Keto (pronounced key-toe) is short for the Ketogenic Diet.
It’s a low-carb high-fat diet that is taking the country by storm. The idea behind Keto is that by drastically reducing carbohydrate and increasing the amount of fat in your diet, your body will enter the state of Ketosis. This is a process that occurs when your body doesn't have enough carbohydrate to burn for energy, so it burns fat instead. This creates substances called ketones, which can be used for energy to your brain and body. When you change your metabolism this way, your body is able to shed a lot of weight in a relatively short amount of time.
What are the health benefits of the Ketogenic diet? A ketogenic diet can be an effective way to lose weight and lower risk factors for diseases like Diabetes, Heart Disease and even Cancer. And studies have found that Triglycerides and HDL cholesterol levels are often improved. People often report having more energy, less appetite and improved mental clarity.
How can a ketogenic diet improve the lives of diabetics? The diet lowers blood sugar and insulin levels, so it can be wonderful for diabetics and pre-diabetics. Fewer carbs means low to no blood sugar spikes after meals. It allows diabetics to get off the roller coaster of blood sugar highs and lows. But, like everyone else, diabetics should check in with their doctors before beginning this diet regimen.
What about weight loss? This diet turns your body into a lean mean fat burning machine. Once you get into the state of Ketosis, most people will lose an average of 1-2 pounds a week. But in experience, people often report losing much more than that. And this diet targets stomach fat, which for most people, is the toughest nut to crack.
Here's what you need to get started:
Food scale: You’ll want to have exact measurements of everything that goes into your mouth. On a diet like this, every gram of carbohydrate, fat and protein matters.
Bathroom scale: It’s a good idea to do a weigh in everyday, soon after you wake up. It’ll keep you honest.
Ketone test strips: This is a simple over-the-counter urine test that will let you know how many ketones your body is producing. When you have blood ketone levels of 0.5–3 millimoles per liter, that will indicate that your body is in Ketosis.
Nutritional tracker app: The top three most popular apps are MyFitnessPal, Lose It and FatSecret. Having one of these apps is key because it will give you all the nutritional information that you need, as well as a pie chart that shows you your ratio of Fat, Protein, and Carbs. This info is used to calculate your macros.
What are macros?
Macros is short for macronutrients, which are the nutrients that your body requires for life. Macronutrients are broken down into carbs, fats and proteins. When people talk about their “macros” they are talking about the ratio of protein, fat and carbohydrate that you eat each day. Every body is different, so the macros for one person might be very different from another. You can use this calculator to determine the macros you’ll need in order to lose weight. Macros Calculator
Is there a limit on how many carbs you can consume each day? Yes, you’ll need to restrict your carb intake to between 20-50 grams of net carbs per day. People often start out with 20g per day to get the body into Ketosis quickly and jumpstart the fat burning. Some people then add back in 10-30g of net carbs per day to maintain the weight loss. It is not recommended that you eat more than 50g per day, if you want to keep the weight off.
What is the difference between the carb amount and the net carb amount? The way you calculate net carbs is to take the total amount of carbohydrate in a food and subtract the indigestible fiber, because our body can’t digest it or get any energy from it. So if a recipe calls for ¼ cup almond flour, the net carb amount would be 3g because the total carb amount is 6g and the amount of fiber is 3g.
How is the Keto diet different from the classic Low Carb diet? Keto is much more restrictive than the standard Low Carb diet. Both diets decrease the amount of carbohydrate that you consume, but each diet treats protein and fat differently. The Keto diet changes your focus onto fat and the Low Carb diet increases the amount of protein that you eat. Both diets will help you lose weight, but Keto will help you do it faster.
What is a Keto transformation post? A common practice is to take a photograph at the beginning of the diet and one when you’ve lost a significant amount of weight. People primarily post these photos on Facebook and Instagram. These before and after photos can be extremely motivating. People can lose weight very quickly once they reach the state of Ketosis, so you hear about people losing 10, 20, 30 pounds in a matter of months.
But a word of warning: When you are posting on a Keto forum, you need to watch out for the “Keto Police”. These are people who think it is their duty to let you know what is and isn’t Keto. They are extremely annoying people so it’s best to ignore them. You do you, as they say.
But you can understand the confusion. Like people and snowflakes, everyone does Keto in their own special way. There are about 8 different flavors of the Keto diet and I’ll tell you something about each one. So get comfy, because there is a LOT to say about the Ketogenic diet.
8 Ketogenic Diets
Strict Keto: This is the Keto diet in its purest form. You calculate your macros and stick to them every single day. You avoid all high glycemic foods and keep your net carbs under 20g per day. You also determine and track your daily caloric intake. Strict Keto is the best and most efficient way to get into Ketosis and stay there. For most people eating the SAD (Standard American Diet) this will be a very big change. But the results are more than worth the effort.
Lazy Keto: As you might expect from the name, this is the Keto for lazy people. It is Ketogenic in that you cut out high-carb foods and keep your net carb amount to 20g or less. But you can take a bendier road to get there. You still need to stay beneath 20g net carbs per day, but you don’t need to track your other macros or caloric intake.
Dirty Keto: This is for low carb dieters who are even lazier than the Lazy Keto dieters. Like them, they keep their total net carbs below 20g. The difference is that beyond that, they eat anything that they please. If they want to eat a 20g net carb candy bar and nothing else for the rest of the day, then they can eat that candy bar.
