Even if they love carbohydrates, most people have at least heard of the ketogenic diet. Whether you hear about a coworker swearing by the diet to lose a few pounds or have listened to tips being thrown back and forth in the locker-room at your gym, the ketogenic diet is everywhere.
Unfortunately, there’s also a lot of misinformation floating around. But when you start by looking at the science of ketosis, it’s easier to understand what it is and how to achieve it. If you want to learn the truth about ketosis, stick around. This guide will help make you an expert in no time.
What is ketosis?
Ketosis is a natural metabolic state in which the body relies on fat sources for energy instead of glucose produced from consumed carbohydrates. The standard American diet is mostly made up of carbohydrates and processed foods, like bread, pastas, packaged breakfast pastries, fruit bars, and desserts like cookies and brownies. The result of this type of diet is surges of mediocre energy followed by impossible to ignore crashes. As long as this type of food is consumed, the cycle continues.
But when your body is in ketosis, there is no available glucose in its system because carbohydrates have been eliminated from your diet. Your body is forced to search for an alternative source of fuel and will begin to break down fat for energy. The process, known as beta-oxidation, forces an increase in acetyl-CoA. This eventually transforms into acetoacetate and then to beta-hydroxybutyrate, a ketone your body uses to make energy.
There are three main types of ketone bodies to know about when it comes to ketosis. These include:
- Acetoacetate- created by fatty acids during the body’s breakdown process
- Beta-hydroxybutyrate – though not technically a ketone structurally, its presence is necessary for ketosis
- Acetone – created spontaneously by the body from acetoacetate, its presence in the breath is a sign of ketosis
The body’s use of ketones is nothing new. It’s thought that our ancestors often relied on ketosis for energy when the time between meals was long. Chances are, you’ve been in ketosis before. Most babies are born in a state of ketosis. If you’re a woman and have been pregnant, it’s likely you entered ketosis several times as your body burned through energy faster than usual.
If you’ve ever deliberately fasted or eaten an early dinner followed by a late breakfast, the time between your meals could have allowed your body to enter ketosis. A diet without carbohydrates may sound scary as it’s much different than what we’re used to, but once you see the benefits of ketosis, you’re sure to be more intrigued about what the diet could do for you.
Why would I want to be in ketosis?
So, what’s so great about ketosis? There are several benefits that come along with it. See for yourself.
On most diets, you find yourself starving at all hours and counting down the minutes until your next meal. Or even worse, you find yourself sneaking snacks just to make it through the day. But one of the best things about being in ketosis is that you’ll experience an almost automatic reduction in appetite. You’ll find yourself consuming less throughout the day without even trying and annoying hunger pangs won’t be an issue.
Most people give keto a try because of its reputation for causing fast weight loss. After all, isn’t that the point of a diet? But the ketogenic diet is more of a lifestyle that leads to weight loss along other benefits. Like most other low-carb diets, participants usually experience significant weight loss in the first one to two weeks. After this, weight loss is less drastic but still impressive. As long as you don’t go back to eating carbohydrates like you once did, you can expect the weight loss to stick around.
Another great advantage of the ketogenic diet is that not only will you lose weight, but you’ll lose that stubborn fat that so many struggle with, mainly around your midsection. Studies have shown that where our body holds onto fat has a say in our overall health. Fat under the skin around the abdominal cavity tends to lodge around the organs, causing inflammation and metabolic dysfunction. But being in ketosis can help eliminate this type of fat, quickly and permanently.
Has your doctor informed you of less than ideal cholesterol levels at a recent appointment? You can remedy this faster than you think with a ketogenic diet. HDL, or high-density lipoprotein, is often referred to as the “good” cholesterol. The higher its level, the less your risk of heart disease. Eating more fat and less carbs is one of the best ways to increase HDL levels.
Lower blood sugar levels
While a ketogenic diet needs to be closely monitored in individuals diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, there have been studies that show a strong link between low-carb and high-fat diets with reduced blood sugar and insulin levels. If you’re pre-diabetic or have been fully diagnosed, speak to your doctor about potentially using the ketogenic diet as a treatment.
Healthy boosts of energy
Do you find yourself pouring an afternoon cup of coffee or reaching for an energy drink just to make it through the evening? Our bodies are designed to make it perfectly well throughout the day without the need for excess caffeine. Being in ketosis is proof. When you’re in ketosis, you can expect to feel consistent energy throughout the day. Your body will be able to utilize oxygen more efficiently and help you make the most out of each physical exertion, whether for physical labor, exercise, or just getting the house put together.
Improved brain function
Have you ever been wide awake but unable to get your brain in the game? Brain fog isn’t just a saying. When your body isn’t fed a healthy diet, you’re sure to experience a lack of mental clarify. You’ll struggle to stay focused and have a hard time remembering important stats and facts. But ketones help to improve brain function. The brain prefers fat for energy compared to glucose. For those who use exogeneous ketones to help them reach deeper stages of ketosis, nearly instant mental clarity is one of the side effects.
What is a ketogenic diet?
As casually mentioned so far, a ketogenic diet is low-carb and high-fat. But there’s a bit more to it than that. The ideal ketogenic diet starts out at 75% fat, 5% carbs, and 20% protein. Your specific numbers could vary. The best way to determine how much of your diet should be made up of fat, carbohydrates, and protein is to calculate your macros. We have a handy guide here for you.
Once you know how much of everything you should be eating, it’s time to focus on eating the best of those types of foods. Here’s what we mean.
Most of your diet will be made up of fat. But this doesn’t mean eating piles of greasy onion rings or binging on icing by the spoonful. We’re talking about healthy fats. These include butter or ghee, mayonnaise, coconut oil, coconut butter, olive oil, and sesame oil. Full-fat dairy is another great way to get more fat in your diet. You’ll need to get a bit creative at first taking in so much more fat. Keto bombs are a great way to add fat without compromising taste.
When it comes to protein, you want to make sure you stay as close as possible to your recommended amount. Taking in too much or too little can push you out of ketosis. You also want to make sure you’re taking in clean sources of protein so organic or grass-fed is always best. Fattier cuts like steak or ground beef are great along with pork loin, ham, and bacon. Fish and shellfish are great for variety and eggs should always be a keto staple.
Carbohydrates should be limited but you can still have some. Just don’t reach for cake or pasta just yet. You want to get most of your carbs from vegetables like cauliflower, cucumber, iceberg or celery. They’re still low in carbs so you should be able to have more than just a couple bites. Be careful with fruits though. Carbs can quickly add up, especially with berries.
There are a few things you should always avoid when living a ketogenic lifestyle. These include bread, pasta, cereal, oats, rice, beans, barley, quinoa, legumes, candy, sweets, and anything processed. You should be eating mostly natural foods but eating smart.
What else is involved?
There’s a right way and a wrong way to go keto. We’ve covered some of the basics so far but if you’re truly interested, here’s how to reach ketosis the smart, safe, and effective way.
Start by educating yourself about the ketogenic diet. You’re better off knowing too much than not enough. Ask questions, investigate, and make sure you understand what you need to do and what’s expected of you.
Prep your kitchen by throwing out anything processed or not keto-approved. Then, go shopping for easy to prepare keto snacks and meals. Make sure you have ready to go snacks like string cheese, beef jerky, and hard-boiled eggs so you don’t give in when hunger strikes.
Start following your ketogenic diet. For most people, making the switch cold turkey is fine. But if you’re really struggling with giving up carbs, start slowly and work your way up to the ideal macro percentages. As long as you’re making progress each day, you’re doing just fine.
Come up with an exercise routine that works for you. If you exercised before starting your ketogenic diet, keep going. But if you lived a more sedentary lifestyle, it’s time to find something that works for you. For most, walking is a great place to start. You want to get in cardio and strength training every week to make the most of your energy and weight loss. Again, if you haven’t worked out much before, start slow and work your way up.
