The obligatory science behind it all, because we need to understand what we’re talking about before we can talk about it: The keto diet works by limiting the body’s supply of carbs in order to inhibit glycolysis (the metabolic pathway that is used to fuel our tissues under normal circumstances). We replace this need for fuel with more fats to ensure that the body can make enough Ketone-Bodies through the oxidation of fatty acids (a process called ketogenesis) to keep those vital tissues fed.
Use Keto as a Tool
To start this off, I’m going to begin with how you should approach a keto lifestyle. Keto is a tool, like a helping hand, not a cure all. It will not work the same for everybody, and for some people with metabolic health conditions or liver complications the keto diet could be a health detriment if not properly monitored by a healthcare professional.
If you are wanting to try this lifestyle just to speed through some weight loss, be sure you are not relying 100% on the keto macro ratio. Most of the same health facts you’ve received your whole life still apply. Get lots of sleep, drink lots of water, a little sunshine is a good thing, and be sure to exercise.
The big difference from what you’ve heard is that all fat is bad and will make you fat. This is untrue. Not all fats are created equal, and neither are all proteins or carbs. Simple sugars can be very harmful to you, and will make you fat, however, complex carbs are very good for you- necessary even. Yes, also in the keto lifestyle.
The biggest way to use keto as a weight loss tool is to take advantage of the increased satiety that it brings to the table. Keto makes you feel full; no more food cravings and midday energy crashes. This makes it easier to maintain a caloric deficit, which contributes to the increased weight loss. While it is true that you can take in a bit more calories in the keto lifestyle and still lose weight, too much caloric intake will still hold you back or even lead to weight gains.
Maintaining a diet in the keto lifestyle can absolutely help you lose weight, and for most people, feel better in general. But always treat it as a tool in your toolbox of ways you take care of yourself. It can even be your primary tool, but it should not be your only tool, if you take that approach, you are not going to experience the full range of benefits of this lifestyle.
Counting macros isn’t necessary, per se, but the idea behind it absolutely is. You need to be hitting the right nutrient load for your body to be using ketone-bodies as its primary fuel source. If you don’t understand the ratio, then you won’t have much success. While there are many different macro ratios that can work for your diet in the keto lifestyle, the most versatile, and therefore easiest to manage and not become malnourished is 65:30:5 (this is very different than the medical ketogenic diet, which is far more strict, and not intended for casual weight loss uses).
65:30:5 refers to total caloric intake: 65% of your calories are coming from fats, 30% from protein, and only 5% from carbs. If you don’t count macros or calories already, this can be very misleading, and may get you off to a very bad, and unhealthy, start while getting into the keto way of life. So let’s break down these three macros and how they translate from food into calories.
Food is not presented to us in calories, but rather, grams. This is the measurement you will find on all nutrition labels, so we will have to convert from grams to calories.
Fats contribute around 9 caloric units per gram, while proteins and carbs both provide about 4 per gram.
So lets see what this looks like in terms of our caloric goals. If we look at 2000 calories a day (your true daily caloric needs will vary based on many factors), then the 65:30:5 breakdown becomes 1300:600:100 calories from fat, protein, and carbs, respectively. And to simplify this further by converting to grams (divide fats by 9 and proteins/carbs by 4), we see a ratio that looks like 144:150:25 grams of fat, protein, and carbs, respectively.
Notice how close the fats and proteins are, and that protein is actually a little bit higher in this ratio. So many people see that 65:30:5 ratio and assume they need to overload on tons of fat, and while there are other ratios people use with keto that have higher fat contents, it is not necessary to be eating nothing but fat. In fact, protein helps you burn fat. Adjusting the macros for higher protein than the standard keto ratio can also be better as you get older, especially for postmenopausal women.
And on the subject of protein, if anyone on the keto diet tells you that too much protein will cause something called gluconeogensis and ruin your life, they’re wrong and it’s okay to let them know, but probably not worth your time to argue with them if they aren’t willing to hear it. Gluconeogenesis is a need-based, emergency back-up metabolism that the body uses to convert protein and fat into glucose during high stress and perceived starvation conditions: if this is actually happening to someone on keto in a large enough scale to produce glucose levels that knock them out of ketosis, then something is very wrong, and they’re likely starving themselves, or they have a health condition that they are unaware of.
Meal Plans and Preparation
Meal plan to help with all of this, it’s a lot to process on the go, and we can’t all be geniuses. It is important to know what you are going to be eating in advance to limit the likelihood of straying from your plan because you are hungry. This is particularly important early on. For the first six to eight weeks on keto, you should have a well planned out menu.This should include more than just your lunch and dinner plans. Think about snack items that you might need to carry you between meals as well.
