Chann: Tasia and I both have received so many questions from our followers about our ketogenic lifestyle. We have LOTS to say on the subject, but in order to do so adequately we feel we need to give you a general overview of “ketones”, “being in ketosis”, and “the ketogenic diet” (aka “keto”).
We could attempt to reinvent the wheel, but there is already a lot of great information out there. So, below we have compiled some information from a wide range of sources, and added in some of our own information, from personal experience, as well.
Burning fat instead of sugar
A keto or ketogenic diet is a very low-carb diet, which turns the body into a fat-burning machine. It has many proven benefits for weight loss, health and performance, as millions of people have experienced already.
The ‘keto’ in a ketogenic diet comes from the fact that it makes the body produce small fuel molecules called “ketones”.
This is an alternative fuel for the body, used when blood sugar (glucose) is in short supply.
Ketones are produced if you eat very few carbs (that are quickly broken down into blood sugar) and only moderate amounts of protein (excess protein can also be converted to blood sugar).
Ketones are produced in the liver, from fat. They are then used as fuel throughout the body, including the brain. The brain is a hungry organ that consumes lots of energy every day, and it can’t run on fat directly. It can only run on glucose… or ketones.
On a ketogenic diet, your entire body switches its fuel supply to run almost entirely on fat. Insulin levels become very low, and fat burning increases dramatically. It becomes easy to access your fat stores to burn them off. This is great if you’re trying to lose weight, but there are also other less obvious benefits, such as less hunger and a steady supply of energy, keeping you alert and focused.
When the body produces ketones, it’s said to be in ketosis. The fastest way to get there is by fasting – not eating anything – but nobody can fast forever.
A keto diet, on the other hand, can be eaten indefinitely and also results in ketosis. It has many of the benefits of fasting – including weight loss – without having to fast.
What does a keto diet look like?
Keto macros are the most important part of a ketogenic diet. They include a breakdown of the three nutrients that your body needs in large amounts – fat, protein, and carbs. Get them wrong and your chances of reaching ketosis are close to zero!
Macros (short for “macronutrients”) are nutrients that your body needs in large quantities for a wide range of metabolic processes and tissue-building. Medical and nutritional experts site the following five nutrients as macros:
However, what most people are referring to when talking about macros are carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. These macros are most important on a ketogenic diet as they give your body energy which is calculated in calories.
Keto macros is a term that refers to the macronutrient balance of a ketogenic diet. This balance looks something like this:
60-75% of calories from fat
15-30% of calories from protein
5-10% of calories from carbs
Net carbs are the carbohydrates in food that you can digest and use for energy. Net carbs usually only count starches and sugars; most other types of carbohydrates have no energy value or impact on your blood sugar, so you don’t count them towards your daily carbohydrate limit.
To calculate net carbs, take a food’s total carbs and subtract:
Fiber, a type of carbohydrate from plants that humans can’t process. Your body doesn’t have the enzymes to break down fiber, so it passes through your digestive system unchanged. That means, for people at least, it has zero carbs and zero calories.
Sugar alcohols like xylitol and erythritol. Sugar alcohols taste sweet, but their molecular structure is slightly different from that of sugar molecules, which leaves sugar alcohols either partially or entirely indigestible by humans.
Note that certain sugar alcohols do impact your blood sugar, and you should factor them into your net carb count if you eat a large amount.
Chann: What some people love most about the keto diet is not having to count calories. I personally have found great success in ensuring I meet a calorie target range. At first, I felt as though I was working hard to decrease my calories for weight loss, but as I continued to live a ketogenic lifestyle I simple wasn’t hungry. I stopped eating very much all together and my electrolytes plummeted. I found it necessary to then find a way to eat enough calories. Tracking calories in the beginning helped me to ensure I wasn’t overeating, and then, as my appetite changed over time, to ensure I was giving my body the fuel it needed to thrive and continue to shed the extra pounds. If you are tracking your macros it is easy to track your calories right alongside it with an app such as MyFitnessPal.
What to eat
Tasia: The idea behind keto is to keep those carbs at about 30g (net carbs) per day and fill up on healthy fat. What is a healthy fat? Think butter, avocado, sharp cheeses, and nuts. I like to mix it up when it comes to my protein, some lean and some fatty. The primary focus of keto is to eat whole, natural food.
Chann: While some people focus entirely on fat and protein on a keto diet, eating things like lettuce wrapped hamburgers every day, it is also important to fill your body with as many essential vitamins and minerals as possible. I have discovered the more veggies I eat along side my healthy fat and protein and the more variety in my diet (within the macro limits) the better I feel and the more efficient my body works. So the majority of my net carbs each day come from low-carb vegetables and low-carb fruits, such as berries.
Fats and Oils – Try to get your fat from natural sources like meat and nuts. Supplement with saturated and monounsaturated fats like coconut oil, butter, and olive oil.
Protein – Try to stick with organic, pasture-raised, and grass-fed meat where possible. Most meats don’t have added sugar in them, so they can be consumed in moderate quantity. Remember that too much protein on a ketogenic diet is not a good thing.
Vegetables – Fresh or frozen doesn’t matter. Stick with above ground vegetables, leaning toward leafy/green items.
Dairy – Most dairy is fine, but make sure to buy full-fat dairy items. Harder cheeses typically have fewer carbs.
Nuts and Seeds – In moderation, nuts and seeds can be used to create some fantastic textures. Try to use fattier nuts like macadamias and almonds.
Beverages – Stay simple and stick to mostly water. You can flavor it if needed with stevia-based flavorings or lemon/lime juice.
