So you say want to dabble in the Ketogenic Diet?
The Ketogenic diet has gotten a lot of love as the silver bullet diet in the last few years with good reason:
- The rapid fat loss possibilities
- The possible anti-cancer effects.
But most importantly – bacon for breakfast.
Sounds a little 4AM infomercial type of diet, doesn’t it?
In a nutshell, the Ketogenic Diet or Keto is a high fat, moderate protein and low carb diet. Basically you’re going to be eating a boat load of fat while nearly eliminating all carbs from your diet.
That means skipping pasta, bread, pizza and beer for nuts, avocados, pork rinds and full fat cheese.
Is Keto the silver bullet diet? Only you can make that call for yourself. I’m very much in the mindset of different strokes for different folks. I’m just the medium to give you the information you need to make that decision for yourself.
Now this article is a long one to bring you up to speed, but I’ve organized it so it’s easily digestible (Hi-Oh!).
If you’re interested in going Keto, just want to expand your dietary horizon or want to give it a whirl, I’ve got you covered. Going Keto isn’t easy but I’ll give you everything you need to get up and running.
Enough with the sales pitch Bonollo – let’s do this.
WHAT IS KETO?
Back in 1921, Dr. Stanley Cobb and Dr. W.G. Lennox became the first to observe that drug resistant seizures could be controlled by a very low carb diet or fasting. Since starving people for life might violate some human rights, very low carb diets won.
It was then noticed that rather than the body using glucose for fuel (like when you eat carbs), the body makes these molecules called ketones to fuel the body. These ketones only form when carb consumption is low and protein is kept in a moderate range.
The body can’t run on fat directly, so fat is converted to ketones in the liver then used for energy. If carbs are kept low, then the body switches it’s energy production to predominantly fat burning. Fat in typically hard to reach places, like the belly and thighs, become more readily available.
By moving to a predominantly fat burning state, your body has almost an endless flow of fuel which makes you hungry less with a steady stream of energy even when calories are low.
In 1925, Dr. Mynie Peterman calculated the exact formula to reach ketosis, which is 10-15 grams of carbs, 1 gram per kilogram of bodyweight for protein and the rest fat. And that, as they say, is how the Ketogenic diet was born.
Now you might be wondering, how does a diet like Atkins or other low carb diets differ from the Ketogenic diet. The only real difference is protein consumption. In Atkins or a normal low carb diet protein isn’t limited, in the Ketogenic diet it is. A subtle dietary difference but it makes all the difference in the world when it comes to results.
WHAT IS KETOSIS?
Ketosis, I’d say, is the dietary equivalent of sliced bread. Pretty mean throwing a pic and a metaphor of bread on a carb restricted diet article huh? Ah well. In this state, your body is producing ketones for energy which means fat loss. This also means that since you are either eating fat or using fat from troubled areas, you always have a steady stream of energy.
Oh and those hunger pangs when you haven’t eaten in a few hours? Uh-uh, not anymore my friend.
But with ketosis there are a few pain points.
The first is actually getting into ketosis. In order to get into dietary nirvana you have to deplete your glucose stores. This can be done through fasting, going very low carb or a combination of both.
Next, ketosis is a very sensitive state to be in. Meaning if you consume too much protein or eat carbs it’ll kick you out of ketosis as an alternative fuel source is available. Certain amino acids, like gluconeogenic, found in protein can be used to make carbs.
ARE KETOSIS AND KETOACIDOSIS THE SAME?
Ketosis and ketoacidosis are about the same as a having a good buzz and getting blackout drunk. Ketoacidosis is almost exclusive to the diabetic community, especially Type I. Insulin acts as a buffer to keep ketone levels in the safe range. If you can’t produce insulin then the regulator is off and all hell breaks lose.
Even low levels of insulin, like which is available in ketosis, will help keep you in the beneficial range.
HOW DO I KNOW IF I’M IN KETOSIS?
The only way to know if you’re keto-ing right is to test yourself through a pee strip, breathalyzer or a blood-ketone meter.
Pee strips or Urine strips is the easiest and cheapest way to measure ketosis. First time trying keto? I’d start here.
This is basically a ketone pregnancy test. You pee on the strip and it tells you a range of how many ketones are in your pee.
Pro: Cheap and easily available at your local drugstore or Amazon.
