What is a Ketogenic Diet? And why would we want to induce “Ketosis?”

A Keto diet is defined as a high fat, low carbohydrates (sugars),  moderate protein diet that when followed correctly, drops the user into a Ketogenic state.  A Ketogenic state is when the body burns fat instead of carbohydrates.

Ketosis is the body’s natural response to low glucose levels in the bloodstream.  When glucose levels are low the body must find an alternative energy source to fuel the body.  Instead of extracting energy from carbohydrates, the body turns to the fat stores of the body. Our liver break down the fat into usable energy.

The Keto diet is not new!  Rather, more like how our ancestors used to live and eat.  Keto is experiencing a bit of a resurgence in popularity as it continues to show promising results for people looking to improve their waistlines, regulate insulin levels, reduce inflammation in the body  & even as a way to help cancer patients starve the glucose loving cancer cells. 

Plate with measuring tape on wooden table closeup. Weight loss diet concept, fat burning

How does a Keto Diet work?

Some people start with reducing the amount of sugar and starches you ingest and increasing foods with good healthy fats like butter, cheese and nuts.  By lowering carbs you allow blood sugar levels to begin to stabilize. Ingesting more fat, helps make you feel satiated and feel fuller for longer periods of time.  This naturally leads to ingesting less food and promotes weight loss. Most people aim for the percentage of the calories they ingest to come from 70% Fat, 20% protein and 10% from carbohydrates.

Ketosis starts when the glycogen in your liver is depleted.  Our livers only hold on to just enough glucose to provide quick energy for the chemical reaction to fire muscles.  We only hold about 12-16 hours worth of this stored glycogen.

So by limiting the amount of carbs we ingest to 20 net grams per day, we would expect to enter ketosis in just under 24 hours.  By becoming less reliant on carbs our bodies are forced to find an alternative fuel source… which is fat; either from dietary fat that we eat or from fat stored in the body. 

Many people following a Low carb/ High Fat or Ketogenic Diet report reduced cravings for sweet and salty snacks, improved cholesterol numbers, lower blood pressure, reduced inflammation, improved energy and as a bonus an increase in weight loss of weight as their bodies become more adapted to the fat burning process.

What does becoming Fat Adapted mean on a Ketogenic Diet?

There you are, happily zipping along through your day when you hit it.

 The dreaded three O’clock low!

You unexpectedly begin to feel the effects of a dip in glucose energy; better known as a sugar crash.  Your thinking becomes lethargic, you feel fuzzy, even lightheaded; you begin to experience cravings for something sweet, and suddenly you are cranky with everyone!! 

This is what most people experience while following a traditional Western diet, steeped in high carbs & overly processed foods.

Becoming Fat Adapted simply means changing the fuel your body uses to run things from Glucose (sugar) to Ketones (fat burning by-product.)

What are Ketones?

Ketones are a by-product that are produced when the body breaking down fat.  A ketone is essentially a fatty acid that our bodies can use for fuel. 

However, this can only happen if there is not enough glucose to meet the energy demands of your body.   When your body runs out of glucose, as a quick energy source, it must look for another source of fuel. Luckily, for people on the Ketogenic diet, this alternative fuel source is mostly derived from dietary fats and fat that has been stored in the body.  Burn baby, burn.

How does Insulin Work?

Our bodies are constantly working overtime to combat the rollercoaster effect of glucose in our bodies; by secreting a hormone called insulin.  Insulin helps remove sugar from the bloodstream. When there is too much sugar in the bloodstream, the body signals our pancreas to produce insulin to keep that glucose in check.

Insulin tells the cells in your body to open up and take in glucose.  Having high levels of sugar in your blood for long periods of time can cause serious health problems if not treated.  There is an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, nerve problems, vision problems and an increased risk of damage to blood vessels that supply blood to your vital organs.

And now, there is strong scientific evidence that glucose is used up first by the body, not because it is the “preferred fuel source,” but because the body feels like it is under attack.  Our bodies may actually view the glucose in our bloodstream as if it were a poison. The body quickly tries to get rid of the sugar, so it can stop any damaging effect caused by too much glucose in the cells.

