What is a Keto diet and how does it work?
What is a “Ketogenic Diet”?
The Ketogenic diet is a very low carbohydrate, high fat diet that is similar to the Atkins diet and other low carbohydrate diets. It involves reducing carbohydrate consumption and replacing the carbohydrates with fat instead. This change in the fat to carbohydrate ratio in your diet puts your body into a metabolic state called Ketosis. Each nutrient in the food we eat has its nutritional health benefits. Protein, for example, helps to repair and build the body’s cells, while also playing an important role in the growth and development in children. That’s why it is an essential nutrient that is hard to replace. Carbohydrates provide us with the power we need for energy, but eating too many carbs can lead to weight gain if they go unused by the body through exercise.
The Ketogenic diet is based on the simple idea that carbs should be almost be eliminated from our daily food habits, and that more fat sources should be eaten instead.
How Does Keto Actually Work?
Keto works by disrupting the body’s process of using carbohydrates (the body’s main source of energy) that the body breaks down into sugars, to use them as fuel for energy. When your body does not find enough carbs to metabolize for use as energy, it moves into a metabolic state called “Ketosis.” In this state, the body produces “Ketones,” by breaking down stored fat for energy use, instead of carbs as the main source of energy, and this is how the diet helps to produce weight loss. The time required to enter a state of Ketosis differs from person to person depending on how active they are. Someone who does physical exercise regularly is likely to reach it quicker than someone who does not. A person burning fat will have less cravings and will not constantly feel the need to snack in between meals compared to someone on a high-carb diet, where you are more likely to feel hungry in between meals than on a low-carb one.
When it comes to the losing weight, some people may complain that they have been following the Keto diet for a long time but still not seeing any results. That’s because increasing your fat consumption and eliminating carbs does not necessarily mean you will start losing weight. In the end, what matters is the following rule: To start dropping kilos, you should burn more calories (from whatever sources you rely on) than you consume. An important thing to keep in mind is that protein should not also be consumed abundantly. An excessive intake of protein will let your body burn protein for fuel instead of fat, and thus preventing you from getting into a Ketosis state. Protein should be restricted to moderate levels; an average of 20% protein from your daily intake of calories is sufficient.
Is Keto a Low Sugar Diet?
Keto is a low sugar diet! Sugar is a type of carbohydrate. Given that carbs are to be avoided in order to follow the Keto diet way of losing weight, doesn’t it logically follows that all types of sugar should be avoided as well? Not exactly! Although the Keto diet has become a well-known one, there are still some misperceptions about the way Keto deals with sugar. Some people do manage to get rid of all carb sources and this is indeed a perfect situation for Ketosis, others can still consume some sugar every now and then, without breaking the success of the diet. How is that possible? It is not that sugary foods must be avoided entirely, but rather limited as much as possible, to avoid the negative effect on the levels of blood sugar and insulin status that such carbohydrates can have. There is a daily limit of carbohydrates that a person should not exceed in order to yield the desired outcomes and start losing weight. The maximum amount of carbs allowed a day varies according to several factors, like the weight of the person and how active their lifestyle is. But in general, you are allowed to have 20 to 30 grams of carbs a days, and it should certainly not get over 50 grams. It is thus fine to eat sugar as long as you are not going above this limit. If you are ever seeking out foods and snacks of low sugar content, you can find them in the Keto aisle!
Keto is a low sugar diet. Therefore, you can use the Keto label can be used to shop for low sugar snacks and products!
Now sugar might not be a big deal to some people; it is only a matter of time before they get used to living without all those sweet foods they used to have on daily basis. But for others who cannot resist the sugary taste, such a restricted amount might not be satisfying, so they normally tend to use some low-carb alternatives such as natural sweeteners that can satisfy their need for the sweet taste to some extent. But is it really an effective strategy to substitute real, high-carb sugar, with low-carb sweeteners to get rid of this feeling of deprivation? Yes, since you are not crossing the limit of carbs, it sounds like a good strategy, but there is still a set of key considerations to take into account when relying on sweeteners. While you think it is fine to use sweeteners to satisfy your sugar cravings without loading up on calories, by time, an adverse effect can be observed. How so? When you keep enjoying those guilt-free and tasty sweeteners, you could fall in the trap of having an ongoing sweetness addiction. This could boost your appetite for sugary foods and you may end up constantly craving more, so you start eating even when you are not really hungry, just to satisfy your sweet tooth. For some highly determined Keto lifestyle adopters, as long as they are having sweeteners in moderate amounts, there will not be any problems. But for others, it could be better to start looking for a more sustainable solution.
