The keto diet: what is it and how does it work
Chances are you’ve never heard of the keto diet. But what exactly is the keto diet? As with many diets, you have a few important questions:
Can you lose weight for good when you lose weight on this diet?
Is it hard to sustain?
What can you eat and what is absolutely not?
Read on to learn all about the keto diet and find out if this way of eating is right for you.
What exactly is the keto diet?
The keto diet is basically a low-carbohydrate and high-fat way of eating.
By eating ketogenic:
- You take in much less carbohydrates than normal
- You avoid the thickening sugars that carbohydrates bring
- You maintain a moderate protein intake
- You increase the fat intake (and by this we do not mean extra bacon, but the healthy Omega fats)
The keto diet is a bit like the older low-carbohydrate diet. What makes the keto diet so different?
If you look at your current diet, you get most of your energy from carbohydrates. Think, for example, of bread, pasta, rice, potatoes and muesli. Carbohydrates are basically a good source of energy, but they can also make you gain weight quickly and feel tired and lazy more often (the well-known after-dinner dip). In addition, many foods contain a lot of sugar, such as bread and pasta, but also muesli and even ham. These sugars make it more difficult to eat healthily, because you often do not expect them in a certain product.
With the keto diet, you eat few carbohydrates, while you increase the fats in your diet. Isn’t it crazy? Shouldn’t we avoid the fatty things as much as possible? A piece of science.
Based on your total calorie intake, 60 to 80% of the calories you take in in a day (during a keto diet) are fat, followed by 10 to 15% calories from protein and less than 10% of the total daily calorie intake from carbohydrates. These are approximately 20 to 25 grams of carbohydrates per day.
The idea behind this, which has also been scientifically proven, is that a low-carbohydrate and high-fat diet helps you burn fat more effectively. This way of eating has many benefits in terms of weight loss, health and performance.
When you feed your body less carbohydrates, your body switches from burning glucose (sugars from carbohydrates) to burning fat. During this process, your liver produces ketones, which mainly feed on your fat supply. In other words, keto is not about the sugars, but all about the ketones.
Of course this has the nice side effect that you lose weight, but there are many more benefits for your physical and mental condition. Some of the benefits:
- Weight loss
- More control over your appetite and therefore less binge eating
- A nice steady supply of energy without the sugar spikes and dips that you can experience after carbohydrate-rich meals
- Control your blood sugar (something that can be very beneficial in people with type 2 diabetes)
- Improved fitness and general health
- More energy and less energy dips
- Better mental health and more focus
- A calmer stomach that is less aggressive
- Improved stamina
- The keto diet has been used in the past to treat epilepsy, among other things
You have seen the word “ketones” a few times now. Below we take a closer look at what exactly ketones are. We also discuss an important factor of the keto diet: being in ketosis.
What are ketones and what does being in ketosis mean
The “keto” in the ketogenic diet stands for ketones. These are small fuel molecules that act as an alternative fuel for your body. Ketones are used when the glucose in your blood is scarce because the blood sugar is low.
Normally we burn sugars, which come from the carbohydrates in our food. When you eat very few carbohydrates or calories, the liver produces ketones from fat. These ketones then serve as a fuel source for the whole body, mainly for the brain. The brain uses a lot of energy every day and cannot get this energy directly from fat. This only works on glucose or ketones.
With a ketogenic lifestyle, your body switches from a sugar burner (carbohydrates) to a fat burner (keto). This allows you to burn fat 24 hours a day. When insulin levels get very low, fat burning increases dramatically. This makes it easier for your body to access and use your fat stores.
Of course, that’s good news if you’re trying to lose weight, but there are other and less obvious benefits too. That’s how you experience
- Less hunger because your body uses the existing fat stores
- You get a nice steady supply of energy without the sugar spikes and dips that you can experience after high-carb meals
- This can help you stay alert and focused
When the body produces ketones, it enters a metabolic state called ketosis. The fastest way to get there is to fast and not eat anything, but of course you will not be able to hold on to this forever.
A keto diet also results in ketosis and can be followed indefinitely. It is therefore more a lifestyle than a diet. Eating ketogenic allows you to enjoy the benefits of fasting, including weight loss, without having to stop eating for long.
Is it a new diet craze?
The ketogenic diet is not a new diet hype. In fact, the keto diet has a rich medical history. The method was developed in the 1920s to treat epilepsy in children. The somewhat older Atkins diet, which was immensely popular in the 1970s, also used ketosis to promote weight loss. However, this did not really look at what you actually put in your mouth, so people quickly started having unhealthy habits. In the ketogenic diet this is also called ‘Dirty Keto’: lots of bacon and unhealthy fatty food and irresponsible diets.
