Bacon, avocado, bulletproof coffee and weight loss. Doesn’t sound quite right, does it? But these healthy fats are a big part of keto diet. So, is it a weight loss and health wonder – or just another fad? And should you try keto? Jump in to find out.
What is the keto diet?
The ketogenic diet is a very low carbohydrate, high fat diet. Keto dieters focus on low-carb foods like non-starchy veggies (e.g. cauliflower, broccoli, zucchini, spinach, asparagus), and combine them with healthy, natural fats (e.g. butter, olive oil, nuts, avocado), fish and seafood (e.g. salmon, prawns, trout, mackerel), meats (e.g. beef, pork, chicken), plus eggs and dairy (e.g. milks and cheeses). They generally eliminate high carbohydrate and high sugar foods like bread, pasta, rice, fruit, chocolate, candy, sugary drinks and alcohol.
Keto has become a bit of a diet trend recently because it can help your body burn fat more effectively (so can intermittent fasting, but more on that later.) Keto has also been the driving force behind a lot of new food trends like cauliflower rice, cauliflower pizza, bone broth, MCT oils, bulletproof coffee, protein balls, bars and ice creams, and other low-carb snacks like seed crackers.
Several studies have offered strong evidence on the ketogenic diet’s benefits for weight loss and health. Generally, keto diets recommend keeping net carbohydrate intake very low (around 20g or less per day), protein intake moderate (around 90g per day) and fat intake high (around 90-140g per day). But the exact number of grams or percentage of your daily intake should be determined based on your height, weight, age, activity level and your goals.
What does keto mean?
The name keto is short for ketogenic which basically means ‘to generate ketones’ and comes from the term ketogenesis. Ketogenesis happens during ketosis, a physiological process during which your body burns fat and produces what’s known as ketone bodies. These ketone bodies become an alternative source of fuel for your body and brain when blood sugar or glucose is in short supply.
Ketones (or ketone bodies) are water-soluble compounds which are produced by the liver when fat is metabolised. They are used as fuel by the body and the brain. There are three different types of ketone bodies: acetone, acetoacetate and beta-hydroxybutyrate.
There are two different ways to enter ketosis, what’s known as fasting ketosis, which happens during fasting and intermittent fasting, when you deplete your body’s stores of glycogen by not eating for a period of time. And then there’s nutritional ketosis which is achieved by limiting carbohydrates and moderating protein intake.
During nutritional ketosis (on the keto diet), your body switches fuel sources to derive the bulk of its energy needs from ketones and fat, which means it becomes easier for you to burn stored body fat. There is some evidence which suggests that low-carbohydrate diets can also increase metabolism.
How do you know if you’re in ketosis?
There are several different ways to tell. Many people report the following symptoms:
- fruity or alcoholic smelling breath which is caused by acetone, a ketone that exits the body through your breath and urine
- reduced appetite due to alterations in the body’s hunger hormones and the production of ketones
- feeling ‘buzzy’ or energetic when the brain starts burning ketones instead of glucose
- dry mouth is also often reported by intermittent fasters are ketogenic dieters
- you can also test the ketone levels in your urine using keto stix, a urinalysis product originally developed for Type 1 Diabetics
Research shows that in the brain, ketones trigger the release of an important molecule called brain derived neurotrophic factors or BDNF, which helps to build and strengthen neurons and neural connections. Translation: ketones are good for your memory, learning abilities, energy levels and brain.
A word on macros
Macronutrients are the building blocks of your diet. Technically, there are six macronutrients, which we like to call the sexy six: carbohydrates, proteins and fats, vitamins, minerals and water. Most people focus on carbs, protein and fat because these are the macronutrients that contain calories and provide your body with energy.
Before we move onto what you should eat on the keto diet, we need to briefly explain that each macronutrient contains different levels of energy or a different number of calories per gram.
Carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram
Protein contains 4 calories per gram
Fat contains 9 calories per gram
Naturally, because it packs a more calorific punch, fat has been demonised over the past few decades. But it’s actually an essential part of your diet, because it supplies your body with essential fatty acids like omega-3 (which your body needs, but can’t make); helps with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E and K, as well as disease-fighting phytochemicals like carotenoids. It also adds flavour and texture to foods, helps to fill you up and satisfy your hunger.
Interestingly, since dietary guidelines on fat intake were released in the late 1970s, global obesity has climbed at an alarming rate. This is generally thought to be because many people switched from a higher fat diet to a lower fat, higher carbohydrate and higher sugar diet.
What are some healthy fats suitable for the keto diet?
Firstly, let’s start with a quote from our Super Expert, Associate Professor of Nutrition and Registered Practising Dietician, Dr. JJ Mayo of HowToStartKeto.com: “Nature doesn’t make bad fats, factories do!” Basically, on the keto diet, you should aim to include a balance of healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, omega-3s and some saturated fats. You should aim to limit your intake of saturated fats to under 30g per day and consume very few trans fats.
- Nuts like almonds, cashews and peanuts
- Oils like extra virgin olive oil, sesame, canola and peanut
- Nut butters like peanut butter
- Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring and trout
- Seeds like linseed, chia and flaxseeds and seed spreads like tahini
- Nuts like walnuts, pine nuts and brazil nuts
- Oils like soybean, sunflower and safflower
- Fish like tuna, salmon, barramundi and flathead
- Seafood like scallops and mussels
- Eggs, chicken and beef
- Nuts, seeds and beans like walnuts, linseeds, chia seeds and soy beans
Healthy saturated fats:
- Dark chocolate
- Nuts and nut butters
- Dairy like full fat Greek yoghurt, butter, cheese and milk
- Coconut oil and coconut milk
- Grass fed meats like beef
- Lean poultry like duck and turkey
- Wild caught fish like salmon and tuna
What do you eat on the keto diet?
As a general guideline, the ketogenic diet recommends a low level of carbohydrates (between 5-10% of your total daily calories), moderate protein (around 15-25% of your total daily calories) and high levels of fat (around 60-80% of your total daily calories.) As a comparison, the standard western diet contains around 20% fat, 30% protein and 50% carbs.
Below is an example based on the average woman, with a TDEE of around 2000 calories per day. A 20% calorie deficit is sustainable, similar to what is recommended on our part-day intermittent fasting method and will produce weight loss of around 0.36-0.45kg per week.
|Goal: Weight Loss||Goal: Weight Maintenance|
|Calories: 1600||Calories: 2000|
|Carbs: 24 grams (6%)||Carbs: 25 grams (5%)|
|Protein: 100 grams (25%)||Protein: 92 grams (18%)|
|Fat: 122 grams (69%)||Fat: 171 grams (77%)|
A typical day on the keto diet
Breakfast: 2 poached eggs, ½ avocado, 3 slices bacon (432 calories, 33.8g fat, 9.4g carbs)
Morning Coffee: mug bulletproof coffee made with tbsp. grass fed butter, ½ tbsp. coconut oil (158.5 calories, 18g fat, 0g carbs)
Lunch: 150g salmon cooked in 2 tbsp olive oil, 2 cups cauliflower rice (482 calories, 20.6g fat, 10g carbs)
Dinner: Turkey burger with portabello mushroom bun (181 calories, 11.1g fat, 0.7g carbs)
Dessert: 2 tbsp peanut butter with 3 pieces 85% dark chocolate (362 calories, 15g fat, 4g carbs)
Total calories: 1615.5
Net carbs: 24.1g
What are the benefits of the keto diet?
- Weight Loss
Because they increase your fat burning capabilities, lower your insulin levels (high insulin levels signal the body to store fat), and help to suppress your appetite, ketogenic and low-carbohydrate diets tend to result in effective weight loss.
- Appetite Suppression
Several studies of high fat or ketogenic diets have reported reduced feelings of hunger, and reductions in cravings which obviously make it easier to stick to your diet and lose weight.
- Blood Sugar Control
The keto diet (like intermittent fasting) has been shown to effectively lower blood sugar and some studies suggest it may also help to manage Type 2 Diabetes.
- Improved Cholesterol
Some studies show that low-carbohydrate diets like keto can have an impact on reducing bad (LDL) cholesterol levels.
- Other Benefits
There’s also some evidence to suggest that the keto diet can improve blood pressure, increase physical endurance, and there are a small number of studies which also suggest minor improvements in brain function, mood and cognitive performance.
What are the pitfalls of the keto diet?
As with anything extreme, there are downsides. The ketogenic diet can result in some of the following common side effects:
- Constipation due to decreased fibre intake
- Vitamin deficiency (specifically B vitamins, calcium & vitamin D)
- Increased levels of lipids in the blood
- Raised cholesterol levels
- Acidosis (high PH levels in the blood and body tissues)
- Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
And last, but not least, the dreaded ‘keto flu’.
What is the keto flu?
The keto flu describes a collection of flu-like symptoms experienced by people when they start a low-carbohydrate diet. It’s thought to be caused by the body adapting to a diet low in carbs, which forces the body to burn fat, generating ketones. Like anything, your body takes time to adapt to something new, especially a big change in diet. The transition to a keto or low-carb diet can be accompanied by some of the following symptoms:
- Aches and pains
- Poor concentration
- Irritability and mood swings
- Insomnia or difficulty sleeping
- Nausea, stomach cramps and/or vomiting
- Other gastric symptoms like diarrhoea or constipation
- Cravings for sugar and carbohydrates
Most intermittent fasters and keto dieters report that these symptoms generally start in the first week of the new eating regime and tend to last around a week, although some people experience them for longer. You can limit the symptoms by staying hydrated, avoiding heavy exercise, getting enough sleep, ensuring you’re eating enough fat and carbohydrates. If you find yourself inflicted with the keto flu, it may be worthwhile slowing the transition to your keto or intermittent fasting regime by gradually reducing carbs and increasing healthy fats.
Less common side effects associated with the keto diet include:
- Kidney stones
- Dyslipidemia (abnormal levels of lipids in the blood)
- Dysmenorrhea (painful menstrual periods or cramps)
So, should I try keto?
Firstly, let’s delve into a little analogy. Our super expert, registered practicing dietician and Associate Professor of Nutrition at The University of Central Arkansas, Dr. JJ Mayo, likes to explain ketogenic and low carbohydrate diets like a target.
“If you think of a target, there’s a bullseye, an inner ring and an outer ring. The bullseye is at the very centre. It’s small and it’s hard to hit. That’s keto. The inner ring is a low-carb, high-fat diet, which will give you a little more freedom but still deliver great results, and the outer ring is reduced sugar, much easier to achieve, and a lot of people can see really solid weight and health outcomes just from reducing their sugar and simple carbohydrate intake,” explains Dr. JJ Mayo of HowToStartKeto.com.
“You can go extreme if you want to, but you don’t have to in order to see benefits and health effects and it really should depend on your goals.”
Victoria Black, the Co-Founder of SuperFastDiet.com adds: “The important thing to remember with the keto diet is it is very strict. And there’s no point loading up on fats if it’s going to put you over your calorie goals. The first thing I’d recommend is to start limiting your intake of sugars and refined carbohydrates. Because you really won’t see benefits to adding a lot of fat to your diet if you’re still consuming a lot of processed carbs. The main thing to remember is that while counting macro-nutrients can be incredibly valuable, if you want to lose weight, you still need to be aware of your calorie intake. No amount of macro-nutrient counting will save you if you eat too many calories.”
Can I combine the keto diet and intermittent fasting?
The ketogenic diet has a lot of principles in common with intermittent fasting. So it makes sense that they would pair beautifully together. Both aim to reduce blood sugar, induce ketosis, suppress hunger, manage insulin levels and burn fat.
A ketogenic, low-carb high-fat diet can also actually make intermittent fasting easier, because it helps to suppress your appetite. In fact, many people (including celebrities like Halle Berry, Jenna Jamison and Kourtney Kardashian) find that a combination of the ketogenic diet and intermittent fasting can help to super-charge your weight loss. To combine keto and intermittent fasting, start by removing sugar and refined carbohydrates from your diet. You may notice better energy, reduced hunger, improved mood and more effective weight loss just from this small change. Switching your carbohydrate intake to ‘smart carbs’ that are low GI, low in calories and high in nutrition (like pumpkin, sweet potato, quinoa and brown rice) will also help.
To get the best of both worlds, you can try a gentle version of keto like a low carb, high fat diet combined with a 16:8 style intermittent fasting method.
Want to combine keto and intermittent fasting? Join SuperFastDiet now and discover how.