Contrary to general dietary recommendations which have proven to be false, the ketogenic diet is a high-fat, moderate protein, low-carb diet. It’s a diet that causes ketones to be produced by the liver, shifting the body’s metabolism away from glucose and towards fat utilization. The ketogenic diet is an effective weight loss tool and has been shown to improve several health conditions such Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, epilepsy and even cancer. Healthy cells can use ketones for energy, but cancer cells cannot and they literally starve to death. If you want to learn more about the health benefits of the ketogenic diet, my good friend Franziska Spritzler, who also happens to be a qualified dietitian specialising on low-carb nutrition, has written a great article for my blog.
How does it work? Very simply said, when you eat food high in carbs, your body produces glucose and insulin. While glucose is used as the main source of energy, insulin secretion is produced to down regulate your glucose levels in the blood stream. Insulin is also responsible for storing fat in our body and if your body produces too much of it, you put on weight. Excessive carbs, typical in modern diets, combined with lack of physical activity will likely result in weight gain. Based on a comparison of several scientific trials, low-carb diets outperform calorie-restricted diets in terms of long-term weight loss and health effects.
A common misconception is that our body, especially our brain, needs glucose. Although glucose is known to be the primary source of energy (your body naturally prefers glucose), it’s nowhere near as efficient as ketone bodies, especially for the brain.
Depending on your goals and on how much you exercise, you can follow any of the four types of ketogenic diets: standard, targeted, cyclical or restricted ketogenic diet. All of them vary based on the daily carb intake and the timing of your meals. Recent studies show that in fact, carbs before or after exercise are not needed once you get keto-adapted and your body will happily run on ketones. This has been well explained in Dr Volek’s and Phinney’s book, The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance.
Diets like the Paleo/“Primal” diet have numerous health benefits, however if your goal is to lose weight, they are often not enough. Honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar, bananas, dates or tapioca flour definitely won’t move the scales down. As a result, our approach is not only to create recipes low in carbs but also paleo-friendly.
The Keto Diet approach is simple: It’s a low-carb diet where the focus is on eating real food. With the growing popularity of low-carb diets, the food industry introduced foods that may be low in carbs but are laden with unhealthy ingredients such as artificial sweeteners, preservatives and other additives. It’s up to you to decide how much Paleo you allow in your low-carb diet: What works for one, may not work for another. In general, if your goal is to lose weight, you have to limit your carb intake even if it comes from healthy paleo sources.
How Do I Know I’m in Ketosis?
There are a few ways for you to find out whether or not you are in ketosis. Although the most accurate way is to use a [amazon asin=B01CZ65AB0&text=blood ketone meter], you can also use [amazon asin=B00SODYZQK&text=urine ketone strips] or simply your common sense and listen to your body signals.
[amazon template=recommended for you (single product)&asin=B01CZ65AB0]
Get Your Macros Right
When you follow the ketogenic diet, it is critical that you get the macronutrient ratio right. Ideally, you should be eating:
- 5–10% of calories from carbs (net carbs). Typically, 20-30 grams of net carbs is recommended to start with.
- 15–30% of calories from protein and
- 60–75% of calories from fat. If your goal is to lose weight, your fat intake might even go below 60%. Fat is used as a “filler” and should make up the remaining calories.
The exact amount of fat and protein is a matter of individual body responses and activity levels. However, most people on ketogenic diets don’t consume over 5% of calories from carbohydrates.
Should I Count Calories?
It’s a common misconception that you can eat unlimited amount of calories and still lose weight. In fact, you can put on weight even on a low-carb diet. Although this doesn’t happen often, you will need to understand a few basic principles and avoid common mistakes.
Low-carb ketogenic diets are naturally sating and act as appetite suppressants. This is why you’ll eat less and won’t need to count calories which is one of the three main effects of the ketogenic diet.
However, if for any reason your weight is stalling for more than 2-3 weeks, you may need to consider keeping an eye on your energy intake (calories). Reaching a weight loss plateau may be caused by several reasons and you don’t necessarily have to be eating too much, in fact, you may discover that you haven’t been eating enough. In my experience, losing body fat becomes more and more difficult as you get close to your target weight.
What to Eat and What to Avoid
In short, you should eat REAL food (meat, eggs, nuts, yogurt, vegetables and occasionally some fruits). Apart from the obvious limitation of net carbs content in food, it is also recommended to avoid processed food and any food that may contain preservatives and colourings.
