The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, low-carb diet, meaning you have to eat a lot of fat, a moderate amount of protein and a minimal amount of carbohydrates to make the diet work.
One of the best parts about going on a ketogenic diet is that you don’t have to count calories, at least not in the traditional, obsessive way. We’d just have to be a little smart about what we eat and eat the right types of food.
In a normal diet and why we get fat on a high-carb diet
In a normal diet, our body runs on carbohydrates. The carbs that we eat gets turned into glucose, which is then used as energy to power our brain and body. Excess glucose would then be converted into glycogen via insulin to be stored in our liver and muscles. The glycogen in our liver is used for our brain while the glycogen in our muscles is used as an emergency energy source. If we’re ever in any kind of flight-or-flight situation where we need a mass amount of energy or when we’re working out, the glycogen in the muscles would be used and we could store new glycogen. If not, it’ll stay there till the end of eternity.
The glycogen storage in the liver and muscles is essentially a fuel tank for our bodies. There’s no problem if we burn the fuel in the tank and replenish it, which is what happens when we eat normally and exercise regularly. But like a fuel tank, there’s a finite amount of glycogen that we can store in our body. It could only store approximately two days’ worth of glycogen in our body.
Insulin is a powerful hormone that regulates the blood sugar level in our bloodstream. When the glycogen stores are full, they desensitize the insulin receptors on the cellular surface of the liver and muscles. Since the existing insulin can’t help convert the glucose to glycogen, the unstored glucose would just build up in the bloodstream. The body recognizes that it’s unhealthy to have such a high blood sugar level, so it secretes more insulin to move the glucose to the liver. And then the liver turns the extra glucose to fat, which is why people who eat a lot of carbs but don’t exercise tend to be overweight.
In short, high carbs equals high glucose equals high insulin level equals high body fat.
In a ketogenic diet
The whole point of the keto diet is to use fat as a fuel source instead of using glucose. So a person would eat fat as their primary macronutrient coupled with a moderate amount of protein and a minimal amount of carbs.
Macronutrients in a keto diet
Fat is basically the heart and soul of the keto diet. The whole point of the ketogenic diet is to consume enough fat for your body to burn it as fuel. We can get away a significant amount of fat being eaten as 90% of it is ketogenic. Fat should be consumed when you’re hungry throughout the day with one exception: after you work out. Fat slows down the digestive process and the absorption of protein post workout.
Not all fats are equal though. Healthy fats like coconut oil or avocado are definitely better than say, KFC or McD.
Protein is vital in a keto diet, but it’s also a tricky nutrient to control. Your body could convert extra protein in your system to glycogen, which is the last thing we want in a keto diet as it may put your body off ketosis. On the flip side, too little protein may cause loss of muscle mass and increased appetite. What this means is that you have to be really technical when you’re talking about the right amount of protein.
Protein is also one of the most sating macronutrients. It means the more protein you eat, the longer the time you could go without feeling hungry, the less you eat. Besides that, protein could also raise your base metabolic rate. Protein helps build and preserve muscle tissue. More muscles mean you’d burn lightly more calories even when you’re chilling.
How much protein is enough protein?
Adequate protein means different things to different people. The amount of dietary protein you could eat is determined by your total body weight and activity level. For instance, a person who exercises heavily would need more protein than an average office worker who sits at the desk 10 hours a day. Age and gender also affect recommended protein intake, but it’s not a significant effect.
However, this only provides a rough estimate of the amount of protein to consume. A more accurate and effective method would be to use your lean mass weight as a guide. To calculate your lean mass weight, simply deduct your body fat from your total weight.
To find out your lean mass weight
There are a couple of lean mass weight calculators on the internet that helps you with that. But all of them require that you know your body fat percentage in the first place. As a general guide, women should have 18-25% of body fat while it’s 10-15% of body fat for men.
There are two types of body fat though: essential body fat and storage fat. Essential body fat is the fat in the tissues, such as nerve tissue, bone marrow and in the organs. There’s no way to lose this kind of fat without compromising your health. It’s approximately 3% for men and around 12% for women. Some experts suggested that women need more essential body fat because their bodies are prepped for the possibility of childbirth and hormonal levels.
There are a few methods to measure your body fat. The most accurate way to measure body fat is to use a DEXA scan, which is an abbreviation for dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry. You can get a DEXA scan at specific hospitals or health centres.
The most popular methods are visual comparisons and using the body measurement method. There’s a pretty handy calculator online for you to input your hip, waist and neck measurement using a tape measure. You could also use a visual chart like this to determine your body fat. For obvious reasons, these should be used only as a reference since it’s subjective.
