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Keto Diet Basics: Hi, Fat!

So you want to burn fat?

The Keto diet is all about it! We get the term “keto” from “ketosis.” Ketosis is defined as the process by which your body breaks down fatty acids to produce “ketones.”

Basically, “Ketones” are defined as an awesome name for an electro-pop/indie rock band.

In addition to that very important, and not-at-all-made-up information, ketones are the byproduct of the body breaking down fat for energy, when carbohydrate intake is low. Ketones transport energy from the liver to other parts of the body. Ketones come in three forms:

  • Acetoacetate (AcAc)
  • Beta-hydroxybutyric acid (BHB)
  • Acetone

The name of the game here is cutting carbs and increasing fat intake. Sounds counter-intuitive, right? Eat more fat to lose weight? Here are some Keto diet basics to help you understand the method.

It is all about the way the body’s metabolism works.

When you’re putting nutrients other than fat into your body, the body will choose the easiest energy source to use and will stick to that as default. On a keto diet, the individual is forcing his or her body to convert to an alternate energy source. This means that, rather than fat being absorbed and stored while other nutrients are burned for energy, the body will use the fat instead.

The body produces two substances when carbohydrate intake is high. These are Glucose and Insulin.
  • Glucose is the easiest molecule for the body to convert to energy. This is the reason that carbohydrate intake will negate the ability for the body to enter ketosis. If carbohydrate intake is high, the body defaults to using glucose for energy.
  • Insulin aids in the transport of glucose around the body.

So stop storing fat!

As long as you give your body carbs to burn, you will be storing the fat you consume and increasing your body fat as a result. If you cut carbs out completely, your body is deprived the option of using carbohydrate byproducts as an energy source. Here is where you will want to increase fat to make up most of the macros in your diet. Macros are discussed in another blog post, but are basically the three most general categories of nutrition, for dieting purposes.

It is important to stress that the body does not, by default, use ketosis as a way to metabolize energy. Therefore, it takes focus, regarding your choices of food, simply to enter ketosis. Additionally, you can easily compromise this state by making one poor choice of meal. Then, you would have to do the work to get back into it, and this is not a state that you want to be jarring your body in and out of. This is a diet you need to stick to. Ketosis is a metabolic state that needs to be maintained. You don’t want weekly cheat meals, but there is good news.

The diet is not terribly restrictive, it’s kind of entertaining, and you will love how you feel on it. We will discuss the benefits shortly. First, let’s discuss how to eat.

The Breakdown:

Carbs MUST be avoided if you want to stay in ketosis. Generally, you want to stay under 25 grams of carbs per day. Think about that amount. If it is hard to visualize, go to your kitchen and check the carb content of some foods you generally think of as high in carbs. This includes cereals, breads, pasta, and the like. Now check the nutrition on the labels of some other foods, such as soups, packages vegetables, beans, and nuts. Look at the back of the juice in your refrigerator. If you spend your whole day avoiding grains like the plague, you will likely still consume more than 25 grams of carbs. For this reason, the Keto diet must be followed very closely. Fruits are high in natural sugar, and there are carbs in most foods you can think of. Make sure you get some carbs, but keep it to the very low amount mentioned above. 25 grams per day, in case you forgot.

 

You also want to watch your protein intake. Protein is not the enemy, as with carbs. You want protein to make up a significant part of your diet. Protein provides plenty of essential functions that are still valuable to your body’s fitness in ketosis. However, keep this macronutrient to only a quarter of your diet. You should avoid getting more than 25% of your calories from protein.

Once again, in ketosis, fat is king. The rest of your calories should come from fat. This is the new energy source that your body will be breaking down for energy, in the absence of carbs. Therefore, you need a lot of it. The really cool thing here, is that the fat you eat is getting burned, and put to very good use. This can be a difficult concept to wrap one’s mind around, when one has been conditioned for so long to understand that high levels of fat get stored in the body as excess weight. This is something that happens when your body can’t use it. Without carbs, your body will need plenty of fat to keep you going.

“But carbohydrates are incredibly important for fitness, right? You need carbs to recover from a workout! You’re just using this as some type of ploy to sell me more delicious, all-natural, grass-fed beef, right?”

