The ketogenic diet, also known as the keto diet, is a way of eating which is very low in carbohydrates. As a result of the lack of carbs, the body produces ketones in the liver which are used as energy.
When carbs are consumed, glucose and insulin are produced by the body, as the carbs are converted into quick-releasing energy. Fats aren’t needed in this process and so are stored by the body. This means that, when carbs are lowered/almost totally eliminated, the body is forced to use fat and enters ketosis. The aim of a ketone diet is to force the body into ketosis, through restricting carbohydrates.
- Increased energy and weight loss as the body is forced to use fat for energy due to the lack of carbs.
- Positive physical and mental effects, including diminishing symptoms of epilepsy, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, obesity, cancer and heart disease.
- Easier control of blood sugar as this diet naturally lowers blood sugar levels, due to the elimination of carbs.
- Enhanced brain function as ketones are fantastic for the brain and can improve concentration.
- Improved cholesterol levels and blood pressure
- Increase of insulin resistance which is a result of eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
- Possible improvement in acne as the keto diet can reduce body inflammation.
On a ketogenic diet, the foods you are able to eat are quite restricted, so it is important to be aware of what is permissible and what is best to avoid. It is important to note that, the less carbs you consume, the quicker you will enter ketosis. So if you consume less than 15g carbs a day, you will enter it pretty quickly!
You will have to eliminate:
- Refined carbohydrates including bread and pasta
- Starchy foods such as potatoes and fruit
Onto the more positive stuff – you can eat:
- Meats like fish, beef and poultry
- Leafy greens like spinach, vegetables like broccoli,
- High fat dairy
- Nuts and seeds
- Avocados and sweeteners like stevia
- Fats such as coconut oil are also allowed.
A ketogenic diet macro split normally looks like 70% fats, 25% protein and 5% carb. It is recommended not to exceed 30g carbs a day in order to maintain ketosis.
There are lots of fab websites online with ketogenic-specific recipes, but some great ideas are:
- Chicken and pesto courgetti
- Bacon-wrapped chicken
- Miso salmon
- Italian meatballs
- Cauliflower rice with roast salmon
- Stay hydrated
- Try intermittent fasting
- Consume enough sodium
- Exercise regularly – this stimulates the GLUT-4 receptor which is a glucose transport molecule and removes sugar from the blood stream, helping to maintain ketosis
- Don’t each too much protein – this can take you out of ketosis
- Choose the carbs you do consume carefully – veggies and some fruits like lemons or limes are okay
- Keep stress down, as stress can take you out of ketosis
- Sleep well – a lack of sleep elevates stress hormones and can take you out of ketosis
- Think about tracking macros: you could be eating far more/less than you think, and this will help you keep a control over how many carbs you’re consuming.
- Consider adding MCT oil into your diet – it ensures you maintain a ketogenic state and is quickly broken down into ketones by the body, giving you energy
What can I snack on when doing a ketogenic diet?
Obviously typical snacks such as granola bars are out of the question. If you need a snack, head for nuts, seeds, cheese or nut butters.
Can I eat vegetables?
This is a bit of a confusing one as many people assume lots of vegetables are out of the question due to their carb content. In fact, you just have to be mindful of the carb content of some vegetables and consume some on a more regular basis than others. If in doubt, it’s best to go for dark, leafy vegetables like broccoli and spinach.
Some great low carb veggies are:
- Green beans
Can I do the keto diet if I’m vegan/vegetarian?
You can indeed, but you’ll have to be more mindful of the foods you consume and it might feel quite restrictive.
Eat an abundance of vegan fake “meats” like tofu and tempeh, mushrooms, leafy greens, coconut-based “dairy” like coconut yoghurt, nuts and seeds, avocados, fermented foods like sauerkraut and fats such as coconut and olive oil.
If you are vegan, replace dairy with coconut milk, cream, vegan butter or vegan cheese – just be sure to look at the ingredients as you don’t want lots of added sugar! Good egg replacements are flaxseed or silken tofu. There are also some “vegan eggs” now on the market!
Ensuring you get enough protein on a vegan/vegetarian ketogenic diet is also important. Make an effort to consume a variety of tofu, tempeh, nuts, seeds, and try incorporating some vegan protein powder into your diet.
How can I reach ketosis?
- Limit your carbs
- Limit your protein intake
- Drink lots of water
How do I know if I’m in ketosis?
- You will urinate more: ketosis is a natural diuretic
- You will have a dry mouth and be more thirsty
- You will have increased energy and reduced hunger
Are there any side effects?
- Cramps: these signify a lack of minerals such as magnesium, so be sure to keep hydrated.
- Constipation: again, keep hydrated to avoid this and consume fibre-rich vegetables
- Reduced physical performance: this is likely to be as a result of your body adjusting to using fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates.
- To get into ketosis, a high fat, low carb and moderate protein diet is necessary – the body produces “ketones” for energy as a result of a lack of carbohydrates
- The ketogenic diet can have many benefits including weight loss, improved energy and improved blood sugar levels, as well as curing illnesses such as cancer.
- Hydration is key
- Be aware of the foods you should avoid – ketosis is quite specific!
- As always, this is a diet of restriction, and it is important to bear in mind that healthy eating is what is important, not a fad diet. A keto diet will not suit everyone!