What is the Keto Diet - A beginners guide?
Wanting to try the Ketogenic Diet and not sure where to start - this blog will help!
Like any diet, there are so many unanswered questions, myths and uncertainties surrounding them.
Type ‘keto diet’ into your search engine and prepare to open a can of virtual worms as you delve into all things weird and wonderful about ketosis! But in reality, a keto diet and lifestyle is quite simple and really effective for optimising health for many. So, read on for answers to those questions, myth-busting facts and everything you need to know about the ketogenic diet!
Keto Diet Basics: What’s the Science behind it?
Before we begin to dispel the myths and delve deep into the world of keto, let’s take a look at exactly what a keto diet is and why it matters. Far from a fad diet promising miracle cures – scientists have gathered heaps of research to demonstrate just how it works and why it could be beneficial for you. Let’s take a look at the basics of a keto diet.
What does the Keto Diet actually mean and what are the benefits?
Keto is short for ‘ketogenic’ which is used to describe a metabolic state in which ketone bodies are produced - also known as Ketosis. Ketone bodies are the by-product of a low-carb, high-fat diet and are responsible for most of the benefits associated with a keto diet.
Some benefits of follwing a Keto Lifestyle:
- Weight loss
- Improve insulin sensitivity
- Potential to reverse Type 2 Diabetes
- Support Treatment for Epilepsy
- Improve inflammation
- Reduce blood pressure
- Reduce cravings and sugar dependency (avoid feeling Hangry - that's hungry and angry to you and me).
How do you get into Ketosis?
When the body begins to produce ketone bodies this is called ‘ketosis’ and being in ketosis is most people’s aim when following a keto diet. You can encourage a ketogenic state by limiting the amount of carbs in your diet and instead getting your energy from fats and protein.
How the Keto Diet Works
A low-carb diet like the keto diet deprives the body of glucose, it’s primary source of energy and so it begins to use fat for fuel instead. This fat can be from your diet, your body’s fat mass or both – whichever way produces ketones and encourages ketosis.
When glucose levels are low, fatty acids from the body’s fat stores are oxidised and metabolised into ketone bodies in the liver. These are released into the bloodstream in large amounts and can then be used as an efficient source of energy.
Why the Keto Diet is Good for You
Most people associate a keto diet with weight loss but in fact a keto lifestyle has so many amazing benefits, in addition to helping you shed some pounds! Here’s just some of the amazing benefits of following keto for lifestyle.
- Boosts Brain Power - Unlike fatty acids, ketones can cross the blood-brain barrier and so provide a super-efficient source of fuel for your brain.
- Promotes Weight Loss – Encourages fat stores to rapidly release energy for our cells to use. Using your own body fat for fuel rather than glucose from your diet allows you to burn fat at the same time as maintaining lean muscle mass.
- Prevents Type 2 Diabetes – Being in ketosis has the synergistic effect of reducing glucose and insulin levels. This helps to control blood sugars and increase insulin sensitivity by up to 75%, which can not only help to prevent Type 2 Diabetes but also has the potential to reverse the condition – amazing!
- May Help to Manage Neurological Conditions – Research has shown that a keto diet may have benefits for patients with Alzheimer’s Disease and could also help to control some of the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease.
Could the Keto Diet Be Bad for you?
Ketosis is a natural state that our bodies are designed to use and can provide a whole spectrum of health benefits. But as with all diet and lifestyle changes it’s important to discuss with your GP or functional health practitioner if you are unsure.
For people with existing conditions that affect the liver, kidney, gallbladder or thyroid gland – a keto diet may not be recommended or you may need supervision.
The Keto diet may also need to be tailored to suit certain allergy requirements - for example if you are dairy intolerant, you will want to get your fat intake from other sources (read on for more guidance on what foods are Keto friendly and what should be avoided).
What’s more – even if you don’t think you have any such problems, you never know exactly what is happening in the body – so it’s always useful to have a thorough health check and some routine blood tests before going from a regular diet to a very-low-carb diet.
In short – use your common sense! Please be safe and please be sensible, do things right, aim to optimise your nutrition with good quality fats and protein and listen to your body! If you’re feeling fatigued, constipated or if any other symptoms arise from going keto then be sure to see your nutritionist.
Keto Dietary Do’s and Don'ts
OK, so we know what the keto diet is, we know how it works and we know the benefits and potential drawbacks of a keto lifestyle – but what does a keto diet look like? Here are some of the dietary do’s and don’ts that will help to answer some of your mealtime questions and inform your eating decisions!
