Ketogenic Diet: A Comprehensive Guide

A low-carb diet focuses on limiting the intake of carbohydrates. These food items can include—but are not limited to—grains, starchy vegetables, and fruit. The main objective behind a low-carb diet is to prioritize foods that are high in protein and fat. This goal can be accomplished through multiple different diets, each with their own limitations on the type and amount of carbohydrates that are acceptable. 

Although there are many reasons to change your eating habits, a low-carb diet is typically designed for weight loss. Among other health benefits, such as minimizing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome, you might choose to limit your carb intake because:

  • You want to establish better eating habits.
  • You want to make lifestyle changes.
  • You have specific fitness or physique-related goals.
  • You enjoy the types of food selections offered in these diet types.

In recent years, many people have adapted a low-carb alternative known as the keto diet to help them with their personal objectives.

What is a ketogenic diet?

One common low-carb diet is the ketogenic diet, which is high in fat, moderate in protein, and low in carbohydrates. The purpose of this diet is to trigger a specific metabolic state known as ketosis. When carb intake is reduced and fat increased, the body ultimately starts turning fats into ketones, which are molecules that supply the brain with energy.

Ultimately, after a few days or weeks of consistently following this diet, both the brain and body are tricked into burning fats more efficiently, utilizing ketones for fuel rather than storing them as carbohydrates. The ketogenic diet is also beneficial for anyone looking to lower their insulin levels. 

With an emphasis on fats, the keto diet offers a wide selection of possible food sources. These include: 

  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Butter
  • Eggs
  • Cheese
  • Heavy cream
  • Oils
  • Nuts
  • Avocados
  • Seeds
  • Low-carb vegetables

That said, when you follow a keto diet, almost all sources of carbohydrates are restricted. Some primary examples are: 

  • Grains
  • Rice
  • Beans
  • Potatoes
  • Sweets
  • Milk
  • Cereals
  • Fruits
  • Some high-carb vegetables

How does it work?

Essentially, the motivation behind the keto diet is to deprive your body of glucose (recognized as the main source of energy for every cell inside your body, typically obtained by foods rich in carbohydrates), promoting the increased production of an alternative fuel source called ketones. When you reduce the amount of glucose entering your system, your brain and body are forced to adapt, drawing energy from stored fats. 

Whenever your body undergoes a glucose deficit, whether through fasting or the reduced consumption of carbohydrates, your body will initially pull any remaining glucose being stored in the liver, as well as temporarily breaking down muscle. 

After approximately three to four days of this process, the glucose stores will be completely used up, causing insulin levels to drop. This will then prompt the body to begin drawing energy from any stored fat, thus creating a new alternative fuel source. At this point, the liver will begin to produce ketone bodies from the fat. 

The state of ketosis occurs when ketone bodies accumulate in the blood. Most individuals experience ketosis naturally during periods of fasting, such as sleeping and extensive exercise.

It’s important to follow the keto diet properly in order to avoid the levels of ketones in your blood reaching dangerous amounts. The standard production of insulin will help prevent the excessive development of ketones. 

The speed at which ketosis will start to occur and the exact amount of ketone bodies that can develop inside the bloodstream varies from person to person. Factors such as body fat percentage and resting metabolic rate have a significant impact on these results.

Specifics of the Ketogenic Diet

Similar to other low-carb diets, keto has multiple different approaches you can take in order to achieve results. This ultimately means there is no one-size-fits-all solution for determining the correct ratio of macronutrients (fats, carbohydrates, and protein) required. Typically, the aim of any keto diet is to reduce your total carbohydrate intake to less than 50 grams per day, sometimes reducing it down to as low as 20 grams. 

Often, the recommended breakdown for a keto diet involves an average of: 

  • 70% to 80% fat 
  • 5% to 10% carbohydrates
  • 1% to 20% protein

As part of the keto diet, proteins are usually kept at a moderate level when compared to other low-carb diets. This is due to the fact that an excess intake of protein has the potential to prevent ketosis from happening. Protein contains amino acids that your body later converts into glucose. 

To counter this process, a keto diet suggests only consuming enough protein to preserve and maintain lean mass (including muscle) without interfering with the overall ketosis process.

Foods recommended for this approach include:

  • Fatty cuts of meat
  • Processed meats
  • Lard
  • Butter
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Avocados
  • Plant oils
  • Oily fish

The recommended food sources will vary depending on which keto diet you choose to follow.

Weight Loss

While weight loss isn’t the only purpose behind adapting a keto diet, evidence has shown that it can effectively contribute to it. Increasing fats and proteins has been proven to help you lose body fat, preserve muscle, and improve many possible markers of disease, including diabetes and metabolic symptoms. 

There have also been some studies that suggest a keto diet can be more effective for weight loss than a standard low-fat diet—even after taking into account the overall caloric intake consumed.

If you have attempted to keep track of your caloric intake in the past without success, or feel as though an alternative solution would be better, then a keto diet may be a good option. Rather than monitoring the number of calories you eat, you can instead focus on eliminating certain foods while increasing healthy fats and moderate proteins. 

However, it’s important to keep in mind that a keto diet still requires you to track carbohydrates. Paying attention to your food choices remains a necessary part of maintaining this lifestyle choice, as it would with any other low-carb diet. 

Keto diets promote weight loss in a variety of different ways, such as:

  • Increasing protein intake
  • Promoting gluconeogenesis
  • Acting as an appetite suppressant
  • Improving insulin sensitivity
  • Decreasing fat storage
  • Increasing fat burning

Why adopt a keto diet?

The keto diet centers on a few simple principles: increased fat consumption, reduced carbohydrates, and limited processed foods. This type of lifestyle change allows you to integrate an effective weight-loss strategy into your day-to-day routine, without worrying about tracking calories. 

Fortunately, you can easily retrain your body to target stored fats, while simultaneously improving your ability to fight against other potential diseases.

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