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If you haven’t heard of the Keto diet, you might be living in a cave. The keto diet is hot, hot, hot right now.
But just because it’s trending hard, doesn’t mean it’s a good diet. It also isn’t enough to vilify it.
What’s up with the keto diet? Is it worth it? What is it?
REAL TALK: The keto diet is hard. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn it has the highest fail rate of all diets. But people who stick with it are in it. If you can do it, they’ll welcome you with open arms into the club.
What is the Ketogenic Diet – aka the Keto Diet?
The quick version: The Keto diet is when your body is in ketosis (burning fat for energy instead of carbs).
There’s a lot of information involved in a full explanation of the keto diet. You should read it so you understand why you’re severely restricting carbs. Seriously. Don’t skip this.
The long version (but we’ll try to keep it simple)
You eat three macronutrients every day – Protein, Fat and Carbohydrates. You need all three but protein is the only one your body can’t essentially make itself.
Your body likes fat because it provides a slow burn of energy. If you consume more fat than your body needs, your body will store the excess. Your body really likes this because that fat storage acts as an emergency savings account – of energy.
Your body likes carbs because it burns them as a quick energy source. If you consume more carbs than you need, your body will convert the excess and store it as fat (which remember, it really likes to do).
But what if you consume fewer carbs than your body needs for energy?
That’s where ketosis comes into play. When your body doesn’t have its favorite energy source (carbs) it has to get its energy from somewhere else (fat). Your body will dip into its emergency account and get the energy from there.
When you’re in ketosis, your body is using fat – not carbs – for energy.
How do we get to ketosis?
Option 1) Follow the keto diet – eat high-fat, low-carb foods. Sounds simple, right? Don’t get your hopes up, it’s not.
Option 2) Fast – don’t eat at all. This one’s a lot harder to make work seeing as starvation can kill you and all.
There are multiple keto strategies you can follow to achieve ketosis. All three strategies involve setting a carb limit for ketosis. The three most common keto strategies are:
- Consume less than 50g of carbs
- Consume less than 20g of net carbs (often referred to as strict keto)
- Make carbs less than 5% of your total calories
Rules of the Keto Diet?
The Keto diet has three simple rules. Sounds easy, right? Don’t be fooled.
Keto Rule #1 – Carb Limit
The #1 rule is to keep under your carb limit so that you’ll be in ketosis. Simple (but not really).
You can purchase at-home testing kits to know if you’re in ketosis (or you can just watch for the common signs like bad breath and short term fatigue).
I would recommend this calculator to determine your calorie, fat and protein levels. Personally, I like the 20g net carbs method because it allows you to eat high-fiber fresh produce.
Keto Rule #2 – Check Yourself
Put another way – Know what you’re putting in your mouth!
For keto, you’re going to want to know the calories, fat, protein, carbs and fiber of what you’re eating. This is important because you still want to be healthy and nutritious. You also need to keep under your carb limit.
I’ve mentioned “net carbs” more than once. It’s time to explain what that means.
Total Carbs – Fiber = Net Carbs
If you’re following the 20g net carbs, you get to subtract the amount of fiber from your carb counts. Doesn’t that make it feel like you’re getting something free? But remember the limit we’ve set? 20g net carbs. It’s not much.
Net Carb Examples (raw, 1 cup):
- Bok Choy (chopped): 1g net carbs (2g total carbs, 1g fiber)
Side note: I love bok choy. L. O. V. E. You can add it to anything. It’s hands-down my favorite vegetable and as an added bonus it’s outrageously good for you and one of the top 7 Vegetable Superfoods. If you’re not eating it, try it!
- Cauliflower (chopped): 2.9g net carbs (5g total carbs, 2.1g fiber)
- Avocado (sliced): 2g net carbs (12g total carbs, 10g fiber)
- Carrots (chopped): 8.7g net carbs (12.3g total carbs, 3.6g fiber)
Keto Rule #3 – Don’t Be an Idiot
Be smart. Use your brain. Just because something has only <1g of carbs doesn’t mean you should eat it.