Can You Eat Carbs on the Keto Diet?
The Keto diet is based mainly on three principles which should guide your eating choices: low carb, high fat and moderate protein. There are loads of different variations of the keto diet, but most people follow the Standard Ketogenic Diet (SKD) which suggests your meals are roughly split into a balance of macronutrients as follows:
Fats (75%), Protein (20%) and carbohydrates (5%) - a good aim when starting keto is to have your carbohydrates below 50g of carbs per day or even as low as 20g of carbs per day.
This will give your body the energy it needs and keep your carbs low enough to metabolise protein and fat for energy – and to achieve ketosis, Voilà!
So, in short you can eat some carbs on the ketogenic diet but to be honest they’re usually incidental carbs which are found in very low amounts in keto-friendly foods. That’s opposed to actively looking to include carbs with every meal. These carbs are likely to come from green leafy vegetables, coconut, avocados - which you wouldn't initially think as containing carbs.
You can use an app to track your macronutrient intake in the first instance, which will help you in getting accustomed to what is and what isn’t keto-friendly.
Here are some great examples of low-carb, keto-friendly Real Foods:
- Avocados and avocado oil
- Good quality meat and dairy (free-range, grass-fed and pasture finished )
- Oily fish
- Nuts and seeds
- Low-carb vegetables
- Eggs (free-range)
- Coconuts and MCT Oil
- Herbs and Spices
And here are some examples of high-carb foods you should avoid where possible to stick to your keto diet:
- Foods high in free sugars – fruit juice, fizzy drinks, junk food
- Starchy vegetables like potato
- Unhealthy Oils (like refined veg and seed oils)
- ‘Low-fat’ foods (usually full of hidden sugar to replace the taste you’d usually get from fat!)
By swerving the dietary don’ts and sticking to the do’s you won’t have to get hot under the collar thinking about the maths of a keto diet! Instead, your eating choices will naturally sway towards low-carb foods and meals that are packed with protein and healthy fats – making for an impressive keto macro ratio 😉
What is Clean Keto or Lazy Keto?
You may have heard of different Keto buzz words via Facebook or social media. With the most confusing being clean or lazy versions of Keto.
To really benefit from the Keto Lifestyle, in our opinion it is more than just losing weight (although that is an added bonus for some). Understanding the impact food has on your health and wellness is key when considering the Keto diet more as a lifestyle than a quick fix diet.
A lazy Keto diet looks purely at the macros of the product/foods, rather than the ingredients themselves. For example, you could find a low sugar, low carbohydrate product that replaces the high carb ingredients with seed or vegetable oils, chemical preservatives and sweeteners. Whilst this is not necessarily optimal for health - it would fit within your daily Macros and is therefore classed as "Keto". Keto is a marketing term (and is unregulated in the UK) so it is important to check the ingredients of all products whether they are claiming to be Keto or not. Whilst lazy Keto for many will help with weight loss, the other health and wellness benefits may be missed.
A clean Keto diet looks not just at the macros of what you are eating but also the quality and source of the ingredients too. For example, seed and vegetable oils like Rapeseed here in the UK are not classed as clean keto-friendly.
This is because they can cause inflammation, swelling and contribute to modern chronic illness. You can read more about this here.
If you are following a clean keto diet, you would avoid refined sugars completely, even if it is a small amount, you would also avoid seed and vegetable oils. When choosing meat - grass-fed, pasture for life meat is recommended when following Keto, so that you are sure there are no grains fed to the cattle/animals.
Can You Eat Sugar on the Keto Diet?
OK, if you’re a wonderful member of the Hunter & Gather tribe then you’ll know we are firm believers in a diet that’s free from refined sugars. That’s because sugar is a non-nutrient – it’s packed with empty calories that wreak havoc with blood sugar levels and cause weight gain but offer no nutritional benefit!
This aside, is sugar a no go for those on a keto diet? In short, yes. Sugar is a carb and even foods that are naturally high in sugar (like fresh fruit, fruit juice and some vegetables) create the same surge in blood sugars as processed food high in sugar. This means that your body’s go-to source for fuel will be glucose or fructose, rather than fatty acids which encourage ketosis.
Overall, for any diet to be low-carb and keto-friendly you really must swerve sugar as much as possible and avoid foods high in both added and natural sugars.
