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Eat fat to lose fat. Yes, you read that right. If you’re looking for a diet that defies all the rules you have been given since childhood staying away from fat and counting calories, you might want to look into the ketogenic diet, aka #ketolife diet, which can be exceptionally effective for weight loss and has been shown to help with maintaining stable blood sugar levels. But how does it work and exactly how healthy is it? Here are 10 things you need to know about the keto diet.
1. It forces your body to burn fats rather than carbohydrates
The keto diet, formally called the ketogenic diet, is well known for being a high-fat, moderate-protein, low-carb diet. Reducing carbohydrate intake and replacing it with fat puts our bodies into a metabolic state called ketosis. We normally rely on carbs for glucose, which helps fuel brain function. But when we are short on carbs, our liver convers the fat and produces ketone bodies as an alternative. Our bodies adapt to what you put into it: so when you take away carbs and overload it with dietary fat, it will begin to burn ketones as its main energy source.
2. The keto diet can be your best friend…or your worst enemy
The keto diet is all about discipline and perseverance–it’s not for the faint hearted. The end goal of a properly maintained keto diet is to get your body into ketosis every time of every day. Sticking to the diet long-term has been found to help reduce body mass, lower blood sugar levels, and increase the level of “good” cholesterol. Weight loss that lasts is usually based on changes you can live with for a long time, so following a high-fat, low-carb diet can make you or break you.
3. Fats and oils make up the bulk of your daily calorie intake.
Today, most of our meals involve too much protein, not enough good fat, and residual carbohydrates. In a keto diet, the calories in your diet should make up 50% fat, 30-40% protein, and the rest from veggies. That may sound fun at first, but keep in mind that although fats are important, they can also be dangerous if you consume the wrong amount or the wrong kind in excess.
4. Stay away from alcohol if you want your keto diet to work.
Sorry, folks. You simply cannot party and stay on a ketogenic diet at the same time. Carbs are everywhere in a bar. Beer can contain anywhere from 7g-20g net carbs, and wine can average at about 6g per glass. Drinking alcohol throws your body off ketosis because your body will burn alcohol instead of all other nutrients consumed, so only a smaller amount of the right fatty acids will be converted into ketones.
5. You have to choose your fats carefully.
It’s extremely essential to stick to saturated and monounsaturated fats as they are more chemically stable and less inflammatory, so foods like avocado, butter, chicken fat, olive oil, and coconut oil are good choices. It is also key to keep a balance between your Omega-3’s and Omega-6’s, so eating things like wild salmon, trout and shellfish will help. It’s also key to stay away from hydrogenated fats (no trans fats!): that means no processed cakes, cookies, pie crusts, chips and ice cream.
6. The first couple of weeks are easy, the real challenge is what happens after
There is a reason why low-carb diets only appear to be effective for up to 6 months—you become awfully picky with food and you can barely socialize. It can become exasperating trying to figure out what foods you can and cannot eat, so you end up giving into temptation and eating the same old stuff again. Think of going low-carb more as a lifestyle than a diet.
7. You may come down with the ‘keto flu’
When your body goes into ketosis, you might experience what is known as the ‘keto flu’. These are flu-like symptoms that appear as you detox from glucose in your system. Symptoms often include headaches, nausea, and fatigue, and can last anywhere from a day to a few weeks. Don’t fret. It’s simply your body going through withdrawal from sugar and carby foods.
8. It’s very different from a conventional diet
The ketogenic diet focuses on controlling the three macronutrients: fat, carbs, and protein. You can balance them any way you want, and it is all about maintaining that balance, while in other diets that have the same low-carb DNA, it is more about eliminating certain food products.
9. The keto diet was originally developed for disease management
It is useful to remember that the keto diet was originally developed for disease management, and weight loss just so happens to be a side-effect of going low-carb because you eat a lot of naturally filling food that can act as appetite suppressants. Your insulin levels are lowered, so your kidneys start shedding excess sodium which leads to rapid weight loss in the first week or two.
10. What you can eat and what you can’t eat
When on the keto diet, you are limited to 50g of carbs per day. You have to completely eliminate refined carbohydrates (e.g. bagels, pasta, cereals, pastry) as well as refined sugars.
It is also important not to have too much protein as this can also prevent the body from entering into ketosis.
Things you CAN eat:
- Monounsaturated fats (e.g. avocados, Macadamia nuts, olive oil)
- Saturated fats (e.g. chicken fats, duck fats, goose fats, butter, coconut oil)
- Polyunsaturated omega-3s from animal sources (e.g. salmon, trout, shellfish)
- Non-starchy vegetables (e.g. Swiss chard, bok choy, lettuce, chard, chives)
- Cruciferous vegetables (e.g. kale (dark leaf), kohlrabi, radishes)
- Celery stalk, asparagus, cucumber, summer squash, bamboo shoots
Things you CANNOT eat (no exceptions!):
- All grains
- Most pulses
- White potatoes
- Sugars and sweets
- Certain dairy products like milk
- Factory-farmed pork and fish
- Processed foods (almond milk products), wheat gluten
- Refined fats/oils
- Tropical fruit and fruit juices