What is the keto diet?
The ketogenic (or keto) diet is a low carbohydrate, high fat diet. Maintaining this diet is a great tool for weight loss. More importantly, according to an increasing number of studies, it reduces risk factors for diabetes, heart diseases, stroke, Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, and more.
On the keto diet, your body enters a metabolic state called ketosis. While in ketosis your body is using ketone bodies (an alternative source of energy) instead of glucose. Ketone bodies are derived from fat and are a much more stable, steady source of energy than glucose, which is derived from carbohydrates.
How does the keto diet work?
The keto diet works by putting your body in a state called “ketosis” where your body uses fat and ketones instead of glucose (sugar) as its main fuel source.
Normally, your body stores glucose in your liver and releases it for energy, as needed. When you go on a low carb diet (such as keto) for 2-3 days, your body’s glucose stores become depleted. Your body will begin to look for an alternative fuel source. Fortunately, ketosis steps in to provide this alternative source of energy.
In ketosis, your body produces ketones at an accelerated rate. Ketones, or ketone bodies, are an alternative energy supply made by your liver from fat that you eat and your own body fat. The result is rapid weight-loss.
The keto appears to be a healthy way to eat that people can potentially follow indefinitely.
The keto diet is high in fat. Isn’t fat bad for you?
Fat has been misunderstood and demonised for decades. For example, dozens of studies with over 900,000 subjects have arrived at similar conclusions: eating saturated and monounsaturated fats has no effects on heart disease risks. This is not what mainstream dietary advice has been promoting for years!
- Eating fat does not make you fat. Carbs/sugar makes you fat.
- Not all fats are the same. There are healthy fats (e.g. fish oil, organic butter, nuts) and unhealthy fats (e.g. margarine, shortening, fried foods, processed foods)
- Whilst there are essential fats, there’s no such thing as an essential carbohydrate! Most fats are good and are essential to our health. Fats (fatty acids) and protein (amino acids) are essential for survival. Fats are the most dense form of energy and each gram contains more than double the energy in a gram of protein or carbohydrates.
The keto diet promotes eating fresh, whole foods like meat, fish, veggies, and healthy fats and oils as well as greatly reducing processed and chemically treated foods that traditional dietary advice has so long encouraged.
We’re starting to understand that carbs in large quantities are much more harmful than previously thought, while most fats are healthy and essential.
The nutritional landscape is changing. Keto/low carb and similar dietary groups are growing and a nutritional revolution is beginning. We are starting to realize the detrimental effects of our relationship with excess sugar and carbs.
What are macros in the keto diet?
We talk about macros in depth but generally speaking, macros (“macronutrients”) are molecules that your body uses to create energy for itself.
In the keto diet, macros falls under three general categories: fat, protein and carbs. Macros are found in all foods in varying amounts, measured in grams (g) on the nutrition labels.
- Fat provides approx 9 calories per gram
- Protein provides approx 4 calories per gram
- Carbohydrates provide approx 4 calories per gram
Under the keto diet, you get your daily calorie intake (and macros requirements) in the following proportion:
- 60-75% of calories from fat
- 15-30% of calories from protein
- 5-10% of calories from carbs
That’s a lot of fat, you’re probably thinking. Don’t worry, healthy fats are good for you! But yes, these proportions are counter to what we’ve been told for decades (the same decades that have seen a rise in heart disease, obesity, diabetes and other chronic health problems).
You can use a keto calculator (there are many available in the app stores) to figure out exactly how many calories and which macros you should be eating every day. Keto calculators ask you for basic information like your weight, activity levels and goals and instantly tells you how many grams of fat, protein and carbs you should be eating each day.
If you find all this confusing, don’t worry. You can subscribe to a reputable keto meal planning service and get custom meals plans delivered to your inbox!
Why is it important to measure macros (macronutrients)?
Keto macros are the most important aspect of the ketogenic diet. They include the three nutrients that your body needs in large amounts– fat, protein, and carbs. Get them wrong and your chances of reaching ketosis are close to zero.
When it comes to dieting, many people only focus on “calories”. If you eat fewer calories than you burn, you will likely lose weight. But where you get your calories is extremely important too. If you don’t eat the right kind of calories for example, you will probably lose muscle as well as weight.