Con: The strips give a range rather than an exact number plus results can vary depending on how much fluid you drink. The ultimate drawback is if you’ve been in ketosis for a while your body reabsorbs ketones from the urine, making the urine strips unreliable.
Insert drunk breathalyzer joke here. At around $150 they are more expensive than urine strips. These analyzers do not give you a precise ketone level, but rather a color code for the general level. Research shows that there is decent correlation with blood ketones in most situations.
Con: Pain in the ass. Not accurate. More expensive. Not portable, needs computer hookup to read.
Blood-ketone meters show an exact and current level of ketones in your blood. The major disadvantage, however, is that they are expensive: A meter with 10 ketone-test strips and 30 needles included, costs about $120 and then an additional $3 per test after that.
Pro: Gold standard in terms of accuracy.
Con: Expensive. Requires pricking your finger for a drop of blood.
If you’re looking to get into the Keto game, go with the pee strips. If you like it, opt for the blood-ketone meter.
So now that you have your results, here are some ranges to know if you’re doing it right.
- Below 0.5 mmol/l is not considered “ketosis”. At this level you still have some work to do for fat-burning.
- Between 0.5–1.5 mmol/l is light nutritional ketosis. You’ll be getting a good effect on your weight, but perhaps not optimal. Equivalent to “just the tip”.
- Around 1.5–3 mmol/l is called optimal ketosis. This is where all the benefits we’ll talk about later will come.
- Readings of over 3 mmol/l aren’t something to really strive for. The results aren’t any different in this range compared to 1.5-3 mmol/l.
- Results of over 8–10 mmol/l are usually impossible to get to just by eating a ketogenic diet. It means that something is wrong. The most common cause by far is type 1 diabetes with severe lack of insulin.
The Ketogenic Diet has some pretty sweet benefits, namely putting a high priority on bacon consumption. But if you’re looking for more than that, here’s what I could dig up…
Eat Bacon – Sorry it’s high on my life goals.
Weight Loss – Using your body fat for energy will help you lose weight, obviously. With fat being the primary fuel source, insulin levels drop which will help prevent fat storage.
Blood Sugar – With a lack of sugar in your system, studies even show that the Keto is a more effective way to manage and prevent diabetes compared to low-calorie diets. If you’re pre-diabetic or have Type II diabetes, a conversation with your doctor might be an alternative to insulin shots or a pump.
Insulin Resistance – Insulin resistance can lead to type II diabetes if left unmanaged. If you go low carb, your body can become more insulin sensitive.
Ninja Focus – There’s no denying mental focus is a big draw right behind fat loss. By limiting the up and downs of insulin spikes with a carb diet you’ll be able to improve focus and concentration.
Increase Energy & Normalize Hunger – By giving your body a more consistent energy sources, you’ll avoid the dips after the insulin spike. On top of that, fat is naturally more satisfying and ends up leaving you in a full state for longer.
Epilepsy – This is the reason the Ketogenic Diet came into existence. It is still one of the most widely used therapies for people who have medicine resistent epilepsy today.
Cholesterol and Blood Pressure – A ketogenic diet has shown to improve triglyceride levels and cholesterol levels most associated with arterial buildup despite the high fat. More specifically low-carb, high-fat diets show a dramatic increase in HDL (good cholesterol) and decrease in LDL (bad cholesterol) particle concentration compared to low-fat diets. Many studies on low-carb diets show better improvement in blood pressure over other diets too.
Acne – It’s common to see improvements in your skin when you switch to a ketogenic diet.
KETO AND CANCER
One of the emerging fields of research in the Keto world is it’s possible benefit with cancer patients.
The thinking behind the research is that cancer cells need glucose to reproduce as rapidly as they do. In fact, one of the tests to diagnosis cancer, a PET scan, is an injection of radioactive sugar lights up the cancer cells due to the higher rate of glucose usage compared to normal cells. Cancer cells don’t have the ability to switch energy sources like normal cells do, they are strictly glucose fed.
Well if you starve cancer cells of their fuel source then you effectively reduce the risk of the cancer growing out of control. Coupling that with traditional treatments and it might give someone a fighting chance.
Now I’m not a doctor even though I spent seven years in college. This article is just to start the conversation. Please consult your doctors before doing anything.
KETO AND BRAIN DISEASES
In certain diseases like Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, Parkinson’s and just general aging glucose uptake in the brain is suppressed. Even in a glucose rich environment, the brain can’t take in enough to supply the energy needed.
