1. What is a Ketogenic Diet
I am sure you have come across the term Keto Diet at some point. It’s on everyone’s mouth these days and the searches for keto diet online are exploding. The hype around the diet comes from the promise of rapid weight loss, no feeling of hunger and several beneficial side effects. Furthermore it is a diet that encourages you to eat healthy fats such as olive oil, butter and salmon. So what is a ketogenic diet?
A Ketogenic or Keto Diet is a low-carb, high-fat diet, which puts the body into a fat-burning state. The keto diet has several benefits ranging from rapid weight loss to improved mental performance and increased levels of energy.
The benefits of the ketogenic diet have been evidenced in several studies. It is recommended by many doctors and is especially useful in reducing excess body fat without hunger and for reversing type 2 diabetes.
Here you will learn how the keto diet works and how to eat keto based on real, healthy foods. I will provide you with recipes, meal plans and products so you can get started on your keto journey.
So how does the keto diet work? Think of your body as a machine able to run on two sources of fuel: sugar and fat.
Sugar is contained in the carbohydrates we eat, such as bread, pasta, potatoes, rice and sweets. A carbohydrate is essentially a fancy form of sugar. In the keto diet, the consumption of sugar is so low that the body is forced to look for an alternative source of fuel, and that is when it makes the switch to burning fat for fuel. It will find the sources of fat it needs in foods like eggs, meats, avocados, olive oil, butter and nuts.
What ‘Keto’ means
The process the body uses to convert body fat into fuel involves converting the fat into energy molecules called ‘Ketones’. The process of converting fat into ketones means you are in a state of Ketosis. Ketones are an alternative energy source used when blood sugar (glucose) is in short supply.
Ketones are produced when you have a diet very low in carbs (that are quickly broken down into blood sugar) and moderate amounts of protein (excess protein can also be converted into sugar).
The liver is responsible for converting fat into ketones and these ketones then go on to be utilised by the body, especially by the brain.
The brain is a hungry organ that consumes lots of energy every day, and it can’t run on fat directly unlike other parts of the body, it can only run on glucose or ketones. However the preferred fuel of the brain are ketones, which helps explain why the ketogenic diet has a very positive effect on focus and alertness, having been prescribed to children in cases of ADHD.
On the ketogenic diet, your entire body switches its energy supply to run mostly on fat, burning fat 24-7. When insulin levels become very low, fat burning can increase dramatically and it becomes easier to access your fat stores to burn them off.
So what is the difference between the keto diet and other low-carb diets? The difference is that the keto diet is a supercharged version of the low-carb diet. The traditional low-carb diet won’t restrict your carb intake enough to put you into a state of ketosis, and therefore your body does not make the shift into burning fat for fuel.
On the keto diet you should restrict your carbohydrate intake to less than 20 grams of carbohydrates per day.
The Keto Diet and Energy Levels
There are several benefits, which come when your body enters ketosis, that go beyond weight loss. One of the most satisfying is the high level of uninterrupted energy you experience while on a keto diet. To understand why the keto diet produces such consistent energy output we need to understand the differences in how sugar and fat are burned.
The way that sugar and fat burn are analogous to the way gunpowder and coal burn.
Sugar burns like gunpowder, which means it burns quickly releasing a high burst of energy for a short period of time. Once that energy is over you experience what is known as a crash. Your body will run out of energy and quickly remind you to replenish your energy stores – eat. That is why you feel hungry after consuming your sugar stores.
Fat on the other hand burns like coal. Once you light it up it will keep burning and releasing energy for an extended period of time. This also helps explain why you feel satiated for longer on a keto diet.
Who should be careful with the ketogenic diet?
There are many controversies and myths relating to the keto diet, but for most people it appears to be very safe. There are, however, three groups that require special attention:
- People who take medication for diabetes, e.g. insulin.
- People who take medication for high blood pressure.
- Women breastfeeding.
2. What to Eat on a Keto Diet
Meat – Unprocessed meats are low-carb and good on a keto diet, but prefer organic grass-fed meat. Keep in mind that the ketogenic diet is a high fat diet, not a high protein diet, so you don’t need huge amounts of meat. Excess protein in the organism will be converted into glucose making it harder to get into ketosis. A normal amount of meat is enough.