Wrong.

Calories are what your body needs for energy. Macronutrients come in many forms, and these forms make up the mix of calories your body needs for exercise.

Here are some benefits of choosing the Keto diet:

  • Weight loss
  • Mental focus
  • Improved cholesterol levels
  • Control of blood sugar
  • Clearer skin

You knew dieting was usually about losing weight, and this diet is no different. Did you know it could help you fight acne? Studies show that high-carb diets lead to increased acne. By its nature, keto is an extremely low-carb diet.

Another effect of Keto dieting is a lower production of blood sugar and cholesterol. This can help with blood pressure, and has plenty of other benefits, including increased mental acuity and energy. Spikes in sugar in the body are a major contributor to feelings of being sluggish or spacey.

The Keto diet is chosen by many for its effect on mental performance alone! This is because ketones can be used for energy by the brain. Mental function is therefore increased while the body is in ketosis. Who doesn’t want to feel more energetic and alert, while simultaneously losing weight and looking fit?

The Food:

Let’s discuss some examples of the foods that you will want to avoid in order to enter, and maintain, ketosis:

  • Grains – Wheat, barley, oats, rice, quinoa, sorghum.. all of it. You do not want grains.
  • Beans – Kidney beans, black beans, chickpeas, lentils, pinto beans, black eyed peas.
  • Fruits – Believe it or not, yes! Fruit is on the list. Remember that glucose will take the body out of ketosis because burning glucose for energy is your default setting. This includes apples, oranges, bananas, papaya, mangos and grapes.
  • Starchy vegetables – Corn, carrots, parsnips, peas, and yams.
  • Sugars – Maple syrup, can sugar, agave, honey.

This is by NO MEANS an exhaustive list. If it is similar to something on this list, AVOID IT!

What you DO want to eat is:

  • Meat (CHOMPS!)
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Leafy Greens
  • Avocado
  • Nuts and seeds

Something some may find hard about the keto diet is that you need to avoid alcohol. Alcoholic drinks are way too high in carbs for someone to stay in ketosis, even as the occasional drinker. If you need beer with your football, this may not be the fall diet for you. Ketosis isn’t something you do for a handful of days at a time, or you will have no success. So if your routine involves a cocktail at brunch on Sundays, consider an alternative diet.

A real benefit to the keto diet is that on-the-go snacks, and fast food restaurants, offer options that work within its restrictions. This can be a real benefit for people like retail employees, who order out, or run next door, on their short and unpredictable lunch breaks. It works for people who travel a lot, and spend time in airports, away from easy ways to prepare their meals. There are plenty of people with routines that just necessitate stops at a drive-thru. Sometimes, there aren’t enough hours in the week to prepare all your meals.

If you visit Five Guys, you might try a cheeseburger with mayonnaise on a lettuce bun. At Chipotle, a salad, with NO beans or rice, with steak, cheese, guacamole, and sour cream.

Are you sold yet?

To find out if you’ve successfully entered ketosis, you can test for the spillover of excess ketones into the body. It is possible to purchase products that you can use to test for ketone in the blood, urine, or even your breath. Use one of these tests periodically if you aren’t sure about your success in entering ketosis.

Doctors have been interviewed on the health benefits and risks of ketosis. Because this is a state that involves the processing of nutrients in the brain, some may experience dizziness or fatigue when entering ketosis, especially if it is a drastic dietary change. If you try once or twice, and find that you aren’t experiencing the mental clarity reported by many, simply try something else. There are plenty of great diets out there, and not every diet works for every person’s body.

One doctor declared that the health benefits are there, but the body should be allowed to transition out of ketosis for a short while after about 3 weeks from entering. Give yourself a break in between bouts of ketosis. It’s good for you. Rather than a cheat meal, try a cheat week every month or so. However, don’t really cheat on your health for a week. During that time, you can give your body the carbs you may be craving, but continue to watch your portions, and be sure to adjust your fat intake back down accordingly. Have that one beer you missed, but don’t get the gut back. It is important to note that many people report more severe or easily-suffered hangovers when on the keto diet. In that regard, consider yourself warned!

See you at the Ketones concert this weekend!