What is the Keto Diet?
The Ketogenic diet (or Keto diet, as it is commonly known) is a very low-carb, moderate amount of protein and very high-fat diet often used for weight-loss, that offers many health benefits. It involves drastically reducing your carbohydrate intake and replacing it with fat (filling most of your plate with high fat foods – make sure that these are healthy fats).
Is the Keto diet for me?
A Keto diet can work well for people who need to lose weight or suffer with diabetes, but it may not be right for athletes or anyone who wants to gain a considerable amount of muscle.
Like any other diet, this will only work if you have the willpower to stick at it.
What is Ketosis?
Ketosis is a normal metabolic process which happens when the body does not have enough glucose for energy (carbohydrates). It burns stored fats instead, which results in a build-up of acids called ketones in the body. The body is very efficient at burning fat for energy.
Is Ketosis Bad?
Studies have shown that being in ketosis through diet does not have any adverse effect in the short term, however, more research is needed to assess the effects of long-term usage.
What are the different ways of doing the Keto Diet?
There are different types of Keto diet but the most common is the Standard Ketogenic Diet (SKD) and this is typically made up of 75% fat, 20% protein and 5% carbs (less than 50g). A couple of other types include Cyclical Ketogenic Diet (CKD) which involves taking in more carbs for 2 days a week, so having 5 Ketogenic days followed by 2 high-carb days and Targeted Ketogenic Diet (TKD) which allows you to add in more carbs when exercising (used by bodybuilders and athletes).
One study found that people on a Keto Diet lost 3 times more weight than those on a calorie controlled low-fat diet.
The Keto Diet was originally used for treating neurological diseases eg.epilepsy, but it has been found to be beneficial in many other health conditions eg. Heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. There are studies (1 & 2) which show that it can help with heart disease, cholesterol levels, blood pressure and blood sugar. The diet is also being use in treating several types of cancer (1, 2, 3 & 4).
Please note that research into these areas is still ongoing and far from being conclusive.
There is also research which backs up how the Keto diet can help control type 2 diabetes and help with epilepsy treatment.
It helps with diabetes as it keeps the body’s glucose levels at a low, healthy level. Also reducing your carbohydrate and sugar intake can help eliminate blood sugar highs and lows, therefore, reducing the need for insulin. Anyone with diabetes should consult their doctor before starting a Keto diet.
It may be beneficial for people with epilepsy as studies have shown that it reduces the frequency of seizures, or in some cases, stops them altogether. Anyone with epilepsy should consult their doctor before starting a Keto diet.
It can also help to stabilise moods in people who have type 2 bipolar disorder, in some cases, being even more effective than medication.
What are the pros and cons of a Keto diet?
The Pros of a Keto Diet:
- Weight-loss. There are many studies which show that the Keto diet can help with weight-loss and improve your health. Weight loss can be achieved quickly although this will be mainly water weight. Your body will use up all of its glycogen stores first (the storage form of carbohydrates) and with this reduction in glycogen, you will lose water weight, so although the scales might show the numbers decreasing, often quite drastically, most of this is water initially.
- Health Benefits. There are three instances where there is research to back-up a Keto diet, and these are to help control type 2 diabetes, epilepsy treatment and weight loss.
- Research has not shown any negative effects when following this diet in the short-term according to Scott Keatley, RDN, of Keatley Medical Nutrition Therapy in New York City. However, there have not been many long-term studies so it’s difficult to know how this diet would affect you in the long-term. This also depends on whether you are eating the healthy fats rather than saturated fats and selecting healthy choices eg. Salmon is healthier than bacon and olive oil is healthier than butter (all of which can be eaten on the Keto diet).
- You shouldn’t feel hungry on the Keto diet as you will be eating lots of whole foods and healthy fats, although this might not kick in until you’re three weeks in.
- Sugar spikes. As you’re not eating high amounts of carbohydrates, this also means that you will be cutting sugar out of your diet which will stop blood sugar highs and lows.
The cons of a Keto Diet:
- One of the cons of a Keto diet is the difficulty in maintaining it as it is completely different to what you are used to eating. The allowed foods are very limited which can make eating out or planning mealtimes at home much more difficult. This kind of diet is much easier to do short-term, rather than making it part of your lifestyle.
