Last Updated June 13th, 2021
Keto Diet: why is the world going ga-ga over this fat-based diet?
Unless you have been living under a bridge, the term “keto diet” is something you must have easily come across through various health articles and celebrity diet advice circulating the internet.
Leaving its apparent contemporary, the paleo diet, much behind in the race in terms of popularity and effectiveness, the keto diet is, inarguably, living up to the hype.
With famous celebrities raving about its magical weight losing capacity and nutritionists advocating its innumerable health benefits, it can easily be inferred that keto diet is here to stay.
But what exactly is this keto diet?
How can a diet that is predominantly fat-based help you lose those pesky pounds?
How come there is a diet where instead of foregoing butter, egg yolks, and cheese, you add these sinfully tasty items in your diet and still be fit?
The answer lies somewhere hidden in how your body chooses to burn glucose and fats.
The nomenclature of this diet has been derived from the word “ketones”. Ketones are produced in your body when your body is burning fats instead of glucose.
When does this happen?
When your body is short on glucose (or carbs) supply, it turns to the other reservoir of energy, aka, the fat cells.
So technically, taking your body to that state where instead of burning glucose you start burning fats is something that will help you lose fats.
And that is what keto diet ends up helping us accomplish.
A keto diet or ketogenic diet is a diet which is rich in fats and proteins and has very meager amounts of carbohydrates so that instead of burning glucose and storing fats, you end up burning fats for deriving energy.
Keto diet: going back to the origins
Although this diet became one of the key trending health topics in the past couple of years, the tradition of limiting carb intake for achieving certain specific health benefits is not new.
In fact, it might have started in Ancient Greece,around 400 BCE when Hippocrates observed the relation between zero food intake and reduced number of seizures in a man.
Years later, similar improvements were seen among epileptic patients, in different parts of the world, when they abstained from any kind of food intake.
With the advent of the 20th century, this practice had achieved widespread popularity for treating epileptic conditions among masses of patients in healthcare institutions.
During the same time, it was observed that it is not the intake of food in general but the high intake of carbohydrates that was related to such seizure-like conditions. This opened a new pathway to understanding the entire biochemistry of a low-carb diet and its effect on the mind and the body.
A low-carb diet is something which bodybuilders and professional athletes also started following religiously.
One of the main reasons for this being – such a diet helped them lose weight, build healthy muscle mass, and increase physical endurance – all without giving up on their favorite fatty treats!
Keto diet: Getting the basics right
Now when you see the online (and offline) world replete with articles on how you can gorge on butter and bacon and still end up having a ripped body, it is easy to get swayed.
People often get misguided by the superficial rules of this diet and end up eating way more fats and gaining weight.
That is why it is important to get the basics of a keto diet right.
Let us begin with the nutritional division.
A keto diet is roughly 70-75% fats, 20% proteins, and 5% carbs.
That looks like a buttload of fats!
But this is how it works.
Opposed to the popular portrayal of fats in the mainstream media, fat is not the enemy. In fact, healthy consumption of fats is necessary to ensure healthy sustenance.
It helps in keeping your brain sharp and brings down bodily inflammation.
Now there are certain key traits of foods which are rich in fats and proteins:
- They increase your satiety; this means that they keep you “fuller” for a longer duration of time and you end up bingeing and snacking less.
- They prevent blood-sugar spikes, unlike high-carb foods. When you consume a high-carb snack, since it’s pure glucose, it gets readily absorbed by the bloodstream and results in sudden glucose rise. This phenomenon is linked to the onset of diabetes, obesity, and other metabolic disorders.
- Since you are consuming less and less of carbs and more fats, when your energy levels plummet, instead of burning sugar and storing fat, you inadvertently start burning fats.
And this is how you successfully achieve the state of ketosis.
How to know if you have actually entered the state of ketosis?
This can be checked by measuring breath or blood samples and by testing urine. There are other common symptoms that will help you recognize if you are into ketosis.
- Dryness in mouth and increase in thirst.
- Increased urination.
- Keto breath which smells like nail polish remover or fruity. You may well get the same smell from your sweat while working out.
- Reduced hunger.
- Improved energy levels in a few days after starting the keto diet.
Keto diet: what to eat, what to remove?
When selecting any food item ensure that it has less than 5% carbs. Additionally, you should not take a high protein diet (> 25% proteins).
Excess protein gets converted into glucose and makes it harder for you to transition into ketosis.
So what foods are allowed in a keto diet?
- Vegetables that grow above ground such as cabbage, cauliflower, zucchini, broccoli, and avocado.