If blood sugars are high for long periods of time, we end up with too much insulin floating around in our bloodstream.  This constant over signalling for more insulin, changes the chemical signals that let us know when are full and should stop eating.  If insulin levels stay elevated for extended periods of time, we can become insulin resistant. Being insulin resistant can lead to a whole host of problems, including type 2 Diabetes, non-alcohol induces fatty liver & weight gain.  

Measuring tape and jeans, weight loss diet concept. Calories burning, dieting

Stop Counting Calories & Start Counting Net Carbs

What is a Net Carb?  Net carbs are often referred to an impact carbs or digestible carbs.  Fiber is considered a carbohydrate, but the fiber carbohydrates are not digestible.  Meaning they move right through you. 

So when looking at the number of carbs in a food we are eating we first look at the total number of carbs in a serving size, then minus any fiber carbs (fiber is listed on most nutrition labels on products).  That will give you the net carbs for your servings size.

Total Carbs – Fiber = Net Carbs!  Simple 

Our goal on a Keto Diet is to be at no more than 20 grams of carbs per day.  If we are looking a doing “Lazy Keto” also known as a Low Carb Diet we would aim to keep our net carbs below 100 grams of net carbs for the day.

While doing a bit of research about counting calories on Keto, I found this interesting blurb in a sidebar on Reddit.  I considered it thought-provoking enough to include it here. From Reddit’s r/Keto’s Wiki page…. Most dieters tend to drop calories extremely low based on the idea that the greater the deficit, the more weight that will be lost. Up to a point this appears to be true, in that greater caloric restriction yields greater fat loss.

However this ignores the potential effects of extreme caloric restriction on metabolic rate, muscle loss, etc. A recent review of twenty-two studies found that extremely low calorie levels, below 1000 calories/day, caused a much greater drop in metabolic rate than even 1200 calories/day.

So, there appears to be a threshold level of caloric intake where metabolic rate is more greatly affected. When starting a fat loss diet, calorie levels should be restricted no more than 10-20% below maintenance levels. This caloric deficit can be generated by decreasing food intake or increasing activity with exercise.” 

Again, there is no need to count calories to make Keto work for you.  Eat whole foods, that is made with a plethora of ingredients you can’t read or spell, listen to your body when it says it is full.  And drink more water. That is about it.

Is Keto considered the anti-cancer diet?

In an interesting research paper from the National Centre for Biotechnology Information, or NCBI for short, there is strong, emerging evidence that a Ketogenic Diet may actually reduce your risk for getting cancer.  Source. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6375425/ )

Many doctors that study in the fields of Cancer Research, Diabetes Disease and Kidney Disease often choose to follow a strict Keto diet after monitoring the positive effects this low carb diet has on their patients .  Couple that with seeing the disastrous effects a high carb, high sugar lifestyle has on the health of future patients, makes this diet is a no brainer for lots of reasearchers!

Their analysis suggests that glucose (sugar) is recruited by highly active cancer cells.  These cancer cells consume sugar at an abnormally high rate. Lending strength to the argument that cancer cell and even pre-cancerous cells seem to thrive on the abundant supply of glucose that is in copious amount in a regular Western Diet.

The paper goes on to say,  When glucose is scarce, the body senses the need to make an alternative form of energy for cells. The liver then produces ketones and fatty acids, which provide for normal cells but do not benefit cancer cells. Cancer cells have dysfunctional mitochondria and possibly electron transport chain defects, which disrupt normal adenosine triphosphate (ATP) production from the mitochondria. The result is that the cancer cells become heavily dependent on ATP coming from the less efficient process of glycolysis.”

In our own lives, two very close friends of ours were recently diagnosed with Cancer.  One was diagnosed with Breast Cancer, while the other one was diagnosed with Lung Cancer.  While undergoing treatment both friends were asked to follow a strict Keto Diet (less than 20 net carbs per day).  I am happy to announce both friends have made a full recovery and are thriving.

Ketogenic diet. Buddha bowl dish with meatloaf, chicken meat, avocado, berries and nuts. Detox and healthy concept. Keto food.

How to Adapt to a Low Carb/Keto Lifestyle

The Basics…

·        Clear out your Pantry & Fridge of all pre-processed high carbohydrate foods.

