If you’ve been talking amongst friends about nutrition or reading articles on your favorite health and fitness site, chances are, you’ve come across the term ketogenic diet a time or two.
This is one of the most popular approaches to date and is one giving people great results as far as weight loss is concerned. That said, it’s not necessarily for everyone. Doing your own research about the ketogenic diet first before jumping in can help you decide whether it’s a plan you should consider.
So what is this approach all about? Let’s go over the main facts you need to know about the ketogenic diet.
What Is The Ketogenic Diet And How Does It Work?
The ketogenic diet plan is an exceptionally low carb diet approach, virtually reducing your carbohydrate intake to nearly zero. The idea behind this diet is that by taking your carbohydrates so low, you actually force your body to start utilizing an alternative source of fuel to glucose called ketone bodies.
Your body will begin to run off a mixture of these ketone bodies along with fatty acids, which will keep blood glucose levels stable, reduce hunger, and may help to speed along the fat loss process.
In order to reach this state of ketosis, monitoring your macronutrient intake is very important. This diet prescribes an intake of 30% protein, 65% dietary fat, and just 5% carbohydrates. So on a 1600 calorie diet plan for example, this would work out to be 120 grams of protein, 20 grams of carbohydrates, and about 115 grams of dietary fats.
If you don’t hit these macros and consume more carbohydrates or more protein, you likely won’t move into ketosis and thus won’t see the benefits the diet has to offer.
The Foods You’ll Eat On The Ketogenic Diet
So which foods will you eat while on the ketogenic diet? As you can tell from the above, you’re going to want to feast on high fat foods with moderate amounts of protein. Almost all carbohydrates should be omitted from your diet. Even some vegetables will prove to be too high in carbohydrates to be included.
You’ll also want to be careful with how many nuts and avocados you eat because while these do contain dietary fats, they also contain carbohydrates and this may put you above your recommended total.
Good food choices while on the ketogenic diet plan includes:
· Olive oil
· Coconut oil
· Avocado oil
· White fish
· Grass fed beef
· Chicken breast
· Chicken thigh
· Turkey breast
· Dark turkey meat
· Whey protein powder
· Hard cheese
· Eggs and egg whites
You can and still should include some vegetables to help get your intake of antioxidants up but you’ll want to choose those that contain the fewest calories total. This includes foods like spinach, collard greens, celery, cucumbers, mushrooms, and possibly a small amount of broccoli.
It is possible to move out of ketosis eating vegetables though so make sure that you are measuring the amounts you’re consuming.
One thing that you will want to do if you decide to adopt the ketogenic diet is avoid eating everything and anything just because it’s high in fat. Some people choose to load up their plates with butter, cheese, sausage and bacon just because it fits the keto profile.
The problem with this is that while these foods are okay in moderation, if you go overboard on them, they can set you up for some serious health problems. With a fat intake as high as it is on this diet, you need to watch that your saturated fat doesn’t climb too high up there. Some saturated fat is okay, but it must be consumed in moderation. Too much will set you up for experiencing heart disease.
Benefits Of The Ketogenic Diet Plan
So what are the benefits you’ll reap while using the ketogenic diet? Here are some of the main things you can look forward to.
· Reduced hunger
Most people who use the ketogenic diet state that reduced hunger is one of the biggest benefits they experience. With carbohydrates taken so low, there are no fluctuations in blood sugar levels, which is often what leads to hunger in the first place.
Additionally, the state of ketosis itself tends to blunt hunger levels very well, so most people notice that their hunger is simply non-existent on this diet plan.
That makes it easier to sustain a reduced calorie intake and thus, encourage faster rates of fat loss.
· Stabilized blood glucose levels
Because your carbohydrates are lower, this also promotes stabilized blood glucose levels as well. Without glucose coming into the body, there is no sharp spike followed by a crash as when you are eating carbohydrates.
This further helps reduce hunger and may help you maintain more stabilized energy levels. While you may suffer from energy related issues when first starting the approach (more on that in a second), eventually once you are adapted, this should level out and you’ll find you have better energy than before.
· Improved insulin sensitivity
As long as you are sure to eat healthy food sources (plenty of olive and coconut oil for instance), you should experience improved insulin sensitivity. One of the leading causes of insulin resistance is the overconsumption of carbohydrates in the diet, so by reducing carbohydrates entirely, you can sidestep this problem.
This is great news as insulin resistance is often at the heart of many diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
· Ability to eat many foods that were previously off limits
Do you love high fat foods? Well, you will rejoice while using this diet. The fact that you can feast on so many high fat foods is reason enough for many people to consider the ketogenic diet.
If you’re a lover of all cheeses for instance, you’ll be happy to know that cheese is an awesome ketogenic diet food.
If you’ve felt deprived and heavily restricted on former diets, you might just find that these feelings vanish while on this approach.
· Lower risk of diabetes
As noted above, the ketogenic diet may help to lower your risk factor for diabetes, or if you’re someone who is struggling with diabetes, it may help you better control your condition.
The diabetes prevalence rates are growing with alarming statistics right now with 30.3 million people in the US suffering, which equates to about 9.4% of the US population. And with this, 7.2 million people who actually suffer from diabetes are not currently diagnosed.
The reason diabetes rates are so high in today’s times is our over-consumption of sugar and refined carbohydrates. Because this diet eliminates those entirely, they will not be an issue.