So, under the keto diet, we focus on macros, not calories to ensure we’re eating correctly: 100 calories of salmon (protein and fat) is a lot better than 100 calories of a cake (carbs). On a ketogenic (low carb, high fat) diet, it’s very important to know how many carbs you’re eating in comparison to fat and protein. When counting macros, you simply add up how many grams of fat, protein and carbs you ate that day. Many people aim for less than 50g of carbs to maintain ketosis.
Calculating your macros can be a time-consuming, complicated task. The good news is that there are a lot of “keto calculators” in app stores that will do the heavy-lifting for you.
Will the keto diet work for me?
Although the keto diet is an effective tool for most people who try it, there are some who may not do as well. Some people who try keto report experiencing a rash, constipation or a bloated feeling. For those people, perhaps switch over to a general low-carb diet (ideally less than 50g carbs a day and certainly less than 100g, max) rather than keto. Just make sure you stick to high-quality, minimally processed carbs, e.g. sweet potatoes, beetroot, blueberries, quinoa. This will hopefully relieve any side effects while still giving you benefits of relative carb restriction and overall health gains.
If you are a Type 1 diabetic – you should only try keto after consulting your GP.
If you are pregnant, there are certain keto foods you need to avoid, e.g. soft blue cheeses, raw/partially cooked eggs, paté, raw/undercooked meats, cold cured meats… Here is a comprehensive list.
Does keto work without exercise?
By “work” we assume you mean will you lose weight? The simple answer is yes. However, the purpose of almost any diet is to lose fat, not just weight. (After all, you can lose weight but if that loss is muscle, that’s not good). This is why simply looking at your weight is not an accurate gauge of how well a diet is working for you. Weight loss fluctuates – that’s just the way it is; whereas fat loss is quite predictable and linear. For this reason, weight alone is not a good measure of a diet’s effectiveness.
So, you will definitely lose “weight” on a keto diet without exercise but if your goal is to improve your health and to keep the weight off, it is advisable to incorporate some kind of resistance training into your fitness schedule.
Do I need to exercise on the keto diet?
“You can’t outrun a bad diet” is a phrase you’ll often hear. Basically, no matter how much exercise you do, if you’re not eating right you will never meet your physical goals, e.g. weight loss, building muscle etc.
Diet contributes to 85% of your progress with weight loss. Exercise contributes only to about 15% of your progress – so it’s actually a relatively small percentage. (We’re talking about weight loss here).
However, exercise has a lot of other important benefits regardless of whether you’re on the keto diet or not:
- Exercise will increase oxygen to your brain, your heart, your entire body. This gives you more energy, counters fatigue, helps with focus, calms anxiety and so on.
- It releases endorphins and other feel-good chemicals. This improves the quality of your life – the feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment when you exercise is beneficial. It decreases stress.
- It builds a more durable body capable of greater function and performance in everyday life, with fewer aches and pains. Just keeping your body moving helps build good muscles, joints, organs and ensure smooth running of every system in your body. Exercise gets rid of stiffness.
- Exercise builds tone and muscle definition. It helps maintain your body and prevents atrophy. (Atrophy is when your body starts to break down muscle. It can be due to an improper diet, lack of exercise or natural changes such as the menopause or declining testosterone levels.) It’s impossible to get muscle mass if you’re not exercising.
- Exercise complements a good diet. You can get great results from diet alone but you will get even better ones if you combine it with a moderate exercise program.
- Exercise helps sleep.
- Improves blood sugar levels. Exercise counters insulin resistance. (Insulin resistance is when your cells stop responding to insulin. When this happens, your pancreas produces even more insulin to lower your blood sugar levels. This leads to high insulin levels in your blood. The result is both high sugar and insulin levels in your blood that can lead to pancreas damage and Type 2 diabetes).
Insulin resistance looks like this:
- Eat a high-carb diet
- Carbs break down into glucose, i.e. constant high-glucose in blood
- High blood sugar level means there is a high demand for insulin (to help get sugar out of the blood where it can cause problems and into the cells where it can be used for fuel/stored as fat). Pancreas starts to produce more insulin.
- Faced with frequent high-glucose and high-insulin levels in the blood, cells’ insulin receptors start to become resistant. Your body cannot interact with insulin as well as it once did…
- The result is starving cells, high-glucose and high-insulin which leads to cravings and feelings of hunger…
- So you eat more carbs and the cycle is repeated. Given time, weight-gain, obesity and diabetes is likely to result of insulin resistance.
What exercise is good on keto?