Note that processed meats like sausages, cold cuts, meatballs and many burgers often contain added carbs. Always follow the ingredient list and try to stay below 5% carbs. Check out our recipes for ideas of what to eat.
Fish and Seafood – These are very recommended in the ketogenic diet, especially fatty fish like Salmon. Ideally aim for wild caught fish and avoid breaded fish as the breadcrumbs contain carbs.
Eggs – Eggs are very welcome in the keto diet. You can have your eggs whichever way suits you best: boiled, fried in butter, scrambled or as omelettes. The healthiest option will be organic or pastured eggs.
Natural fat, high fat sources – Most of the calories on a keto diet should come from fat. You will probably get much of this fat from sources like meat, fish and eggs, however also try to use fat in cooking. Use fats like butter, coconut fat, avocado oil and add plenty of extra virgin olive oil to salads. You can also have high fat sauces as long as they do not have carbs. Try having Bernaise sauce or garlic butter. Avoid sauces like ketchup or BBQ sauce as those contain high amounts of sugar.
Vegetables growing above ground – Choose leafy and green vegetables growing above ground. Vegetables growing below ground, a.k.a. root vegetables, contain more carbs and should be consumed with care or avoided, especially potatoes and sweet potatoes.
The best options of above ground vegetables include cauliflower, cabbage, avocado, broccoli and zucchini. Vegetables are a great way to eat fat on a keto diet. They serve as a healthy, low-carb vehicle to ingest your choice of healthy fat, be it olive oil, butter, etc. They also add more variety, colour and taste to your meals.
High fat dairy – Ghee is great, butter is good, high-fat cheese is fine and high-fat yoghurts can be had in moderation. Heavy cream is good for cooking and for making homemade ice cream. Avoid drinking milk as the milk sugar adds up quickly, but you can use it in small quantities in your coffee.
Finally, beware of regularly snacking on cheese when you are not hungry. This is a common mistake that can slow down weight loss.
Nuts – Nuts should be had in moderation, as many of them are high in carbs, notably Cashews (which technically is not even a nut, it is a fruit). Choose Macadamia or Pecan nuts instead.
Berries – A moderate amount of berries is ok. They are probably best enjoyed as part of a keto dessert. See our keto dessert recipes.
What to Drink on the Ketogenic Diet
Water – Water is your friend. Still, sparkling, flavoured with sliced cucumbers, lemons or limes.
Coffee – Black coffee is fine and helps increase your metabolism. Have it without sugar and a small amount of milk or cream is fine. For extra energy add butter or coconut oil for Bulletproof coffee. If weight loss stops, cut back on the cream or fat in your coffee.
Tea – Feel free to drink most teas as long as no sugar is added.
Bone Broth – Bone broth is hydrating, satisfying and full of nutrients and electrolytes, not to mention tasty. This is a great drink to sip on the ketogenic diet.
What NOT to eat on a keto diet
Sugar – This is absolutely your number one enemy on the keto diet. Eliminate all sugars: soft drinks, fruit juice, sport drinks, and vitamin water. Avoid sweets, candy, cakes, cookies, traditional chocolate bars, donuts, ice creams and breakfast cereals.
Always read the labels in search for hidden sugars. This is especially important when it comes to condiments, sauces, drinks, dressings and packaged goods. Remember that honey, maple syrup and agave are also sugar. In general try to limit artificial sweeteners.
Starch – Eliminate bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, french fries, potato chips, porridge, muesli, etc. Avoid wholegrain products and remember that beans and lentils are also high in carbs.
Check out our recipes for many good potential keto-friendly replacements for these items.
Beer – Eliminate beer if you can. It is liquid bread. If you can’t, go for a low carb beer.
Fruit – Treat it as a natural form of candy, loaded with sugar. Have it once in a while.
Margarine – Remove this from your diet and do not re-introduce it. Margarine is industrially produced imitated butter and contains a high content of Omega-6, which may be linked to several diseases.