…But fat is bad for you, isn’t it? The fatter we eat, the fatter we get? The keto diet is changing the way we look at fat and how it works for losing weight. The science isn’t technically “new”, but trying to bust through the generally negative assumptions that the general public has about fat is still taking a lot of convincing. The keto diet has been touted as many things other than just a great tool for losing a considerable amount of weight in a relatively short space of time. Numerous studies have linked the keto diet with helping to prevent the onset of every serious condition from cancer, to Alzheimer’s.
But how does the keto diet even work? Where does the word keto even come from? What is the real science behind this seemingly miraculous diet and can we all benefit equally from following it?
What is the keto diet?
First of all, let’s start with the name. The ketogenic (or keto for short) diet, is a very low-carb, high-fat diet that shares many similarities with the Atkins and other low-carb diets. It involves dramatically reducing the body’s carbohydrate intake and substituting it with fat. This reduction in carbs puts your body into a (natural) metabolic state called ketosis. Fundamentally, the keto diet is a means of shifting your body’s metabolism away from carbs towards focussing on fats and ketones, as burning these is far more efficient than carbohydrates. To accomplish this, you must adhere to strict carb counting limiting your carb intake to between 20-30 grams a day, although many keto diets insist on 20 grams as a max.
Ketogenic diets can cause massive reductions in blood sugar and insulin levels. This, along with the increased ketones, can have numerous health benefits, with the main example being that of weight loss which makes the keto diet so popular.
How does the keto diet work?
Like we explained earlier, reducing your carb intake can put your body into a state of ketosis and when this happens, your body becomes incredibly efficient at burning fat for energy. It also turns fat into ketones in the liver, which can supply energy for the brain and improve its function. But the primary benefit from the keto diet is for burning through body fat faster.
There are several types of keto diets such as:
- Standard ketogenic diet (SKD): This is a very low-carb, moderate-protein and high-fat diet comprised of 75% fat, 20% protein and only 5% carbs.
- Cyclical ketogenic diet (CKD): This diet involves periods of higher-carb refeeds, such as five ketogenic days followed by two high-carb days.
- Targeted ketogenic diet (TKD): This diet allows you to add and remove carbs targeted around workouts.
- High-protein ketogenic diet: This is similar to a standard ketogenic diet, but includes more protein. The ratio is often 60% fat, 35% protein and 5% carbs.
Now, it is important to remember that only the standard and high-protein versions of the ketogenic diet have been studied extensively by scientists. Whilst you may see fitness professionals and bodybuilders recommend you try the cyclical and targeted versions of the diet, remember, the information you might see has not become part of the common consensus quite yet.
Keto diet foods
Naturally, trying to follow a keto diet will involve cutting out certain foods, as painful as that might be! But there is some confusion surrounding certain food groups, such as dairy products for example, that leave some would-be keto-dieters confused about what they can and can’t still have.
To simplify things, here is a basic list charting what you can and can’t have as part of a keto diet.
Keto diet tips for vegetarians and vegans
A keto diet has some obvious hurdles for vegetarians and vegans, chief among them – how do you increase your fat intake without having to resort to eating meat or dairy-based products?
Trying the keto diet for vegetarians is not impossible, providing, you can consume a decent amount of eggs and dairy products to keep up your fat and protein intake in place of not eating meat and fish. It is important to do so to keep your diet as balanced as possible. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for vegans. Vegans will struggle to keep up a balanced diet whilst trying to follow a keto-based diet. Nuts may be a good source of protein, but they still contain a higher than average amount of carbs which upon mass consumption, will upset any attempts you make to follow the keto diet.
In fact, as a vegan following the keto diet, you will end up having to turn to protein supplements and live off a lot of tofu if you want to keep up your protein intake. In the long term, vegans and even some vegetarians, if they have allergies or certain medical condition, will struggle to find this a sustainable diet.
Is the keto diet good for weight loss?
