Achieving optimal ketosis hinges on finding the right balance of macronutrients (or “macros” in keto-speak); these are the elements in your diet that account for the majority of your calories, a.k.a. energy—namely, fat, protein, and carbohydrates. By the way, it’s often “net grams” of carbohydrates that are counted toward your daily intake; “net” deducts the amount of fiber in a food from its carbohydrate total.
If you’re looking to get a jump start on your health and fitness goals this year, you may be thinking about trying the ketogenic diet. Maybe you’ve heard the phrase before — it’s a huge diet buzzword — but aren’t sure what it means. Here’s a primer: The ketogenic diet is an eating plan that drives your body into ketosis, a state where the body uses fat as a primary fuel source (instead of carbohydrates), says Stacey Mattinson, RDN, who is based in Austin, Texas.
While it may be new to you, the keto diet has actually been around since the 1920’s, when the Mayo Clinic reported its effectiveness for helping epilepsy (that is still the case). Since then, there’s strong evidence that the keto diet helps with weight loss as well as type 2 diabetes, prediabetes, and metabolic syndrome, says Jeff Volek, Ph.D., RD, professor in the department of Human Sciences at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio and co-author of The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living.
One area where food tracking can be especially helpful, though, is ensuring that you're hitting the right ratios of macronutrients-protein, carbs, and fat. "The most researched version of the ketogenic diet derives 70 percent of calories from healthy fats, 20 percent from protein, and only 10 percent from carbs," explains Charles Passler, D.C., nutritionist, and founder of Pure Change. "In the ideal world, each keto meal and snack should have that same (70/20/10) ratio of macronutrients, but studies have shown that you'll still achieve great results even if each meal varies slightly from that ratio, just as long as you don't exceed 50 grams per day of carbs, or eat those carbs in one sitting," says Passler. In order to achieve these ratios without a preset meal plan from a dietitian or doctor, some food tracking is probably going to be necessary. But once you get the hang of things, you may not need it anymore.
Try Googling “TDEE Calculator”. Once you plug in your stats, the site will calculate your total daily energy expenditure. This is a useful guide in determining how many calories to eat. From there, if you are trying to lose weight, just reduce your caloric intake, increase your expenditure (through exercising more), or use a combination of the two.
Endurance Performance: Traditionally, endurance athletes tend to consume a high amount of carbohydrates in order to “fill up” their fuel stores (i.e. glycogen) for competitions. Thus, a diet where carbohydrates are restricted seems counter-intuitive for these individuals. However, Dr. Jeff Volek’s research showed that once an individual is keto-adapted, not only is their performance the same or better than those consuming high levels of carbohydrates, but their glycogen “fuel stores” are the same as well. Despite consuming a diet lower in carbohydrates, these athletes are able to adapt and utilize a nearly limitless supply of fat as their primary fuel source.
The ketogenic diet has been studied in at least 14 rodent animal models of seizures. It is protective in many of these models and has a different protection profile than any known anticonvulsant. Conversely, fenofibrate, not used clinically as an antiepileptic, exhibits experimental anticonvulsant properties in adult rats comparable to the ketogenic diet. This, together with studies showing its efficacy in patients who have failed to achieve seizure control on half a dozen drugs, suggests a unique mechanism of action.
Take a 2 – 3 cups of lettuce, crumble in some bacon and dice a medium tomato. Mix that with two or three tablespoons of mayo, and toss after adding some splashes of hot sauce. Delicious, filling, full of fiber and healthy fats, and absolutely easy. I know the mayo sounds weird as a dressing, but trust us; it’s amazing! Add in some avocado chunks to boost potassium too!
“Combining a super restrictive diet with long periods of non-eating is not good,” says Keatley. “The body will cannibalize its own muscle for energy if intake from food is too low but the body does not differentiate between something like a calf muscle or a heart muscle. Keep in mind all your important organs are made of smooth muscle and going on a diet like this may harm something like your bladder or lungs just as much as provide fat loss.”
Also make sure that you know what foods have mostly carbs, fat, and protein, so you can make the right choices. For instance, it’s not just bread, pasta, chips, cookies, candy, and ice cream that contain carbs. Beans may contain protein, but they’re also very high in carbohydrates. Fruit and veggies also mostly contain carbs. The only foods that don’t contain carbs are meat (protein) and pure fats, like butter and oils (including olive oil and coconut oil).
Keto and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI): Research involving TBI has found that upon immediate trauma to the head, the brain takes up massive amounts of glucose. However, soon thereafter, the brain becomes resistant to taking up and utilizing glucose. This damage leads to insulin resistance and inflammation of brain tissue. The anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory properties of ketones have been shown to not only reduce inflammation but to reduce glucose uptake in the brain as well. The ketogenic diet may also be a therapeutic treatment option for those individuals who have experienced long-term ramifications of a TBI by providing ketones as an alternative fuel source that can be readily taken up and utilized by the brain following these traumas.
One downside to a ketogenic diet for weight loss is the difficulty maintaining it. “Studies show that weight loss results from being on a low-carb diet for more than 12 months tend to be the same as being on a normal, healthy diet,” says Mattinson. While you may be eating more satiating fats (like peanut butter, regular butter, or avocado), you’re also way more limited in what’s allowed on the diet, which can make everyday situations, like eating dinner with family or going out with friends, far more difficult. Because people often find it tough to sustain, it’s easy to rely on it as a short-term diet rather than a long-term lifestyle.