· Potential improvement in heart disease risk profile
Finally, because you are consuming fewer carbohydrates, this means that there will be a lower conversion of the sugars you are consuming to medium chain triglycerides, which then directly increases your risk factor for heart disease.
Those who use the ketogenic diet in a healthy manner (refrain from eating all saturated fats for example) can see a significant reduction in their heart disease risk and notice great improvements in their cholesterol profile as well.
As you can see, there are quite a few benefits to be had on the ketogenic diet plan. Like most things in life though, there are drawbacks.
Drawbacks Of The Ketogenic Diet Plan
One of the biggest potential drawbacks of the ketogenic diet plan is how you’ll feel during the initial phase. Often referred to as the ‘keto flu’, the body goes through a period of adjustment when you first drop your carbohydrates that low that may make you feel miserable.
It’s not uncommon for people to be irritable, grouchy, hungry, suffer from very low energy levels, and feel a sort of ‘foggy brain’ that won’t go away until you are adapted to the lower carb lifestyle.
You might find your concentration level is suppressed and it seems like you can’t focus clearly. Usually this will go away after a period of about two weeks when the body fully adapts.
Most people adapt fine and then go on to feel great while on the approach but there is always a select few who don’t adapt so well and in those cases, usually that just means the diet isn’t for them. Often it’s best for them to abandon the approach and choose a more moderate carbohydrate diet plan instead.
Another drawback to the ketogenic diet plan is that you may find that your energy level for exercise is considerably low. Without sufficient carbohydrates in the diet plan, it’s impossible to sustain intense exercise such as sprint training (interval training) or weight lifting.
Those who are adamant about using a ketogenic approach and doing this type of exercise will usually have to add carbohydrates back into the diet prior to doing the exercise and possibly right after to provide the fuel substrates to perform this type of work. Usually they will be able to go back into ketosis after the exercise is performed provided they aren’t consuming too many carbohydrates.
Alternatively, they can also employ a cyclic ketogenic diet where they eat a higher carbohydrate intake on weekends to ‘carb up’ in a sense and prepare their body for the exercises sessions in the week ahead. Then during the week, they’ll stick to the standard low carb ketogenic diet approach.
Finally, the last potential drawback of the ketogenic diet is nutritional deficiency. Because your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables will have to be so low in order to sustain the 5% carbohydrate recommendation, this can cause you to fall short on a number of vitamins and antioxidants. In addition to that, your fiber intake on the ketogenic diet will also be quite low and this can lead to constipation and digestive issues. Having a higher fiber intake is also an important game player in reducing heart disease as well, so you’ll need to weigh the pros and cons of the approach and decide if this route is best for you.
Who Should Use The Ketogenic Diet?
Who is best suited to using the ketogenic diet plan? Those who tend to enjoy higher fat foods as opposed to higher carbohydrate foods are the first group of individuals who will usually be naturally drawn to this plan.
Second, those who struggle with blood glucose control should also strongly consider this approach as it’ll help them maintain stable levels and prevent the high’s and low’s that may otherwise occur.
Individuals who are dealing with difficulties in managing hunger while dieting will also be well suited to the ketogenic approach. Since hunger is rarely an issue on this plan for most people, it will completely take away this element.
Things To Know Before You Begin
If the ketogenic diet is sounding pretty good to you right now and you are about to dive right in, there are a few things that you’ll want to know beforehand.
First, make sure that you are getting enough electrolytes on this diet plan. Some people will find that they struggle to get sufficient levels of potassium given the fact that all fresh fruits and vegetables are reduced. This can cause issues with blood pressure levels, concentration, and energy levels.
Second, hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. As you cut back on carbohydrates, your body will start to lose a lot of water weight, which can leave you in a dehydrated state. Try adding more water to your daily diet to help counteract this.
Finally, pre-plan your meal plan as much as you can. Without a plan in place, you’ll be hard pressed to achieve the 30/65/5 nutrient breakdown this plan calls for. Most people by nature won’t hit these ratios when just choosing foods, so you need to have this calculated out.
If you are not someone who is interested in tracking macros and calculating your calorie and macro intake, this diet is likely not for you.
· Helps to manage hunger very well
· May help some people burn fat faster than conventional moderate carb diet plans
· Is great for satisfying cravings for fat rich foods
· May help to improve your cholesterol profile
· Helps to manage blood glucose levels
· Could help reduce your risk of heart disease and diabetes
· Can cause headaches in some people
· May lead to strong food cravings for carbohydrate rich foods
· The lack of dietary fiber in the diet may cause constipation
· Nutritional deficiencies may result due to not taking in any fresh fruits or vegetables
· Some people may find the program hard to follow as you have to constantly monitor your macro intake
· Won’t leave much energy for intense exercise – so modifications to the plan will need to be made
All in all, the ketogenic diet can be very beneficial for those who do it right. It’s not for everyone but if you aren’t a carb-lover and aren’t participating in intense exercise, it may be one of the best plans that you can go on.
Just remember that in order to reach full ketosis and have your body feeling it’s best while you use the plan, you do need to stick to the 5% carb allotment. Going over this will not bring you to ketosis thus you’ll find that you continue to have the unwanted side effects that come with the ‘keto flu’. By sticking it out and hitting ketosis, you’ll ensure this plan is a success for you.
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Yancy, William S., et al. “A low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet versus a low-fat diet to treat obesity and hyperlipidemiaA randomized, controlled trial.” Annals of internal medicine140.10 (2004): 769-777.
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