Carbohydrates and its derived form, sugar, is the most restricted macronutrient in the keto diet. Carbs have a direct effect on going into ketosis as if the glycogen, the stored form of glucose, from the body is not depleted, the body won’t be able to enter ketosis. However, carbohydrate is needed for some cells of the body to function, so it’s best to consume a minimal amount of it. As a general rule, a person on a ketogenic diet should eat more or less 5% of carbs in a day.
Types of food to eat in a keto diet
Beef, pork, poultry and lamb
Any kind of meat is considered as a staple in a keto diet menu. This is because most meat has no carbs and is rich in protein as well as vitamin B and several other kinds of minerals.
Dark meat is fattier than white meat, so pick that over poultry when possible. Grass-fed beef is recommended over normal meat. Grass-fed cows are allowed to graze on a pasture, leading to a more natural diet, which in turn making its meat richer in nutrients. Grass-fed beef also supports normal blood sugar levels and has ample electrolytes in them. Replenishing electrolytes with grass-fed beef might help improve keto flu. Eating grass-fed beef can also help minimize bacterial and hormone intake that’s associated with the rearing methods of grain fed cows.
With the wide range of benefits of grass-fed cows considered, it is more expensive than grain-fed meat, so unless you can afford it, it might not be sustainable in the long run. You should also take note of the amount of protein you eat as you’d be kicked out of ketosis if you eat too much protein. If you don’t eat beef or pork, lamb is a good substitution as it is very fatty and high in nutrients.
In terms of cured meat like sausages and bacon, it’s best to check if it’s cured with sugar or other additives. Don’t be concerned if it’s cured with salt. Salt helps restore electrolyte level in your body that tends to be low when you’re on the keto diet.
Seafood is definitely best consumed when fresh, so get seafood as fresh as possible. If you’ve had a bad stomach experience with seafood while travelling, you’d know what this is about.
Seafood is also rich in nutrients and brings a lot of health perks to the body. Salmon, for example, is very rich in vitamin B but it practically free of carbs. Sardines, mackerel and other fatty fish are very high in omega-3, which is found to decrease levels of insulin in your blood and increase insulin sensitivity in heavier people. Eating fish has also been linked to better mental health as well as lower diseases, so that’s an extra bonus!
Shrimp and most crabs don’t contain carbs, making them fool-proof food choices. Clams, mussels and oysters have a small amount of carbs, so be aware if you’re making them for dinner. With that in mind, shellfish are still solid choices for keto diet as they either don’t contain carbs or a very minimal amount, but still rich in minerals, vitamins and omega-3s.
Eggs are one of the most versatile foods to incorporate into a keto diet. You could make it in any way you want: boiled, poached or scrambled. An egg contains about 6g of protein and less than a gram of carbs, which makes it the ideal food in a ketogenic lifestyle. You’d also feel fuller with eggs and it keeps your blood sugar stable.
Egg yolks get a bad reputation because it contains high levels of cholesterol. Despite that, it is concentrated with essential vitamins and minerals that are awesome for the human body. In some researches, people who eat whole eggs have a better lipid profile than people who only eat egg whites.
Just as beef, it’s recommended to choose free range eggs for the best benefits. Depending on where you’re from, free range eggs are not too expensive than the normal ones, so it could be more sustainable.
The key thing about dairy is to pick full-fat ones instead of skimmed or low fat. Remember that you’re fueling your body with fats now, so any kinds of fat you eat will give you energy. As a general rule, grass-fed dairy is considered to be more superior over grain fed ones. This is due to the fact that grass-fed dairy is believed to be healthier as it contains more nutrients.
Butter and heavy cream
It sounds like a heart-attack come true but on a keto diet, you’re encouraged to eat butter and heavy cream. Butter and heavy cream are high in fat, but relatively low in carbs, which make them ideal for a ketogenic diet. For ages, people believed that food with high saturated fat such as butter and cream is associated with increased heart diseases. New studies now, however, showed that it’s not linked. In fact, in some studies, people who consume full-fat dairy products are less likely to be obese or overweight.
Grass-fed butter and cream are believed to be more nutritious, but normal variants of these foods are still full of essential fatty acids like omega-3s and vitamins. These nutrients help balance insulin levels, increase metabolism and improve digestive health, which are all help if you’re trying to lose weight.
If you’re lactose intolerant, you could use clarified butter, or otherwise known as ghee butter, as a substitute since it contains no casein or lactose that could trigger the allergy.
Cheese and yoghurt
Cheese is perfect for the ketogenic diet if eaten in moderate amounts. Although there are hundreds of types of cheese, all of them are relatively low in carbs but high in fat. 28g of cheddar, for example, contains only 1g of carb and 7g of protein.
Yoghurt is the same, with the added benefit of having a bunch of bacteria that help promote a healthy gut. You’d have to be careful of the sugar content in most store-bought yoghurt as they tend to contain some sugar.