The keto diet plan has a lot of potential when it comes to weight loss. Many studies have concluded that the keto diet may prove to be one of, if not the most effective diet for weight loss there is, and there are plenty of reasons why. First of all, due to the high fat and considerably heavy amount of protein involved, the keto diet is considerably filling. Avoiding eating many foods that contain a lot of empty calories, carbs being the chief amongst those, ensures that the keto diet removes almost every need for calorie counting or tracking your food intake.
Further benefits relate to increased ketones, lower blood sugar levels and improved insulin sensitivity – all of which prove very helpful for those looking to lose weight quickly! Whilst many people worry about eating fatty foods as we explained earlier, swapping carbs for fat puts the body into ketosis, which is far more efficient at burning fats than carbs and therefore; much more effective for weight loss.
Keto diet: pros and cons
Every diet does have its fair share of pros and cons, just like drinking coffee or restoring to intermitteng fasting, and the keto diet is no exception. Aside from the obvious sacrifices, you’ll have to make to give up some of your favourite snacks and comfort food, the following pros and cons should be kept in mind:
- Highly efficient at burning fat and losing weight.
- Can help reduce insulin building up in the body and lower blood sugar levels.
- There have been numerous studies that have drawn links between keto diets and preventing the onset of serious illness and conditions such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, Parkinson’s, etc.
- Not suitable for anyone suffering from diabetes or other diet-related health complications.
- Not a long term solution for weight loss due to the radical changes it can bring to the body.
- Keto flu may occur as a consequence and result in loss of mental function, a lack of energy, sleep issues, among others.
Keto diet and diseases: cholesterol and diabetes
Diabetes is characterized by changes in metabolism, high blood sugar and negatively affect insulin function. The ketogenic diet is an effective diet for someone with diabetes as it can help you lose excess fat, which is closely linked to type 2 diabetes, prediabetes and metabolic syndrome. However, some studies have found the keto diet can cause increased levels of cholesterol in the body due to increased fat consumption. Further studies have suggested that keto diets lower, levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good,” cholesterol but raise levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad,” cholesterol.
As such, anyone who already has higher levels of LDL in their body should avoid keto diets or they could end up increasing the chances of heart disease and heart attacks. By the same token, anyone who is taking higher doses of insulin for diabetes or high blood pressure, should still be wary of going on a keto diet and consult their doctor before doing so.
Keto diet plan example
For those who may be wondering how to get started or structure their week on their newfound quest to lose weight, here is an example meal plan to follow the keto diet for beginners. However, ensure that you consult dietitians online or offline, whichever works for you!
- Breakfast: Fried Bacon, eggs, Tomatoes or, Avocado.
- Lunch: Chicken, Feta cheese and olive salad or toasted pine nuts.
- Dinner: Grilled salmon, asparagus, mixed peppers and onion
- Breakfast: Goats cheese omelette with fresh cherry tomatoes.
- Lunch: Grilled halloumi and avocado mixed leaf salad
- Dinner: Pan-seared steak with garlic butter, fresh chillies, and shirataki noodles
- Breakfast: Mixed berries, peaches and cream.
- Lunch: Chicken and broccoli in a cheesy parmesan sauce.
- Dinner: Fried prawns served on a bed of mixed peppers and onion.
- Breakfast: Fried sausage, bacon and eggs.
- Lunch: Open Reuben sandwich with beef pastrami, sliced ham, sauerkraut, and Swiss cheese.
- Dinner: Meatballs stuffed with goats cheese and salad.
- Breakfast: Sliced watermelon and a ketogenic milkshake
- Lunch: Mixed-leaf tuna salad.
- Dinner: Bun-less burgers with cheddar, lettuce, and sliced tomato.
- Breakfast: Poached eggs, mushrooms and avocado.
- Lunch: Mixed-ham, chorizo, celery sticks, cheese “mini-tapas” board.
- Dinner: Pork chops with steamed greens.
- Breakfast: Salmon and cream cheese omelette.
- Lunch: Bacon Lettuce and tomato salad.
- Dinner: Mediterranean roast of either chicken, beef, pork, with mixed peppers, onion and pumpkin seeds.