- Unprocessed meats
- Seafood and fish
- High-fat sauces like Béarnaise sauce
- High-fat dairy products like butter, cheese, and yogurts. But, avoid milk since 1 glass of milk contains about 15 grams of carbohydrates
- Nuts can be taken on moderation. However, you should avoid cashews since they are high on carbs instead try pecan nuts or macadamia
- Water, whether it is sparkling or flavored should become your preferred drink.
- When taking coffee do not put sugar (small amount of cream or milk will be fine).
Keto diet: The big no-nos
- Food items containing sugar such as soft drinks, juice, candy, pastries, sports drinks, cakes, ice cream, chocolate, and buns. You should also avoid artificial sweeteners.
- Foods those are high on starch. This list includes rice, bread, potatoes, pasta, porridge, French fries, muesli, etc.
- Avoid legumes which are high on carbs such as lentils and beans.
- Fruits contain plenty of sugar so eat them occasionally, like a natural candy.
Things to be wary of while selecting low-carb foods
Avoid low-carb alternatives to high-carb food items like ice-cream, chocolate, and cookies.
Do not purchase food items that show the net carbs value.
That is actually a way of tricking you into buying their high carb product because they show carb-values for one serving or a 100 grams (the actual carb content would be much higher).
You should ideally keep daily carb intake below 20 grams.
Regarding fat, you should eat the amount that will make you feel satisfied. Simply, eat when you feel hungry and stop when you start feeling satisfied.
Keto Diet: The benefits galore…
To start with, insulin (a type of hormone) allows the body to use glucose (sugar) from carbohydrates to meet body’s energy needs.
When on a low-carb diet, insulin level drops and body starts burning fat at a higher rate to meet its energy needs.
A higher rate of fat burning results in greater weight loss.
Reduces hunger pangs
On a keto diet, the body burns fat to produce ketones and use them as its energy source.
As ketone levels increase they bring down ghrelin levels and increase cholecystokinin levels.
Ghrelin is a hormone responsible for increasing appetite and when its level goes down, your desire to eat will go down as well.
On the other hand, cholecystokinin is a hormone which reduces appetite. When its level increases, your appetite reduces and feeling on hunger goes down significantly.
When you feel less hungry, it is likely that you will be eating less, which in turn will help in reducing your weight.
Your body stores fats primarily in two different categories of locations – one right beneath your skin which is known as subcutaneous fats and one surrounding the organs called as visceral fats.
It will hardly come as shock to anybody that a high fat and high sugar diet tends to deposit more fats around the abdominal area leading the quintessential paunch belly.
The thing with the keto diet is that as compared to a low-fat diet, it burns more fats that surround your waist.
Several studies indicate that following a low-carb keto diet attacks the belly-region fat and burns it faster.
Reduced risk of chronic illnesses
With your belly fat kicked out of the park and insulin spikes brought down to a minimum, it is evident that a body in ketosis is at a much lower risk for heart diseases and diabetes.
Having high visceral fats and/or a high blood sugar level is the most significant contributor to conditions such as cardiac disorders, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and obesity.
Not to mention, these collective lifestyle diseases have become the leading causes of deaths worldwide.
So by simply shifting your eating pattern to a low-carb routine, you can actually avert the onset of such life-threatening illnesses which are a common sight these days.
Higher metabolic flexibility
Several studies which compared the physical endurance and fat-burning capacity of individuals who followed a keto diet vs. those who followed a low-fat diet revealed something interesting.
It was observed that keto diet followers burnt fat 2.3 times faster than those who were on a low-fat diet.
When you extrapolate this figure, it means that with a keto diet your body gains higher metabolic flexibility, i.e, higher fat burning power.
So, when you supplement your exercise routine with a keto diet, you are bound to shed those pounds faster.
The “good” and the “bad” cholesterol
A quick internet search will tell you that not every kind of cholesterol is bad for your body.
The HDL or high-density lipoprotein is the “good” cholesterol that your body needs to have. This is the type of cholesterol that keeps heart diseases at a bay.
And triglycerides and LDL (low-density lipoprotein) constitute the “bad” category of cholesterol, which are the real culprits behind cardiac illnesses.
What a keto diet does is it helps elevate HDL levels while at the same time suppressing or regulating the LDL and triglyceride levels.
The rule of the thumb is that if eat a high-fat low carb diet and your cholesterol levels are controlled. You eat a high carb low-fat diet, the opposite happens.
If you want the proof in numbers, here it is.
A 5% decrease in fat intake raises the triglycerides by 6% and reduces the HDL by 2.2%.
