At the core of the classic ketogenic diet is severely restricting intake of all or most foods with sugar and starch (carbohydrates). These foods are broken down into sugar (insulin and glucose) in our blood once we eat them, and if these levels become too high, extra calories are much more easily stored as body fat and results in unwanted weight gain. However, when glucose levels are cut off due to low-carb dieting, the body starts to burn fat instead and produces ketones that can be measured in the blood (using urine strips, for example).
Here are a few of the most common side effects that I come across when people first start keto. Frequently the issues relate to dehydration or lack of micronutrients (vitamins) in the body. Make sure that you’re drinking enough water (close to a gallon a day) and eating foods with good sources of micronutrients. To read more on micronutrients, click here >
Although a standard ketogenic diet is even more restrictive in terms of carb intake, a “moderate keto diet” (just as some folks have followed a modified Atkins diet) is another option that will very likely still be able to provide substantial weight loss results and other improvements in symptoms. Including slightly more carbs can be very useful for maintenance, allow for more flexibility, provide a higher fiber intake, and overall may feel more sustainable long term socially and psychologically.
There are two major ways fasting is beneficial for overall health. First, it gives the body a break from digestion. Digestion is a surprisingly stressful activity, and if there is a longer period of time where your body can focus on simply using the nutrients it’s been given already without having to handle more, digestion tends to improve, as well as energy levels.
Totally agree that it’s not something for everyone, though. Even one of the authors I read said he sometimes sneaks a french fry or a bite of cheesecake/ice cream, though he’s able to stop after just a little bit and it doesn’t throw him off horribly. Of course, that’s not license to eat junk all the time, but it does mean that once you’re well-adapted, you can sometimes indulge.
Aside from the various keto-friendly foods mentioned in this article, you may be wondering if there are other options that may help support your ketogenic diet. If you find that the ketogenic diet is limiting when you start out, don't worry. There's actually a lot you can add to your diet that's "keto" as long as consumption is controlled. Here are some commonly asked questions:
Bulk buy and cook. If you’re someone who doesn’t like to spend a lot of time in the kitchen, this is the best of both worlds. Buying your food at bulk (specifically from wholesalers) can reduce the cost per pound tremendously. Plus, you can make ahead food (bulk cook chicken thighs for pre-made meat, or cook entire meals) that are used as leftovers, so you spend less time cooking.
One of the most common side effects of starting the ketogenic diet is the “keto flu.” This term describes the often unpleasant, fatigue-inducing symptoms that occur as the body adjusts from a high-carbohydrate to a low-carbohydrate diet. During the keto flu, the body’s stored glucose begins depleting, and the body starts adapting to producing and utilizing ketones as energy. (2)
Experts are split on whether the keto diet is a good idea. On the one hand, Lori Chang, registered dietitian and a supervisor at the Center for Healthy Living at Kaiser Permanente West Los Angeles, says using a “cleaner” source of energy—ketones rather than quick-burning carbohydrates—can improve mood and energy levels. When you eat refined carbohydrates or just too many carbs in general, the blood is flooded with excess insulin, Chang says. "This can lead to a blood sugar rollercoaster that stresses the body and negatively impacts energy levels and mood. When you’re in a state of ketosis, however, ketone bodies don’t require insulin to cross the blood-brain barrier, which wards off unfavorable blood sugar levels."
Ketogenic diets, like most low carb diets, work through the elimination of glucose. Because most folks live on a high carb diet, our bodies normally run on glucose (or sugar) for energy. We cannot make glucose and only have about 24 hours’ worth stored in our muscle tissue and liver. Once glucose is no longer available from food sources, we begin to burn stored fat instead, or fat from our diets.
Before we discuss how to measure ketone levels, let’s set some guidelines for optimal ketone levels. Nutritional ketosis is detected when levels begin to read at 0.5 mmol/L of ketones in the blood, but your optimal ketone level will depend on your personal goals. For instance, if your goal is to lose weight, your target ketone level will be lower than someone who wants to improve mental performance. The following table provides some general guidelines based on your goal.
There are so many vegetables that you can use, and so many ways to prepare them, that an entire book could be written on the topic. Most vegetables that grow above the ground are high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. They can be added to meat dishes, cooked on their own, or eaten as a salad. Vegetables are inexpensive, easy to prepare, and can be part of every meal. Most of them are quite low in carbohydrates, so it’s hard to overindulge in this food group.
Here’s the Knowledge Stage analogy: Say we are hungry and want to go out to eat. It wouldn’t make much sense to sprint to the nearest restaurant, right? Wouldn’t we be better served to take the few minutes to learn about what’s available, and then make a plan? Yes, we would take the time to Yelp or ask a friend for some knowledge and use that information to decide where we want to go.