The best way to ensure you follow through with your meal plans is to prepare you meals in advance. Meal prep, especially snack prep can be what saves you in the early days of transitioning into ketosis. But it is also a great tool to keep you going later on as well, especially if you are counting macros. It is difficult to count your macros on the go, so it’s best to have your main meals planned out before to know that you are getting the macros you need.
Foods Not to Cut Out on Keto
Fiber! Don’t skip out on fiber, it’s listed under carbs on all nutritional labels, but we don’t count it as such because it isn’t digested or used the same in the body as other carbs. In fact, you should try and add fiber if you can (Caution: too much fiber can cause constipation, I know that seems counter-intuitive, but it’s true).
When reading nutrition labels on food, total Carbohydrates will be listed, and then a breakdown of those into fiber and sugars, simply subtract your fiber value from the total Carbohydrates and this value is your net carbs. Net carbs are what you want to be keeping under your macro goal, don’t let fiber content scare you away from healthy food choices.
Fruits! Yes, many fruits are too high in simple sugars to be consumed in any worthwhile quantity on the keto diet, but not all fruits. Some nutritious fruits that are more keto friendly include blackberries, black currants, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, cherries, elderberries, gooseberries, lemons, limes, olives, plums, and salmonberries. In moderation, pay attention to how many net carbs you are consuming.
Hand-in-hand with the fruits are polyphenols. Polyphenols are micro-nutrients that are believed to be one of the primary factors that make the Mediterranean diet so healthy. They are found naturally in all of the fruits listed above, as well as in many other keto friendly foods: cloves, star-anise, peppermint, cocoa powder/dark chocolate, green teas, artichokes, spinach, almonds, pecans, and walnuts. While these foods are great for your health, I must stress not taking polyphenol supplements but to instead stick to natural sources, as with so many good things in life, too much of this neat micro-nutrient is a bad thing.
Foods you Might Need to Cut Out on Keto
Carbs aren’t the only food to avoid when living a healthy keto lifestyle, there are a handful of other foods that really shouldn’t be a part of the keto lifestyle. The following foods are not necessary to remove from your diet, but if you’re struggling with a keto diet working for you, or you are not feeling all of the benefits that you hear about, then try limiting these foods and see what works for you.
Processed meats, this includes cold cuts, hot-dogs, most sausage products from the supermarket, and many canned meats. Processed meats contain far too many fillers and preservatives, many of which are hidden carbs, and others that do significant damage to your gut health. These foods are best cut out all together, whether on a keto diet or not.
Pork and beef, especially the fatty cuts; yeah, I know, many people live off of pork and beef in the keto community, and bacon is held out there to entice others to join the lifestyle. These two sources of animal protein have had a rough and rocky past with health, and are two very likely culprits for food intolerance that can cause all kinds of digestive problems. Even just cutting back on pork and beef products and not eliminating them completely can have a profound impact on how good you feel. Pork and beef fall in to the category of ‘don’t over do it’.
Refined simple sugars. This one seems pretty obvious, but a lot of people will ignore its presence in their food so long as it’s low enough to fit their macros. But even small amounts of refined simple sugars can mess with you. Be skeptical of any foods with added sugar and corn syrup, regardless of how little it is.
Don’t over do it on dairy. This is another one, overly beloved by the majority of the keto communities, but could be the thing ruining the experience for so many others. If a keto diet isn’t working for you, stay away from dairy for a while and see how this helps you. Just like with pork and beef, sometimes just cutting back on how much you’re taking in can make a world of difference.
The last I’ll mention is eggs. These are a very healthy food, and great for the keto diet, but also one of the more common foods to cause allergies and intolerance/digestive issues. If you are having difficulties with the keto diet working right for you, then consider doing away with eggs for a few weeks, and see how you respond when they’re reintroduced.
Don’t Do Cheat Days
Be faithful to yourself, don’t do cheat days. This applies mostly to the first eight weeks. You cannot diverge from the plan early on, or you are very likely to fail. Cheat days are, in general, a bad idea for anyone dieting to lose weight. If you feel compelled to reward yourself, then you should do so by sticking to your plan and losing the weight, that’s such a better reward than a slice of cheesecake.
After you are fully adapted to the keto lifestyle, after about eight weeks, if you still feel compelled to have a cheat day, or attempt a cyclic keto diet, then I highly recommend that you don’t do so with dessert items. Think pasta, not brownies: or oatmeal, not french fries.
Don’t stress, even if you get knocked out of ketosis, or if your weight loss plateaus, just keep sticking with the plans. Set-backs happen in life, we just have to stick it out and get through. When you give in during those moments where you feel like you’ve failed, that is precisely what causes you to fail, just don’t give up and this diet can do amazing things for you.