Perhaps you have heard some of the big names in the fitness industry say that everybody should at least try a ketogenic diet for health reasons. Then again, you have proponents of plant-based/vegan saying that everyone should be on a vegan diet for health (and other) reasons.
So who is right and how do you know if trying a ketogenic diet might be worth your while? Well, let’s have a look at what a keto diet is first, so that you can make an informed decision, and then I’ll give you some markers that are strong indicators that you would do well on a keto diet.
What is a ketogenic diet?
A ketogenic diet is essentially a low carb, high fat diet with moderate/adequate amounts of protein. Most of the calorie intake (between 70-75%) should be from fat.
The aim of the ketogenic diet is to flip your energy burning switch from carbohydrates to fat burning (ketosis) and to do that, most people need to get below 30 grams of carb daily. This is the reason why 20 grams of net carb is the recommended daily maximum during the fat adaptation phase, which can take anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks.
Keeping an eye on your net carb count then is absolutely crucial, especially initially, but you also need to make sure you get enough fat – something which can prove quite tricky to lots of people before they are able to wrap their minds around the fact that fat is you friend, not your foe.
Getting the right amount of protein is usually the least tricky part, as most people who are already getting enough protein in their diet, would just carry on as normal.
In order to keep the net carb count low enough, sugary fruits and starchy veggies need to be avoided. The carbs you consume will come almost exclusively from leafy green plants that grow above ground. However, mushrooms, avocado and certain types of berries are also included in the keto diet. Sourcing seasonal, organic plants that are grown locally is always recommended.
Your fat sources need to be healthy to avoid inflammation, so stay away from all trans fats, which are primarily found in processed foods, and make sure you get a good balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fats. The primary fat sources that people on a ketogenic diet consume tend to be from olive oil, avocado oil, butter (grass-fed), ghee, oily fish, nuts/nut butters, seeds, coconut oil, MCT oil and animal fats from grass-fed livestock, including lard.
Common keto challenges and how to overcome them
Some people like to refer to carb withdrawal symptoms as ‘keto flu.’ I think calling it a flu is a pretty gross misnomer since it is often nothing like a flu and a flu would be caused by a virus, not by the body detoxing.
What happens during the detox phase is that the body lets go of the water that your high carb intake has packed into the cells of your body. This in turn causes an electrolyte imbalance, so preventing the physical withdrawal symptoms is actually really easy:
- Stay hydrated but don’t overdue it – Just enough to compensate for peeing more often while your body flushes the carb fluid retention out.
- Take some Himalayan rock salt to keep your electrolytes from flipping out by taking the recommended doses of magnesium and potassium.
It’s all in the mind
For some people, the psychological challenge is much greater than the physical. Luckily, there are a couple of easy-to-implement prevention methods to use for that too:
- Believe that you can do it! Whether you believe you can or you believe you can’t, you’re right!
- Tell your friends and family that you are cutting out carbs and ask them to support your dietary changes.
- Think of non-food related things to do for comfort and/or to cheer yourself up. Put that list where you can see it – the fridge might be a good place! I definitely recommend adding meditation to that list because it will help you cope better with stress and, as we all know, stress is one of the main pitfalls when people fall off the wagon.
- Have a good clear-out of all junk, processed and high carb foods before you go to the shop for your first keto shopping trip.
- If you know that you are the type of person who does better with a bit of outside support, you may wish to consider signing up for a few sessions with a ketogenic diet coach to prepare, as well as for accountability and progress check-up.
Can you do keto on a vegan diet?
Yes, you absolutely can. There is even evidence that supports that this might be the healthiest way of eating. Learn more HERE.
Is keto for you?
The ketogenic diet is not, not a fad and definitely not going to go away like some who hold stock in Weight Watchers are hoping it will. The reason for this is that it is the best diet to treat metabolic syndrome, diabetes and prediabetes. It is also used successfully to treat a number of neurological conditions, including seizures and for Alzheimer prevention.
Of course, it almost goes without saying that you should always check with the health care professional in charge of your dietary advice before implementing any big changes to your diet, especially if you are doing it for health reasons. Just be warned that not all medical professionals have a positive view of the ketogenic diet.
Keto for weight loss
But you may not be here reading about keto because you are in one of the health risk categories… You may simply have stumbled upon this page because you want to lose weight. That’s okay – Keto can totally help you do that… and this is where I can speak from experience.
When I started my keto journey in January 2019, the only health marker that indicated that I might be slightly at risk for developing insulin resistance was that my waistline had started expanding. When I measured it and realised that it had crept a couple of centimetres outside the healthy range (80 cm for a female), I decided that enough was enough.
I did my research and decided to try a low carb approach to weight loss, combined with intermittent fasting. While researching low carb, I found some excellent resources about the ketogenic diet and after a couple of weeks, I went strict keto.
In only nine weeks, I dropped 11 kg / 24.5 lbs. My waistline shrunk from 84 cm to 72 and my husband started complementing me on how much younger I looked.
The only times I struggled with my new way of eating, other than the first few days of carb detox, was during my time of the month. However, I quickly found some keto-friendly ways of satisfying those cravings. There are lots of great keto recipe sites out there and you may also wish to browse Pinterest or YouTube for food inspiration.
Clean vs. dirty keto
Dirty keto means that you basically just worry about your macros and let your micro nutrients (vitamins & minerals) fall by the wayside. If you are healthy when you start doing dirty keto, chances are that you can keep going for quite a while before you start experiencing the side effects of eating processed foods etc as long as they fit your macros. However, this doesn’t mean you should try to get away with dirty keto any more than you should try to get away with being a garbage can for junk food in general.
There is a better way. Love yourself enough to feed your body nutrient dense foods instead. It will respond by killing your unhealthy cravings.
To make keto sustainable, as well as a veritable fountain of youth, make it all about the veggies and getting enough variation there. At least half your plate should be covered with vegetables. Cover your veggies with a healthy oil, such as virgin olive oil or avocado oil. Finally, there should be enough protein on your plate to keep you strong and fit (about 1 gram per kg body weight, or more if you train hard).
Are you ready to give keto a go?
Keto doesn’t have to be complicated. Other than weight loss, the main advantages I have found for myself is that I’m hangry a whole lot less these days. My energy levels are more even and I don’t suffer the postprandial slump that used to hit me really hard in the afternoon.
You have absolutely nothing to lose (and rather a lot to gain, except body fat) by giving healthy keto a whirl. If you have been diagnosed with diabetes type 2 or metabolic syndrome, I’d suggest doing your research about this way of eating – It could make all the difference!
Been diagnosed with T2 diabetes or metabolic syndrome?
Check out the Diabetes Code and the Obesity Code by Dr Jason Fung for motivation and to learn more. Dr Fung combines a high fat, low carb diet with intermittent fasting to reverse diabetes and symptoms of metabolic syndrome.
Alzheimer – Main motivator
My personal motivation for starting a ketogenic diet was twofold and weight loss was certainly on my mind but the main motivator for me was watching my mother pass away in 2018, after battling Alzheimer for many years.
Ultimately, a ketogenic diet is my health prevention method of choice in a day and age when there is precious little else that is in our power to do to prevent what I feel would be the worst fate of all. And yes, I know that I may still fall victim to Alzheimer but if I do, at least I will know I did everything in my power to prevent it.