The Keto, or Ketogenic, Diet has been around for many years. In fact, as early as the 1920s where it was used to treat children with epilepsy, especially those where no medication or other treatments were working. Since then it has gained in popularity for the many benefits it is giving its followers. Here is a beginners guide to the Keto Diet.
What is the Keto Diet?
You’ve probably already heard the words “keto diet” recently as this “new diet” is starting to hit the headlines across newspapers, blogs and YouTube alike – not always in a positive light. The diet is so far in the opposite direction to the recommended government guidelines of the eat well plate that it causes a lot of controversies. Due to this there isn’t as much published research as their should be to back up the diet’s claims even though the basics of biology back up why this diet is great, specifically for those people who have tried everything else, who have metabolic issues or intolerances.
The basis of the diet is low carb, high fat and moderate protein. The average person currently consumes anywhere around 200g-350g of carbs in their diet – 1.5kg of cooked pasta for a comparison. When on keto you cut your carbohydrates right down to, ideally, below 20g which are mostly consumed through green, leafy vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, kale and cauliflower (yes, I know it’s not green). This depletes your glycogen stores (glucose stored in your liver) and after a few days, your body will start running on the fat you eat or have stored. Every person’s body is different and some people can go up to 50g of carbohydrates in a day while still staying in ketosis.
What is Ketosis?
So, ketosis is a metabolic state that everyone experiences on a daily basis. It’s often referred to as fat-burning mode and comes at a time when your body is running on fat rather than glucose – times such as sleeping or doing low-intensity exercise that doesn’t require the body to take in large amounts of oxygen. Most people are in ketosis when they wake up on a morning as their body has gone through a fast – the time between your last meal of the day and your first one. So, it’s a perfectly natural state to be in.
Many low calorie or very-low-calorie diets such as the Cambridge Diet (now the 1:1 Diet) or the Newcastle Diet which the NHS recommends also put the body into a state of ketosis, the only difference is that meal replacements taste foul, are so hard to stick to, run at a calorie deficit and aren’t maintainable for a long period of time. They basically ensure your body is getting the required vitamins and minerals, then forcing it to use your stored energy. This is where nutritional ketosis is a better way of doing it, eating real food, not having to be in a calorie deficit and not alienating yourself at meals times whether at home or out socialising – nothing feels worse than sitting in the pub drinking your glass of goop while friends are tucking into a steak.
What is Dirty/Lazy/Clean Keto?
Keto isn’t always so clear cut, there are many ways to doing the keto diet and really it depends firstly on what your lifestyle is like and secondly, which community you join as to how they classify a keto diet. There are 100’s of communities for keto and they all adopt this way of eating differently so I’ll explain each classification the best I can so you can choose how you prefer to do keto. At the very heart of it, as I said at the beginning, it’s a low carb, high-fat diet.
Purists see this as the only way to follow this way of eating. Clean keto is when you eat nothing but “real food” so meat, fish, nuts, eggs, seeds, vegetables, (minimal) berries and healthy fats. You exclude anything that isn’t on that list such as sweeteners or additives which also means any sort keto baking is out of the question. If you look at the back of a packet and there are ingredients you can’t pronounce or don’t keep in your own cupboard then you don’t eat the food, simple.
This is basically the opposite of clean keto in that if it’s “technically keto” then you eat it. Dirty ketoers will look at the package and as long as the amount of net carbs is under, say 10g per 100g, then it’s good to go. They’ll track it and get on with their lives. The main issue they have is that certain sweeteners or —–
Lazy keto and dirty keto sometimes go hand in hand. Those who follow lazy keto don’t tend to track what they’re eating and just wing it. They mainly avoid foods that are high in carbohydrates sticking to fatty meat and green leafy vegetables.
The Benefits Of A Keto Diet?
Primarily, this way of eating helps to burn body fat…and lots of it. In addition to that, there have been many other benefits documented such as improvements in blood sugar levels, mood, type 2 diabetes risk and/or symptoms and illnesses such as MS.
Personal Experience: I’ve seen a huge improvement in my own personal PCOS symptoms as well as it helping to ease joint pains and swelling – within days of starting a keto diet. My mental clarity has improved as well as concentration and motivation.
Is The Keto Diet Hard?
Yes, and no. The first few weeks most people encourage you to just eat lots of fat; by that, I don’t mean sit there sucking on a stick of butter and drinking coconut oil. Eating things like avocado, bacon (yes, the fatty streaky yummy stuff), coconut oil, olive oil and cheese. The point in plenty of fat to start with is it tells your body that fat is a good source of energy and that it can count on it being in plentiful supply. Once it has learnt this it becomes “fat adapted” and you can reduce your fat intake so your body starts burning your stored body fat, if you’re wanting to lose weight.
