A beginner’s guide to the ketogenic diet

6 minReading time

Magazines rave about it, celebrities praise it, and the media buzzes about the ketogenic diet. You want to begin your weight loss journey, but where do you start? When it comes to starting a new diet, it is important to get the facts before you dive in headfirst; new diets can be overwhelming and potentially harmful to your health if done incorrectly. In this beginner’s guide, we will help you to navigate the ins and outs of the keto diet for you to remain knowledgeable, healthy and prepared to achieve your weight loss goals. 

For starters, what is the ketogenic diet?

The ketogenic diet, also referred to as keto for short, limits your intake of net carbohydrates and replaces them with higher amounts of healthy fats. High-fat foods such as olive oil, salmon, eggs, and avocado all take center stage in this diet, while starchy foods like bread, pasta, rice and sugar are ruled out. On nutrition labels in the US, net carbohydrates are equal to the total amount of carbohydrates minus the amount of fiber and sugar alcohol in food. In European nutrition labels, the number of carbs listed are the same as the number of net carbs. Because fibers do not affect blood sugar, tracking the total net carbs you intake is key. 

The science behind the keto diet

The keto diet aims to transform your body into a fat-burning machine. Usually, carbohydrates are the main source of fuel for our diet. In the absence of carbohydrates, the body starts to break down fat stores into ketones to use as an energy source instead of sugar/glucose. (1). The shift in the source of fuel from carbohydrates to fat, with ketones becoming the primary source of fuel for the body, is referred to as ketosis. Hence, the name for this eating pattern (2) The goal of this diet is for the body to achieve a state of ketosis where it metabolizes fat efficiently to promote weight loss and other potential health benefits.

Facets of the keto diet

While some may suggest that higher fat, lower carb eating habits are inherently “bad” for you, the ketogenic diet has suggested to have many positive health benefits, including being an effective method of weight loss.

The keto diet is said to be good for those looking for weight loss because it may reduce hunger, can be simple to follow, and can improve the metabolism of fat. Simplicity comes from the fact that the diet has a simple guideline- limit your carb intake. When consuming meals higher in fat and protein without carbs, it can potentially lead to a reduction in appetite, in turn leading to the consumption of smaller portions without thinking about it. These changes in your diet can help bring about weight loss in a natural way. While research is not conclusive on this, some studies have suggested that the keto diet has been shown to improve blood sugar control for patients with type 2 diabetes, at least in the short term (3). Stabilizing blood sugar can also lead to lower blood pressure and can help prevent heart disease; however, general long term effects of the keto diet are still unknown.

Where should you start?

Starting a new diet can be overwhelming. Here are some things to consider before you begin your keto diet:

1. Know your facts. Before starting any diet, make sure you know what the diet entails, the structure of the diet, and check with your health care provider to see if the diet is compatible with your personal health status and goals. This will prepare you to ensure you are following the diet properly while still getting all of the nutrients your body needs.

2. Stock up on foods that fit the diet parameters. Although you will be eating a higher fat, lower carbohydrate diet doesn’t mean you are at a loss for options. Things you should keep stocked include: meats (especially lean meats such as turkey or chicken), fish (such as salmon or tuna), nuts (such as almonds, walnuts and cashews), seeds (such as chia and flax), eggs, cheese, avocado, olive oil and low-carb vegetables (such as asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, cucumber and green beans).  Eating the right amount of dietary fat can be an essential part of an overall healthy diet. However, be wary with the type of high fat foods you choose; since fats are going to be the main source of fuel for this diet, it is important that you choose foods rich in healthier, unsaturated fats and lower in saturated fats. Saturated fats and trans fats raise LDL cholesterol levels (which have been associated with increased risk for heart disease), while monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats can lower LDL cholesterol levels (4). Foods mentioned above such as nuts, seeds, fish, avocado and olive oil are good sources of unsaturated fats.

3. Choose your carbs wisely. Since you will be limiting your carbohydrate intake to 50 grams or less per day, there is less room for carbohydrate-rich foods such as certain fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. These foods are excellent sources of nutrients needed to maintain overall health, so you should make sure your daily carbohydrate foods are chosen carefully. This will ensure that your body gets all the micronutrients and dietary fibers it needs while staying within the diet’s carb limits. 

4.  Look for some support. While you don’t need an app to stick to a ketogenic diet, staying within the right range of carbs may be difficult unless you have something to track it. Nutrition apps such as Lifesum contain features specifically tailored to following a ketogenic diet. Lifesum’s keto diet app is the best way to track your carbs and make sure you stay in ketosis. You’ll get a carb-tracker tool that includes net carbs, ketogenic recipes for all occasions and advice on how to keep you going.

Although keto may be the diet you choose to follow, it is important to remember that there is no one diet that works for everyone. Each person’s body reacts differently and can have different outcomes to the same diet. However, if you are looking to start a certain diet, make sure that you receive the proper information on how to do it safely and healthily. If you are still unsure and would like to learn more about the ketogenic diet and what it entails, nutrition apps such as Lifesum’s informational youtube videos such as this one here. How do you think the keto diet fits into your personal nutrition goals?

References

  1. Harvard School of Public Health. Ketogenic diet: Is the ultimate low-carb diet good for you?. 2019. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/ketogenic-diet-is-the-ultimate-low-carb-diet-good-for-you-2017072712089 (Accessed 2020-6-9)
  2. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). What is the Ketogenic Diet.2019. https://www.eatright.org/health/weight-loss/fad-diets/what-is-the-ketogenic-diet (Accessed 2020-6-9)
  3. Harvard School of Public Health. Should you try the keto diet?. 2018. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/should-you-try-the-keto-diet (Accessed 2020-6-9)
  4. American Heart Association (AHA). Dietary Fats. 2014. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/dietary-fats (Accessed 2020-6-9)

With Lifesum, tracking your healthy habits (and the not so healthy ones) becomes a breeze. We’ll help you pick the right food, and eat the right portion sizes, to reach your personal health goals.

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