While glucose is on a one lane road, ketones still have a three lane highway to supply the brain with the required energy. It has been shown that a ketogenic diet can improve symptoms in all four cases.
Having lost my grandfather to Alzheimer’s, this is amazing news.
ARE THERE SIDE EFFECTS?
When introducing something new to your body there are always side effects. The big thing to ask yourself is Are the benefit orders of magnitude better than the side effects?
For example, if you were to take a medicine for a social anxiety and a side effect was loss of bladder control, I might opt to keep thinking people are judging me rather than fear peeing in my pants at free random.
Thankfully, loss of bladder control and anal leakage aren’t on the table with the Ketogenic diet. I’ve also sprinkled in some remedies to mitigate the downside. Your welcome.
Keto flu – ask anyone that has tried a low carb diet they’ll tell you the struggle is real. The first 2-3 days are a bitch.
The most common symptoms:
As you get further into ketosis these subside, within a week you’ll be fine.
Now the Keto marketers in the group will tell you that the Keto flu is your body detoxing from the harmful effects of carbs or ridding your body of toxic sludge.
The real reason is carbs retain water and in that water is electrolytes like sodium, potassium and magnesium. When you go low carb, you end up pissing all those out, much like you would after a good night of drinking.
Notice the symptoms are the same as a hangover?
Once your body adapts to the new environment you’re aces. Or if you want to make a smoother transition into ketosis, increase salt intake by drinking a cup of bouillon or chicken broth a couple times a day.
If that doesn’t sound appetizing, just add extra salt your food or water.
Within just a couple days of cutting out carbs, the body will increase ketone concentrations and the brain will begin making the switch. From beginning to full ketosis is about a four week process, provided it’s done consistently.
Leg Cramps – A common side effect of going Keto, or low carb in general. For the same reason as the keto flu, also give you leg cramps. Cramps are more contributed to pissing out magnesium which is used to normalize nerve and muscle function. Luckily, these are easy to avoid…
- Drink plenty of fluid and get enough salt.
- Supplement with magnesium. Look for a supplement that will give you 300-420 mg a day; men on the higher end, women the lower.
Constipation – Oh the sweet agony of constipation. On one hand you can save time with bathroom trips but the other it gets uncomfortable after a few days. Here’s how to avoid this shitty situation:
- Drink plenty of fluid and get enough salt. Are you seeing a common theme here? The most common cause of constipation on low carb is dehydration. Your body removes the water from your poop which makes going to the bathroom like trying to pass a kidney stone.
- Eat plenty of vegetables or another source of fiber. Fiber on a ketogenic diet is usually in short supply since it is mainly found in fruits, veggies and fiber rich, carb heavy foods. Fiber as we all know keeps your pooping schedule moving like a German train schedule. Eating plenty of non-starchy vegetables may solve this problem. Things like flax and chia seeds or any vegetable basically will help you get out of a jam. If all else fails go with a sugar free Metamucil. You might feel like you’re 80 but it’s a risk worth taking when you haven’t laid any cable in a week.
Bad Breath – One of the biggest downsides of the Ketogenic diet is bad breath. When you reach the point of fat burning there are byproducts, one being the smell and taste of acetone in your mouth.
It tastes like you drank nail polish remover. This can also change the scent of your sweat. However, not everyone experiences it and usually it only lasts for a week or two. At that point the body adapts and gets rid of the acetone differently.
For some “lucky” people it doesn’t go away. Here are a few ways to mitigate your bangin breath.
- Drink enough fluid and get enough salt. If your mouth feels dry– again the dehydration thing – this means you have less saliva to wash away bacteria. This can result in bad breath, so drink up.
- Maintain good oral hygiene. Brushing your teeth won’t stop the keto smell (it actually comes from your lungs), but at least it won’t be mixing with other smells.
- Use a breath freshener regularly. This can mask the smell a little.
- Wait. Not the soundest of plans but it’s easy.
- Reduce the degree of ketosis. If you are one of the lucky few – I’m in this category – the smell is a long-term problem. The best thing to do is reduce your level of ketosis. This means eating a bit more carbs, 50-70 grams per day is usually enough to get out of ketosis. With the reduction of ketosis, you also reduce the effects like fat burning, insulin sensitivity etc.