Remain committed to the ketogenic lifestyle. While some may use a keto diet to shed a few pounds fast, they’re likely to see the weight come right back once they switch to their previous diet. This is why we recommend educating yourself on what keto really is before diving in. It’s a commitment with plenty of benefits but if you’re not 100% sold on it, it won’t work for you.
What should I expect?
Wondering what you can expect when you start keto? The first day is usually great. It’s exciting to try something new and explore your new dietary options. The second day you may start to feel some cravings for the foods you’re used to, like processed snacks, soda, and bread. But stick with it. The cravings will subside and pass.
The one thing everyone should know about going keto is that there’s a possibility for some negative side effects at first. Many first-time keto followers report feeling drowsy, achy, irritable, dizzy, and nauseous when first making the switch. This is considered normal and is simply the body’s natural reaction to the elimination of carbs from your diet.
There are a few things you can do to eliminate these feelings, commonly referred to as the keto flu. First, try adding an electrolyte supplement to your routine. Make sure it’s keto friendly (it doesn’t have sugar or artificial sweeteners) and has additional supplements like potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Avoid electrolyte sports drinks because they typically have an abundance of sugar.
Make sure you’re staying hydrated as well. When first going keto, it’s recommended to only drink water. Make sure you’re keeping track of your daily intake, so you can stay on top of it. Finally, taking exogenous ketones is a great way to ward off the keto flu. By putting ketones directly into your body, you can kickstart ketosis and skip the transition period.
After you’re past the keto flu stage, the benefits of ketosis start to kick in quickly. You’ll be more energized, experience weight loss and mental clarity, and have an overall change that’s hard for anyone to ignore. Some do reach a weight loss plateau after a couple months. This is normal and should pass. If it doesn’t, exogenous ketones are a great way to deepen your level of ketosis and blast past any stagnant periods.
Once you’re in the full swing of a ketogenic diet, there are a few things you can do to ensure your success.
Test your ketone levels
There are several different ways to test your ketone levels. In fact, we explore them all in depth here. Choose one or two ways to monitor your ketone levels on a regular basis. This is the only way to guarantee you’re in ketosis.
Keep up with exercises
Suddenly stopping your exercise routine can throw your body through a loop. You’ll suddenly have excess energy and could feel jittery. If you’re tired of your exercise routine, feel free to switch it up. But remember that it’s recommended for everyone to exercise for at least 30 minutes every day.
Make sure you’re putting your health first. Get enough sleep. Minimize stress. Give yourself time to disconnect from the world every once in a while. Keto is great for getting your insides healthy but there’s more to health than just what we eat. If all of you is healthy, keto becomes that much easier to abide by.
Is ketosis for everyone?
Overall, ketosis is healthy for just about everyone. After all, it’s a natural metabolic state. However, there are a few situations in which keto followers should use precaution.
If you have diabetes, speak with your doctor before starting any type of diet, including a ketogenic one. While a ketogenic diet can greatly reduce diabetes symptoms and can even help to reverse the condition with other daily changes, it can be dangerous if not closely monitored. Insulin injections are typically used by those with diabetes to regulate their blood sugar levels. If you’re in ketosis and injecting insulin, dangerous side effects can result.
One other situation in which medical advice should be sought is during pregnancy. While many pregnant women have followed low-carb diets throughout their pregnancy with great results (including appropriate weight gain, non-invasive deliveries, and healthy babies) every pregnancy is different. A woman’s daily caloric and macronutrient needs vary during pregnancy, especially if certain medical conditions, either for the mother or baby, are present. For this reason, always speak with your doctor before starting a low-carb or ketogenic diet when pregnant.
For most people, going keto ends up being the best decision they’ve ever made. Their overall health improves, they feel like they can handle anything that comes their way, and their confidence soars as their bodies change for the better. If you’re ready to give ketosis a try, you have all the building blocks you need. All it takes is sincere commitment and you’re ready to go keto!