The Keto Diet: Complete Guide for Beginners | LifeChef
The Ketogenic Diet: pros, cons and tips
What is the Keto diet?
Although there are many versions of the ketogenic diet, all variations of it are low in carbohydrates, moderate in protein, and high in fat.
The main goal is for the body to use fat for fuel, instead of running on the more readily accessible fuel source of carbohydrates. It shifts from consuming glucose to burning fatty acids and ketones for energy production and your body becomes more efficient at burning already existing, stored fat for fuel. Ketones are a byproduct of the body breaking down fat for fuel.
The typical breakdown of macronutrients for a ketogenic diet are:
- 5-10% of calories from carbohydrates;
- 15-25% of calories from protein and it is based on a person’s need for muscle building;
- 65-80% of calories from fat.
Everyone responds differently to a ketogenic diet plan, and the specific needs for macronutrients can vary based on a person’s activity level, health goals, and lifestyle.
Foods to eat and Foods to avoid
Ideally, carbs should come primarily from low-carb and non-starchy vegetables such as: leafy greens, like spinach, kale, arugula and romaine lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, asparagus, cabbage and zucchini.
Many fruits contain too much sugar, however, you can have small portions of berries which are high in antioxidants and lower in sugar.
Proteins should come from: fish, meats, wild game, poultry and eggs, as well as low carbohydrate plant sources, like tofu, tempeh, nuts and seeds.
Fats should come from healthy sources such as olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocado, coconut, MCT oil, omega- 3’s from fish, full fat dairy, like ghee, butter, soft-ripened and hard aged cheese, and others.
Foods to avoid include grains, sugar, sweetened beverages, sweetened yogurt, chips, crackers, baked goods and starchy vegetables. Steer clear of highly processed foods and oils such as palm oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil and canola oil. There is flexibility in the keto diet, there are not necessarily strict foods to always completely avoid, as long as you are in ketosis, you are on a keto diet. Some very physically active people can even tolerate a small quantity of honey and remain in ketosis.
Beans and legumes are high in fiber, but are also higher in carbohydrates, so can be included in small amounts on the ketogenic diet meals.
Healthy vs Unhealthy Keto
When some people think of the keto diet, they think of eating bacon, meats and mounds of butter and cheese. Eating these foods or many highly processed, boxed keto products, can result in ketosis. However, getting your fats primarily from saturated or highly processed sources such as red meats, fried foods, palm oil, cottonseed oil, soybean oil and canola oil can increase your bad cholesterol and affect heart health.
LifeChef supports a healthy keto approach, providing whole low-carb foods, vegetables, fiber, and a variety of healthy fats instead of processed meats, highly processed oils, additives and preservatives.
It is also important to note that the quality and types of foods you eat can affect the health benefits you receive from this diet. Meats should ideally be naturally raised or grass-fed without any antibiotics or hormones. Poultry and eggs, ideally, naturally raised or free-range and organic. Fish should come from sustainable sources or wild caught. Aim for organic produce as your budget allows, and specifically, with the dirty dozen list of fruits and vegetables.
You can calculate the carbs that you receive from a meal as the net carbs.
Net carbohydrates = total carbohydrates – fiber
For example: a serving of roasted brussels sprouts has 10 g carb but has 4 g fiber, so the net carb is the total carb (10 g) minus the fiber (4 g) to get 6 g net cabs.
Fiber is a form of carbohydrate that is not digested and absorbed by the body and usually does not impact blood sugar. Net carbs are the carbohydrates left over that will be absorbed by the body.
Focusing on net carbs is important because it allows you the flexibility to enjoy more fiber-rich plant foods in order to support gut health, cardiovascular health, and promote antioxidant status.
For a keto diet, you should generally aim for no more than 20-35 g net carbs per day, or 50 g of total carbs.
Depending on your exercise intensity, you may readjust the amount of net carbs to prevent fatigue during and after exertion.
You should make sure to drink adequate fluids on the keto diet! Your body tends to lose more water and sodium on the ketogenic diet, so it is important to stay hydrated. You can drink water, herbal teas, green tea, unsweetened teas, coffee, seltzer, and mineral water.
Avoid adding sweeteners to beverages or choosing sodas, juices, sweetened beverages or energy drinks.
For a natural electrolyte drink, add a pinch of salt and squeeze lemon or lime into your 16 oz water bottle. You may even need to add more salt to your foods to maintain electrolyte balance.
Measured in ounces, the amount of water consumed daily should amount to at least half of your body weight in pounds. For example, for a 150 lb person, aim for 75 oz of fluid per day which is about 9-10 glasses.
The ketogenic diet can be considered a fairly “extreme” diet; however, a ketogenic-friendly approach allows for more variability from person to person, customizable options to fit your individual needs, wiggle room to increase fiber for overall health, and promotes a less rigid approach to the eating style.
The modified keto approach is best suited for those looking for more flexibility, and a gentle expansion of carb intake with a slight decrease in fat intake. This might look like closer to 15-20% of calories coming from carbs, and 60% coming from fats. It includes unlimited amounts of non-starchy vegetables, and small portions of legumes, low-glycemic fruits, and starchy vegetables on occasion. For lean, active individuals, this approach can often still yield ketones.