- Keto Flu. It’s Usual to experience flu-like symptoms, such as headaches, tiredness, nausea and difficulty in sleeping which usually lasts around a week. As you lose a lot of water weight to start with this can lead to de-hydration which can make the symptoms worse. To help reduce this, you can choose to try a low-carb diet for the first few weeks which will get your body more acclimatised to the reduction in carbs, before stopping them altogether. Also, make sure that you keep well hydrated by drinking lots of water.
- Digestive problems. You might experience digestive problems caused by increased inflammation and a reduction in essential fatty acids.
- Heart disease. As the Keto diet has a very high fat content, there’s a risk that you might be consuming too much saturated (bad) fat which is found in foods like cheese, red meat and butter, and can lead to heart disease.
- Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease and Insulin Resistance. A Keto diet has been linked to increased risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
- As you are cutting carbohydrates you might find that you are more hungry than normal, until your body gets used to the change in diet.
- Vitamin and mineral deficiency. You could be at risk of not getting enough vitamins and minerals so below are some supplements which may help.
- MCT oil: You can add this to drinks. It helps to provide energy and increase ketone levels.
- Minerals: It’s important to add extra salt and minerals as a Keto diet can change the water and mineral balance of your body.
- Caffeine: Caffeine can help with energy levels, fat loss and performance.
- Exogenous ketones: This supplement may help raise the body’s ketone levels.
- Creatine: Creatine has benefits for health and performance which can help if you are exercising as well as following a Keto diet
- Whey: Half a scoop of whey protein in shakes or yogurt will increase your daily protein intake.
Is the Keto Diet healthy?
You don’t have to go on the keto diet in order to be healthy. The keto diet is a therapeutic diet used to control seizures in people who have epilepsy, according to the Epilepsy Foundation. For these people, a keto diet may be necessary for their health.
The Keto diet has become trendy with many people now using it to lose weight. Eating high levels of saturated fat can be a health risk for long-term heart health, and in the short term, severely reducing your carb intake has its own unpleasant side effects such as constipation and headaches. There is also the possibility that you will not be getting enough of certain nutrients such as fibre.
How Many Carbs Should You Eat on a Keto Diet?
A keto diet is generally made up of 70 to 75 percent fat, 20 to 25 percent protein, and 5 to 10 percent carbohydrates, says Jill Keene, a registered dietitian nutritionist in private practice in White Plains, New York. The exact number of grams (g) of carbohydrates will be different for everyone but is generally around 20g to 50g per day. Many people on a keto diet count “net carbs,” which is total carbs minus fibre. Fibre isn’t “counted” in the carbohydrate total, because it’s not digested. Either way, this number of carbs is very low and requires careful planning. Eating a little fruit, starchy vegetables, sugary foods, or whole grains can easily kick you out of ketosis.
What Is Keto Flu?
Your body is really good at burning carbohydrates and when you switch to burning fat, it becomes less efficient at making energy, therefore you may feel tired, nauseous and sluggish for a couple of weeks until your body adapts. The symptoms are like flu symptoms, hence the name ‘Keto-flu’
How much weight can you lose and how Long Do You Need to Stay on the Keto Diet to Lose Weight?
It’s usual to lose weight quickly when following a Keto diet. Some studies show people losing up to 44 lbs over 4 months. However, because of the uncertainty of the effects of this diet long-term and the risk of developing nutritional deficiencies, it is recommended that you only follow diet for 12 weeks. When people stop eating a keto diet and start to eat more carbs, they usually put on some weight, with some regaining all the weight that they lost and even more. This may be because they have felt deprived on the eating plan.
Long-term studies show that there’s not much difference in weight loss between Keto and other diets. One meta-analysis published in October 2013 in the BMJ compared adults on a ketogenic diet (eating less than 50g of carbs) with those on a conventional low-fat diet. After at least a year, those on the keto diet lost an additional two pounds compared with the group who slashed fat. The bottom line is that diets, including keto, may help you lose the same amount of weight in the long run. Therefore, know that there may be a better option out there for you, says Keatley.
Will the Keto Diet Affect Your Cholesterol Levels?
You might find that you are eating more saturated fat such as butter, bacon, cream and coconut oil which can raise cholesterol and put you at risk of heart disease. A study on obese patients, however, found that after 24 weeks on a Keto diet, cholesterol levels dropped, with LDL cholesterol decreasing, and HDL cholesterol increasing. This could be because any weight loss tends to lower cholesterol. It could simply depend on the type of fat that you are eating on the diet. Lowering the amount of saturated fat that you eat is associated with lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol levels whilst having higher amounts of monounsaturated fats such as olive oil and avocado is associated with increasing HDL (good) cholesterol levels.