Today, this way of eating has been given a modern and manageable guise and you read a lot about it on blogs, in diet books and you see a loyal fan base on social media who share their results with the rest of the world. And that is a great development, because more and more people experience the positive effects of a keto lifestyle.
Can it be sustained?
Research has shown it to be difficult to maintain the keto diet for a long time. Although you should be less hungry when you follow this diet, it is a very strict regime. As a result, you have to make a few major adjustments to your lifestyle and change quite a few habits.
The longer you eat this way, the easier it gets. In addition, the diet contains a lot of vegetables, enough fat, and a little meat or fish. It is therefore not a diet that you can only do as a carnivore. In fact, it is possible to do a Vegan keto diet.
Dangers of the keto diet and keto flu
Every diet carries risks. Your body gets a shock from the big difference in your diet. Some studies have been conducted into the dangers of a ketogenic lifestyle. The consensus seems to be that there is little danger as long as you use common sense.
You can, however, experience some side effects from switching to keto and experience side effects such as headaches, nausea, dizziness and fatigue. These are flu-like symptoms and are also called the keto-flu.
The first time you switch to keto, your body has to get used to it. The sugars and glucose are not there, so your body has no energy. May feel a little bit of the flu because of that ….. that can take a few days and is over as soon as your body switches to fat
You can recognize the flu by the following symptoms:
- Difficult to focus
- Lack of motivation
Many of the symptoms are caused by the fact that you lose a lot of moisture and therefore take in less minerals, the so-called electrolytes. Drinking more than before can help to reduce the onset and severity of symptoms. To combat your electrolyte deficiency, you can take nutritional supplements to replenish sodium, potassium and magnesium in the body.
Ketones are not dangerous to healthy persons. It is often confused with ketoacidosis. Ketoacidosis and ketosis are not the same. Ketosis is a healthy process of fat burning. When you are in ketosis you are in a state that is 100% natural. In ketoacidosis, the acidity of the blood in your body is too high. This is dangerous. Ketoacidosis can occur in people with type 1 diabetes. With a shortage of insulin, the blood sugar can rise very high. The body looks for another fuel and starts to burn fats. This releases decomposition substances: ketones. When you are in ketoacidosis, the ketones acidify your blood. Symptoms are rapid deep breathing and vomiting. If you have type 1 diabetes, you can fall into a coma. Ketoacidosis hardly ever occurs in people in good health. A healthy person is in ketosis when on a ketogenic or low-carbohydrate diet. People who want to follow this diet and have diabetes should consult with their doctor first.
It is possible to measure whether you are in ketosis by testing urine, blood or breath samples. With a blood test you have the most accurate result. Another way to know if your body is producing ketones is to pay attention to the signals your body is sending:
- Little appetite
- More energy
- More thirsty
- Foul smelling breath
- Metallic taste in your mouth
- Different odor of perspiration
- Weight loss
A ketogenic lifestyle may be beneficial for people with type 2 diabetes. Following a ketogenic diet does result in rapidly falling blood sugar levels, making it not recommended for people with type 1 diabetes.
For whom is a keto diet suitable and for whom not?
As mentioned earlier, this diet is less suitable for people with type 1 diabetes and can even be dangerous. It has an excellent effect on type 2 diabetes. Healthy people can eat as little carbohydrates as they want because the body can handle it.
Keep in mind that this is a diet that requires the necessary discipline. You should also have no problems taking a critical look at your current nutritional plan. It is not a quick fix, but a real life change that you have to take seriously to succeed.
You do have to be careful if you receive blood pressure medication or if you are breastfeeding. Are you walking around with an existing health complaint. Always consult your doctor or specialist in advance.
What do you have to eat and drink to get into ketosis
With the keto diet you leave out the carbohydrates and sugars, so you don’t eat bread, pasta, cookies and other fatteners for a while. You replace this with a lot of vegetables, some extra fat and some meat or fish. Extra fats are for example:
- MCT oil
- Animal fats
You also eat (red) meat and fatty fish, such as steak and salmon. This is also where you get your proteins. The best vegetables to eat are green vegetables, including:
- Basically all green vegetables
To get into ketosis, keep your carbohydrate intake below 50 grams per day and ideally below 20 grams. The fewer carbohydrates, the more effectively you can lose weight. In terms of drinking, it is best to choose water, tea without sugar, black coffee and broth to replenish your salts.
And what should you avoid?
