The Keto Diet for Weight Loss – How Much Fat, How Many Carbs?
A ketogenic diet is a high-fat, low carbohydrate diet, which results in forcing the body to burn fats instead of carbohydrates. The ketogenic diet first became popular in the 1920s and 1930s as a treatment for epilepsy but was soon abandoned in favor of other therapies. Now, in 2017, the ketogenic diet has reintroduced itself as an effective way to bring about dramatic weight loss.
Ketosis occurs when a low- or no-carb diet results in molecule ketones building up in people’s bloodstreams. Low carbohydrate levels lead to a drop in blood sugar levels, and the body begins to break down fat to use as energy. It has many benefits, including a fast initial weight loss, which is encouraging to individuals setting out on a weight loss journey. Ass well, it’s a diet that makes people feel full despite having fewer calories, as it provides them with more energy. A keto diet has been found to keep blood sugar levels stable, resulting in a more stable flow of energy as opposed to a diet of processed foods, which provides bursts of energy before blood sugar levels drop once more.
Ketogenic diets allow you to fully embrace eating real foods which come in the form of natural fats and proteins, whilst severely restricting the amount of carbohydrates (sugars and starches) you eat day to day.
A normal American diet has carbohydrate intake at 40-60% of daily calorie levels, whilst fat intake, especially saturated fat, is limited. Diets which are high in carbohydrates detrimentally elevate blood sugar and insulin over time. This chronically high level of blood sugar and insulin can lead to a condition called insulin resistance, which can lead to many more diseases.
On a ketogenic diet, by contrast, carbohydrate intake is only 2-4% of daily calories. When the carbohydrate intake is low, meals are much more satiating, leaving you feeling fuller for far longer. Not only does hunger begin to drop, but this change in diet has powerful metabolic effects, as it lowers blood sugar and insulin levels.
When the body digests carbohydrates, it breaks them down into blood sugar (glucose) within the body. The more carbohydrates you ingest, the more glucose in your body, resulting in a higher blood sugar. Once carbohydrate intake is reduced and instead replaced with more fat and protein, there is a switch that occurs in metabolic pathways, from using sugar as a primary fuel to burning fat instead.
As fat continues to burn, some of it is converted into ketone bodies. With blood glucose and insulin levels dropping and ketone levels rising, the heart, muscle, and brain begin to using more fat and ketones to fuel themselves. This stage is called ‘nutritional ketosis’ and brings with it many benefits. Research has found that high-fat keto diets are effective for medical conditions including cancer, diabetes, weight loss and Alzheimer’s disease.
As well, scientific research has found that a wide range of medical conditions can be reversed or improved as a result of a keto diet. These including insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome and pre-diabetes, heart disease, autism, ALS, Multiple Sclerosis, and Parkinsons Disease. Ketogenic diets have even been found to provide mitochondrial support, slow aging, and assist with acid reflux/heartburn.
In order to embark on a ketogenic diet, it’s important to understand the science involved, and the correct ratio of fat which must be consumed per meal.
Rumors around the ketogenic diet include that eating more fat is dangerous for your heart. In fact, this is not the case, as you’re not consuming the kind of fat which plugs up arteries, which is the result of sugar. When done correctly, ketogenic diets are not dangerous.
Some simple concepts to incorporate into a ketogenic diet approach is to limit yourself to zero sugar intake, but an unlimited vegetable intake. Vegetables are important to this process, as ketones themselves are acidic, and can potentially raise your pH. However, if you’re consuming lots of vegetables, and incorporating lemon into your diet, you’ll be able to counteract this effect.
The other key is to consume fat without sugar. Fat with added sugar will increase insulin even more. It’s also important to begin this process gradually. If you increase your fat intake too quickly, it’s easy for the gallbladder to be overwhelmed, leading to bloating and potential pain in your right shoulder.
Your body will take time to adapt to fat burning. Cells must change their enzyme structure (their ‘machinery’) in order to handle this new fuel source. As you are limiting your glucose ingestion and increasing your fat ingestion, it can take from 2-6 weeks for your body to fully make this transition.
An average person will need to consume between 20-40 grams of fat per meal on a ketogenic diet. Where you fall on this will depend on your size, health, and starting position. When beginning, it’s safe to assume an average of 30 grams of fat per meal.
You’ll find that once your body has transitioned and is in the fat-burning stage, your body fat can be burned as a fuel source, giving you a longer period of time before you feel you need to eat.
The majority of calories ingested on a ketogenic diet will come from fats. However, choices around the type of fat consumed should be made with each person’s individual digestive tolerance in mind. Whilst vegetable oil may be a great source of fat, many of us won’t want to start swallowing tablespoon after tablespoon of it!
A healthy, balanced source of fats will include healthy oils, such as olive oil, some nuts, as these provide Omega 6 and Omega 3 fats, seafood such as salmon, tuna and shellfish, and saturated and monounsaturated fats such as butter, macadamia nuts, coconut oil, avocado and egg yolks.