The hardest part of the Keto Diet is learning to live without the things that made you fat in the first place. The “bad carbs”. Rice, pasta, bread, cakes, biscuits, ice-cream and the other things that are full of sugar. This isn’t to say these carbs are bad but we eat too many of them (thanks to the government’s ideas on health) and when coupled with fats they do dangerous things to our bodies.
That said, once you’re fat-adapted you tend not to crave these foods any more. Once you’ve got the hang of living the low carb way you can look at keto baking with there being so many recipes out there for things like cakes, bread, biscuits and desserts. It means that you can still enjoy the things you’ve been removing from your diet but in a lower-carb form.
Personal Experience: Wait until you’ve got the hang of the basics before you look at replacing foods – ensure you’re eating plenty of good fat and nutrient-rich carbohydrates before you look at cake and bread.
Is The Keto Diet a Fad Diet?
That depends on the person doing the diet really. Any diet can be a fad diet, basically, a fad diet is something short-lived. If you go on a low-fat diet for 2 months to lose weight then that is a fad diet to you. Many people who give Keto a go tend to stick to it because they’ve noticed more than just the weight loss benefits. As I said earlier, it’s been around longer than these true fad diets *coughs* Juice Plus *coughs*.
The Negatives of a Keto Diet
While this way of eating boasts many benefits, it does have some negatives.
This is the most well-known one. This is a process the body goes through during the adapting stage and normally lasts between 3 days and a week. The symptoms include headaches, brain fog, dizziness, frequent urination, muscle cramps and upset stomach – basically, you feel ill. You can, however, minimise your symptoms, even prevent it, by ensuring you keep hydrated and by replacing the lost electrolytes sodium, potassium and magnesium.
Keto flu happens because your body is flushing out the water that is also stored alongside the glycogen in your liver. With that it also flushes vital electrolytes so you need to keep replenishing them. Drinking plenty of water and adding sodium, potassium and magnesium to your water will help reduce these symptoms.
Personal Experience: I add magnesium and potassium to my water bottle for my electrolyte water. I also add plenty of pink himalayn salt to my foods for an increase in sodium.
Bad Breath & Body Odour
Yes, there is a chance you may stink for a while. Again, this is the body flushing itself – think of it like hitting the reset button. Regular showers and keeping something to freshen your breath is a must.
Eating Out Is A Pain
This used to be a hard task, and much like doing a meal replacement diet, you’d avoid going anywhere for fear of dropping out of ketosis. However, restaurants and fast food places are much more on the ball these days and allow you to customise your meal. If you’re hitting somewhere like McDonald’s then ordering your burger without bread and replacing fries with a salad is easy enough. Many pubs now offer bunless burgers as standard and the chance to swap out your sides so choose a salad, mixed vegetables or coleslaw.
Do your own research, be fully informed and realise that the keto diet is a lot of work so it isn’t just a quick fix for that “beach bod”. Be prepared for some backlash from friends, family and those random strangers on the internet who you’ve never spoken to.
If you decide to share with your friends and family that you are now doing keto be prepared for them all to turn into health experts. You’ll post your dinner, a beautifully cooked steak with veg and a creamy sauce and suddenly you’re “doing yourself harm” whereas the week before you started they said nothing about the large McDonald’s meal, Mcflurry, milkshake and apple pie you had, followed by popcorn, nachos, ice-cream and sweets at the cinema.
How to Start the Keto Diet
In the simplest of terms, reduce foods that are high in carbohydrates; food such as bread, pasta, rice, potatoes and anything with added sugar. For optimal keto, you want to look at eating less than 20g of carbohydrates a day and getting this from the most nutrient-rich foods you can so avocados, nuts, seeds, green vegetables such as kale, spinach, cabbage and even a small amount of berries.
Work out your BMR and TDEE
BMR stands for basal metabolic rate which is how much energy your body uses just to be alive. It’s the energy it uses to breathe, to digest, to think, to sleep, to pump blood around your body and so on. When doing keto, ideally, you want to eat at LEAST the amount of calories as your BMR otherwise you risk harming your metabolism.
TDEE stands for total daily energy expenditure which is how much you’re burning through daily activities and takes into account how active you are, if you go to the gym and whether you’re looking to gain, lose or maintain weight. Below is a calculator that allows you to work out both, it also recommends what your calories should be consuming for the day to achieve the goal you’re looking at.