For example, diet soda has 0 calories and 0 carbs.
Here’s the ingredient list for diet coke: Carbonated water, caramel color, aspartame, phosphoric acid, potassium benzoate, natural flavors, citric acid, caffeine.
Can you really delude yourself into thinking this is a good choice? Regardless of what diet you’re on?
Yes, technically diet soda (along with a host of other shitty foods) will keep you under your carb limit – although it might actually kick you out of ketosis. But anyone with half a brain should know better. Be better. Use your brain. No fake foods.
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Keto Approved Foods
Here is a simplified breakdown of what you should be eating on the keto diet. It’s not all-inclusive, but when in doubt it’s a great place to check. Also, remember you have to stay under your carb limit!
- Meat & Birds: Beef? Pork? Chicken? Lamb? Venison? Check. Check check check. If it’s meat (or a bird) you can eat it. On the keto diet, you might want to be choosing the fattiest cuts you can.
- Fish & Seafood: if it lives in the ocean, you can probably enjoy it.
- Eggs: Large eggs, small eggs, white eggs, brown eggs, duck eggs, quail eggs, eggs, eggs, eggs. Eggs get a green light on the keto diet. Get out there – try a variety of eggs, there’s more than chicken.
- Dairy: Butter! Cheese! Do you know how many varieties of cheese there are? OMG, so many. Look for dairy that’s not processed a lot, but enjoy it.
- Fats, Oils, Dressings: nuts, seeds, avocados, high-fat dressings (Caesar, Greek, aioli, ranch – check the ingredients though. A lot of premade options will have added sugar (and therefore carbs)). Also, olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil.
- Vegetables: Bok choy! And other vegetables. It’s especially important that you check the net carbs of your veggies – some might be surprisingly off-limits or only able to be eaten if you’ve planned out the rest of your daily net carb consumption accordingly.
- Other Proteins: If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you can make the keto diet work for you because you’re allowed to eat all the tempeh, tofu and whatever other meatless proteins are out there.
Like always you should be concerned about not just what you’re eating but the quality of the food you’re eating. Buy the best quality food your budget will allow for.
Consider grass-fed meat, wild seafood, free-range meat/birds/eggs, organic, seasonal, etc.,
If you can’t afford it all, you’re not alone. Start small, do the best you can. Check out the Guide to Organic Foods to learn more about what you can easily skip and what you should be buying organic.
Keto No-No Foods
This is not an all-inclusive list. Remember above when I told you to use your brain? Yeah, that still applies. Eat real food. Stay under your carb limit. If you’re really not sure, then definitely skip the following.
- NO SUGAR: This means both natural and artificial. Goodbye to the obvious: ice-cream, soda, juice, cookies. But there’s a lot of sugar hidden in some not-so-obvious places, like ketchup, nut butters, jerky, and bbq sauce. Be on the lookout, know what you’re putting in your mouth.
- NO FRUIT: If you’re surprised by this, see the line right above that says no sugar. Yes, the sugar in fruit is natural but that doesn’t matter on keto. No sugar. Period. If you plan carefully and use fruit sparingly, you might be able to sneak a piece in here or there (and by piece that usually means a small slice of a piece of fruit not a whole piece of fruit).
- NO GRAINS: This one shouldn’t come as a surprise. When most of us think carbs, we think grains. This means no corn though because corn is not a vegetable, it’s a grain. Of course, you’d have checked the net carbs before eating it anyway, right?!
- NO STARCHES & BEANS: No potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice or beans. Yeah, these are all nutrient-rich foods but they’re also high in carbs so not keto-approved.
- NO BAD FATS: I originally had this written as no unhealthy fats. But then I made an additional that’s less about your health and more about the health of the planet. This one’s a little more controversial because well, it’s not really a keto rule and more a judgment of some fats as being bad.