What not to eat
Tasia: Read every label you come across. It’s vital you learn to identify hidden carbs, and, trust me, they are EVERYWHERE. Here are some things to avoid if you are living a ketogenic lifestyle:
Sugar. It’s typically found in soda, juice, sports drinks, candy, chocolate, and ice cream. Anything that’s processed and sweet you can think of most likely contains sugar. Avoid sugar at all costs.
Sugar/Artificial Sweeteners – Sugar has many names and almost all of them will spike your blood sugar and kick out out of ketosis. If you want to use sweetener, use things like stevia, erythritol, or monk fruit. These are natural sweeteners from plants. They won’t spike your blood sugar and have very little carbs. (Tasia)
Sauces – Most sauces are made with sugar or flour of some kind. Stick to simple options like olive oil, lemon/lime juice, sugar-free marinara, buffalo sauce, coconut aminos (for soy sauce), ranch, and blue cheese dressing. (Tasia)
Grains. Any wheat products (bread or buns), pasta, cereal, cakes, pastries, rice, corn, and beer should be avoided. This includes whole grains like wheat, rye, barley, buckwheat, and quinoa.
Starch. Avoid vegetables (like potatoes and yams) and other things like oats, muesli, etc. Some root vegetables are okay in moderation – be sure to read the section on vegetables.
Trans Fats. Margarine or any other spreadable replacement butter should be avoided as they contain hydrogenated fats (bad for us).
Man-made Oils – Avoid canola, sunflower, corn, grapeseed, peanut, rapeseed, safflower, sunflower, and soybean oils. (Tasia)
Fruit. Avoid any large fruits (apples, oranges, bananas) as they’re extremely high in sugar. Some berries can be consumed in moderation – be sure to read the section on fruits.
Low-fat foods. These tend to be much higher in carbs and sugar than full-fat versions. Make sure you read the package to make sure a mistake isn’t made.
***Check out this article for clear and easy guide to keto eating.
Benefits of the ketogenic diet
Blood sugar control
Health benefits for conditions like epilepsy, acne, and many others
Disadvantages of the ketogenic diet
Chann: There are some common and well talked about side effects to going low-carb. As I have lived a ketogenic lifestyle I have been careful to pay attention to my body and adapt according to its needs. Here are just a few of the things I noticed:
Some experience flu-like symptoms when beginning a ketogenic diet as their body makes the transition into ketosis. To avoid this, drink lots of water, replenish your electrolytes, get plenty of sleep, limit strenuous exercise for a few days, and eat plenty of fat (all things you will want to do on keto anyway).
This one was difficult for me at first. If I stood up to quickly or worked out too hard at the gym I would feel lightheaded and fatigued. There are a few things you can do to help maintain a balance in your electrolytes. 1) Don’t being afraid of salt. 2) Drink a cup of bouillon or broth every day. 3) Take a magnesium supplement. 4) Take a potassium supplement. I personally take a magnesium supplement daily and eat plenty of salt.
Weight loss, a change in diet, a calorie deficit, nutrient deficiencies, stress, and a shift in hormones are all common causes for hair loss, many of which can easily happen as you practice maintaining a ketogenic lifestyle. I experienced this about 6 months into my keto journey. Ensuring I was getting the proper vitamins and minerals through my diet and supplements, as well as taking a biotin supplement once a day, eliminated the side effect.
Yup, I got to experience this one for a few weeks before I realized it was connected to my diet. Ugh! Muscle cramps. You know the kind. The kind that wake you up from a dead sleep and seize your body with crazy amounts of pain. Once again, I was simply nutrient deficient. The magnesium supplement came in to save the day. I am also more conscious about eating foods with magnesium in them. I would much rather eat my vitamins and minerals than take them in supplement form.
I have not experienced this one personally, but I have heard constipation can be a common side effect of keto. Once again, sodium, magnesium, and potassium for the win! Also, stay hydrated, be active, and up your fiber through plant foods and green vegetables, all of which are recommended on a keto diet anyway.
How to get started on keto?
Drink lots of water
Get plenty of sleep
Do not be afraid of eating fat
Track your macros
Consider intermittent fasting
Common mistakes made on on keto diet
Getting impatient with adaptation
Not getting enough fat
Eating too much protein
Not getting enough electrolytes
Eating hidden carbs
*For more information, link the link above.
How to know you are in ketosis
Tasia: Chantelle and I can now tell when our bodies are in ketosis, but it hasn’t always been this way. There are a few different ways to test where you are at. First things first; everyone’s body is different. It could take someone 2-3 days to reach ketosis or more than a week. Be patient with yourself and keep the course! If you’re doing everything as you should, you will get there.
Ketosis Testing Methods:
Urine Testing – You can purchase strips that will measure the level of ketones present in your urine. When your body creates a large amount of ketones you excrete the excess. Urine strips are great for the first couple weeks of a ketogenic diet to help you determine when you are or are not in ketosis, but as your body adapts to using ketones to fuel your brain (and fatty acids to fuel your muscles) the less ketones will be excreted in your urine. This means the readings won’t accurately help you determine whether your body is functioning completely efficiently or not. The reading could be low while your body is effectively maintaining a state of ketosis and giving you all the benefits of a ketogenic lifestyle.
Breath Testing – Keto breath is a real thing. Ketones are present in your breath. You can purchase a special breathalyzer that will measure the amount of ketones present. Again, this isn’t the most accurate method since your body will adapt over time.
Blood Testing – This is perhaps the most accurate method of testing. You can purchase a blood glucometer to measure the amount of ketones present in your blood. I would recommend you use Keto Mojo to measure your ketones levels over long periods of time.