A word of warning on sweeteners too – they’re not always the solution to replacing sugar as they are often made from synthetic chemicals and nasty artificial ingredients. They can also lower your sensitivity to sweetness and cause cravings for sweeter foods – the opposite of what you want!
Can You Drink Tea and Coffee on the Keto Diet?
Tea and coffee are totally fine to include in your keto diet, so long as you leave out the sugar and milk! Sugar is, well sugar – it’s super high in carbs and milk is also surprisingly high in lactose, another carb.
Why not swap your milk for cream (this is lower in lactose sugars and higher in fat) or even coconut milk or cream. Just watch out as some coconut creams/milk are blended with rice, soy, sugars, artificial thickeners or gums. Opt for an all-natural 100% coconut milk or cream.
To add some keto-friendly flavour to your cuppa why not try making a Bulletproof style coffee? You can add grass-fed butter and MCT oil as in our very own EVOLVE Coffee Recipe for a naturally energising brew that’ll keep you going well into the afternoon!
Can You Eat Cheese and Dairy on Keto?
A diet that includes cheese?! – count me in! Yes, really, cheese is naturally low in carbs and high in both fat and protein so makes the ideal addition to keto meals or to be enjoyed as a keto-friendly snack. Try to choose high-quality cheeses which are made using free-range dairy and are as minimally processed as possible.
Cheese is also high in Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) which has been shown to boost fat-burning potential – winner, winner!
Although cheese is a resounding yes - not all dairy is to be included on the Keto diet. Milk is high in lactose which is sugar - therefore skimmed, semi-skimmed and most full-fat milks are off the cards. Some choose to drink lactose free milk on Keto - or opt for double cream (which has lower levels of sugars and a higher fat content). Alternatively, you can switch to a 100% coconut-based milk or cream.
A modern misconception of the Keto diet is that it is all bacon, eggs and cheese. This is not the case and you can also follow a keto lifestyle being completely dairy-free.
Is the Keto Diet Suitable for people with Epilepsy?
For those who are suffering from seizures and fits from epilepsy, that is not treatable with anti-epilepsy drugs (AED's), or for those that do not want to take medication to control their epilepsy - you may want to look further into utilising the Keto diet.
According to the Epilepsy Society in the UK - 70% of people may benefit from the use of AED's, however the use of Ketosis has been utilised since the 1920's specifically for the treatment of epilepsy.
The Epilepsy Society state that a Ketogenic lifestyle may be "suitable for many different seizure types and epilepsy syndromes, including myoclonic-astatic epilepsy, Dravet syndrome, infantile spasms (West syndrome), and those with tuberous sclerosis".
Can children follow the Keto diet?
The Keto diet can be a useful dietary tool for children who are obese, have diabetes, epilepsy and those with Glucose 1 transporter (Glut 1) deficiency or pyruvate dehydrogenase (PDH).
Great Ormond Street Hospital treat children between the ages of 3 months and 16 years old with the Ketogenic diet and you can read more about this work here.
Most "clean" Keto products should be suitable for children as they are made with real foods that are minimally processed and low in sugars. We would, however, urge you to speak directly with the team at Great Ormond street if you are considering utilising Keto for treatment of one of the above conditions.
Should I be using MCT oil when starting Keto?
Initially, when converting to a high fat, low carb lifestyle it can be difficult to get your daily fat requirements. Fat's such as coconut oil, avocado oil, grass-fed butter and cream are really great ways to increase your daily fat content. Cooking with coconut oil or avocado is a great start as well as drizzling salads, or dishes with additional avocado oil.
Another way to help with increasing your good fat's is to utilise coconut MCT oil. Check out this blog here for more information as to what MCT is.
In short coconut MCT oil is fractionated coconut oil, that keeps only the medium-chain fatty acids which are rapidly used by the body for energy - they also help you to get into ketosis by producing ketone bodies. Look for an MCT oil that is derived solely from coconuts (no palm oil) and which contain either pure C8 or a blend of C8 and C10. Avoid MCT oils that contain C6 as this has a harsh taste and can cause stomach discomfort.
Check out some of our recipes here for more ideas of how to utilise MCT oil.
Will the Keto Diet Cause Ketoacidosis?