In simple words, replacing carbs with fats as a source of energy will work wonders for your cholesterol readings.
In addition to these unmatched benefits, a keto diet is also effective in keeping these vicious diseases at a bay.
- Epilepsy and seizures
- Acne and other skin breakouts
- Concussions post brain injuries
Side effects of a ketogenic diet and to get rid of them
As you suddenly increase your fat and protein intake while cutting down on carb intake, it can disturb your digestive system. This usually happens when you try to fulfill your fat and protein requirement by eating more of meat, eggs and fish.
Another reason could be dehydration. When you are on a keto diet, body rapidly loses water weight. This happens as glycogen (a type of molecule responsible for retention of water) stored within muscles goes down when you cut back on carbohydrate intake.
This, in turn results in dehydration and the consequent problem of constipation.
How to stop constipation?
Drinking more water is one of the simple solutions to get rid of the problem and normally taking about a gallon every day will help to fix the issue.
In addition to it, you may well include some non-starchy vegetables (like amaranth, asparagus, baby corn, artichoke, etc.) in your diet to make things move along better.
Leg cramps are an issue when someone is in the beginning stage of the keto diet.
As explained earlier, our body rapidly loses water weight while on a keto diet. This fluid also expels different minerals such as magnesium, potassium, chloride, and sodium out of the body.
Since magnesium plays an important role in muscle contractions, lack of magnesium in the body results in cramps.
How to stop leg cramps?
Start drinking a lot of fluids and add salt (not excessive) to your diet. This way you will be able to stop loss of magnesium from your body and solve the problem of cramps.
Elevated heart rate is common in the initial stages when you have just started on a keto diet. A common reason for the same is lack of salt and dehydration. Salt contains sodium (the electrolyte we mentioned while discussing leg cramps) and lack of sodium in turn results in heart palpitations.
When you are eating a low carb diet, it brings down your insulin (it is a hormone that stores fat) levels.
Apart from storing fat, insulin also tells kidneys to hold onto sodium. On a keto diet, as insulin levels go down, the body also starts shedding excess sodium. The result, lower sodium level in our body.
How to stop heart palpitations?
The best thing to do in this situation is to get enough salt and also drink plenty of fluids.
Reduction in physical performance
In the initial stages, your physical performance can go down. This happens due to two reasons.
- Lack of salts and fluids
- Adaptation to burning fats
How to improve physical performance?
- Before you start exercising, just take a glass of water with 0.5 teaspoons of salt in it an hour before you start.
- It will take more time for your body to adapt to this change and start burning fat for energy instead of sugar.
- The adaptation will occur at a faster rate when you start exercising more while taking a low carbohydrate diet.
Hair loss is seen in the first three to six months after you start a keto diet.
This occurs when you make a dietary change. However, this is a temporary phenomenon and within a few months, you will notice that new hair growth has started. More importantly, the thinning of hair will hardly be noticeable.
How to stop hair loss?
Make sure you are not limiting calorie intake way too much.
In addition to it, also ensure that you are getting enough sleep, like at least eight hours of sleep every night.
Induction flu or keto flu
Right after starting a keto diet you will feel quite bad for the first 2-3 days. Few of the problems you will face would include; fatigue, headache, light nausea, and dizziness.
This happens as your body losses excess salt and water from kidneys when on a keto diet. Mainly due to lack of insulin as mentioned above while we discussed heart palpitation.
How to prevent keto flu?
You just have to increase salt intake and drink more fluids.
Another thing you can do is drink a cup of broth/bouillon a couple of times in a day.
On the surface, there a few obstacles in your way of achieving the true state of ketosis and converting your body into a fat burning machine.
However, there are definite ways to overcome those obstacles and ensure that you are getting the maximum health benefits out of a keto diet.
Expecting the keto diet to show immediate “miraculous” results is not the right way to go.
This is because, after decades of pushing high-carb and starchy foods down your throat, you have finally transformed your eating style completely.
And the changes you expect to see such as weight loss and better insulin control aren’t going to happen overnight or at least in a small window of 30 days.
So before starting your keto routine do your research and don’t to be too rigid on the weight-loss expectations.
Keto diet is not a quick-fix diet that will guarantee fast weight loss in a few weeks.
It is a complete transformation of your faulty eating patterns and substituting unhealthy treats with healthy ones to obtain unmatched health benefits in the longer run.
So cut to the chase, don’t give up on keto too soon. Give it and your body the time to recuperate from a high-carb diet assault and gradually enter the state of ketosis at a healthy pace.
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