After a couple of blog posts, meal plans and recipes, I realised I never really explained what the keto diet was. This post will hopefully clarify some main concepts and give you links to useful websites so you can do your own research as well.
What does keto mean?
The term ‘keto’ comes from the word ‘ketones’. Ketones are fuel molecules which our body uses when our blood sugar is low, i.e. when we eat less sugar and carbohydrates. The liver is responsible for producing ketones from fat, which then turn into energy that our body needs. So if you cut down on carbs and increase your fat intake, your body will produce energy from the food you eat, leaving very little residue. When eating a lot of carbs, your body burns them and leaves the fat untouched because there is no need for it to be spent. So basically, you eat fat to burn fat. When we eat fat, and cut down on carbs, our body enters a stage called ‘ketosis’ (you can also get into ketosis by doing intermittent fasting, but that’s a topic for another blog), in which you burn fat and lose weight. Being in ketosis while eating is called nutritional ketosis, as opposed to starvation ketosis.
How do you know when you’re in ketosis?
There are a couple of side-effects that you will experience while in ketosis, and these can act as indicators of your body starting to burn fat. The most common ones are dry mouth or a metallic taste in your mouth, increased thirst and more peeing, ‘keto breath’ (this is the worst, honestly), decrease in appetite and food intake, and fatigue which is followed by an increase in energy. The only objective way to make sure you are in ketosis is to measure ketones. There are some devices and test strips that you can buy on Amazon to measure them. I don’t measure my ketones in that way, but rather follow the changes in my body to see where I’m at. Ketosis can kick in at different times for different people. If you’re starting your keto diet and feel like you’re not in ketosis yet, be patient, try to follow your food intake more carefully (count your macros, and log in everything you eat. Yes, even that latte you had after lunch), add in some exercise, and just stick to it. Once you see the first results it will all be worth it.
What are the bad sides of keto?
Like any diet, keto has its negative sides. I know I’ve been saying how good it is and how I love it, but there are some things I still struggle with. As mentioned above, keto breath is one of the worst side-effects, at least for me. The bad thing is that I can’t smell it, but the husband does. And believe me, he’s not holding back when letting me know. Keto breath is a result of acetone, a ketone molecule that is produced when you burn fat rapidly. You can fight keto breath by drinking lots of water and getting enough salt, maintaining your oral hygiene, using a breath freshener, waiting it out (it usually goes away in a week or two), and adding some more carbs to kick you out of ketosis. You can also experience your blood pressure rising slightly when starting keto, which can also be cured with taking enough water and salt. You can also raise the amount of carbs you eat and take magnesium. Another thing you can experience is reduced physical performance, which is common in the first few weeks until your body gets used to burning fat for energy. In those first few weeks your body might experience flu symptoms, adequately called the keto flu. Some of the symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, constipation, headache, muscle cramps, and stomach pain. As with the side-effects above, you should stay hydrated to fight the keto flu. You can also avoid strenuous exercise in these first few weeks, and take extra electrolytes (add more salt, take magnesium, and even drink bouillon to help fight the ‘flu’).
What to eat on keto?
The key part of the keto (or lchf – low carb high fat) diet is, you guessed it, decreasing your carb intake. My daily limit is 25g of carbs, but you can start with a higher number and work your way down. This is why I suggest using an app to track your macros (I use My Fitness Pal, but you can use many others, or even write down your macros by hand). Another useful thing to have is a digital food scale to accurately measure the amounts of food you eat. Having said that, if you are looking to lose weight, you need to track your calorie intake as well. Make sure your intake is lower than the calories you burn in a day and you will be losing weight in no time! Some of keto staple foods include things high in natural fats, such as butter, olive oil, coconut oil, or ghee; meat, fish and seafood; eggs (you cannot believe the amount of eggs I eat every week); cheese, and veggies that grow above ground (the ones below the ground have a higher carb count because of the starch they produce). Avoid food that is high in sugar and carbs. When unsure, just look at the nutritional information of the product you want to buy and aim for less than 10g of carbs per 100g of product. You’ll have to say goodbye to bread, sodas (diet sodas are fine), juice, candy, pasta, beer and most fruit (berries are ok on keto). You will need to avoid excess amounts of alcohol, although there are some options that are better than others (check them out here). The best drinks are, of course, water, tea and black coffee (you can also try bulletproof coffee, one of the staple keto drinks. I haven’t tried it yet but plan to very soon!).
So there you have it, some basic facts about the keto diet. If you decide to do it, I suggest you do some more research for yourself and check with your doctor whether or not this is the right diet for you, especially if you have diabetes, high blood pressure or any other condition that might not work well with a high fat diet. Feel free to ask me any questions, I love sharing my experience (in case you didn’t notice that by now), and I will try to help as best as I can.
Thanks for reading!