·        Eat:  Only unprocessed Meats, Eggs & Fish, fill up on green leafy vegetables & vegetables grown above ground.  Eat naturally sourced, high fat foods like cheese, nuts and butter.

·        Avoid: Breads, pasta, potatoes, rice, beans and starchy or highly processed foods.

·        Eat fruit in moderation – Choose berries over Bananas

·        Increase your water intake – Water calculator

·        Eat until you begin to feel full, than stop.

What is Keto Flu and how long will it last?

During the first couple of days on a Ketogenic diet, some people may experience a collection of symptoms.  These flu-like symptoms include lethargy, constipation, diarrhea, bloating, brain-fog, irritability, sore joints & muscles, headaches and sugar cravings.  Often referred to as Keto flu or Carb Flu it is a state where you feel just a little “off.”

This stage doesn’t last long… Only while your body adjust to burning ketones rather than the easy to access glucose, derived from carbohydrates. 

There is strong evidence that sugar acts like a drug and drastically reducing your carb intake can cause withdrawal symptoms.  (Sugar Junkies Unite!)

In addition to that, as you transition away from glucose fuel source to a healthier ketone fuel source, your kidneys begin flushing vital electrolytes from your body.  Many people experience a rapid lose weight when they first begin ketosis. Carbohydrates and Salt help to hold water in the body. This just simply means we have more water stored in our tissues.   As we restrict the number of carbs we eat, this storage in the cells becomes less.  

If we don’t stay hydrated and adequately replenish the fluids we lose throughout the day, we could end up with an electrolyte deficiency.  Do not start pounding back sports drinks. Read the labels, these drinks are swimming in carbs.

Tea cup in female hand with autumn leaves. Grey background. Top view.

How to Get over the Keto Flu FAST!

The number one tip I would give for getting over the Keto Flu fast is Bouillon Powder.  No I don’t mean powder from Gold, all though these little packages of bullion have been a life saver for me many times.

What I mean is the powdered stuff we toss into soups or gravy to give it a bit of flavoring. 

They come in a variety of different flavors including Beef, chicken and vegetable stock.  Simply mix 1 package (about a teaspoon) into a cup of hot water to make a bit of a soup broth and ingest it. 

I have even heard of people shaking it into a bottle of cold water at the gym. It tastes great and kicks the Keto Flu down the road.

When I first started Ketosis I would end up with a wicked case of diarrhea, coupled with a slight headache.  (TMI =Too Much Information… Blush!)   

The salt and electrolytes in the soup mix packages was enough to stop the horrible cycle of a pounding headache + numerous trips to the bathroom,  within about 40 mins of ingesting. 

Even today I sometimes need to drink a bullion “power-ade” drink in order to shake off the feeling of bloating, nausea, diarrhea and headache. 

Give it a whirl and let me know if it this little trick works for you as well.

Why do we “Stall” on a Keto diet?

Often times when we start a Keto diet;  we start with a quick drop in weight due to losing the water that was tied up with glycogen.  Not everyone experience a fast drop on the scale at the beginning of Keto. And results vary between genders as well.  Men are more likely to see a rapid weight loss than women, as they enter ketosis. But, do not despair if this is not the case for you.  Your body is finding a new metabolic balance and will adjust in its own time.

As we enter Fat/Keto adaptation there is a chance that you could stall in your weight loss journey or even gain a pound or two.  This is temporary and totally normal. 

May I suggest looking at how much Fat you are eating.  Yes, we want to derive our calories from about 70% Fat, 20% Protein & the last 10 % from Carbohydrates.   However, if you hit a stall maybe the body is utilizing the fat from the dietary fat source you are feeding it instead of burning through the fat stored in your body.

Again Don’t panic this is totally normal.  I was in a stall for three months the first time I did Keto.  If the numbers on your scale are not moving, relax there is a lot happening behind the scenes and your body is currently adjusting its chemical and metabolic levels to make the necessary changes. 

A handy tip for staying motivated it to get a tape measure and measure a few body parts (stomach, chest, Bicep and a Thigh…   BEFORE you start your Keto diet! Jot down you starting numbers, than in the event that you hit a “stall,” re-measure yourself. 