Of course, any exercise is better than no exercise. So, if you have a workout you’re happy with and find that you can do it without any problem on keto, go for it.
However, if you’re not sure what exercise to do, a good rule-of-thumb good workout program for keto is short duration, high-intensity, long-recovery.
There are other programs of course – but many people on keto find success with this format. HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) is perfect for keto and if weight-loss is your goal, the pounds are just going to melt off when you’re in ketosis and combine it with HIIT.
One example of a HIIT workout that is very effective is Tabata training. Tabata takes only 4 minutes (that’s not a mistake) and takes the form of: 20 seconds max cardio effort, 10 seconds rest, repeated four times for four minutes, i.e. 8 x 30 second cycles. If you’re running, this might look like sprinting for 20 seconds, walking for 10… Or if you’re cycling it will be max speed for 20 seconds, freewheeling for 10 and so on. Tabata can be adapted to any workout but cardio will give you the greatest fitness benefit.
Short duration and high-intensity means you’re not having to rely on carbs for fuel. Then have plenty of rest in between. Exercising 2-3 times a week is very good and more than enough to stay healthy.
Will keto get me ripped?
If we’re going by the definition of “ripped” as someone with very little fat and well-defined muscle structure, then yes, absolutely keto can get you ripped when used in conjunction with good exercise. However, some believe that the keto diet is not conducive to building or maintaining muscle mass. The argument is that carbs are essential for building muscle. This is not true.
Putting on mass may be slower when you’re on a low-carb diet (because you’re not storing fat) but it’s untrue to say you cannot build muscle. It’s entirely possible to be gain muscle mass while on keto following three steps:
- Eating enough protein – For mass building between 1.0 – 1.2g per pound of lean body mass.
- Eating a calorie surplus – You can’t build muscle without eating more calories than you need. In keto this means eating more fats, not carbs.
- Training correctly – You need to maintain an effective exercise program
Furthermore, by strictly limiting carbs your body will responds by going into ketosis and increasing adrenaline release, both of which help prevent the breakdown of muscle tissue.
Finally, if your training requirements are exceptional (e.g. elite athletes, body builders etc.) there is also versions of the keto diet described as “cyclical keto diets” which combine the keto diet with carb-loading days.
In conclusion, carbs are not essential for building or maintaining muscle. Eat the right amount of protein and calories and train correctly and you will build muscle. On the other hand, if you want lean mass while losing fat, the ketogenic diet is perfect.
Will keto reduce belly fat?
Any personal trainer worth their salt will tell you that you cannot spot reduce. You can’t choose which parts of your body you want to lose fat from and then exercise that part of the body. Fat loss doesn’t work like that. That being said, keto will reduce your belly fat but only because it’s reducing fat all over.
In fact, the keto diet is one of the most effective weight-loss diets available yielding some incredible results. And while it’s optional, if you were to combine keto with intermittent fasting and/or exercise, well then you’ll basically become a 24/7 fat burning machine. In the absence of sufficient carbs/sugar, your body enters a state called ketosis where it begins to burn an alternative fat source called ketones. Ketones are made from fat. This is why the keto diet can produce dramatic fat loss results in a short amount of time.
Belly fat, muffin tops, bingo wings, flabby thighs – it all gets burned up in keto!
Can you drink alcohol on the keto diet?
Yes… sort of. There are certain alcoholic drinks you need to avoid. We answer the question more fully here, Alcohol and the Keto Diet, but basically avoid any drinks that contain sugary mixers and, sorry, most beers. Beer contains on average 13g of carbs per pint – that’s quite a lot. Most spirits and wines are fine to drink however, in moderation.
Can you drink zero sugar/sugar-free soft drinks on the keto diet?
So, these zero-sugar drinks, e.g. Coke Zero, Diet Pepsi etc. contain aspartame. Aspartame is an artificial sweetener, 200 times sweeter than sucrose.
Aspartame is a controversial product with studies showing several potential side effects including:
- Increases appetite by disrupting the signal that tells people when they’re full. This results in over-eating
- A major selling point of many zero sugar drinks is that contain “zero calories”. As a result, over time, your body no longer associates sweetness with calories. If and when dietary sugars are consumed, your body may be ill-equipped to deal with them. This may lead to glucose intolerance, a known risk factor for Type 2 diabetes when dietary sugars are consumed.