A study with an intent-to-treat prospective design was published in 1998 by a team from the Johns Hopkins Hospital and followed-up by a report published in 2001. As with most studies of the ketogenic diet, no control group (patients who did not receive the treatment) was used. The study enrolled 150 children. After three months, 83% of them were still on the diet, 26% had experienced a good reduction in seizures, 31% had had an excellent reduction, and 3% were seizure-free.[Note 7] At 12 months, 55% were still on the diet, 23% had a good response, 20% had an excellent response, and 7% were seizure-free. Those who had discontinued the diet by this stage did so because it was ineffective, too restrictive, or due to illness, and most of those who remained were benefiting from it. The percentage of those still on the diet at two, three, and four years was 39%, 20%, and 12%, respectively. During this period, the most common reason for discontinuing the diet was because the children had become seizure-free or significantly better. At four years, 16% of the original 150 children had a good reduction in seizure frequency, 14% had an excellent reduction, and 13% were seizure-free, though these figures include many who were no longer on the diet. Those remaining on the diet after this duration were typically not seizure-free, but had had an excellent response.
The ketogenic diet is a medical nutrition therapy that involves participants from various disciplines. Team members include a registered paediatric dietitian who coordinates the diet programme; a paediatric neurologist who is experienced in offering the ketogenic diet; and a registered nurse who is familiar with childhood epilepsy. Additional help may come from a medical social worker who works with the family and a pharmacist who can advise on the carbohydrate content of medicines. Lastly, the parents and other caregivers must be educated in many aspects of the diet for it to be safely implemented.
Although you'll be cutting way back on carbohydrates and sugar, some fruits are still okay to eat on the keto diet (though you'll still want to be mindful about quantity in order to remain in ketosis). The fruits that make the cut contain far fewer carbs than their off-limits cousins such as apples, pears, bananas, pineapples, papayas, grapes, and fruit juices in general.
Instead of thinking about the total carbs you’re eating, assess what those carbs provide to you. Do the majority of your carbs come from fruit and vegetables, with a payload of fiber and disease-fighting antioxidants? Fantastic. Or are you consuming them in the form of added sugars (cookies, candy, soda) or refined flour? If you are, you know what to do.
Most carbs you consume are broken down into sugar that enters the bloodstream. When you rein in carbohydrates on the keto diet, you have lower levels of blood glucose (high blood glucose can lead to diabetes). A study in the journal Nutrition reveals that a ketogenic diet improves blood glucose levels in type 2 diabetics more significantly than a low-calorie diet and can also decrease the dosage of your diabetes meds.
While a keto diet for beginners is also low in carbohydrates, it is NOT synonymous with traditional low-carbohydrate diets seen in popular media or even some scientific research. Since there is no strict definition of a “low carbohydrate diet,” some research studies utilize 30–40% carbohydrate diets and indicate that they are “low-carb.” However we now know that is roughly the same percentage as a standard American diet that has plagued our society with obesity and metabolic syndrome. Thus, while lowering carbohydrate intake in general is beneficial, it must be reinforced that traditional low-carbohydrate diets DIFFER from a well-formulated ketogenic diet.
First, a little background: Eric Westman, MD, director of the Duke Lifestyle Medical Clinic, explained to Health in a previous interview that in order to successfully follow the keto diet, you need to eat moderate amounts of protein, reduce your carb intake, and increase fats. When you reduce your carb consumption, your body turns to stored fat as its new fuel source—a process called ketosis. To stay in ketosis, followers of the keto diet must limit their carbs to 50 grams a day, Dr. Westman says.
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Appetite Control: The high-fat nature of the ketogenic diet along with elevated ketone and stable blood glucose levels have been shown to have a profound effect on appetite. This may give individuals who have a difficult time controlling the amount of food they eat “freedom” in knowing that they won’t be as hungry and thus less likely to consume excess calories.
On a ketogenic diet, your entire body switches its fuel supply to run mostly on fat, burning fat 24-7. When insulin levels become very low, fat burning can increase dramatically. It becomes easier to access your fat stores to burn them off. This is great if you’re trying to lose weight, but there can also be other, less obvious benefits, such as less hunger and a steady supply of energy (without the sugar peaks and valleys we can get from high carb meals). This may help keep you alert and focused.
The Atkins diet and ketogenic diet are often used synonymously; however, they are different. While both diets lower carbohydrate consumption, the Atkins diet allows for a period in which both protein and carbohydrate intakes are increased (while fat intake is lowered) beyond what would classify as ketogenic. The goal of the ketogenic diet is to shift the body into utilizing fat/ketones as its primary fuel source. By doing so, the body creates a metabolic substrate called ketone bodies. However, due to the increase of both carbohydrates and protein as well as lowered intake of fat, the Atkins diet is metabolically different from a keto diet for beginners and often does not result in a consistent state of ketosis.
You’ve probably heard about the low carb, high fat diet that’s so popular among actors and models, and with good reason: low carb diets offer proper nourishment with whole foods, while keeping your body burning fat for fuel. This is a great way to be, as it makes fat loss largely effortless! But where does this “ketogenic” word fit into the picture?
I eat relatively healthy and fairly low carb (I am already gluten free). I am interested in getting into Ketosis for the the health benefits, but am quite thin for a guy and don’t want to lose any weight. I look at the sample diet above and am pretty sure I would drop weight quickly (I consume about 2,500+ calories daily now). I eat 3 meals plus 2-3 snacks (snacks mostly of nuts (with raisins that would have to go), greek yogurt (would switch to plain), peanut butter, cheese and fruit (would need to reduce qty)). Would eating straight up butter be ok for additional calories also once I am in Ketosis?