What to avoid on the keto diet are all foods that are high in carbohydrates, both foods rich in sugar and foods high in starch. These foods contain much more than the daily amount of carbohydrates you can take in to get into a ketogenic state.
- Sugars! And with that the carbohydrates
- Fruit with a lot of fruit sugars
- Fruit juices
- Soft drink
What does a diet plan look like?
To eat less than 50 grams of carbohydrates per day, there are many foods that you should avoid, such as fruits, sweet vegetables, pasta, rice and bread. You mainly eat a lot of fatty foods. An example of ingredients that make up your daily menu are:
- Animal fats (meat and fish)
- Full quart or yogurt
- Sauces and foods based on mayonnaise (e.g. egg salad)
- Butter, olive oil, ghee
- Recipes with bacon, cheese, brie
- Recipes enriched with (whipped) cream, crème fraiche, mascarpone
Intermittent fasting and keto diet
A keto diet can be combined with intermittent fastening. With intermittent fasting, you choose a period of several hours in which you do not eat. You replenish these calories when you are allowed to eat. The combination ensures that you get into ketosis faster. Your glycogen supply is depleted faster, so that your body switches to fat for fuel. Fasting is also easier when your body is already used to a carbohydrate deficiency.
How do you measure your ketone levels?
To know how your body reacts to what you eat and how much you eat and exercise, it is important to measure your ketone levels. This can be done in different ways: with a blood ketone meter, with a breath tester and with urine test strips (keto strips). Measuring the ketone value through your blood is the most accurate method and the most reliable because your blood is not affected by the amount of fluid in your body.
An essential part of the ketogenic diet is ketosis. When you are in ketosis, the level of ketones in the blood rises. As you continue to follow the diet, the body uses more fat with the ketones as an energy source. The number of ketones in the blood can be measured with a special ketone meter. This is helpful because it will help you know if you are applying the diet correctly so that you can control your ketone levels. The ketones are measured by pricking blood in the finger. You are in ketosis when the ketone level is between 0.5 and 3.0 mmol / L.
Ketones in the urine
Another way to measure the ketone level is with a keto strip and urine. This strip is held in the urine and then the strip changes color when you are in ketosis. The strip measures the number of ketones in the urine. It’s a quick and easy way to check if you are in ketosis at home. If you are in ketosis, the strip will change color. On the side of the bottle you can see to what extent ketones are present in the urine. In general, the darker the discoloration, the more ketones are present in the urine. Pay attention! This method is cheap, but not always reliable. You will never know exactly how many ketones are in your body and that can be dangerous.
Ketones in the breath
If you are just starting a diet that hits you in ketosis, it is possible that your breath will start to smell different. This is mainly due to the production of ketones. Because there are more ketones in your body, they also leave your body in a larger amount. Some of it leaves your body through the breath. This can make your breath smell different than normal. One thinks it is a fruity scent, while the other says it is more chemical.
The different and maybe even smelly smell is a good sign. It tells you that you are going into ketosis. It is not dangerous but it is part of the process of ketosis. You can reduce bad breath by taking sugar-free gum and drinking more water. You can measure ketones in the breath with a ketone meter, but these are not readily available for a fairly pricey. . This measurement measures acetone, which is one of the three ketones during ketosis. The breath measurement is not very reliable and is especially not suitable if you have been on keto for some time.
How do you know you are in ketosis?
There are symptoms that can indicate that you are in ketosis. Mind you, this differs greatly from person to person. For example, you can be in ketosis and not feel any of the symptoms below. Measuring is actually the only method to have 100% certainty about your state of ketosis.
- Dry mouth and increased thirst. Unless you drink enough water and get enough electrolytes such as salt, you can get a dry mouth. Try to drink a cup of broth or two daily, plus as much water as you need.
- Urinating more often. A ketone body, acetoacetate, can pass into the urine. This makes it possible to test ketosis with urine strips. This can also lead to you having to go to the bathroom more often, which in turn explains the increased thirst.
- Keto breath. This is because a ketone body called acetone escapes through the breath. Your breath may start to smell “fruity,” or similar to nail polish remover. You can also smell the scent when you sweat during exercise. This is often temporary.
Again, if you start with keto, it is best to measure regularly whether you are in ketosis. This way you keep control over your process and you know for sure when you are burning fat.
Do you want to start with the keto diet, but do you still feel a barrier to making that final step? Then it is advisable to look for a keto coach that helps you achieve your desired goal. You can also meet other keto practitioners and exchange knowledge in a Facebook group (like this one). In short, don’t just do it, find like-minded people who support you in your journey to a healthier lifestyle.