- It’s claimed (with insufficient evidence to confirm or refute) that aspartame can cause or increase the risk of:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Congential disabilities
- Headaches, dizziness
- Multiple sclerosis
- Aspartame is partly broken down into free methanol which, in turn, is broken down into formaldehyde – a known carcinogen and neurotoxin.
The other problem with these zero sugar drinks is the ingredients that go into the caramel coloring. This coloring is made by heating a carbohydrate (typically corn) with an ammonia compound. The end product (known as an advanced glycation end product or AGE), once consumed, basically produces sticky proteins in your body: your arteries, brain, pancreas, liver, kidney. This AGE can lead to chronic health conditions associated with insulin resistance such as:
- Increased risk of Type 2 diabetes, stroke, cardiovascular disease
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Increased risk of cancer
- Gall bladder disease
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome
So, while these diet drinks may not take you out of ketosis, they are not good for your health in general.
If you still want to drink something like them, try to find alternatives that instead of aspartame uses stevia or erythritol. And, avoid anything with caramel coloring or phosphoric acid (which is harmful to teeth).
Finally, drinking these drinks can prolong your addiction and psychological dependency to sweetness which only makes sticking to keto (or any low-carb diet) more difficult.
Can you eat tomatoes on the keto diet?
Yes. Although tomatoes are technically a fruit, you can eat them on the keto diet. One large tomato or a handful of cherry tomatoes per day is fine. (Even these servings are well below your daily carb intake but you will be eating other foods – some with carbs – throughout the day). Remember, the keto diet doesn’t say zero carbs – just a restricted amount. So while tomatoes do contain carbs and some sugar, they are also full of nutrients that you may lack on a strict keto diet.
What is bulletproof coffee?
Bulletproof coffee is a high-calorie coffee drink intended to replace breakfast. It consists of 2 cups (470 ml) of coffee, 2 tablespoons (28 grams) of grass-fed, unsalted butter, and 1–2 tablespoons (15–30 ml) of MCT oil mixed in a blender. It was originally promoted by Dave Asprey, the creator of the Bulletproof Diet, hence its name.
What are net carbs and how do you calculate them?
With a keto diet, you’re trying to keep you net carbs per day to 20g. (For some this is too low and they may experience carb withdrawal in the form of the keto flu. For these people, it’s acceptable to increase carb intake up to 100g a day, max – but perhaps try 40-50g first).
But what are net carbs? Net carbs are your total carbs minus fiber. So, an avocado for example may contain 15g of total carbs and 12 grams of fiber. So, total carbs is 15g – 12g = 3g of net carbs in that avocado.
Here’s a list of common foods and their net carb values. Note, these are carbs per 100g – and 100g is quite a large amount. You will need to adjust for your serving size. The formula to use is:
Carbs per 100g (see below) x (Your portion size in grams divided by 100).
So, for a 25g portion of avocado, the calculation would be:
9g x (25g/100) = 2.25g of carbs in 25g of avocado
Most meats and seafood are zero or low-carb (carbs per 100g)
- Eggs (0g)
- Meat: beef, lamb, chicken, pork (check it’s not cured with sugar or honey), turkey, venison, bison (0g)
- Salmon, trout, sardines, haddock, tuna, cod, lobster (0g)
- Shellfish (3-4g)
Most carbs on the keto diet will come from vegetables (carbs per 100g)
- Broccoli (6-7g)
- Tomatoes (4g)
- Onions (9g)
- Sprouts (7g)
- Cauliflower (5g)
- Kale (10g)
- Eggplant (6g)
- Cucumber (4g)
- Bell peppers (6g)
- Asparagus (2g)
- Green beans (7g)
- Mushrooms (3g)
Most fruits are eliminated from the keto diet because of their high sugar content (carbs per 100g)
- Avocados (9g)
- Olives (6g)
- Strawberries (8g)
- Grapefruits (11g)
- Apricots (11g)
Nuts (carbs per 100g)
- Almonds (22g)
- Walnuts (14g)
- Peanuts (16g)
- Chia seeds (44g)
- Cheese (1.3g)
- Heavy cream (3g)
- Full-fat yoghurt (5g)
- Greek yoghurt (4g)
Fats and oils
- Butter, olive oil, coconut oil (0g)
- Water, coffee, tea, club soda (0g)
- Wine (2g)
- Beer (13g)
- Spirits (0g)
Finally, dark chocolate – which is permissible under keto – has 46g of carbs per 100g serving.