Typically, processed vegetable oils are going to be considered as unhealthy fats. These include sunflower oil, safflower oil, soybean oil, and canola oil.
Palm Oil is devastating the environment and is considered the leading cause of the endangerment of orangutans. It’s used in everything. You should really try and purchase products that are made without palm oil. Palm and palm kernel oil products have over 20 different names on ingredient lists including things like “Sodium Lauryl Sulfate” and “Fatt Isethionates”. ingredient names
Canola Oil has its own controversy. Is it good or is it bad? You’ll have to decide for yourself.
- Perfect Keto is vehemently against canola oil. The article is an interesting read. I didn’t know that Canada was responsible for canola oil.
- Healthful Pursuit thinks that if you choose the right canola oil, it’s a solid choice.
But, but, aren’t carbs important???
Sure, which is why you’re going to eat 20 net grams.
Real Talk: You clearly skipped the section: What is the Ketogenic Diet. Go back and read it.
Is Keto Healthy?
Frankly, the Keto diet is as healthy as you make it.
It encourages the consumption of real foods, which tend to be nutrient rich. This is a great and healthy aspect of the keto diet.
However, the strict carb limit means you’re cutting out a lot of real, nutritious food options. Fruit and a number of vegetables are going to be severely limited or not allowed at all.
I, personally, feel that the keto diet is not healthy for most people. You’re eliminating healthy food options for the sake of weight loss? Increased fat? Decreased carbs? I’m not really sure that any of those reasons are good enough to eliminate such a large amount of healthy foods from your diet.
IMO, the Keto diet is really only a healthy choice for people who can skip all the keto junk food.
Bottom Line: There’s no definitive answer here. You can find studies to support pretty much any diet you want. Evaluate your options and do what you think is best.
Keto & Weight Loss
Will Keto help me lose weight? My answer is: Yes?
What’s with the question mark? Well, as I warned you about in the introduction, Keto is hard. If you’re not following the rules, you’re not going to be in ketosis. To make matters worse, if you’re consuming a lot of extra fat and still consuming a lot of carbs… well… in this case, 1 + 1 = you’re going to gain weight.
So, yes you can lose weight with keto but it’s not going to be easy.
Again, there are people who swear by the keto diet. There are studies about the weight loss benefits of keto. But those people aren’t you.
Can you follow the rules? If the answer is yes, you can lose weight. If you’re going to cheat and eat a breakfast bagel every day on your way to work, you ain’t losing nothing.
Keto Pros & Cons
So you’re still not sure. Let’s check out what I consider to the three best pros and the three worst cons.
- A killer body
If you can follow the keto diet, you will lose weight. Losing weight is probably going to bring you one step closer to that rocking body you want.
- The Keto Community
The keto community is a real place. People are supremely supportive of one another. There’s a nearly endless number of resources online.
Wine is pretty low carb and since keto only cares about your net carb count for the day, wine can often make the list. A 5oz serving of red and white wines will usually net between 3-4g of carbs. However, be sure to check. Not all wines are created carb-equal.
- How do I know I’m in ketosis?
You have to do a test. Most accurate is blood, but breath and urine tests are available for purchase. Without a test, you can’t know for sure.
- I feel like shit – aka the Keto Flu.
Most people feel awful when they first go keto. It’s commonly called the keto flu and this is when most people give up a keto diet.
- No flexibility.
To reap any benefits of doing the keto diet, you have to follow the rules. There’s no margin for error or cheating. You’re either keto or you’re not. And if you’re supposed to be, any deviation is likely to result in weight gain.
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Get Started with These Keto Recipes
Keto Can Be Done!
The keto diet isn’t for everyone.
However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try the keto diet. Be an adult, make your own choice. Try it, if you don’t like it, try something else.
Ready for more? Check out the Complete Guide to the Mediterranean + Keto Diet next.
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Thanks for the very detailed keto diet guide. I am going to try this!