Personal Experience: I recommend eating between these two numbers and don’t be tempted to go below the BMR number even though the calculator may recommend it for quicker weight loss. Doing keto allows you to repair your metabolism if you give it enough calories to work with.
Total Daily Energy Expenditure
Track Your Macros
It’s not fun but it certainly does help to keep everything in check, especially in the early days. There are multiple apps and services you can use this such as MyFitnessPal, FitBit, Carb Manager, Noom and so on.
Personal Experience: I use Carb Manager as it’s customisable for keto – you can put your own personal macros in to track or use the predefined ones.
Allocating your macros can get confusing with different sites and influencers saying different guidelines. At the end of the day, it’s whatever works for you:
Carbs: They’re limited to 20g so that easy as everywhere agrees with that for keto. You can eat less than 20g if you want but up your fats to compensate.
Protein: Many places state that 20% of your calories should come from protein (5% carbs, 75% fat) when doing a keto diet, while others use 0.8-1g per 1kg of lean body mass so if your ideal weight is 70kg then you can have between 56-70g of protein per day. One thing you need to remember is that protein can trigger an insulin response and can be used for gluconeogenesis to create any glucose the body might need (for red blood cell function, as an example). This means that for some people, capping protein might be necessary. This is trial and error.
Personal Experience: I aim for 50g a day with an ideal lean mass of 69kg
Fat: Firstly, don’t be scared of fat while doing keto. Your body needs to know that you’re giving it a good enough source in order for it to switch to using it as the fuel source. Some communities say that you should use fat as a lever to keep you full if you’re hungry whereas others believe you should eat at least your full fat allowance and go over if you’re still feeling hungry. Either way, you’re looking at making your calorie intake 75% or more from fat.
How does that look? Well, carbohydrates and proteins are 4kcal per gram and fat is 9kcal per gram.
So, a person on 2000 calories a day who is capping their protein at 50g would work it out like this: 20g carbs are 80kcal, protein is 50g x 4kcal = 200kcal and fat would be leftover calories divided by 9kcal. 2000 – 80 – 200 = 1720 / 9 = 191g fat. Does that make sense?
You can find calculators online to work this out for you, it just depends on which method of keto tracking you want to do.
Although this is a great way to keep a check on whether you are in ketosis or not, it isn’t really necessary to monitor your ketone levels. However, if you do decide to then there are a couple of ways.
Ketone Strips: The cheapest way to monitor whether you’re on your way to ketosis is to use *ketone strips which measure the ketone levels in your urine. These don’t cost a lot on Amazon and are pretty accurate, to begin with. Unfortunately, once you become fat-adapted they don’t really work because your body will be making the most of all the ketones available so they won’t be detected in your urine.
Breathalyser: Quite a bit more expensive than the strips, *a breathalyser will measure the acetone in your breath which is a byproduct of your body breaking down fatty acids into ketones. They aren’t always accurate but they are a longer-lasting solution than the strips.
Blood Monitor: The gold standard for ketone measuring is to use a *blood monitor. These test for ketones in your blood by way of a simple finger prick and blood collection. They are the most accurate way to keep track of your ketones but the monitor costs more than the other option and then you need the blood strips and lancets which can add up to quite a bit if you are testing often.
What to Eat on Keto & a Beginners Keto Shopping List
I’ve previously mentioned about keeping keto simple, so at the start pick a protein source, pick a couple of vegetables and then add fat. This makes it so easy to follow and also gives your body time to adapt and for any cravings to reduce. After this, you can look into recipes that allow you to experiment a little more giving you rolls for your burger or crackers for you pate and cheese. I’ve included a printable or saveable list to make it easier for you.
There are lots more to add to this list but as I’ve said, this is keeping it simple. Once you get the hang of keto you can look at building up your larder with things such as almond flour, coconut flour, xantham gum and other keto baking staples.
Personal Experience: One staple on that list is cocao butter which you probably won’t find in a supermarket so I’ll pop a link to the one I buy from *Amazon. This is a great fat source that can be added to coffee or hot chocolate to boost your fat intake.
In a Nutshell
This is only a beginners guide so I’ve tried to keep it as simple and “Keto For Dummies” as I can. At the very core, this way of eating is replacing the energy you used to get from carbohydrates with fat but you’ll soon find that people like to make it a lot more complicated. Try to make it as easy as you can if you decide to give it a go.
Let me know in the comments if I have missed anything or if you have any questions as I’ll keep this page as updated as I can.
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