You may be surprised to find that you have been dropping inches instead of pounds for a little bit.

Can I take a Cheat Day on Keto?

Keto really is about lifestyle choice.  And, I have been known to ride the “Lazy Keto” train a few times in the last few years.

While cheating on a regular schedule is not recommended, it is also not the end of the world.  Some people report upset stomach, feeling gassy or bloated, headaches and even fatigue when they add back in too many carbohydrates. 

It is always frustrating to have to go through another bought of Keto Flu, just because Karen made cupcakes for the office party.

You really need to consider whether you are strong enough to jump back on the keto wagon after you slip off for a little while.  Halloween & Christmas always seem like the time I struggle to stay on track. I found that by giving myself 1-2 days off during the holidays, I don’t feel like I am missing out.

Typically when you cheat, you add back in the carbs.  These carbs lead to an increase in water weight and the extra carbs will throw you out of ketosis. Know why you going to cheat and then set a time limit on how long you intend to cheat; 1 day …because you are going cake taste- testing for your daughter’s  upcoming wedding or 2 weeks … because you are going to be on a cruise boat. Ever wonder if you can stick to a Keto Diet, while on a cruise boat? Are Cruise Ships Keto Friendly?

Just Keep it simple, straight forward and occasional and you should be fine.

Keto On a Budget

One of the biggest complaints we hear about is when people starting a ketogenic diet, is that eating Keto is super expensive.  This is simply, just not true! 

Per planning is key!  Pick a week worth of Keto-friendly meals you would like to try, then go shopping.  Keep your eyes peeled for sales at your local butcher shop or grocery store. Lean meat seems to be a bit more expensive than the regular full fat version. (like lean hamburger & skinless chicken breast) So, stick with full fat cuts of meat and meat with skin still attached.   Not only will you end up with a higher fat percentage in your meals but you will also walk away feeling fuller. Plus these cuts of meat are a little easier on your wallet.

Over at the DietDr.com, they recommend cooking large enough portions that you can eat a meal in the evening, than eat the same meal for lunch on the following day.

Eggs are relatively inexpensive, filling and quick to make.

Try doing 1 day per week that is only a vegetable day. (no meat, this will help lower your grocery bill.)  

Instead, try making large pot of hardy Broccoli/Cauliflower Soup , with Keto cheese biscuits on the side.  Remember to make enough for the following day.

And if you are totally stuck, Reddit has a great forum on their site call Frugal Keto that talks all about this subject.  https://www.reddit.com/r/FrugalKeto/  This group of like minded individuals are quick to share full Keto recipes, as well as tips & tricks on how to purchase keto friendly foods while sticking to a healthy keto lifestyle. You can absolutely do Keto while following a tight budget.  (Where there is a will, there is a way.)

Does Intermittent Fasting increase the positive effect of a Keto Diet?

What is Intermittent Fasting? (Also known as IF)  Is a way of eating with periods of fasting. There are a number of different styles of fasting one can take.  The most common of these is 16:8. 

16:8 = 16 hours of Fasting to 8 hours for eating window. Typically IF users in this group will eat from 12:00 (noon) to 20:00 (8 PM at night) or any combination that is similar.

19:5 = 19 hours of Fasting time to a 5 hour feeding window. Typically IF users in this group will eat from 17:00 (5 PM) to 20:00 (8 PM)

20:4 = The Warrior Diet – The Warrior Diet is more of minimal calorie intake of easily digestible foods during the day and one meal in the evening.  On this plan following a paleo or ketogenic diet plan is recommended. As well as exercising.

23:1 = One Meal A Day (Also known as OMAD)- Is a strict one meal a day routine where you eat one single plate of food, in one single sitting (not grazing), with in the one hour time frame, once per day and typically in the evenings.

There is some evidence that Intermittent fasting may help you reach ketosis in a much quicker manner than doing Keto alone.  If our body only stores enough carbs to last about 16 hours then combining a Keto diet plan & IF may help deplete the carbs eaten at your last meal even faster.  Turning your fat burning state up a notch. 

If you are having a hard time getting into Ketosis, IF may be the hidden weapon that jumpstarts your Keto journey.

We will be building a Resource Page full of interesting, science based information that can help you learn more about this subject.