The Keto Diet Explained
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you have heard of keto, are on it, or probably know someone who is. Keto is everywhere these days and seems to be the fastest growing diet trend around. But what exactly is keto? Where did it come from and does it even work?
Don’t worry, I’ve got your back on this one!
I dug through the research, questioned hundreds of people across the world via Facebook Keto Groups who are living a ketogenic lifestyle and consulted with a couple of friends that just happen to be doctors and nutritionists. I have combined their medical and nutrition expertise along with testimonies from Keto Dieters and my experience as a certified personal trainer and nutrition coach to break down this popular style of eating just for you. So if you’re curious about Keto, look no further!
What is a Keto Diet?
You may have heard of the keto diet as a simple no carb, high fat meal plan. The keto diet is the lowest carb diet we have - suggesting an intake of only 20 grams of carbs or less per day. Keto also requires higher fat intake, with the majority of your calories coming from fat on a keto meal plan.
This approach allows your body to switch from carbs as the main source of fuel to fat (a state called, ketosis), through a process called ketogenesis.
But the keto diet didn't start as a weight loss diet, in fact it has been used since the early 1900's as a medical diet primarily used to help reduce the frequency of epileptic seizures in children.
So how did it go from a medical treatment to a way of losing weight and burning fat?
Well, the world of nutrition and nutrition science has come a long way and we have been debating macros since the beginning - specifically carbs and fats and how they relate to weight loss. Both have been demonized, celebrated and described every way you can imagine.
But it is becoming more clear that there might be something special to a low carb diet when trying to cut calories and drop pounds. After all, Ketosis is a proven phenomenon, as I stated previously it's been used in the medical community for over 100 years...but how beneficial it is for weight loss?
That is yet to be discovered. So let’s take a look at what we do know.
How does the keto diet work?
Here are the basics of keto: The diet aims to force your body into using a different type of fuel. Instead of relying on sugar (glucose) that comes from carbohydrates (such as grains, legumes, vegetables, and fruits), the keto diet relies on ketone bodies, a type of fuel that the liver produces from stored fat.
Burning fat seems like an ideal way to lose pounds. But getting the liver to make ketone bodies is tricky:
It requires that you deprive yourself of carbohydrates, fewer than 20 to 50 grams of carbs per day (keep in mind that a medium-sized banana has about 27 grams of carbs).
It typically takes a few days to reach a state of ketosis and eating too much protein can actually interfere with ketosis.
What do you eat?
Because the keto diet has such a high fat requirement, followers typically eat fat at each meal. In a daily 2,000-calorie diet, that might look like 165 grams of fat, 40 grams of carbs, and 75 grams of protein. However, the exact ratio depends on your particular needs.
Some healthy unsaturated fats are allowed on the keto diet — like nuts (almonds, walnuts), seeds, avocados, tofu, and olive oil. But saturated fats from oils (palm, coconut), lard, butter, and cocoa butter are encouraged in high amounts.
Protein is part of the keto diet, but it doesn't typically discriminate between lean protein foods and protein sources high in saturated fat such as beef, pork, and bacon.
What about fruits and vegetables?
All fruits are rich in carbs, but you can have certain fruits (usually berries) in small portions. Vegetables (also rich in carbs) are restricted to leafy greens (such as kale, Swiss chard, spinach), cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, bell peppers, onions, garlic, mushrooms, cucumber, celery, and summer squashes.
For reference, a cup of chopped broccoli has about six grams of carbs.
Keto Diet: Trend or Science?
The Keto Diet craze is certainly exploding, and it would be easy to dismiss it as a fad. In it's early days I too dismissed it as a fad diet, not unlike the Atkins or Paleo Diet. As I've mentioned, I have an extensive background as a personal trainer and nutrition coach. And I have always steered myself and my clients away what anything that even looked like a fad diet.
After all, almost any type of diet can be healthy and effective with the right micronutrients and calorie control.
That being said, low carbohydrate diets do have significant scientific support and studies to demonstrate a specific advantage of low carbohydrate intake for both weight loss and reducing cardiovascular disease.
But what about the ketosis part? After all, that is what makes the ketogenic diet unique, right?
The idea is that in a state of ketosis the body may promote more rapid weight loss by actively burning fat for fuel.
But one thing the past has taught us is that the human body is beyond complicated - and theories often don’t work out the way even the highest level experts predict when they’re objectively applied to and studied in people. This is exactly why you may hear so many health professionals so frequently refer to and debate studies. And this is exactly why basing our professional recommendations and decisions on the best quality studies we have - a practice referred to as Evidence-Based Medicine and Nutrition - is so important.
So, is there evidence for ketosis in of itself promoting weight loss and overall health in many individuals? Early studies suggest that it may. However, there has not yet been any good evidence to show that the ketogenic diet is superior to other low carbohydrate diets for weight loss.
So what results could you expect from Keto?
An effective keto diet can lead to many positive results - although it depends on what results you’re looking for to determine if this diet is right for you.
In particular, the keto diet seems to promote effective weight loss, but again...this can be said for any diet when taking into account macronutrients and calorie control.
But what really got me during my research was the testimonies of so many keto advocates, practicing a keto lifestyle daily. I received so many reports on improvements in glycemic control for diabetics, lowered cholesterol and improved blood pressure. In fact almost everyone I question shared these same results. Many of whom were on medications to control these issues, and after switching to a keto diet almost all reported being able to stop taking these medications (with a doctors approval of course).
However, it may not be ideal for individuals engaging in high levels of physical activity, such as athletes - or for people who are looking to build significant muscle.
The Keto Diet & Athletes
A solid amount of evidence exists on the benefit of consuming carbohydrates during high-intensity activities. Therefore this diet may not be the best choice for extremely active individuals and athletes - especially those that require explosive speed and repetitive quick movements like in intramural sports, CrossFit and competitive weightlifting.
That being said, fat has long been celebrated as a source of long-lasting fuel in sports and a keto diet might actually benefit those who participate in slower, longer duration endurance sports like distance running, cycling and swimming.
In several instances I spoke to athletes such as bodybuilders and power lifters who have tried the keto diet. And their reports seem to back up those findings. Many of them reported a loss in strength and explosiveness while following a keto diet, but experienced an increase in overall endurance.
The truth is we don’t know how well a keto diet plays in the fitness and athlete world yet. The research is severely lacking in this area, and we can only go off what we know using traditional approaches that have worked. Regardless, some active individuals feel strongly about pursuing their keto diet with their physically intense lifestyle. And more power to you, provided that you are maintaining adequate micronutrient intake to support your metabolic needs.
Is a Keto Diet Right For You?
Ultimately what it boils down to is that the best diet for you is the one you can stick to - and provides you all of your nutritional needs for a long and healthy life. There really is no one size fits all approach to healthy eating, and what works for one might not work for many others. So don’t feel the need to force something on yourself that just isn’t making you happy in the long run. Not to mention if it is making you feel out of whack, tired or just plain bad. Listen to your body and choose the diet option that meets your needs. And when it comes to making sure you are getting all the required nutrients, speak with your doctor and work with a dietitian.
Low Carb / Keto Diet Plan
Getting on the best keto meal plan for you might take a little bit of strategy and learning. But with a few key steps, you should be able to get started and increase your chance of seeing the results you want more quickly. Here are a few key steps to consider as you start planning:
- Use the MyFitnessPal app to calculate how many calories you need to eat a day to lose weight
- Learn how to count keto macros
- Get started with meal prep and discover your favorite keto recipes
Want to make life even easier and ensure your meals are always low carb/keto? Or at least cut down on meal prep and cooking time? Consider trying a low carb/keto meal delivery from Only Natural.