The concept of ketogenic dieting is not new – it has existed in many forms and in many variations. It has many similarities to the Atkin’s Diet, and is cousins with other popular diets like South Beach and Paleo. Below, we’ve outlined exactly what the ketogenic diet is, how and why it works, and how you can get started with a ketogenic diet today. Before we dive in, however, it is important to understand that there are three types of ketogenic diets: the Standard Ketogenic Diet, the Cyclical Ketogenic Diet, and the Targeted Ketogenic Diet. All are very closely related but differ in regards to limits and timing of carbohydrate consumption. For all intents and purposes, when we refer to ketogenic diets on TheKetogenicDiet.org, we are typically referring to the Standard Ketogenic diet unless otherwise noted. Most information here is relevant regardless of what type of ketogenic diet you are practicing, however.
Okay…so what is the ketogenic diet?
A ketogenic diet is quite simply any diet that forces the body into a process called ketosis, whereby fats are burned instead of carbohydrates for use as energy. A proper ketogenic diet calls for the dieter to consume high amounts of fat, adequate amounts of protein, and very low amounts of carbohydrates. Our bodies are used to turning carbohydrates into glucose to send all over the body as energy. When we enter ketosis by sufficiently limiting our carbohydrate intake, our livers start breaking down fat cells into fatty acids and ketones, to be used as energy.
Why does the ketogenic diet work?
The ketogenic diet works much like any other diet: by limiting the amount of calories you consume, thereby creating a caloric deficit where the body burns more energy than it takes in. That is the fundamental science of weight loss, and while the “a calorie is a calorie” argument is subject to much debate, few will argue that all successful diets rely on caloric restriction, one way or another.
Since the ketogenic diet relies on reducing calories, why cut out carbohydrates at all? Why not just practice calorie counting and focus on eating a traditional low-fat diet like most diet books and nutritionists recommend? What is the advantage of the ketogenic diet?
Great questions. Many of the advantages of the ketogenic diet are rooted in its ability to control hunger much more effectively than other diets:
- Ketogenic Diets control blood sugar and minimize insulin spikes.
When we eat carbohydrates, our blood-glucose levels rise rapidly. This causes an equally rapid insulin response from the pancreatic gland. The insulin disperses excess blood glucose, which causes you to feel hungry all over again. By eating a low carbohydrate diet, we keep our blood sugar levels low and steady, and as a result, carb-induced hunger spikes are avoided. Reducing insulin levels is paramount to success with any diet, as insulin is the hormone that tells our bodies to store fat. By keeping our insulin levels low, we create an environment within our bodies that limits fat storage and promotes fat lipolysis.
- Ketogenic Diets allow us to eat food that is satiating and filling.
Many find that restricting calories on a ketogenic diet is extremely easy. If you’re doing the ketogenic diet properly, you’ll be consuming the vast majority of your calories each day from fats and protein, both of which are extremely filling and can be quite delicious. Once you remove things like refined sugars and simple carbohydrates from your diet, you’ll find that 2,000 calories (or however many you aim to consume) leaves plenty of room to fill yourself up each day. Many keto dieters even find themselves having a hard time consuming enough food each day!
How do I do a Keto Diet?
Successful keto dieting is all about properly balancing your macronutrient ratios. It is generally recommended that ketogenic dieters should consume about 60% of their macronutrients from fat, 35% from protein, and 5% from carbohydrates.
Carbohydrate intake should generally be limited to less than 50 grams per day. When starting out, it is generally recommended that you limit your carbohydrates to 20 grams per day, as being strict initially will make sure you enter ketosis, and help you learn the ins and outs of successful low carbohydrate dieting. In your first few weeks, it is helpful to obsessively and accurately track every morsel of food or liquid that enters your body. (Many of us that do keto use our smartphones to keep track of our food consumption – MyFitnessPal and LoseIt! are both very popular apps.) After a while, you start to develop an understanding of how many grams of carbohydrates are in different kinds of food, and you quickly learn how to adjust your dietary habits to a low carb lifestyle.
How do I know I’m doing the Ketogenic Diet right?
Many people choose to buy a product called Ketostix, which allow you to check the ketone levels of your urine. When in ketosis, our bodies excrete excess ketone bodies through our urine, sweat, and breath. This is handy because we can check to see if ketones are present in our urine. If they are present in any amount, your body is in ketosis and you can be certain that you are sufficiently limiting your carbohydrate consumption. Once you get the hang of the ketogenic diet, and you are able to stay in ketosis consistently and effortlessly, you can raise your carbohydrate intake until you find your body’s “sweet spot” – that is, the amount of carbs you can eat each day and still stay in ketosis. Just because you’re in ketosis does not necessarily mean that you are doing keto correctly, however – maintaining proper macronutrient ratios is important. Your body needs sufficient levels of protein to preserve muscle mass, and enough overall energy to keep your brain, organs, and muscles happy.