Keto Diet is not just about losing weight at any cost; it’s about adopting a healthier lifestyle.
Keto Diet Guide
Stick with the keto ratio: 60-75% of calories from fat, 15-30% calories from protein and 5-10% calories from net carbs.
Start by getting the daily net carbs (total carbs without fiber) down to less than 50 grams, preferably 20-30 grams. Increase slowly to find the optimal carbs intake. Most of you will be able to stay in ketosis at 20-30 grams of net carbs per day. Find the carbs limit that allows you to stay in ketosis.
Keep your protein intake moderate. Preferably, use your body fat percentage to get the best estimate for your optimal protein intake (0.6 to 1 grams per pound of lean body mass or 1.3 to 2.2 grams per kg of lean body mass).
Increase the proportion of calories that come from healthy fats (saturated, omega 3s, monounsaturated).
If your net carbs limit is very low (20 grams and below), avoid eating fruit and low-carb treats.
Eat when you are hungry, even if it’s a meal a day. Don’t let others dictate what you eat or how often you eat.
You don’t have to limit quantities of food deliberately, but you should stop eating when you feel full, even if the plate is not empty — keep it for later.
Don’t count calories — listen to your body needs. Ketogenic and low-carb diets have a natural appetite control effect and you will eat less. Keep an eye on your calorie intake only if you reach a weight loss plateau, try KetoDiet buddy to find your ideal macros.
Increase the amount of water you drink — at least 2-3 litres a day.
[amazon template=further reading (single)&asin=1628601000]
Stock your pantry with healthy foods
Learn to eat real food like eggs, meat and non-starchy vegetables. Contrary to what we have been told for decades, these are good for you!
If you need to snack, opt for healthy foods high in fat (foods containing coconut oil, macadamia nuts, avocados, etc.)
Include healthy foods like fermented foods, bone broth and offal in your diet.
Don’t be afraid of saturated fat and use it for cooking (coconut oil, butter, ghee, lard, tallow, palm oil – organic from sustainable agriculture).
Use unsaturated fats for salads (olive oil, nut oils, sesame oil, flaxseed oil, avocado oil – organic, extra virgin). Some can be used for light cooking.
Avoid all processed vegetable oils, margarine, hydrogenated oils, partially hydrogenated oils, trans fats, canola oil, soybean oil, grapeseed oil and corn oil.
Eat raw dairy (or none in case of allergies). Look for raw, organic, grass-fed dairy. Avoid milk (high in carbs) or use small amounts of unpasteurized full-fat milk.
If you eat nuts, consider soaking and dehydrating them.
Increase your electrolyte intake (sodium, magnesium and potassium)
Macronutrients (fat, protein and carbs) are not the only aspect you should focus on — micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) are equally important. Those that are known to be deficient, especially in very low-carb diets such as below 20 g net carbs, are electrolytes.
Here are a few tips to get your daily electrolytes:
- [amazon asin=B00N0INFAG&text=Potassium:] eat avocados, mushrooms, fatty fish such as salmon and add potassium chloride to your regular salt (or mix ½ teaspoon in 1 litre of water and drink throughout the day). Be very careful with potassium supplements, never exceed the recommended daily intake!
- [amazon asin=B000BD0RT0&text=Magnesium:] eat a handful of nuts every day to boost our magnesium intake and take magnesium supplement. If you eat less than 20-25 grams of net carbs, it will be very difficult to get to your daily targets.
- [amazon asin=CL3AW1Q &text=Sodium:] Don’t be afraid to use salt (I like [amazon asin=CL3AW1Q&text=pink Himalayan rock salt]) and drink bone broth or use it in your everyday cooking.
Beware of hidden carbs and unhealthy ingredients
Read the labels and avoid hidden carbs (Maltitol, Sorbitol, etc.), unnecessary additives, preservatives, colourings or artificial sweeteners. These could be found even in chewing gums and mints. Not only they can trigger cravings but they are also linked to many negative health effects. If you use sweeteners, here is a list of suitable sweeteners, opt for those with no effect on blood sugar.
Avoid anything labeled as “low-fat” or “fat-free”, as it usually has artificial additives and extra carbs. It also has no sating effect and you will feel hungry soon after you eat it.
Avoid products labeled “low-carb” or “great for low-carb diets”. It has been shown that most of these commercially available products are nor low-carb neither healthy!
Beware of medications (cough syrups and drops and many other) containing sugar and try to find sugar-free replacements.