If you cannot do without having sugars, it is fine, you can still manage to fit them into your Keto diet. It is okay to occasionally indulge yourself with sweets as long as you are carefully budgeting them into your daily carb max (i.e. if you decide to eat a sugary thing with 30 grams of carbs, you may not have anything else with carbs the same day). Furthermore, you can enjoy certain fruits without breaking your Keto diet. Many fruits are known to be high in carbs, but there are still some low-carb fruits that you can feel free to enjoy while being on Keto. For individuals observing their carb intake, berries are a convenient choice. Some berries do not contain many carbohydrates so they can perfectly be considered Keto-friendly. 100 grams of blackberries contain around 4.5 net carbs, and 100 grams of strawberries give you only around 6 grams of carbs. And when compared to other fruits, watermelon is considered to be low in net carbs. 100 grams of watermelon contains only 7 grams of carbs. However, if you insist on substituting sugar with low-carb sweeteners, here are some options.
Best Natural Sweeteners that are good for your health
Raw honey and pure maple syrup both contain antioxidants and have prebiotic oligosaccharides that help feed gut flora. Raw honey has an added benefit of vitamins E and C as well as minerals. Note: Honey should not be given to infants because it may contain botulism bacteria spores, a serious health hazard for babies.
Maple syrup is an amazing natural sweetener but when shopping for it, read the labels to watch out for hidden ingredients because unfortunately many commercial brands of maple syrup often contain additives or substitutions like high-fructose corn syrup. High-fructose diets are linked to long-term metabolic complications like insulin resistance, belly fat accumulation and high triglyceride levels. When in doubt, stick with 100% pure maple syrup.
Agave nectar does not have as many nutritional benefits as raw honey or pure maple syrup and it should not be given to young children because it has not been pasteurized. Agave nectar has the same amount of carbohydrates and calories as common white table sugar, but you get a lot of flavor and sweetness from a smaller amount. Since agave nectar has a slightly lower glycemic index but still contains sugar, it will still raise your blood sugar.
Monk Fruit Sweetener
Monk Fruit Sweetener is a natural sweetener that makes a perfect substitute for regular sugar. It is made from extracts of the monk fruit. It is sometimes said that it gives a better taste than stevia, but it is almost as sweet as stevia is. This sweetener is also a great choice for Keto diet followers as it contains no calories or carbs. Some monk fruit sweetener brands (especially the powdered form ones) may include other ingredients that could cause some side effects to some people, so the amount people prefer to use may differ accordingly.
Bottom line, when it comes to your waistline, weight and blood sugars, all natural sweeteners behave like sugar so try to enjoy it in small doses.
Why should you avoid Carbohydrates?
Even though carbohydrates do have healthy benefits, having large amounts of carbs leads to some undesirable effects and increases the risks of some diseases.
First of all, consuming carb-dense foods or exceeding the typical daily amount causes a calorie overload and a gradual weight gain (which is, by the way, the main reason why people start looking for a healthy diet and explore options to follow). Foods and beverages high in carbs (the processed carbs in particular, like soda, potato chips, and crackers) have a significant connection to obesity. Your body will not know how to manage the carb excess after deducting its daily need, and thus, it starts converting carbs into body fats. Additionally, the inordinate fructose in such foods and beverages can cause a resistance to the important chemical compound (called leptin) responsible for managing craving and telling the body to stop eating. This results in a failure in curbing the hunger, leading to an unorganized and a bigger consumption of calories. Plus, having carbs encourages the release of the pleasure hormone, dopamine, so you start craving more foods with carbs, and end up putting more weight on yourself.
Secondly, carbohydrates are associated with diabetes. After carbs are digested and broken down into sugars, a hormone called insulin is produced by the pancreas and released to manage blood sugar levels. This hormone allows your cells to assimilate these sugars and use them as energy. But when you keep consuming more and more carbs, insulin will be released in larger amounts, and the body starts resisting it. So consequently, sugar levels start increasing, making you more vulnerable to type 2 diabetes.
