, when done properly, is full of fresh vegetables, good fats, dairy, and meats. There are many great vegetables that provide vital vitamins, fiber, magnesium, etc. that are low carb/keto friendly. In addition to veggies, you can also have some berries in moderation. Unfortunately, many fruits are just too high in carbs so they are not good options for those following a Keto Lifestyle. Next comes meats/proteins. While you do want to be taking in a high percentage of fats a day on the ketogenic diet, you do NOT want to be eating too much protein. This is a common misconception with the diet. You can NOT have whatever you want when it comes to protein.
Even though meat is generally 0 carbs, it has calories and protein (both of which needs to be tracked and consumed to meet your specific macros). Consuming too much protein will put you at a disadvantage as you will not have the room calorie wise for additional macros and micro nutrients to make this a well-balanced Ketogenic Diet in addition to negatively impacting your state of ketosis. While in a future post we will discuss this more in depth, the basic idea is that when you are consuming too much protein your body will initiate gluconeogenesisin which your liver turns protein (amino acids) into fuel for the body. If your body is doing this, it will hinder your ability to get into ketosis and, in some cases, may cause weight gain. This is typical of those that start the ketogenic diet and are mistakenly eating a low carb diet that is high protein instead of a very low carbohydrate-moderately low protein-high fat diet, which is what the ketogenic diet truly is. Knowing what your actual protein intake requirement is and sticking to it is vital for your health and the success of your ketogenic lifestyle. Those that exercise vigorously, lift weights, or routinely run long distances require more calories from protein then those that live a sedentary lifestyle. Make sure whichever macros calculator you decide to use takes into account your activity level so you can get the most out of your diet and get into and stay in ketosis.
In addition to your moderately low protein intake, you want to make sure you are getting the most out of your macronutrients and taking in a good amount of micronutrients. What are micronutrients? Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals you need to maintain a healthy balanced diet. This means that bacon and bulletproof coffee is just not going to cut it. Green leafy vegetables, avocados, broccoli, and cauliflower are ketogenic staples and provide you with fiber essential vitamins and minerals to keep you at optimal health. Those that do not get in the proper micronutrients often complain of constipation, fatigue, muscle cramps, headaches, and hair loss to name a few. These complaints are not only common for those not getting in their micronutrients on the ketogenic diet, but all diets. Vegetables are a very good source for magnesium, potassium, and fiber and cannot and should not be replaced by supplements alone. No supplement can provide you with a better source of vitamins and minerals then just eating a diet full of vegetables with those same vitamins and minerals in them.
In conclusion, the ketogenic diet is a high fat, moderately low protein, low carbohydrate diet that when followed appropriately includes healthy sources of fats (avocados, coconut oil, mct oil, dairy), micronutrients from vegetables (spinach, cauliflower, broccoli), and protein from meats/eggs/nuts (pork, beef, chicken, fish). It is a sustainable lifestyle that while restrictive in carbohydrates allows for a great many other options to leave you feeling satisfied and living a healthier life.