Thank you so much for the wonderful recipes on your site. I have visited in the past and have happened upon it again. I noticed you put in the post that if anyone had questions that we could ask and so I have a big one that I need advice on if you don't mind. I have been living low carb for about 2 years now. My weight has fluctuated from 130 to about 118. I am 5'4" and female, 45 years old and mom to 5 children. My weight went up to 134 which is very uncomfortable to me because I have struggled with an eating disorder and so I really went low carb in an attempt to drop some weight. Well I have, but the problem is that I am restricting too many calories now. I have gotten down to 108 but know that 800 calories Is not enough. My question is about balance. I would not mind gaining some back but have a fear of gaining too much again. I don't want to go back there. I hiit train most days for about 25 mins. I use to do way too much. Do you have a plan that would balance my calories out so I can incorporate more Low carb options/keto and start eating normal again. I like your ideas and thought process behind all you post so I would appreciate any feed back you could give to me. Thank ML
The hallmark of a ketogenic diet is being in ketosis for extended periods of time, and is achieved by carbohydrate restriction. While there isn’t a strict prohibition of artificial sweeteners, grains, and manufactured foods, there is a strong preference in the community to lean towards natural, whole foods. Keto is for overall health, and weight loss is a welcome side effect for many people.
• Fighting inflammation — The human body can use both sugar and fat as fuel sources. However, the latter is preferred because it is a cleaner, healthier fuel that releases far fewer reactive oxygen species (ROS) and secondary free radicals. By eliminating sugar from your daily food consumption, you're decreasing your risk of developing chronic inflammation throughout your body.
Spices are an easy way of adding more flavor, vitamins and antioxidants into your food. Furthermore, they are low in carbohydrates. Make sure that you're using fresh, organic spices for maximum flavor and nutrients. Some spices sold in packets found at the local grocery should not be used, as they often contain fillers that can increase your carbohydrate consumption, thus putting you out of ketosis.26
You should know that the side effects of a ketogenic diet are still being studied. In addition, there have not been significant studies for long term dieters. There are plenty of people that have used the diet long term (10+ years) and very happy with it. It is up to the unique individual, so regular checkups with your doctor are recommended to check that "everything looks good".
On the other hand, the types of foods you’ll avoid eating on the keto, low-carb diet are likely the same ones you are, or previously were, accustomed to getting lots of your daily calories from before starting this way of eating. This includes items like fruit, processed foods or drinks high in sugar, those made with any grains or white/wheat flour, conventional dairy products, desserts, and many other high-carb foods (especially those that are sources of “empty calories”).
Chickpeas are naturally high in carbs — a single cup contains 45 grams of carbohydrates.31 However, you can modify the recipe to make it more nutritious. Try this recipe from Pete Evans, which replaces the chickpeas with beetroot.32 Beware, though, that beets have the highest sugar content of all vegetables, so consume them in very controlled amounts.
Aude, Y., A. S, Agatston, F. Lopez-Jimenez, et al. “The National Cholesterol Education Program Diet vs a Diet Lower in Carbohydrates and Higher in Protein and Monounsaturated Fat: A Randomized Trial.” JAMA Internal Medicine 164, no. 19 (2004): 2141–46. doi: 10.1001/archinte.164.19.2141. jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/article-abstract/217514.
Each of the above methods is good for its own reason; however, we would suggest only one: the blood test. The urine strips are cheap, yet not accurate. The breath analyzer is expensive, difficult to find and has definite quirks. The blood tests, while somewhat expensive, are fully reliable and testing your blood - the most accurate place to measure your ketones.
For endurance athletes, the transition to a ketogenic diet may reduce recovery time after training, but for casual exercisers, the transition to the ketogenic diet may make sticking with your fitness routine a challenge at first. (10) If you feel your energy levels drop too much when starting the ketogenic diet, slow down your reduction of carbohydrates, making sure to do it over time rather than all at once.
Hi Emily, I was also really nervous about the amount of fat when I first started too! Just trust it, give it a couple of weeks to work its magic and then you will definitely feel more comfortable! I actually used a couple of online calculators for macros and took the average of what they all said. When starting keto, remember your net carbs should be under 20 grams, so use that as a guideline when calculating the rest of your macros. Let me know if you need anything else!
Although studies have shown that the keto diet can reduce seizures for children with epilepsy, there is no evidence indicating that keto helps with other brain disorders or improves mental cognition, according to Harvard Health Publishing. Some studies show that keto may lower blood sugar for people with type 2 diabetes, but there is not enough long-term research to determine whether it’s safe and effective for diabetics.
It’s not for me, but it interesting to learn these things, and of course there seem to be good reasons for doing it for some people. I’m happy with the “eat less, exercise more” diet for now, but I might try out intermittent fasting since I’ve seen a few things suggesting it might help with allergies? I doubt that’s well supported, but I’ve liked what you’ve had to say about it, so since it’s not a thing I have to spend money on to try out, might as well, right?
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