Increasing numbers of people are adopting a Ketogenic or Keto diet. You may have also heard it called the ‘low-carb, high-fat’ diet. So what is it and would it work for you? Here’s our beginner’s guide to help you better understand what exactly ‘doing keto’ is.
💡 Discuss major dietary changes with your GP, particularly if you have a long-term condition or are on medication.
What is the ketogenic diet?
A ketogenic diet involves reducing the amount of carbohydrates you eat and replacing them with fat. This carb reduction puts your body into a metabolic state called ketosis. Your blood sugar levels get lower and your liver turns fat into something called ketones.
During this process, you become very efficient at converting fuel into energy, shifting the body’s metabolism away from carbs and towards burning fat and ketones.
But wait, won’t high-fat foods make me gain weight?
Well, not necessarily. Regularly consuming too many calories makes you gain weight, no matter what that food consists of. So, it is possible to gain weight eating only broccoli… although you’d have to eat 10kg of it per day!
Outside of overeating, the main reasons people gain weight are because they regularly consume too much sugary, calorie-dense foods, like sweets and chocolate, or eat high-GI carbohydrates with a high Glycaemic Index (GI), such as white bread and crisps. Generally, it’s best to avoid foods higher on the GI scale like white bread, basmati rice and sugar. These carbs quickly turn to glucose, causing your blood sugar levels to spike then plummet.
Switching the type of fuel your body burns is designed to reduce insulin levels and increase fat burn. Making your body run almost entirely on fat helps make your fat stores more easily accessible, and therefore easier to burn off. The only part of the body that still requires glucose is your brain. In a ketosis state, your brain will use a combination of ketones (produced in the liver from fat) and glucose (either from the small concentration of your diet that is carbs, or by metabolising proteins via a process known as gluconeogenesis).
Benefits of a ketogenic diet
There are lots of benefits to “doing keto”
1. Shed the pounds
Cutting carbs is a great weight-loss strategy. Some studies that keto diets help people lose weight rapidly through a combination of water loss and fat burn. But after six months on a keto diet, the weight can start creeping back on as people revert to their old ways of eating.
2. Beat the belly bulge
You may have heard that not all fat is the same. Something that’s particularly harmful is visceral fat – that’s the stuff stored around your abdomen that can lead to high inflammation levels, as it’s lodged around your vital organs. Low-carb diets are found to burn visceral fat very effectively.
3. Improve those health stats
4. Exercise like a boss
In a study into the effects of carb intake on exercise, those on a ketogenic diet tended to have ‘extremely high levels of fat oxidation’ during marathon running… In simpler terms, they became fat-burning machines and showed no more fatigue than runners on high-carb diets.
5. Soothe your digestion
Some aspects of the keto diet can promote good gut health, like the elimination of processed carbs. Just make sure you’re adding enough fibre to keep your digestion healthy. Example of low carb, high fibre foods are things like flax seeds, almonds, broccoli, avocados, cauliflower and blackberries. Most people need about 30g of fibre per day. Check labels to make sure your intake adds up to what you need throughout the day.
Foods to eat on a ketogenic diet
So, if you want to adopt a ketogenic diet the basic rule is to eat foods that are rich in fats and protein, like these:
- Meat: Steak, red meat, chicken, sausage, bacon, turkey, ham
- Fatty fish: Trout, tuna, salmon, mackerel
- Cheese: Unprocessed cheese, such as cheddar, mozzarella, goat, cream, blue cheese
- Butter and cream: Heavy cream, grass-fed butter
- Eggs: Omega-3 whole and pastured eggs
- Seeds and nuts: Walnuts, almonds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds
- Oils: Coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil
- Vegetables: Low carb vegetables, such as pepper, green vegetables, onions, tomatoes
- Condiments: Salt, pepper, spices, herbs
Foods to avoid on a ketogenic diet
As the ketogenic diet is all about avoiding carbohydrates, foods that are high in carbs should stay out of your diet. Like these:
- Foods high in sugar: Cake, ice cream, sweets, fizzy drinks, smoothies and fruit juices
- Fruit: All fruit should be avoided, except small amounts of berries
- Root vegetables / tubers: Potatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, parsnips
- Legumes / beans: Peas, chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans
- Sauces and some condiments: Ketchup, barbecue sauce, etc.
