Though it’s been in practice since the 1920s, the keto diet seems to be the rage. In 2018, the Google search trend for “keto diet” reached an all-time high, and more than 300 scientific articles were published on keto.
The keto, or ketogenic, diet is an extremely low-carbohydrate diet that changes the fuel source the body uses for energy. Typically, the body breaks down carbohydrates (potatoes, bread, pasta) into glucose to use as fuel. If you eliminate these types of foods, the body uses fat to create a fuel known as ketones. So, the keto diet is one in which you produce ketones by eating more fat and fewer carbs.
The classic keto diet consists of 90% fat, 6% protein, and 4% carbohydrates. Modified keto plans abound, one promoting 70% fat, 15% protein, and 15% carbs. The average U.S. dietary carb intake is 49%.
How low your carb level has to be to reach the state of ketosis is individual. The general rule is fewer than 50 grams a day. Some people have to take in as few as 30 and others can be as much as 80 grams.
In comparison, a low-carb diet usually consists of 50-150 grams of carbs per day. For perspective, a medium potato has 33 grams of carbs; one cup of cooked pasta provides 45 grams.
In a typical, mixed-diet, you usually have 0.1 millimoles of ketones per liter of blood, or less. Most studies use less than 0.5 millimoles of ketones per liter as the practical threshold for ketosis.
You can measure these blood levels by a blood, breath, or urine test. Some people can feel when they are in a state of ketosis, and others ask someone to smell their breath through which ketone acetone is excreted. It produces an odor like nail polish remover and is slightly fruity.
A keto diet focuses on whole foods and includes fat from sources such as fish, meat, nuts, seeds, avocados, and olives. Good low-carb sources include leafy greens, peppers, mushrooms, and asparagus. Protein is found in eggs, poultry, meat, fish, and cheese. Dark chocolate can be keto friendly when made with very little sugar.
To begin keto, the easiest and safest way is to start eating a low-carb diet and gradually transitioning. The quickest way to reach ketosis is with a one-day fast then switch right into the keto diet.
Becoming keto-adapted, which means you’re geared toward burning fat rather than carbs, should take less than two weeks. This depends on the rate at which you drop carb intake and your level of physical activity. In the first one to four weeks of trying the keto diet, you may experience fatigue, nausea, bad breath, intestinal discomfort, brain fog, or other ailments. These symptoms are commonly referred to as the “low-carb flu” or “keto flu.” They are often temporary, and there are ways to prevent or minimize symptoms.
Organization is essential for prepping your meals and snacks. Eating out is most successful when you research the menu beforehand. Support from the people in your life, and perhaps on online group, is beneficial. Environment plays a role as well, since co-workers or family members may leave high-carb treats such as doughnuts and cookies in plain sight.
A ketogenic diet can be effective for certain individuals and medical conditions. Before beginning keto, talk to your physician and request a baseline lipid panel and recheck periodically, since cholesterol levels may be affected. Some essential nutrients may drop below recommended levels, requiring supplementation or adjustments in food intake. People with specific medical conditions may need to monitor medications.
As a fat-loss diet, keto isn’t inherently superior. The best diet to lose fat is one in which you eat fewer calories than you burn, it’s sustainable for your lifestyle, and it fits your food preferences. This is very individual.
If this seems overwhelming, begin by eating a variety of whole foods and minimizing processed foods. Oh, and a little dark chocolate probably won’t hurt either.
Carol Slager is a licensed pharmacist, author, blogger and health coach in Northwest Indiana. Follow her monthly in Get Healthy and at inkwellcoaching.com.