Benefits of the ketogenic diet include:
- Promotes weight loss and reduces cravings,
- Improves blood sugar control,
- Reduces inflammation,
- Improves energy levels,
- Improves neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s dementia, Parkinson’s disease, ALS, Autism Spectrum disorders, and even Traumatic Brain Injury and migraines,
- Possible decrease of cancer risk: The theory being that some cancer cells are only able to use glucose as the main source of energy and cutting off the tumor supply of energy will aid in containing its spread.
As with any diet, the benefits will vary from person to person, based on your unique medical history, genetics, lifestyle and health goals.
Choosing LifeChef Keto Components
Since LifeChef allows the flexibility to choose a variety of components, and everyone’s macronutrient needs differ, it supports a keto-friendly approach, rather than the traditional keto diet. When choosing keto-friendly LifeChef meals, you should consider what else you are eating in your day, as this will also affect your state of ketosis. The only way to truly know whether you are in ketosis or not is to check your blood or breath ketone levels using a reliable monitor.
The carbs you consume should come primarily from non-starchy vegetable sources to gain the most vitamin, mineral, antioxidant, and fiber benefits without spiking blood sugar. Aim for plenty of leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables. Starchy vegetables (such as potatoes, corn, and winter squash), grains and legumes are typically best to avoid. Some fruits can be keto-friendly such as berries and tomatoes in smaller quantities but avoid most other fruits.
You should beware that you can absolutely over-consume protein foods. An excess of protein gets converted into carbohydrates by your body for energy production, thus, bumping you out of ketosis. Make sure to avoid consuming too much protein at one meal, spread it out through the day, mostly in the first half of the day. Your protein needs will vary based on your individual needs and activity level.
In general, you should choose one protein food component with two non-starchy vegetable sides per meal to create a balanced meal. For example, this could be the herb salmon with kale and roasted cauliflower. The meals should also contain healthy fats such as olive oil, to help maintain your fat burning state. If you need more fats in your diet, you can add avocado or additional extra virgin olive oil on top of your meals.
Consult with a Registered Dietitian about your specific macronutrient needs.
Pitfalls of the Keto Diet
The ketogenic diet is not without risks and is NOT a diet that you should attempt without your doctor or nutritionist’s approval. When starting the keto diet as a beginner, it should be approached with caution.
This diet is fairly restrictive and can be challenging to follow long-term. In addition, there is limited data on the effects of following a strict ketogenic diet long-term.
If it is not followed correctly, without supervision by a healthcare provider and regular blood work monitoring, it can lead to serious health related consequences. These complications include low blood sugar in diabetics, fatigue, constipation, hormonal disturbances, impaired kidney and heart function, increased levels of bad cholesterol, arrhythmia and palpitations, dehydration and kidney stones, electrolytes abnormalities, confusion, nutritional deficiencies, and significant weight loss.
Consult with your doctor to make sure this is a safe diet for you.
The Keto Flu
When initially starting a ketogenic diet, some people may experience what is called the “keto flu”. The symptoms may include fatigue, headaches, nausea, constipation, irritability, brain fog, and difficulty sleeping. You are, however, unlikely to experience a fever, and the keto flu itself is typically not dangerous. These symptoms can happen to some people when the body is shifting from consuming carbohydrates for fuel, to burning fat for fuel.
The length of time you might feel the flu-like symptoms will vary from person to person. Some people do not feel any symptoms at all, and others may feel them for up to a week. Most of the time you will be feeling better in just a few days.
If the symptoms persist, please contact your physician, increase fluids with electrolytes intake and reintroduce small amounts of complex carbohydrates.
Preventing the Keto Flu
The good news is that you can help prevent these “keto flu” symptoms. Increasing hydration and electrolytes is key in helping to keep the body in balance. When the body depletes carbohydrate stores, it loses the water that is stored along with it. During the first couple of weeks on keto, you may lose 3-8 lbs. of water weight. In order to compensate, increase your electrolyte water intake or try herbal teas if you enjoy a little extra flavor.
Additionally, the kidneys tend to excrete more sodium with the lower carb style of eating, which can throw off your electrolyte balance. Adding up to 2 teaspoons of salt to your food or in liquids can help to keep the body hydrated and in balance. You can also try adding an electrolyte solution to fluids, but make sure it does not contain added sugar or artificial sweeteners.
You should also add magnesium and potassium rich foods such as dark leafy greens, avocado, nuts, seeds, salmon, brussels sprouts, and dark chocolate (more than 80% cocoa) to your meals.
Be sure to eat enough food and healthy fat when starting out on the keto diet to make sure your cells are nourished, and to avoid over-stressing the body. You should increase foods such as salmon, macadamia nuts, avocado and olive oil to achieve a well-balanced keto-friendly diet.
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LifeChef – the recipe for a healthier life
By Amy Laessig, RDN, LDN, CHC