Can You Drink Alcohol on the Keto Diet?
Yes, you can drink small amounts of alcohol. As a rule, spirits are best with slimline mixers. You will have to adjust the carbs that you eat in other foods. Eg. You might have to sacrifice a serving of strawberries for your alcoholic drink.
What Fruits Can I Eat on the Ketogenic Diet?
Fruit is generally not included in the Keto diet as it is so high in natural sugar. You can, however, have small amounts of berries which have lower amounts of carbohydrates.
Below is a list of the foods that you should and shouldn’t eat on the Keto diet together with a sample 7-day meal plan:
What can I eat on a Keto Diet?
Any meat including red meat, steak, chicken, pork and bacon
Fish such as trout, salmon, mackerel and tuna
Butter and cream
Nuts and seeds
Healthy oils such as extra virgin olive oil and avocado oil
Low-carb vegetables such as most green vegetables, tomatoes, onions and peppers
Salt, pepper, herbs and spices
What foods should I avoid on a Keto Diet?
Foods with a high sugar content such as fizzy drinks, fruit juice, smoothies, chocolate, biscuits, cake, ice-cream etc.
Rice, pasta and cereal.
All fruit, except small amounts of berries.
Kidney beans, peas, chickpeas and lentils
Potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots and parsnips.
Low-fat or diet products.
Any sauces/dressings which contain sugar or unhealthy fat.
Unhealthy fats such as mayonnaise or vegetable oil.
Order fish/meat and replace any carbohydrates, such as potatoes, with extra veg.
Order egg-based dishes such as omelettes or eggs and bacon.
Try ordering a bun-less burger and swap the chips for salad or vegetables. You can add extra cheese, bacon or eggs.
If you are eating Mexican food, you can have any meat dish with extra cheese, guacamole, salsa and sour cream.
You can still have dessert too, just ask for the cheeseboard or berries with cream.
Meal Planning Keto
It’s a good idea to plan your meals if you are wanting to follow a Keto diet as, with other diets, this will prevent you from choosing the wrong foods when in a rush or when you are tired. (Meal planning Keto and meal prepping Keto).
Below is an idea of a sample meal plan on a Ketogenic Diet:
Day 1 – Breakfast – Scrambled egg on spinach with avocado
Lunch – Chicken and feta cheese salad with olive oil
Dinner – Salmon with asparagus cooked in butter
Day 2 – Breakfast – Bacon, eggs and tomatoes
Lunch – Prawn salad with avocado and cheese
Dinner – Steak and eggs with a side salad
Day 3 – Breakfast – Smoothie made with almond milk, greens, almond butter, and
Lunch – Burger with cheese, salsa and guacamole
Dinner – Salmon with asparagus cooked in butter
Day 4 – Breakfast – Ham and cheese omelette
Lunch – Tomatoes stuffed with tuna salad
Dinner – Beef stir-fry cooked in coconut oil with vegetables
Day 5 – Breakfast – Fried eggs with bacon and mushrooms
Lunch – Grilled salmon with spinach salad
Dinner – Burger with bacon, egg and cheese
Day 6 – Breakfast – Omelette with avocado, mushroom and smoked salmon
Lunch – Chicken skewers on a bed of greens with cucumber and goats
Dinner – Meatballs, cheese and vegetables
Day 7 – Breakfast – Greek yogurt with peanut butter, cocoa powder and stevia
Lunch – Ham and cheese with nuts
Dinner – Chicken stuffed with pesto and cream cheese with vegetables
Snacks – Meat or fish
1-2 hard-boiled eggs
Celery or cucumber with salsa or guacamole
Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, with cream
85%-90% dark chocolate
A handful of nuts
Greek yogurt with almond/peanut butter and cocoa powder
A low-carb milkshake using almond milk, cocoa powder and almond/
Here’s an interesting fact before you decide whether to try the Keto diet:
The Inuit people in the Arctic eat a natural high fat, low carb diet of fish and seal blubber. They have acquired a gene which stops them from going into ketogenesis. If the Keto diet was a healthy diet, why would the only people who eat it naturally develop a gene to stop ketogenesis?
The Keto diet isn’t something that you should do without medical supervision as you are eliminating an entire food group.
Please discuss with your doctor before starting the Keto diet.