Cottage cheese and plain Greek yoghurt, in particular, are high in protein and also relatively low in carbs. 150g of plain Greek yoghurt contains about 5 grams of carbs and 11 grams of protein. The same amount of cottage cheese contains the same amount of carbs as well, but 7 grams more protein. They are also appetite suppressants since they make you feel full easily.
Coconut milk is also a great non-dairy source of healthy fats, making it perfect for people who want to do the ketogenic diet but are lactose intolerant. It could help boost metabolism, energize your brain and balance the hormones. Besides that, it also helps to satiate appetite, making it less likely for people to eat more. It could help you fight bacteria and viruses as well.
Low carb vegetables
Vegetables that grow above ground are super low in calories, but high in nutrients. Root vegetables like potatoes and beets tend to be starchier, which means it contains more carbohydrates. The amount of carbs for leafy greens ranges from 1g to 8g per cup.
There are multiple health benefits for leafy greens in addition to being great for a keto diet. They contain anti-oxidants that help fight against free radicals that could damage cells. Cruciferous vegetables like kale and broccoli have also been linked to decreased risk for cancer and heart diseases.
Low carb vegetables could be used as a substitute for high carb food. For example, zucchini can be made into noodles or pasta by slicing them thinly to mimic the appearance. Some people use cauliflower to mimic rice or as to have to mashed like potatoes.
Healthy oils and fats
Coconut oil is being hailed as the new holy grail of healthy food. Its reputation is well-deserved since it boasts many health benefits such as regulating blood sugar and hormone levels, fuel the body’s metabolism and help heal the body’s organs. It’s a little paradoxical, but eating coconut oil could help reduce belly fat and boost brain function. It’s also great for keto because it reduces cravings.
Olive oil is used in many Mediterranean cuisines for good reason. It’s linked to a reduction of cardiovascular disease. The best version of olive oil is the unrefined extra virgin olive oil, which has the highest concentration of antioxidants. It also has vitamin E that provides minerals to the bone as well as reduces the risk of diabetes.
It’s also super versatile since you could use it as a cooking oil substitute as well as salad dressing.
Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are keto favourites since they are high in omega fatty acids but low in carbs.
Asides from that, they also boost immune health and help fight inflammation in the body. Because they have so much fibre, they help curb hunger to avoid overeating. They could also help fuel your day by providing enough energy when you’re feeling drained.
However, the net carbs of each type of nuts and seeds vary from each other. It ranges from 0g to 8g per 28g. The best type of nut to eat is flax seeds while the most high-card nut is cashew nuts.
When people think of the ketogenic diet, they think of cutting fruit out altogether. It’s not surprising, given that fruits are typically high in sugar. Berries, however, is low in carbs but high in fibre. In fact, certain berries like blackberries and raspberries contain as much as digestive carbs.
Berries could improve blood sugar and reduce insulin, which is what we’re going for when we’re trying the ketogenic diet. However, it’s important to note that overeating on berries could have the same effect on your craving as carbohydrate does. It’ll cause a spike in sugar levels, which will, in turn, cause a hunger craving. If you have berries in moderate amounts, you could still stay in ketosis after getting your fruit fix.
Fun fact, it’s a fruit!
Avocado is an amazing addition to the keto diet since 75% of it is fat and it’s pretty low-carb. Technically, a medium-sized avocado has 18g of carbs, but since 14g of them are fibre, it doesn’t get absorbed into the body like that. Basically, only 4g of carbs get absorbed into the body. It can also be used as a meat substitute since it’s super high in protein as well.
In addition, avocados are also high in potassium, which will make the transition to a keto diet easier since it restores the electrolyte levels in the body. In the long run, avocados improve cholesterol levels since it’s chocked full of good, HDL cholesterol. The fruit itself is also very satiating to eat, so you wouldn’t feel like eating a lot of crap later.
Other great stuff to eat
Seaweed is a great source of vitamins B6 and C and a bunch of other minerals like potassium, zinc and iron. These minerals support the immune system, reduce blood pressure and balances hormones. It could also help curb cravings, which is incredibly helpful when you’re trying to lose weight.
Also, contrary to popular beliefs, there are different types of seaweed with different health benefits. So, you’d get to mix it up even though you’re eating the same thing.
People automatically assume that chocolates would be off-bounds since it’s so full of sugar. As a matter of fact, it depends on what kind of chocolate you eat. 28g of dark chocolate made with 100% cacao powder only contains about 3g of carbs. In supermarket terms, pick chocolates that have more than 70% cocoa solids.
Like all other food on this list, it’s rich in minerals and vitamins. Cocoa powder has been marketed as a superfood due to its high concentration of flavanols due to its anti-oxidants. It could also help to improve circulation. Dark chocolate also helps regular blood sugar.
And there you have it! Once you’ve gotten the hang of the appropriate foods needed in a ketogenic diet, the rest should be easy for you.