Another option is to eat 50-70 grams of carbs per day and add some intermittent fasting. This can get you roughly the same effect as a strict low-carb diet… without the smell.
Heart Palpitations – You’ve probably picked up on a trend in the last few downsides of going Keto – dehydration. One of the more scarier downsides is a slightly elevated heart rate and heart beats that feel like the bass of a Skrillex song. This is normal and usually nothing to worry about.
A reduction in the amount of fluid in the blood stream means that the heart will have to pump blood slightly harder or faster to maintain blood pressure.
The quick fix is to drink enough fluids and make sure to get enough salt.
On the other side of the coin, it can also be a result of stress hormones released to maintain blood sugar levels. This is usually a temporary problem as the body adapts to a lower-carb diet. It should go away within a week or two.
In the unlikely situation that the problem sticks around – and the palpitations are causing you concern – try to slightly increase the carb intake. You’ll reduce the low carb fat burning effect but your heart won’t be beating out of your chest. It’s a give and take.
IS KETO THE BEST DIET EVER?
To dub Ketogenic Diet the be-all-end-all of diets would be getting into the “Who’s better, Lebron or Jordan?” debate. There’s no winners and one side eventually looks like an asshole.
So let’s save the debate and answer the only real question that matters.
Can you stick with it?
If you can’t stick with it then the fat loss and other health benefits are nonexistent. You’re just eating a shit ton of fat for the sole purpose of eating a shit ton of fat.
Keto isn’t something you can half ass. With just about every other diet you can -ish it. I eat Paleo-ish. I eat Atkins-ish. Keto isn’t like that. In order to get the results you want, you need to go all in.
Keto isn’t for everyone. It takes a lot of discipline and digesting that much fat daily is exhausting. Sure bacon and eggs for breakfast is cool the first week but it gets old real quick. Not to mention restaurants are not on the keto bandwagon yet. This makes going out with family and friends that much tougher. If you do want to tempt fate in Keto-land, get a few recipes together beforehand.
If you can stick with it 100%, then I would argue no other diet is going to give you the overall health benefits like the Ketogenic Diet will. Otherwise, I’d opt for something else like carb cycling, Intermittent Fasting or Slow Carb. All these will give you the fat loss benefits you want.
If you’re interested, give Keto a try for 45 days. It takes about 30 days to get knuckle deep in ketosis so to quit before that would be doing the diet and yourself a disservice.
If you’ve gotten this far I guess I can consider you interested, here’s how to get started.
WHAT THE HELL DO I EAT?
Since we eliminated carbs and protein has to be kept in check that reduces the menu a little. Here are the Keto approved foods:
- Meats – bacon, fish (Salmon, mackerel, sardines, anchovies), beef (80/20), lamb, poultry (thighs and legs), eggs, filet mignon, porterhouse, ribeye
- Leafy Greens – spinach, kale, etc.
- Above ground vegetables – broccoli, asparagus, cabbage, mushrooms, bell pepper etc.
- High Fat Dairy – hard cheeses, high fat cream, salted butter, sour cream, cream cheese, etc.
- Nuts and seeds – macadamias, walnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds etc.
- Avocado and berries – raspberries, blackberries, and other low glycemic impact berries
- Sweeteners – stevia, erythritol, monk fruit, and other low-carb sweeteners
- Other fats – coconut oil, high-fat salad dressing, olive oil, etc.
- Chicken broth or bouillon cubes with at least 1 gram sodium
A rough guideline is below 10% calories from carbohydrates (the fewer carbs, the more effective), 15-25% protein (the lower end is more effective), and 70% or more from fat.
In case you wanted to ask about other foods – because there are always “Well what about this? foods – here are a list of the no-no foods:
Grains – wheat, corn, rice, cereal, etc.
Sugar – honey, agave, maple syrup, etc.
Fruit – apples, bananas, oranges, etc.
Tubers – potato, yams, etc.
And any combination of the no-no foods and the Keto approved foods are still no-no’s.
DIET SODAS, YEAH OR NAH
Diet soft drinks, like Diet Mountain Dew aka The official soft drink of Aesthetic Physiques, are low calorie and low carb. So you’d think they are Keto friendly, right?
Well yes and no.
While the calories in diet sodas are almost non-existent, there is a whole other subset of issues we have to address now. Mainly your adherence to the diet.
