A ketogenic diet is a diet that is low in carbs and high in fats. The diet also contains an adequate amount of proteins to ensure the body is not deprived of the essential nutrients needed for the growth or repair. The low intake of carbohydrates helps to regulate the body’s metabolic processes and stimulates the burning of fats more rapidly than the carbohydrates.
The Goal of a Ketogenic Diet
The goal of a ketogenic diet, just like the other types of diets, is to improve the overall well-being of a person; however, ketogenic diet does it by modifying a person’s metabolic changes. It switches the primary source of cellular energy from the carbohydrate-derived fuel (glucose) to the fat-derived fuels by producing the products of fat metabolism called ketones.
This state of the body is called ketosis, and the process through which it is achieved is called ketogenesis. Ketosis is a normal metabolic pathway, which involves the utilization of ketones by the body cells for producing energy, instead of using carbohydrate.
How does a ketogenic diet work?
A diet of a person usually contains a moderate to high amount of simple and complex carbohydrates. These carbs are later converted into simple carbohydrates like glucose, which is later transported to other organs of the body where it is used as a fuel for carrying out the different functions.
However, when a person is on a ketogenic diet, the body does not get sufficient amounts of carbohydrates. So, it has to rely on the consumed and stored fats as a source of energy. A ketogenic diet prompts the liver to convert the fats into ketone bodies and fatty acids to ensure the body receives a continuous supply of energy. Thus, a low-carb ketogenic diet mobilizes the stubborn fat depots and helps a person lose weight and also lower the cholesterol levels. A ketogenic diet, by boosting the metabolism of fats, also provides several other health benefits, which are discussed later.
Ketogenic Diet Plan Basics
- When you begin with a ketogenic diet plan, you need to track the amount of carbs in your regular diet and then, reduce the carbohydrate intake by about 20 to 60 grams each day. For some people, an intake of less than 100-gram carbs per day is sufficient to achieve ketosis, while for others this amount can be too high to achieve the state. Hence, it is important to reduce your carbohydrate intake slowly on a daily basis till your body feels deprived of carbs and is stimulated to start burning fats so that the state of ketosis can be achieved.
- Additionally, a proper intake of proteins based on your body weight and lean body mass must be ensured. The required protein intake also depends on the gender, height, and the amount of physical activities/workouts done. It should be noted that eating too much proteins can interfere with ketosis and eating too less can cause severe fatigue. Hence, it is important to consume an optimum amount of proteins that can help you achieve ketosis without causing weakness. Please note that the protein requirement of the body is more than 1.5-2.0 grams per kg lean body mass.
- The nutritional intake on a ketogenic diet works out to at least 20-25% calories from proteins, about 75% calories from fat, and not more than 10% from carbohydrate.
Why moderate protein?
Fats do not have much effect on the insulin and blood sugar levels. However, proteins do have an effect on these values. So, if you eat too much protein, it can stimulate gluconeogenesis and raise your blood sugar levels. Protein will also boost the production of insulin. The higher insulin levels can interfere with the ketone production. Also, eating a diet high in lean proteins (without enough fat) can lead to a condition called “rabbit starvation” that can wreck your metabolism and prevent the desired results of a ketogenic diet. Hence, it is important to stick to a moderate protein intake while on a ketogenic diet.
How safe is a ketogenic diet and what can be its side effects?
The state of ketosis achieved through a ketogenic diet is actually a mild form of ketoacidosis. Ketoacidosis is a serious condition that usually affects the patients with type 1 diabetes. The symptoms of ketoacidosis develop within just a few hours. Hence, experts advise people to follow a ketogenic diet only for a short term.
A ketogenic diet can also lead to a loss of muscle mass resulting in extreme fatigue. Hence, it is not suitable for those trying to gain muscle.
Some Tips and Tricks to Stick to the Ketogenic Diet Plan
- Counting carbs is an important part of this program. Though many people find it hard to know the carbohydrate content of each food, it helps to begin with reducing the amount of sugary foods you eat every day by a small amount.
- Find ways to track your daily carb count and overall food intake. Use a reliable online food intake tracker and simply write down your calorie intake in a spreadsheet or a journal. Also, make a note of how you felt when you made certain changes in your diet. So, if you go off-track, this journal will help you to look back and see what worked for you.
- Strictly avoid the foods having high-carb content. These foods can drive up your insulin and blood sugar levels and prevent you from achieving ketosis.
- Go on a carbohydrate sweep. Inspect the refrigerator and kitchen cupboards, and remove all the high-carb foods.
- Think about the social situations that may be encountered such as a friend or a colleague offering you a piece of cake, and be prepared with the ways to handle the temptations to eat your favorite foods. This will help you take the right decision when the time arises and prevent you from cheating on yourself.
- Learn how to stop your sugar cravings. Learn to say ‘no’ to those nagging thoughts of dessert. As time passes, you will find ketosis working as a powerful appetite suppressant, and you will be better able to abstain from the high-carb foods.
- Restock the kitchen with the foods that have a low amount of carbs, high amount of fats and a moderate amount of proteins.
- Remember that a ketogenic diet plan does not require special foods. Hence, there is no need to buy the “low carb” packaged and processed foods. The diet should consist of the real, wholesome foods like fruits and veggies.
- Plan your meals as this will give you a framework to follow at the meal time and help you in buying the right foods at the grocery store.
- A ketogenic diet menu needs cooking and eating real foods. So, be prepared to spend more time in the kitchen.
- Stay hydrated. When your carbohydrate intake is lowered, the kidneys start excreting the excess water leading to dehydration. Hence, make sure you drink enough water to replace the amount lost. Generally, drinking 8-10 glasses of water every day is recommended. Although, drinking to thirst is often a good trick to follow, learn to understand the cues of the body and drink more if you are getting muscle cramps or frequent headaches.
- Even if your aim to start a ketogenic diet plan is to lose weight, don’t just focus on your weight. Avoid the temptation to weigh yourself daily as your weight is bound to vary by about 2 to 4 pounds each day due to the changes in the water intake and absorption. So, you won’t be able to track the fat loss accurately and will end up feeling frustrated due to the fluctuations. Instead, weigh yourself just once a week. Focus on how you feel and think about the long-term health benefits you will achieve with this diet. This will motivate you to stick to the diet.
The Dos and Don’ts of a Ketogenic Diet
- DO eat real foods like chicken, salmon, veggies that grow above ground, heavy cream, butter, etc.
- DON’T eat fat-free or low-fat foods. Don’t buy low-fat or fat-free yogurt or cheese. You need to eat plenty of healthy fats. So, if the label says fat-free, just walk away.
- DO replace your electrolytes, but not with the sugary, energy drinks. Instead, drink chicken broth or bone broth.
- DON’T eat bad fats like trans fats or saturated fats! What are the bad fats? Vegetable oil, corn oil, soybean oil, canola oil and hydrogenated oil.
- DON’T eat “sugar-free” candies, low-carb tortillas, jello, diet soda, low carb bars, or frozen meals.
- DO avoid fast food. It contains complex carbs and is full of preservatives and chemicals. So, make sure you prepare your meals yourself.
- DO eat healthy fats! Avocado oil, coconut oil, avocados, butter, extra virgin olive oil, heavy cream, animal fat butter and MCT oil are good sources of healthy fats.
The Different Health Benefits of Ketogenic Diet
- Type 2 diabetes: Though the patients with type 1 diabetes are advised against following a ketogenic diet, it is considered beneficial for those with type 2 diabetes. The benefits include a healthy weight loss and an improved insulin sensitivity, which help the person have better control over the blood sugar levels.
- Reduces the frequency of epileptic seizures: Ketogenic diet helps to control the attacks of convulsions in the children with epilepsy. The ketones produced in the body while a person is on such a diet travel to the brain. It is this state of the body that helps in reducing the frequency of seizures. In fact, the ketogenic diet was initially used only for the prevention of convulsions. It was the further research that helped unearth its other beneficial effects.
- Reduces the risk of cancer: Ketogenic diet can reduce the risk of cancer and improve the outcome of conventional treatments like radiation and chemotherapy in the patients already diagnosed with cancer. The diet, which calls for eliminating carbohydrates from the food and replacing them with proteins and healthy fats, allows the body to heal faster from the cancerous changes. The protein content ensures normal growth of the cells in the body and allows them to mature completely into their targeted form thereby preventing the abnormal division of the immature cancer cells. Additionally, the low-carb content of this diet causes starvation of the cancer cells resulting in their destruction. Thus, it helps to control the growth and spread of cancer.
- Regulates kidneys functions: The main function of the kidneys is to remove toxins and excess water from the body. Any condition affecting the kidneys can lead to the retention of excessive fluids in the blood resulting in high blood pressure. A ketogenic diet can promote the elimination of excess water from the body. This helps in preventing the complications that can arise due to a kidney dysfunction and maintain the blood pressure at a normal level.
- Flat tummy: A bulging belly is a common cause of embarrassment for obese people. This tummy fat is difficult to get rid of. Though exercising the abdominal muscles is a good way to burn the belly fat, its beneficial effect can be enhanced by eating a ketogenic diet.
- Reduces triglycerides and cholesterol levels: Triglycerides and cholesterol are fat molecules that pose a higher risk of heart attack, stroke, peripheral vascular disease and hypertension. The consumption of trans-fats and saturated fats can increase the levels of triglycerides and cholesterol in the blood. A ketogenic diet, being low in trans-fats and saturated fats, helps in controlling the triglyceride and cholesterol levels and prevents the risk of several life-threatening diseases.
The key to implementing a ketogenic diet plan correctly is to remember that your body is replacing the carbohydrates with a higher level of fats and a moderate amount of proteins as its source of energy. Hence, make sure you eat the foods high in fats and low in carbs to derive the multiple health benefits of a ketogenic diet.