Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll have heard of the ketogenic diet. It’s a low-carb, high-fat, moderate-protein food plan that promises to slice inches off your waist by putting your body into a metabolic state called ‘ketosis’. The lure of nigh-on unlimited steak and bacon is enough to tempt even the hardiest pizza fiend, but how does the diet stack up?
The ketogenic diet was developed in 1924 by Dr. Russell Wilder as a treatment for epilepsy. Nearly 100 years on, there is still massive hype about the diet, but now, for very different purposes. You can guarantee in the office you’ll hear how someone has started it, and usually, how fantastic their initial results are, or conversely, how gruelling it is and how they’ve given up.
Following a ketogenic diet facilitates weight loss on the scales initially, by causing a substantial amount of water loss when glycogen stored in your muscles is used for fuel. According to research, each gram of glycogen is stored in human muscle with at least 3 grams of water. When it is used, the bonded water is excreted, resulting in the initial dramatic weight loss.
There is much discussion around whether a high carb or low carb diet is better when calories are matched, evidence has shown mixed results causing much controversy about the drivers behind the ketogenic diets’ success (or lack thereof). Layne Norton PhD explained that the ‘Ketogenic diet is NOT superior to calorie/protein equated, non-ketogenic diets. Actually this is the latest in a LONG (30+ ) line of studies that equate calories and protein but vary the amount of carbohydrates and fats.’
However there are undeniable benefits of how the keto diet effects your calorie intake. According to the Harvard School of Public Health including namely a reduction in appetite and increase in the thermic effect of food (how much energy you use to digest food).
We know that with all the conflicting information, it can be confusing when choosing the correct diet for you. MH have answered all of your burning questions about the keto diet plan and what it entails.
What Are the Basic Rules of Keto?
The keto diet requires fat to comprise between 60 to 80 per cent of your total calories. Protein makes up around 10 to 15 per cent, and the remaining 5 per cent comes from carbs. Exactly how many grams you should get depends on your energy needs, and there are a wealth of online calculators that can help you work it out. Generally speaking, you won’t eat more than 25 grams of carbs each day; equivalent to one slice of wholewheat bread or a small apple.
What Are the Top 10 Keto Foods?
If you’re considering starting a keto diet plan, get to know these foods:
- Meat: steak, chicken, turkey, pork
- Fish: salmon, tuna, mackerel
- Eggs: whichever way you prefer them!
- Vegetables: think low-carb so green veggies, tomatoes, onions etc
- Avocados: most fruits are high in carbs so are to be avoided, but avocados are definitely on the keto shopping list
- Berries: these are the exception when it comes to fruit, due to their low carbohydrate content
- Healthy oils: extra virgin, coconut and avocado oil
- Nuts and seeds: almonds, walnuts, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds etc
- Cheese: cheddar, goat, cream, blue and mozzarella
- Butter and cream: especially the grass-fed variety
Foods to Avoid on the Keto Diet
With the keto diet you should avoid foods that are high in carbohydrates, such as the following.
- Fruit: except for avocados and berries obviously
- Alcohol: the carb content of alcohol is sure to throw you out of ketosis. Avoid
- Foods and drinks high in sugar: cakes and fizzy drinks are off the keto menu
- Beans or legumes: peas, kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas etc
- Grains or starches: avoid wheat-based products like rice, pasta, cereal etc
Benefits of the Keto Diet
Still interested? Die-hard keto followers love touting the myriad benefits of this regimented diet. The biggest motivator has to be the scales. Carbohydrates attract and retain water, so the first thing you’ll notice is a drop in water weight and a reduction in bloating. Since fat is your primary energy source, you’re burning through more of it, which means you can expect to continue shedding pounds at a rate of knots.
Ketosis also does a great job of turning off hunger cues and slashing sugar cravings. “One theory is that your body responds to a ketogenic diet like it would to a fasting state, as it adapts to burning fat as fuel, releasing ketones into the blood,” Steve Hertzler, PhD, RD, and chief scientific officer at EAS Sports Nutrition, told MensHealth.com. The elevated production of ketones is thought to suppress the appetite centres in the brain, he explained.
Other regularly reported benefits include improved mental focus, higher energy levels, satiety, better brain function, stable blood sugar levels, and a reduction in blood pressure, harmful VLDL cholesterol, and insulin. So far, so good.
Drawbacks of the Keto Diet
The diet is incredibly limiting, for starts. Loading up on high-fat foods while keeping carbs to a minimum seems straightforward on paper, but maxing out your micronutrients makes for a tough balancing act. While chowing down untold amounts of rib-eye, pork rind, cream and butter sounds like the dream, omitting so many vitamin and mineral-packed fruits and vegetables – never mind fibre-rich grains – spells bad news for your gut health (constipation, anyone?).
There’s also the dreaded ‘keto flu’ – your body’s natural response to carbohydrate restriction. Like regular flu, symptoms include fatigue, dizzy spells, nausea and restlessness. Unlike regular flu, they tend to subside within three to five days, though this varies from person to person. Depleted water and salt levels are to blame, so staying hydrated and bumping up your electrolyte intake is key to combating it.
Your brain naturally runs on glucose, so keto fanatics frequently complain of a ‘brain fog’ – slower cognition, memory loss, headaches, and confusion – that manifests as your body transitions between the two fuel sources. There’s also the matter of undesirable ‘keto breath’, which is caused by the breakdown of acetoacetic acid.
As for athletic performance, strength and endurance – the jury is out on whether following keto will help or hinder your gains, with small-scale short-term studies providing evidence for and against in equal measure, and no large-scale or long-term data to draw from. However, recent research, published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, concluded that the keto diet wasn’t exactly great for building muscle.
Is the Keto Diet for You?
While we’re all for ditching the demonisation of fat, man cannot (and should not) live on steak alone. Ultimately, as research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association proved, the best diet is the one you can stick to. Following a regimen where a Friday night pint could send your whole body out of whack is a) insanity and b) destined to fail from the offset. Our advice? Strike a balance and shift those extra pounds in no time with these easy-to-follow tips.
And if your curiosity has gotten the better of you? A word of warning: take care when you do eventually re-introduce carbs or else expect to experience constipation and bloating. “When going back to a ‘normal diet’, carbs should increase slowly – no going back to old habits overnight, or else weight gain is likely to occur and you’re likely to feel terrible, with the influx of sugar that you are no longer accustomed to,” Bede added.