More and more people are going on a ketogenic diet as they learn about the amazing benefits of this super-low carb/high-fat way of eating. When they understand how the ketogenic diet works they realize why it is so effective for overall health and weight loss.
Ketosis is a natural bodily function that happens in extreme measures when the body is starving. On a keto diet, the body is essentially being starved of carbohydrates, which conditions it to turn to fat for its fuel. This is of course not true starvation. As the body becomes fat adapted it will prefer using fat for energy and turn into a fat-burning machine. By checking ketone levels frequently it is possible to determine whether a state of ketosis has been reached and maintained. Keto levels can be checked by using a blood glucose testing device or taking a urine test, but the most accurate is a blood test.
How Does the Ketogenic Diet Work?
When followed properly, at its basic, the diet gets the body to burn fat for fuel instead of using carbohydrates. When a meal rich in carbohydrates is consumed, the body will convert the carbs into glucose to provide energy. Insulin is produced by the pancreas to move the glucose into the bloodstream. Therefore, when carbohydrates are present, glucose is the body’s primary source for energy.
On a ketogenic diet, carbohydrate intake is reduced dramatically. When carbohydrates are not present the body will utilize fat for energy. In the absence of adequate carbohydrates, the liver will utilize fatty acids in the body and convert it to ketones for an energy source. This condition is known as ‘ketosis’ and is the ultimate goal to reach for those on a ketogenic diet.
When fatty acids are broken down three ketones are made:
– During ketosis AcAc (Acetoacetate) is created first;
– BHB (Beta-hydroxybutyric acid) is formed from acetoacetate;
– Acetone is created spontaneously as a by-product of acetoacetate.
The most common benefits of a ketogenic diet include:
– Fat loss
– Improved mood
– Better sleep
– Better skin
– Mental clarity
– Studies have found that the keto diet is effective in the treatment of epilepsy and diabetes
– Evidence also shows it may be beneficial for Alzheimer’s, certain cancers, and other serious diseases
Important Foods to Eat Regularly on a Keto Diet
Carbohydrates are limited to 20 – 50 grams per day. There are many nutritious foods on the keto diet that fit into this style of eating. To reap all the benefits of this low carbohydrate, high-fat diet, eat the following foods on a regular basis:
Shellfish and fish like salmon are rich in nutrition yet virtually free of carbohydrates. However, when trying to maintain a narrow range of carbs, it is important to remember that carbohydrate content varies in different types of shellfish. For example, while crabs and shrimps are carbo-free, other types of shellfish do contain some carbs. Consume at least two servings of seafood weekly while on a keto diet.
• Non-Starch Vegetables
The net carbs in low-carb vegetables range from one to eight grams per cup. They also contain a high amount of fiber which is not absorbed and used by the body. it is important to take into account the net carb count which is total carb content minus the fiber. The net carb count ranges between less than one gram for a cup of spinach to 8 grams for cooked Brussels sprouts. All cruciferous vegetable like kale, broccoli, and cauliflower can be eaten in abundance. However, just one serving of high-starch veggies like potatoes, carrots, beets, or butternut squash can push you over the daily carb limit.
Cheese is low in carbs and high in saturated fat. One gram of cheddar cheese will provide only one gram of carbohydrate. Cheese contains conjugated linoleic acid that studies have linked to fat loss.
Half a medium avocado contains only 9 grams of carbohydrate, 7 of which are fiber, making the net carb count 2 grams. Avos are rich in potassium and a high intake of potassium may help make the transition to ketosis easier. Avos also maintain healthy levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides in the body.
• Meat and Poultry
Fresh grass-fed meat and free-range poultry are considered staple on a ketogenic diet as they contain no carbs and are rich in potassium and other important minerals such a selenium and zinc. These foods are a great source of high-quality protein which studies have shown helps to preserve muscle mass while on a very low carb diet.
One egg contains less than 1 gram of carbohydrate which makes it ideal for a ketogenic diet. Eggs have been shown to trigger the hormones involved in satiety and to keep blood sugar levels stable. Although they are high in cholesterol they do not raise blood sugar levels or cholesterol as is erroneously believed by most.
• Coconut Oil
Coconut oil contains MCTs (medium-chain fatty acids) that are taken up directly by the liver to be converted into ketones and used as a source of energy, unlike long-chain fatty acids. It has been found that the mix of MCTs and lauric acid in coconut oil helps to promote a sustained level of ketosis in the body.
• Cottage Cheese and Plain Greek Yogurt
5 ounces of Greek yogurt or cottage cheese contains 5 grams of carbohydrate and has been shown to promote satiety and decrease appetite.
• Olive Oil
Olive oil is high in the monounsaturated fat oleic acid. As a pure fat source, it contains no carbs. Use it in salads and to make keto-friendly mayonnaise.
• Nuts and Seeds
High in fat and low in carbs nuts and seeds are high in fiber. One ounce of almonds, for example, has 3 grams of net carbs and Brazil nuts one gram. Flaxseeds contain no carbohydrates, sesame seeds 3 grams of net carbs and pumpkin seeds 4 grams.
With the exception of berries, most fruits are too high in carbohydrate content to include in a ketogenic diet. Blackberries and raspberries contain as much fiber as digestible carbohydrates but with only 5 – 12 grams of net carbs per 100-gram serving.
• Butter and Cream
Butter and cream contain only trace amounts of carbohydrate and are good fats to consume on a ketogenic diet. Dairy products are rich in conjugated linoleic acid which is the fatty acid that promotes fat loss.
• Shirataki Noodles
Shirataki noodles are made from glucomannan, a viscous fiber that absorbs 50 times its weight in water. The fiber forms a gel-like substance that slows down the movement of food through the digestive tract, helping to reduce blood sugar spikes and decreasing hunger. They contain only 5 calories and less than one gram of carbohydrate per serving.
The main antioxidant in olives is oleuropein with anti-inflammatory properties to protect cells from damage. They are also thought to decrease blood pressure and help prevent bone loss. They are very high in fiber and their digestible carb content is very low. 7 – 10 olives contain just one gram of net carbs.
• Unsweetened Coffee and Tea
Coffee and tea are carb-free drinks that contain caffeine known to increase metabolism and improve mood, alertness, and physical performance. Use pure coffee and stay away from “light” versions and lattes that contain high-carbohydrate flavorings and are made with non-fat milk. Add heavy cream to coffee but stay away from the sugar.
• Dark Chocolate and Cocoa Powder
Cocoa in dark chocolate contains flavanols that lower blood pressure and reduces the risk of heart disease. Choose dark chocolate with more than 70% cocoa solids. 28 grams of 100% pure cocoa contains only 3 grams of net carbs while the same amount in dark chocolate with 70% – 85% cocoa solids can contain up to 10 grams.
The ketogenic diet includes a wide variety of tasty, nutritious foods that help you remain within a daily carbohydrate intake range. It can be beneficial for weight loss, to keep blood sugar levels under control, and to achieve other health-related goals.