What Effects Do Replacing Carbs with Fats Have?
Replacing carbohydrates with fats does not mean that you can simply pick any food full of fats and immediately insert it into your daily menu. Fats come in different types: the healthy ones, and the unhealthy ones. Clearly, healthy fats are the types of fats that you can comfortably start consuming, while trying to stay away from the bad ones as much as you can. Good fats include monounsaturated fats, which could be found in some oils like olive oil, canola oil, sesame oil, and peanut oil, in addition to other foods like avocados and several nuts (e.g. pecans, almonds, cashews, and pistachios). They also include polyunsaturated fats, found in some types of fish, safflower oil, corn oil, and other plant-based oils. Monounsaturated fats help diminish bad cholesterol levels and lower the risks of having heart conditions, while polyunsaturated fats can lower the blood pressure and reduce the possibility of having irregular heartbeats. It is these fats that your body needs, instead of the unhealthy fats, like trans fats, which are mainly used in fried foods, baked goods, margarine, and non-dairy coffee creamers.
In a high-fat diet, fats can actually enhance the body’s ability to lose weight. Long ago, people used to think that in order to cut lots of calories and start losing weight, all fat sources are to be avoided. Why have fats while we could have carbohydrates instead, which provide less calories per gram? At first glance, it seems to be a logical question. But for one, fats are much more filling than carbs. Having less grams of fats makes you feel full for a longer time than more grams of carbs, which means not getting hungry multiple times a day and constantly craving sugar snacks. It takes longer for the digestive system to deal with fats, so they move slowly through it, making it quicker for you to reach the feeling of fullness (by enhancing the levels of leptin, the hormone whose mission is to tell your brain that you are full) and suppress the feeling of hunger. Eating a high-fat food on your breakfast (eggs or peanut butter for example), is more likely to make you feel satisfied till your lunchtime than a high-carb food, like sugary cereals or flavored and sweetened yogurt, which are digested quicker.
Moreover, replacing carbohydrates with fats makes the body more sensitive and responsive to insulin, which is an advantageous thing for people with elevated blood sugar levels. There will not be any resistance towards insulin, the thing that results in a better management of blood sugar levels. Again, it is the good fats that can have such an effect on the insulin and not the unhealthy ones, which can worsen the status of insulin.
And finally, it is highly recommended that more monounsaturated fats be added to your diet, as they are essential in the process of absorbing certain vitamins. Some vitamins (like vitamin C and several B vitamins) are water-soluble, meaning that they dissolve in water and are easily absorbed, without being stored in the body. An excess of such vitamins is quickly dealt with by simply being excreted in urine. But other vitamins (like vitamin A, vitamin D, and vitamin K) are fat-soluble; they dissolve in fat, and an excess of them is not eliminated quickly, but rather stored in the fatty tissue or in the liver in order to be used later.
So if you are looking for a diet that provides easy weight loss, the Keto diet tells you to start decreasing your carbohydrate intake (which will only put on more weight on you), and increasing your healthy fat intake. Reaping the healthy benefits of good fats does help increase your metabolic rate, which in turn means an improved expenditure of body energy, an increased rate of calorie burning, and a gradual transformation in the lifestyle.
Best Snacks for a Keto Diet
In a Keto lifestyle, it is still possible to treat yourself to a healthy snack. Assuredly, snacks should also be suitable for the Ketogenic diet, which means if you ever want to indulge yourself with a snack, it should be of low carbs and high fats. You can consider having the following Keto-friendly snacks that will not fluctuate your Ketone levels:
Being rich in healthy fats and poor in net carbohydrates, olives make a good choice for a Ketogenic diet. Ten mid-sized olives will only give you one gram of net carbs. This is not to mention the other health benefits which will only add to its appeal to diet followers.
Same with olives, avocados are considered to be of the best snacks for the Keto diet. Packed with monounsaturated fats, they will satisfy your need for a filling snack while not going off your weight loss plan.
Macadamia nuts are ideal to Keto dieters. They are rich in fats and contain only a few grams of carbohydrates. If you snack on 28 grams of macadamia nuts, you can get 21 grams of fats and only 4 grams of carbs.