When you drink diet sodas the sweet pleasure sensors in your brain go off much like when you have real sugar. Well we’ve all heard that sugar is more addicting than crack so guess what happens?
Even with artificial sweeteners, you crave more sweetness making an already hard diet to adhere to much, much harder.
Plus, some artificial sweeteners cause an insulin spike, like Acesulfame Potassium, or the street name, Ace K.
That being said, I heart Diet Mountain Dew and I refuse to give it up. You might have a soda that touches you where it smells funny too; don’t give it up. Just monitor your cravings. If you notice cravings for sweets or carbs in general, cut back and make sure you have an iron will.
Going through the initial week sucks the big one. It’s like a week long hangover minus the drunken fun and regret. After the initial week it gets easier.
First thing you need to do is keep your carbs to below 20 g of digestible net carbs a day. Fiber doesn’t count and it’ll help keep you poopin’ regularly. To find the net carbs subtract the total carbs from the fiber. That will give you the net carbs.
To illustrate net carbs, the label above has 9g of total carbs and 4g of fiber. The net carbs would be 5g. Freaking magic.
Next, restrict protein to 0.5g per pound of bodyweight. Too much protein will put you out of ketosis. If you’re 200 pounds, that’ll be 100g of protein.
Fill the rest of your calories (14x bodyweight in pounds) in fat. Keep in mind that 1g of fat equals 9 calories which is double carbs and protein (4 calories/gram).
Eat until satisfied. Don’t starve. Don’t stuff.
Avoid snacking. It’s easy to go over your daily calories with fat heavy diet. Keep eating to just meal time.
Do Intermittent Fasting. Fasting ups ketone levels and will also help you from overeating. Plus it’ll help you get into ketosis faster by using up your glycogen stores during the fasted state.
Use MCT/Coconut Oil and Exogenous ketones.
WAIT WHAT ARE EXOGENOUS KETONES?
Ahh we’ve hit the supplement section. Everyone loves a good supplement.
Supplementation in ketosis is tricky. Protein powders, pre workouts and post workout recovery drinks are all loaded with stuff that can kick you out of ketosis.
One of the most recent additions to the supplementation world is exogenous ketones, or ketones made outside the body. Think exo like in exoskeleton for insects. These come mostly in a powder form, like most supplements, but you have to buy them online; I’m yet to see them in a store.
Exogenous ketones have a few benefits like:
Appetite Suppression: Your body requires food for energy. In ketosis your body is using ketones for energy so flooding the system with ketones almost negates the need to eat. Don’t take this as a reason to skip eating. Don’t be stupid.
Less Disaster Pants: A big concern for high dose MCT oil is, well sometimes it makes your butthole a giant slip and slide. Some PC people call this gastrointestinal distress – I prefer my explanation. Exogenous ketones sidesteps this embarrassing event.
Athletic Performance: Still in the research infancy, studies show the potential benefit of ketones when exercising specifically when avoiding the “Bonk” some athletes hit when glycogen in the body is low.
Ninja Focus: Basically using exogenous ketones is like using Premium compared to regular gasoline (glucose).
If you do decided to supplement with exogenous ketones there’s a few things to keep an eye on. It’s easy to get tricked here.
When I said earlier that I haven’t seen exogenous ketones in a store, I bet somewhere called bullshit.
I’ve seen raspberry ketones at my GNC, Vitamin Shoppe…
Raspberry ketones are not the same ketones I am talking about. Raspberry ketones are the compounds that give raspberries their delightful smell and are used for fat loss. Absolutely nothing to do with ketosis ketones. And to be honest, they don’t do anything for fat loss either.
The thing you want to look for in a exogenous ketone is beta-hydroxybutyrate (or BHB) in the form of Ketone Salts. Researchers use Ketone Esters but word on the street says it tastes like a mixture of jet fuel and vinegar. Not sure if the person to come up with that analogy tried the jet fuel/ vinegar mixture but I guess that’s a story for another day.
Ketone Salts are just BHB mixed with sodium, potassium or calcium for easy and better drinkability.
Some reputable products are:
KetoCaNa – (I tried the orange flavor and the taste wasn’t half bad)
The research is still coming out and I’m sure there are going to be more benefits to fill a volume 2 of this article in the near future. So if you want to stay on the cutting edge of the keto world keep an eye for these people: