What You Need to Know Before Starting a Ketogenic Diet

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While it is worth bringing a healthy skepticism to any new diet trends hitting the market, it is also true that some diets have stood the test of time because they are backed by science and not merely marketing power. One of the more credible diets out there is the Ketogenic diet, which can be categorized as a low-carb diet but remains distinct from the Atkins and other Low-Carb diets.

Spurring the “dos” and “don’ts” of the Ketogenic diet is a philosophy that we are constantly making choices regarding our diet and nutrition. By controlling the ratio we consume of macronutrients such as proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, we can prod our bodies to produce energy in specific ways. Energy metabolism via producing ketones in the liver has been shown to have a high payoff in health areas such as weight management.

Overview of the Ketogenic Diet

You might think of your liver as an organ merely responsible for producing bile for digestion or being susceptible to disease from too much alcohol consumption. In reality the liver is an incredible piece of flesh, classified technically as a gland, which is responsible for some 500 functions in the body. One function of the liver is to produce ketones as an energy source when glucose is not readily available in the body.

A ketogenic diet centers on the body’s ability to produce these ketones. When the body reaches this state of “ketosis,” it burns fat for energy rather than sugar. This is considered advantageous because fat that is not burned for energy is stored on the body. People who have found success with a ketogenic diet claim it satisfies their hunger while reducing fat and triglycerides. A ketogenic diet is also thought to support brain function, maintain HDL cholesterol levels, and promote healthy blood pressure.

The ketogenic diet owes part of its longevity to its versatility: there are four major types of the diet. Each type focuses on high-fat, low-carb nutrition choices, but there remains variety based on personal goals or capability to be active:

  • The Standard ketogenic diet (SKD) – 75% fat, 20% protein and 5% carbs
  • Cyclical ketogenic diet (CKD) – five days of eating ketogenically, followed by two “carb-loading” days
  • Targeted ketogenic diet – allows for increased carbs based on exercise goals
  • High-protein ketogenic diet – 60% fat, 35% protein, 5% carbs

How difficult is it to eat ketogenically? Well, let’s just say that if you have been unsuccessful counting calories in the past then this is not the diet for you. Not only does the ketogenic diet require you to count your calorie intake, but it is necessary to obtain the proper ratio of macronutrients. Those who have a very difficult time staying away from carbohydrates should also think twice about signing up. Even in the CKD, which allows two “carb-loading” days, only complex carbs are permitted: foods like squash, brown rice, oatmeal, and lentils.

Certainly you can have your fill of any vegetables you want, right? Actually, certain vegetables such as spinach are considered “low-carb” and perfect for the ketogenic diet, while common vegetables such as corn, potatoes and peas are too filled with carbs to be good for this diet. Also surprisingly, most fruits aren’t going to cut it if you are trying to have low-carb nutrition. Realistically only berries in small quantities are ok to consume in the ketogenic diet.

In addition to these major diet constituents, there are broad categories of more obvious things the ketogenic diet prohibits. Because alcohol is generally high in carbohydrates, the ketogenic diet requires near abstinence from alcoholic beverages. It should come as no surprise that high-sugar foods are a no-go, but sugar-free diet foods also make the bad list because of the sugar alcohols they contain. It is also necessary to keep an eye on your intake of condiments and sauces, especially ones with processed vegetable oils, since they are likely to be high in carbohydrates.

What exactly can you eat on the ketogenic diet? There are plenty of foods you can eat, with avocado being the perfect blend of high-fat and low-carb. Most of your fats and oils you will want to get from meat and nuts. Most meat is fine, with organic and grass-fed being the ideal option. Most full-fat dairy options are permitted. As for beverages you thankfully do not have to just stick with water: tea and coffee have minimal calories in their natural state. Just remember that all that can change in a heartbeat with added cream and sugar.

Looking at an overview of the ketogenic diet, it’s not the easiest diet out there. Then again, no diet is a piece of cake. Diets can be a helpful exercise for people to meet nutritional goals in part because they require you to become intentionally aware of your food intake. Your body is going to find a way to burn energy no matter what you do. It may be time to let your liver’s ketones do more of the work.