Don’t trust products labeled “low-carb”, focus on foods naturally low in carbs
Make sure you always opt for real unprocessed food and avoid prepared meals full of additives and deceptive labelling. Low-carb products are often higher in carbs than they claim to be and often contain artificial additives.
It’s no secret that aspartame, which is an artificial sweetener found in diet soda, has shown to have many adverse effects on our health. Also, keep in mind there are strong financial interests to cover this up and deceive consumers.
Plan your diet in advance and avoid “accidents”
To save time and money, you will need to plan your diet in advance, especially if you are new to it. Here are a few tips before you get started:
Get rid of anything that is not allowed on the diet (flour, sugar and sugary snacks, bread, processed foods, etc.) to avoid temptation. Trust me, if it’s in your house, you will likely crave it. This way you will avoid unnecessary “fridge accidents” that may ruin your efforts.
If you have sugar cravings, have a glass of water (still or sparkling) with fresh juice from 1/2 lime or lemon and 3-5 drops of stevia. Drink tea (green, herbal, black) and coffee with cream.
Make a list of your weekly shopping for meals you are planning to cook.
To save time and money, have hard boiled eggs and cooked meat ready to be used in salad or for a quick snack. Slow cooked meat like this one could be used in many different ways (in omelettes or on top or lettuce and other vegetables). Meats suitable for slow cooking are cheaper and can be cooked in advance. I use this slow cooker or you can simply cook it in the oven on low-medium covered with a lid.
Make sure you always have keto-friendly foods on hand (eggs, avocado, non-starchy vegetables, meat, cheese, nuts or even home-made protein bars. Foods rich in protein are very sating and will help you overcome hunger cravings.
Keep Motivated, You Are NOT Alone!
Be strong during the first few days. Think of this time as something that will soon pass. There will be cravings and negative side effects over this period. Once it’s over you will feel great and full of energy!
Imagine yourself a few pounds lighter wearing your old jeans and keep being positive! Stress will only have a negative effect on your weight loss.
If there is any reason you cannot avoid eating more carbs than you should, remember to do some physical activity to burn them. It is recommended you do some exercise no later than an hour after you eat extra carbs. If you’re at a party, dance! And don’t get in the habit of eating more carbs than you should.
If you disrupt your diet, don’t get depressed; just go back to your plan the day after!
Finally, DON’T let anyone make you think you can’t lose weight! And don’t believe it’s genetics. People may think you eat the wrong food – ignore them; it’s your life and your health!
One Week KickstarterKet Diet Plan
It’s time to plan your meals for the week. Luckily, we’ve taken the hard work out of it for you, and provided a sample one-week meal plan to kick-start ketosis:
Breakfast: 3 boiled eggs, bacon, grilled mushrooms
Snack: Half an avocado with shrimps and mayo
Lunch: Sirloin steak with roasted squash
Snack: Salami with cheddar cheese
Dinner: Baked salmon with low-carb rice
Snack: Low-carb protein shake
Breakfast: Low carb tacos
Snack: Coffee with heavy cream
Lunch: Ham salad with sesame seeds and olive oil
Snack: Peanut butter with celety sticks
Dinner: Steak salad with shrimp fried in butter & garlic
Snack: 3 sticks of cheddar with mixed nuts
Breakfast: Ham and egg cups with fried mushrooms
Snack: Handful of roasted peanuts
Lunch: Feta cheese, grilled asparagus and crispy bacon
Snack: Low carb lemon drizzle cake
Dinner: Chicken stir fry with peppers, onions, shredded carrot
Snack: Almond butter with celery sticks
Breakfast: Low-carb breakfast biscuits
Snack: Turkey roll-ups with cream cheese
Lunch: Creamy low- carb roasted cauliflower and garlic soup
Snack: 3 chicken thighs
Dinner: Lamb chops with roasted mediterranean veg
Snack: Keto-bacon brownies
Breakfast: 3 cheese omelette with scallions
Snack: Keto-friendly fat bombs
Lunch: Tuna salad with boiled eggs and green beans
Snack: Handful of mixed nuts
Dinner: Low-carb, keto burger with cloud bread bun
Snack: Low-carb protein shake
Breakfast: Sausage, poached egg and bacon
Snack: 15 Almonds, 1 boiled egg
Lunch: Steak salad with scallions and blue cheese
Snack: Low-carb protein shake
Dinner: Baked cod with asparagus and butter
Snack: 3 chicken legs