Peanut butter does not only give you the fats you need to stick to your Keto plan, but is also a source of protein. Just be careful when you pick peanut butter brands as some brands may contain other additions (e.g. sugar) that may not be suitable for your diet.
Keto-Friendly Dark Chocolate
Even when you are on a low-carb diet like the Ketogenic diet, you can still eat dark chocolate! Just not any type of chocolate. You should preferably choose one that is sweetened with stevia or some other sweetener. If you do not find any, then you can pick an unsweetened dark chocolate and have it in moderate proportions. But make sure it contains at least %70 cocoa or more so you consume the least amount of carbs possible.
Keto-Friendly Snack Bars
There are many types and brands of bars available on store shelves. Just make sure you read the ingredient list and pick one whose ingredients are low in net carbs and you can try to fit it within your daily calorie limit.
Can Vegans Go on the Keto Diet?
Here comes the question that vegans are waiting for: Is it possible to go on the Keto diet when we are already restricting ourselves from a whole group of foods? Although it could be a little more challenging to stick to such an already restricted diet, there is actually no problem with combining these two diets, and it is perfectly possible to follow a vegan version of Keto. It is carbohydrates that Keto is trying to limit, but for protein and fats, the plant-based Keto diet can obviously rely on plants to fill the protein and fat gaps in the diet, instead of animal meat.
In order to be a vegan Keto dieter, a vegan is required to consume more plants with fats and protein, and to try to avoid the high-carb ones. Going on a vegan Keto does not mean you are going to slog away to find the products you are seeking; you can always find vegan alternatives that fit in this plant-based Keto diet in markets, like vegan cheese, vegan butter, vegan diary (such as coconut yogurt) and many more. You can also get your protein from tofu or tempeh. Non-starchy vegetables such as broccoli, zucchini, and mushrooms also make a nutritious and a Keto-friendly choice for vegans.
So going on such an even more restrictive diet like the vegan Keto might not be easy, but with careful and proper planning, you can still achieve your two health goals together.
Does the Keto Diet Have Side Effects?
Making a major change in your diet can cause some initial side effects. When you first start cutting on carbs and increasing your daily consumption of fats, there is a chance you experience something called a “Keto Flu.” You might get symptoms like headaches, dizziness, and fatigue, or may experience vomiting. Frequent urination is also one of the symptoms you will have. It is because your body would be producing Ketones and then removing them through urination. Another side effect is the bad (or fruity) breath you may have when you get into Ketosis. Additionally, it is possible for some people to have constipation, and their leg muscles can cramp in the beginning. All these symptoms will not last too long; they can be gone in a week or two. It is just that your body is trying to adjust to the new metabolic system and adapt to the new way of generating energy.
Who Cannot Be a Keto Dieter?
It always seems to be a good plan to finally substitute your random eating habits with organized and healthy ones. Just the idea that you will actually start losing weight when you follow the Keto diet can positively motivate you. But hold on. Certain types of diets may not be suitable for everyone. Whether you believe you are able to follow this diet smoothly or not, it is still always better to consult with your doctor, especially if you have certain health conditions. The risks of sticking to a low-carb and high-fat diet are still a matter of debate and you can hear different views. But in general, patients with the following conditions must be extremely careful:
- If you have a history of kidney or liver issues, then this diet might not be healthy for you. Consuming too much fats puts more pressure on your organs as they are trying to help break these fats and remove the extra ones out of the body.
- Keto can also not be a very good choice for people with digestive problems. As mentioned earlier, this diet can cause a constipation. So if you already have a chronic constipation, or some digestive system conditions like IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), then it is better to seek the supervision from your doctor or dietitian.
- This diet is unquestionably not recommended for pregnant women. They constantly need to get a variety of nutrients necessary for the growth of their babies. So removing a specific nutrient from their diet may have unfavorable consequences and affect both the mother and her baby negatively. If a pregnant woman wants to avoid gaining weight during pregnancy, she can seek advice from her doctor so that she can find a way to eat healthy while still getting all the nutrients she needs.
- For breastfeeders, there is not enough evidence to suggest that Keto is not at all suitable for them, but there are things to be considered when being on Keto. Trying to lose weight by sticking to diets is generally not very recommended. Plus, since fats are more filling than carbs, having bigger amounts of fats can lower their intake of daily calories, which in turn can have an effect on the milk supply.