Fats to look for in your daily diet include…
Macadamia Nuts and Oil
Mayonnaise – check for carbohydrates
Olives and Olive Oil
Coconut Oil, Coconut Butter, and Coconut Cream
Peanut Butter – unsweetened
Small amounts of 85-90% dark chocolate
Cheese – keep an eye on the caloric intake
Some easy references for how many grams of fat are in different food sources…
Heavy cream – this works out to 5 grams of fat per tablespoon
1 egg – 5 grams of fat (on average)
Beef – 3 oz works out to 16 grams of fat (it’s best to buy beef with more fat in it when operating on a ketogenic diet)
Coconut oil – 14 grams per tablespoon
Brie cheese – 3 oz equals 28 grams of fat
Almond butter – one tablespoon equals 10 grams of fat
Olive oil – one tablespoon equals 14 grams of fat
Pecans – 10 pecans equals 20 grams of fat
Protein is an important element of a balanced ketogenic diet. Much of this protein will come from meat. Fattier cuts of meat are better on the ketogenic diet, as they contain less protein and more fat.
Good proteins include…
Beef, lamb, veal, goat
Pork and ham – check for added sugars in ham
Chicken, turkey, duck, goose
Seafood of any kind – salmon is a great choice
Canned tuna and salmon – check the labels for added sugars or fillers
Shellfish – crab, lobster, shrimp, squid, mussels, oysters
Bacon and sausage – avoid any which contain fillers or have been cured with sugar
Whey protein powders
It’s important to know that dairy proteins are insulinogenic, meaning they can cause an insulin spike in the body. If you are struggling to get your body into ketosis, avoid these.
Heavy whipping cream
Full fat sour cream
Full fat cottage cheese
All hard and soft cheeses
Unsweetened whole milk yogurt – Greek yogurt is a great choice
Nuts and Seeds
When eating nuts and seeds, it’s best to soak and roast them first to remove anti-nutrients. These are very high in calories and can be higher in carbs per serving, as it’s easy to eat a handful of nuts without realizing how many carbohydrates you’ve just ingested.
Nuts including macadamias, pecans, almost and walnuts are the lowest in net carbs, so can be eaten in small amounts
Nut flours – almond flour is a great flour substitute for use in baking during a keto diet
Seeds such as pumpkin, sunflower, and sesame are high in Omega 6 fats, so eat a limited amount
As most nuts are high in Omega 6 fats, which can cause inflammation throughout your body, do not rely on these as your main source of protein. Instead, use them to supplement your protein throughout the day.
One area where many people forget to pay attention is in drinks and liquids, but many sneaky extra calories (and high amounts of sugar) can work their way into all kinds of beverages. When doing a ketogenic diet, you are able to drink…
Decaf coffee, as caffeine can increase blood sugar
Flavored seltzer water
Lemon and lime juice in small amounts
Unsweetened almond milk
Unsweetened coconut milk
Unsweetened soy milk
One question that often comes up for people beginning on or undergoing a ketogenic diet is the area of vegetable carbohydrates. Of course, a ketogenic diet is built on ingesting high levels of fat and protein and minimizing your carbohydrate intake. It’s true that vegetables are carbohydrates, but the question to ask is whether they convert their sugar source quickly or slowly.
The glycemic index is the rate of speed at which something actually affects your blood sugar. If you ate a chocolate bar, which has a high glycemic index, your insulin levels would spike quickly. However, a spinach salad is not going to cause this same spike in insulin.
If you don’t have any vegetable carbohydrates, a lot of waste is going to occur in the body, which is called ketoacidosis. Your body’s pH levels are going to rise higher and higher with nothing to counterbalance them.
When insulin levels are kept very low, it causes a great increase in the amount of stored triglycerides in the liver, which can lead to a very fatty liver. This is one area to be careful of when entering into ketosis, as the fat which is being mobilized from your fat stores in your stomach has to go through your liver and your bloodstream. If you’re not consuming the right balance of food, you’ll end up with a fatty liver, which defeats the purpose! Sometimes people will find that their blood cholesterol level increases, as they’re not eating vegetables to counteract the increased fat they’re ingesting.
However, it’s possible to use the wrong kind of vegetables for the job when looking for vegetable sources to counteract a fatty liver. Avoid starchy vegetables like corn, peas, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and winter squash, as these vegetables are higher in carbohydrates than many others in the vegetable group. Focus on green vegetables…
Any leafy green vegetable
Avocado (also a source of healthy fats)
By eating these vegetables alongside your increase fat and protein intake, you’ll be able to prevent the fat from accumulating in your liver. Vegetables will also supply you with your potassium, magnesium, and general vitamins and minerals needs.
Whilst a ketogenic diet, with its strong scientific base, can feel overwhelming at the beginning, it’s a powerful tool for addressing your body’s imbalances on a cellular level. Do some research before you begin so you’re aware of the fat, protein and carbohydrate levels you should be aiming for on a daily basis. Pre-planning your meals is also a way to increase your chance of hitting your targets and guaranteeing success. The internet is your friend on this diet – there are thousands of recipes online which can help you to create a meal plan so delicious, you’ll hardly notice the difference