- Unhealthy fats
What is ketosis? And how do you know if you’re in it?
If you follow the recommended foods to eat and avoid as stated above, then your body should enter ketosis. That's the metabolic state where your body uses fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates. To ensure that the diet you’re following is having the right effect on your body, you can check you are in ketosis with testing kits, such as urine strips, breath analysers and blood tests, which you can purchase online.
These tests can give you an exact reading. However, there are some signs of being in ketosis that you can use as a guideline:
- Increased urination can occur in the early stages
- Increased thirst
- A fruity taste in the mouth/bad breath
- Decreased hunger or appetite
Take control while doing keto
Alongside monitoring whether you are in fact in ‘keto’, Personal Trainer Matt Jolley advises to keep track of a few things while you’re using this new method of dieting. He says that “measuring your weight, body fat percentage, waist measurement, blood pressure and blood glucose would give you an all-round view of the major changes that keto is having on your body.”
You can keep track of all of these in the health and fitness monitor within the Evergreen Life app.
Is the ketogenic diet suitable for everyone?
The ketogenic diet has been shown to be beneficial in all kinds of people. However, if you do suffer from a long-term medical condition, you should always consult your GP before embarking on a low-carb lifestyle, especially one as extreme as a ketogenic diet. There are a few groups of people for whom keto might not be a good idea.
- Type 2 diabetes. While there is evidence to suggest a low carb, high fat diet might help lower blood sugar and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, a change in diet might change the effectiveness of certain diabetes medications. So if you are diabetic and on medication, please consult your doctor before beginning a Keto diet.
- Those with high blood pressure. Taking medication for high blood pressure and using a low-carb diet can put you at risk of low blood pressure within a matter of days, so consult your GP on how to manage this before starting.
- CKD sufferers. A ketogenic diet should be avoided by people with chronic kidney disease (CKD) because weakened kidneys may not be able to remove the acid in the blood that builds up from eating a high intake of animal foods.
- Athletes & bodybuilders. Anyone wishing to add a lot of muscle or weight to their body might not find the keto diet very suitable.
- DNA signposts. A DNA test could tell you more about whether a KETO diet would work for you. For example, if you metabolise monounsaturated fats well and carbs not so quickly, then you’re likely to be suited to a more keto-style diet. Alternatively, a better metabolism of carbs but not fats could make you less suited to keto. Find out how well you’re likely to metabolise both of these with an Evergreen Life DNA Test.
Risks of a ketogenic diet
Away from those with the certain conditions, there are a number of general risks associated with a high fat, low carb diet.
Impact of high fats
- Kidney health - If you eat a lot of high fat animal foods on the keto diet (such as meat and dairy products), you may have a higher risk of developing kidney stones.
- There is a risk that eating too much fat diet can increase your cholesterol and increase your weight.
Impact of low fibre
- Digestion - The keto diet can lead to digestive discomfort and constipation because it doesn’t allow carbs which can provide rich amounts of beneficial fibre. Look for those high fibre low carb foods mentioned earlier.
Impact of a limited diet
- Nutrients - There are some studies that suggest a keto diet may not provide you with enough vitamins and minerals which could lead to nutrient deficiencies over time.
- Bone health - Although more extensive research is needed in this area, the keto diet has been shown in some studies to lower bone mineral density and lead to bone breakdown over time.
- Chronic disease - More substantial studies are required, but there’s some evidence that low carb diets focusing on animal foods may lead to higher death rates from heart disease, cancer, and all causes.
There is also anecdotal evidence to suggest a keto diet could cause a number of other side effects - collectively referred to as ‘keto flu’, however these seem to end within a few weeks.
Possible side effects can include:
- “Brain fog”
- Gastrointestinal discomfort
- Decreased energy
- Feeling faint
- Sleep issues
- Diarrhoea, constipation and vomiting
Whilst on the keto diet, it’s important to monitor any symptoms like these and ensure you’re staying hydrated. You could ease into a ketogenic diet by following a low-carb diet for a few weeks, and then switch over to full keto.
Take control of your health and fitness. Download the Evergreen Life app today.