A lot of people don’t recognise the term ‘ketogenic’ when its applied to dieting. You can bet, however, that they recognise some of the popular ketogenic diets of the last 20 years or so, diets that include the South Beach Diet, and the Atkins Diet. So what does ketogenic mean and what are you doing when you start a keto diet?
Ketosis is the state in which your body burns fat for fuel.
Most people these days eat grains, cereals, bread, pastas and other carbohydrate rich foods. Most carbs burn up quick b- they’re an intense fuel that yield large bursts of energy. In contrast, fat and protein burn more steadily. This is why you often hear of sugar rushes or sugar crashes – carbs are sugars and they create the intense energy burst effect but the energy is quickly used/stored so you have a yo-yo like energy level.
Contrary to popular opinion, which is still shaped largely by a post World War II drive to cheaply correct war rationing by adding easily mass produced sugars to our diets (an American model), fat and protein aren’t bad for you- sugar is bad for you. This is the basic philosophy behind most ketogenic diets.
A lot of people believe that fat is bad. In fact, most fats aren’t bad for you at all – in fact they’re necessary for healthy living. Of course there are varying degrees of health when approaching a keto diet. For example, particular fried foods (the English or Irish breakfast is a classic example) aren’t healthy just because they’re low in carbs…
At the same time it’s important to understand that the foods on this kind of plate aren’t inherently bad. There is little evidence linking bad cholesterol or heart disease with animal fat. In fact, the philosophy of the Paleo diet (which is akin to a more lenient keto diet) applies here: Early humans ate much, much more animal fat and protein than we did. They also, as hunter gatherers, ate far more vegetables. That’s an important fact to bear in mind. Keto isn’t unhealthy, unless you live off dishes like that above and don’t enjoy vegetables and get your essential vitamins and minerals.
While things like microwave burgers (without buns) and processed cheese are technically ketogenic they’re not healthy – who knows what’s in them.
Keto is tough on carbs but encourages a varied, balanced diet in all other aspects. Focus on your greens, beef, pork, chicken, fish, eggs and nuts. Expand your horizons and realise that keto doesn’t mean ‘meat only’ – you can in fact flirt with vegetarian or even vegan keto diets. There are a lot of ways to get healthy fats into your body.
Keto diets focus on keeping carbs under 20 g per day (ideally) – this is the threshold under which most of us start burning fat as a primary source of energy. Try to make these carbs vegetables and nuts as much as possible. They’re so healthy and they contain FIBRE which you will want in abundance. You’ll be looking at terms like ‘net carbs’ too – which is to say, the carbohydrate in a food minus the fibre. Fibre is a carb but it isn’t digested. Which is why it aids the passage of food through your body.
You’re going to want to drink oh so much water. You can drink tea and coffee (no sugar and preferably no milk) but water is your friend. Especially on keto.
Exercise whilst in keto is something you have to ease yourself into. The switch to ketosis can be tiring – you can feel ‘flu like’ symptoms as your body gives up it’s beloved carb reserves – and exercise during this period can be too much and drive you back to carbs. It’s recommended that you exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle once you’ve settled into keto. Depending on your choice of exercise (cardio versus weights) you will lose weight or put on muscle. That’s something you’ve to decide on based on your own goals – do you want to be strong, toned and healthy or fit, healthy and very slim? Keto with the right exercise plan can help you attain both.
Keto is a permanent diet change but it’s also a short weight loss ‘booster’. You can stay on keto forever and, so long as your diet is healthy, suffer from no long term problems. Quite the opposite! You’ll be as healthy as anything. A lot of people, however, find the restriction on fruit and carbs in general to be a bit extreme and settle into a more paleo diet. In fact paleo, which shuns grains, and keto are quite complimentary on and off. Your body is used to burning protein and fat instead of carbs with both.