If you’ve been hearing the buzzword “keto,” pertaining to the high fat, low carb diet that’s recently gained popularity, you’ve probably been wondering what exactly this diet involves. I myself was curious about it—as I get when any new health or nutrition trend hits the scene. So, I recently had a chat with our LC.com resident nutritionist, Kelly LeVeque of Be Well by Kelly and author of Body Love, to get the 411 about this nutrition trend. And… I’ve even been giving the ketogenic diet a try myself for the past three weeks! I can cover more on that in a follow up post, but today we’re going to let Kelly explain the what, how and why behind ketogenic dieting. Here we go…
What’s the deal with this keto craze… What is the ketogenic diet all about?
Eating a ketogenic diet, or “going keto”, involves eating a high fat, moderate protein, low carb diet. Our bodies use three main sources of energy from our food: carbohydrates, protein and fat. The whole mentality behind keto is that when your carbohydrate intake is highly restricted to about 20-30 grams per day or removed all together, your body begins to burn up carbohydrate and glucose stores in your body. Once those glucose stores have been depleted, your body will then turn to using fat and ketone bodies for fuel. Eating a diet high in healthy fats helps your body to stay in this fat burning state, therefore allowing you to produce ketones bodies… Which you can think of as a mega super fuel for your brain.
When you start producing these ketone bodies in your bloodstream, you achieve a metabolic state called ketosis, where there is a decreased of production of glucose, leading your body to burn fat without compromising muscle. This is the only known “protein-sparing” weight-loss technique, which is why many people use ketogenic diets to lose body fat while maintaining muscle mass and keeping their metabolism running.
So, how does your body use the healthy fats you are eating for fuel?
Think of going keto as giving your body clean energy to burn. Processed carbohydrates and sugars are dirty, quick-burning fuel that can lead to inflammation in your body. If you think of your body like a car, then eating a diet high in carbs and sugar is like fueling up with a really dirty, quick-burning fuel that will bog down your car’s engine and will likely leave you high and dry on the side of the highway. However, burning healthy fats—and eventually ketones (which are produced once you burn up all your stored glucose)—is not only like giving your car super clean fuel, but in fact, it’s like driving a battery operated electric car. On keto, your body will eventually feel super-charged and energized without needing to fuel every few hours, and without crazy dips of energy along the way.
How is the ketogenic diet different from Whole 30 or Paleo?
Not only does keto focus on high amounts of healthy fats—like those found in avocados, coconut oil, ghee and macadamia nuts—but it also focuses on an adequate level of protein. This is because if you eat too much protein in one sitting, your body can actually metabolize it into glucose, throwing you out of the fat burning state called ketosis. While Whole 30 focuses on eating only whole, complete foods for 30 days and Paleo focuses on an ancestral diet high in protein, neither of these emphasize the benefits of moderating your protein and carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables with the end goal of putting your body in a clean energy, fat burning state.
What are the benefits of going keto?
The ketogenic diet gives your body and brain clean energy, helps your body to burn stored fat, and is also said to be anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer. It has also said to be successful in brain trauma victims since ketones, which are produced for fuel for the brain in ketosis, can cross the blood-brain barrier and give your brain steady energy. Kelly recommends listening to Dominic D’Agostino’s podcast, as he discusses what it’s like living in ketosis 95% of the time and his research on developing keto therapies for diseases like cancer and Alzheiemer’s. Other benefits from going keto include having clear, lucid focus throughout the day (so, better energy), better quality of sleep, more energy and endurance during workouts, minimized cravings, appetite control and weight loss. Kelly also mentioned that it has been known to promote fertility in women trying to get pregnant.
What are the biggest challenges on the keto diet?
One of the biggest challenges of keto is tracking and hitting your macro percentages, which means making sure you’re having about 60-75% of your calories coming from fat, 15-30% coming from protein, and 5-10% coming from carbohydrates at each meal. This means that those who are wanting to go keto have to really pay attention to their portions. Kelly recommends using your hand as a guide since it’s something you always have on you. Your protein at each meal should never be bigger than the size and thickness of your palm, your leafy green veggies should be the size of your fist, your fibrous veggies (brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower) should also be the size of your fist, and you should always include a good portion of healthy fats like an avocado, several drizzles of olive oil, avocado oil or ghee, or macadamia nuts or walnuts. While the keto diet does sound restrictive on paper, the truth of the matter is that if you are actually achieving ketosis through healthy fats and nutrient-dense foods, you will never feel deprived because your body will be getting everything it needs from whole foods.
Is it a long-term lifestyle diet? Or more of a reset?
Kelly recommends first trying keto as a 6-week reset. It is perfectly fine to do keto long term, as it provides great brain fuel and it’s anti-cancer, and anti-inflammatory. However, you will just want to make sure that if you are making it your lifestyle diet, you’ll never want to skimp on leafy greens and veggies or start replacing your healthy fats like coconut oil and avocado with unhealthy fats like lots of processed cheese and cured meats like pepperoni (which are high in fat, but not the good kind). It’s also a good idea to add a little more sodium into your diet when trying keto. Having a glass of pink salt water when you feel tired or dehydrated on keto can work wonders.
Who is a good candidate to try it?
Someone who wants to clean out, be free from dependence on carbs and sugars, and get their body going on a really steady energy source. If you have a big event coming up like a wedding or a special event where you want to look great, keto is a great reset plan to lean out and feel good. You can also add in some intermittent fasting, which is in-line with keto. Read more about that here.
Who should avoid it?
If you have any health concerns, diseases, or metabolic issues, you should consult your healthcare provider before trying keto.
Any tips to know before going keto?
If you’re feeling like giving it a go, Kelly recommends downloading the app Cronometer on your phone and setting it to the keto / MMT diet preset. It is a food and activity tracking app, but it will show you your macro percentages, which will let you gauge how well you are staying within the keto guidelines. If you want to get even more serious about it, you can order urine test strips or a breath or blood ketone testing meter to see if your body is producing ketones. Note that you will only see ketones show up within the first two weeks or so of going keto—after that, your body will start using ketones and fat for fuel, which is pretty cool! I also recommend reading Dr. Joseph Mercola’s book Fat for Fuel before you consider trying keto, and also Mark Sisson’s book The Keto Reset Diet, which maps out all the steps you should take to begin your keto journey.
Favorite keto-approved meals and snacks?
Fat bombs like Kelly’s Freezer Fudge (recipe here) are great to have on hand when you have a sweet tooth but want to stay in a fat burning mode. It’s also a good idea to always have avocados in your kitchen, as you can eat them by the spoonful with a little Himalayan salt and pepper for a savory snack.
Pretty fascinating stuff, right? Thanks again to Kelly for her informative tips. You can click here to order a copy of her book Body Love: Live in Balance, Weigh What You Want and Free Yourself from Food Drama Forever by clicking here.
What health and nutrition topics would you lie to see us cover here on the site next?
And, would you be willing to try the keto diet?
Leave a comment below with any of your questions about keto and we will do our best to answer. I am personally just at the beginning of my keto diet journey and loving how I am feeling so far. Let me know if you’d like to read more about how I’ve been feeling in a follow up post!