Keto is not the same as ketoacidosis! Ketoacidosis is an extreme and potentially fatal medical condition where both blood glucose and ketone levels are high at the same time – causing blood to become acidic and impairing the function of essential organs. It is super dangerous and is usually caused by uncontrolled Type 1 Diabetes (Diabetic Ketoacidosis or DKA) although may also be caused by extreme alcohol excess.
Ketosis simply means there is a higher than usual level of ketones in the blood and urine. Being in ketosis is completely harmless and in stark contrast to ketoacidosis actually benefits your health rather than putting it at risk!
Will the Keto Diet Make Me Constipated?
If you’re transitioning from a diet of high carbs and low fat to one which has hardly any carbs and a lot more fats and protein, then your body will take some time to get used to this. It can take a short while for your gastrointestinal tract to adapt to digesting high fat and low carbs, especially if this was usually the other way round for you.
Any constipation you get when going keto should right-itself within a few weeks of adaptation. If it doesn’t it could mean that your deficient in something else – the most likely culprits being fibre and fluids. So, the first thing you should do to get your bowels moving is be sure to include high-fibre foods and drink whenever you are thirsty. If your bowels aren’t back to scratch after a couple of weeks then be sure to consult your nutritionist.
Do you get bad breath or body odour when starting a Ketogenic Lifestyle? What is Keto Breath and how can I avoid it?
When transitioning to a Keto diet you may notice that your breath, body odour and even urine can smell slightly different. Some have said that the smell has a hint of nail varnish remover or your mouth may taste slightly metallic.
The reason for this smell is that as your body switches to producing ketone bodies, these ketones are made up of 3 main types.
When you are in ketosis, if your body produces excessive levels of ketone bodies, your body will naturally secrete these through either your urine or through your breath.
This is actually two ways that Keto monitors claim to be able to test if you are in ketosis. Urine sticks can be used to test levels of Acetoacetate in your urine as a sign for ketosis and breath monitors can record levels of Acetone on your breath.
The jury is out on their efficacy and we would recommend a blood monitor for a more accurate reading.
As acetone is one of the main ingredients in nail varnish remover, this could explain the nail varnish type of smell in your breath.
If you are now wondering how to stop Keto breath - here are our top 2 ways to help avoid Keto breath
Drink plenty of water with lemon and added salt
When you enter ketosis you will require more hydration, this is because your body will not be storing as much water. Our bodies store excess glucose (sugars) as glycogen. When your body stores glycogen it also stores water alongside it. When following a new keto diet you will often feel less bloated and drop a lot of "water weight" rapidly - this is due to your glycogen stores being released and along with it additional water.
Dehydration can lead to you having a dry mouth, which means less saliva to wash away bacteria (compounding bad breath). By ensuring that you drink enough water, with the addition of lemon (anti-bacterial), this will help your mouth feel fresher throughout the day. It is important to ensure that your electrolyte levels do not also decline through excessive water drinking - so ensure that you add salt into your water as needed.
Improve your oral hygiene to combat Keto breath
To help avoid keto breath, ensure that your oral hygiene regime is top-notch. Be sure to brush your teeth at least twice a day and floss in between your teeth too.
This may seem simple, but brushing rather than using chewing gums (especially those that use sugar or sweeteners) is best when starting out on your Keto journey.
The good news is that Keto Breath or body odour does not continue forever, once your body becomes used to your new lifestyle you will be less likely to produce excessive ketones.
The Golden Question: Will the Keto Diet Work for Me?
The answer is not that the keto diet will work for you but more that the keto diet can work for you. As with all of life’s new ventures things are largely trial and error, we learn from our mistakes and often have to adapt to make lasting changes.
For the keto diet to work you do have to be committed and exercise a certain amount of self-control. If you’re someone who loves a healthy lifestyle, real food and is mindful about nutrition then you’re far more likely to succeed – remember, keto is a lifestyle not just a diet!
To make keto work for you why not join an online community, do your research and invest in some keto-friendly resources and products? Knowledge is power after all, and amazing food is as good a motivator as any!
We hope you are feeling inspired and informed to pursue a Keto diet and lifestyle! There are so many amazing health benefits to be reaped from going keto and a keto lifestyle overall will help you to be the happiest and healthiest version of yourself, optimising your nutrition and smashing your health goals!
Our Real Food products and supplements have been created to be included as part of a keto lifestyle – free from sugars, grains and harmful oils. Empower your keto lifestyle and check them out on our website, where you’ll also find loads more keto advice and support!
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