Cyclical Keto: This is when you rotate through days of low-carb high-fat and days when you eat high-carb foods. For example, you could eat Strict Keto for 5 days each week and high-carb for 2. The high-carb days are called “refeeds” and are meant to temporarily knock you out of ketosis to replenish your stores of glucose. The idea is to reap the benefits of carb consumption for a short amount of time. Most Keto dieters think this is bunkom though, and decide to remain in the state of Ketosis.
Targeted Keto: When you are doing Targeted Keto, you are permitted to add carbs around physical workouts. It’s meant for people who exercise regularly at high-intensities or for extended periods of time. But if it’s just you and your gentle yoga routine, then it will just knock you out of Ketosis. Best leave this one to the gym rats.
High Protein Keto: This diet follows Strict Keto, but allows more protein. Normal Keto is high-fat, low-carb and moderate protein. But this kind of the Keto diet is moderate fat, low-carb, high-protein. The problem with increased protein is that, when you eat more than you need, it triggers the process of Gluconeogenesis, which is what happens when amino acids are turned into glucose. And glucose, of course is the enemy. So, counterintuitively, adding more protein can lead to slower weight loss, or even weight gain.
Zero Carb Keto: This one too, is exactly what it sounds like. You can only eat fat and meat. Period. I included this type of Keto diet just because it exists and not because it is recommended for anyone. This Zero Carb diet is actually a misnomer because it is nigh on impossible to eat no carbs at all. Even meat has some carbs! So you should not even consider this diet. These people are crazy people.
Intermittent Fasting: Fasting is often used in conjunction with a Keto diet. The rationale is that when you fast, human growth hormone levels go up and insulin levels go down. The easiest way to fast is to use the 16/8 method which limits the hours when you eat to between 8pm and 12 noon. So you fast for 16 hours and eat meals during 8 hours. The Eat-Stop-Eat method is to fast for 24 hour periods 1-2 times a week. And the third method is called the 5:2 diet where you consume only 500-600 calories on 2 days of the week and eat normally the other 5. If you can handle being hungry, then fasting can really speed up your weight loss.
Hopefully you will have zeroed in on the type of Keto diet that you think will work with your lifestyle
The only thing left to talk about is what you can and cannot eat on a Ketogenic diet. One easy to remember rule is this: Only buy foods from the outer walls of the grocery store. So meat, cheese and green vegetables are GOOD. The inner aisles with processed foods and sugary temptations are BAD. You will be sorely tempted to stray from the edges of the store, but just keep telling yourself to “STICK TO THE PERIMETER” and you’ll be fine.
Vegetables: artichokes, asparagus, avocados, bell peppers, bok choy, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, eggplant, cauliflower, celery, celery root, collard greens, water chestnuts, daikon radish, endive, escarole, kohlrabi, mushrooms, mustard greens, okra, pumpkin, radicchio, rhubarb, sauerkraut, scallions, shallots, snow peas, spaghetti squash, spinach, string beans, summer squash, tomatoes, carrots, turnips, watercress, zucchini, cucumber, onions, olives, lettuce, jicama, hot peppers
Fruits: lemons, limes, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries
Proteins: any kind of meat, fish, fowl, seafood, eggs, tofu
Dairy: any kind of full fat cheese, butter, cream, yogurt, cream cheese, sour cream
Milk: unsweetened soy milk, almond milk, cashew milk, coconut milk
Flours: almond, soy, coconut, lupin, flaxseed meal, psyllium husk powder, protein powder, oat fiber
Sweeteners: stevia (powder and liquid forms), sucralose, erythritol, xylitol, monk fruit sweetener, yacon syrup
Seeds and Nuts: almonds, cashews, macadamia nuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, brazil nuts, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, peanuts, pepitas
Drinks: coffee, tea, seltzer, mineral water, club soda, broth
Alcohol: whiskey, tequila, gin, rum, vodka, dry white wine, dry red wine, champagne
Oils: extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, ghee, butter, avocado oil, lard
Spices: any kind
Noodles: shirataki, zucchini, edamame, kelp
Condiments: mustard, sugar-free ketchup, oil and vinegar dressing, coconut aminos, soy sauce, any kind of vinegar, hot sauce, mayonnaise
Root Vegetables: potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, yams, parsnips, yuca
Fruit: apples, bananas, grapes, watermelon, peaches, pineapple, cherries, pears, melon, grapefruits, plums, oranges, mangos
Dairy: skim, 2% or whole milk
Grain Products: cereal, bread, pasta, rice, oatmeal, crackers, pizza, popcorn, granola, bagels, flour, donuts, muesli
Grains and Starches: rye, oats, corn, quinoa, barley, millet, rice, bulgur, amaranth, sprouted grains, buckwheat, wheat
Sweeteners: cane sugar, honey, agave nectar, Splenda, aspartame, maple syrup, saccharin, corn syrup, coconut sugar
Legumes: black beans, pinto beans, navy beans, peas, chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans
Oils: soybean oil, grapeseed oil, peanut oil, sesame oil, sunflower oil, palm oil, safflower oil canola oil
Sugary Sweets: candy, chocolate, cakes, pastries, tarts, pies, ice cream, cookies, buns, pudding
Alcohol: beer, sweet wines, sweetened alcoholic drinks, cider
Drinks: juice, smoothies, soda
Now, I’m sure that the Keto Police will quibble about some of these foods.
Carrots are a contentious subject, as are peanuts. (And yes, I know that peanuts are legumes, and not nuts, but they are unlikely to knock you out of Ketosis if you eat them in small amounts). But, like I said, everyone is different, so everybody does Keto in their own way. Much of this diet is trial and error and finding out how your body reacts to different foods.