At one point in my life, I spent most of my day working at a desk and had a raging Arizona Iced Tea addiction. No surprise, I was overweight. When I decided to take back control and change my life, my biggest initial drop in body fat didn’t come from exercise. It came from dropping the Arizona Iced Tea.
No matter how much you work out, you won’t see the results you want with a poor diet. Need proof? A McDonald’s “cheat meal” can set you back 1,500 calories. Running five miles on a treadmill burns about 500 calories. It’s a lot less work to just not eat McDonald’s.
All About The Ketogenic Diet
Healthy eating is key no matter what, but some people do better following a diet plan. You’ve probably seen an article about the ketogenic diet, known as keto, or a celebrity endorsing it. America is in a keto craze now! But what is the ketogenic diet and is it right for you?
We break down everything you need to know about the ketogenic diet, from macro breakdowns to risks and benefits.
I know what you really want to know…do we endorse &/or promote the Keto Diet? Well, I’m happy to share our stance and I’ll get to that in a second when it makes sense.
What Is The Ketogenic Diet?
The ketogenic diet is known as a fat-heavy, low-carb eating plan. I know what you’re thinking already: But wait, Turk, didn’t you just tell me to eat healthily? How is a high-fat diet healthy?
The premise of this diet is that by depriving the body of glucose, which typically comes from eating carbohydrate-rich foods and is the main energy source for all cells in the body, stored fat will produce an alternative fuel called ketones.
The goal of the ketogenic diet is to enter a state of ketosis through fat metabolism. In a ketogenic state, the body uses primarily fat for energy instead of carbohydrates; with low levels of carbohydrates, fats can be converted into ketones to fuel the body.
During fasting or periods when minimal carbs are consumed, the body initially pulls stored glucose from the liver and temporarily breaks down muscle to release glucose. Once the stored glucose is fully depleted after about three to four days, insulin levels decrease and the body starts to use fat as its primary fuel. The liver produces ketone bodies from fat, which can be used in the absence of glucose.
Ketosis is when ketone bodies accumulate in the blood. Most of us naturally experience mild ketosis during periods of fasting that include sleeping throughout the night, in addition to intense exercise. The time frame in which ketosis takes place varies with each individual and depends on factors such as resting metabolic rate and body fat percentage.
About 70-80% of daily calories come from fat, followed by 5-10% from carbohydrates and 10-20% from protein. The amount of protein and carbs can vary as long as it’s four grams of fat for every combined one gram of protein and carb. However, this breakdown is a stark contrast with the USDA dietary recommendations for daily calories to be divided as 45-65% carbs, 10-35% as protein, and 20-35% as fat.
While the diet is liberal in some respects such (Hello, sausage!), it’s extremely restrictive with carb intake. Reaching ketosis requires staying below 20 to 50 grams of net carbohydrates (total carbs minus fiber) per day.
How easy is it to go over 50 net carbs per day? Consuming a cup of milk (12g), an apple (25g), and a thick slice of bread will already put you over that limit. For most of us (including me), that’s a snack!
Okay, brace yourself…he comes the Mike Tyson right hook in the next sentence.
This is where we are not huge cheerleaders of fad diets like this. We stand behind the macro makeup of 40% Protein, 40% Carbs, and 20% Fat. Period.
I’m not going to stop sharing the facts and pros and cons so keep reading.
What Foods Can You Eat?
So does a high-fat diet mean you can gorge on ice cream and chocolate all day? Not exactly. The very limited daily carb intake leaves a lot of foods off he table.
But while the daily carb limit can seem challenging, there are many filling and healthy foods that fit into the ketogenic diet. Below are just 12 examples of foods that can be consumed daily.
Low-carb vegetables: The net carb count can range from 1 gram per cup (raw spinach) to eight 8 grams per cup (cooked Brussels sprouts)
Cheese: An ounce of cheddar cheese provides 1 gram of carbs and 7 grams of protein.
Avocado: One-half of a medium avocado is about 9 grams of carbs. However, because 7 of these are fiber, the net carb count is only two grams.
Seafood: Shrimp and most crabs contain no carbs. A 3.5-ounce serving of shellfish can range from 3 grams (squid) to 7 grams (mussels) of carbs.
Meat & Poultry: These typically do not contain carbs and are a rich protein source.
Nuts: An ounce of nuts can range from 1 gram (pecans, Brazil nuts) to 8 grams (cashews) of carbs.
Greek Yogurt & Cottage Cheese: Five ounces of these high-protein foods only contain five grams of carbs. You can also add cinnamon or chopped nuts for a sweet treat.
Eggs: Not only do eggs contain less than 1 gram of carbs and 6 grams of protein, but they also trigger hormones that spark feelings of fullness.
Olives: Depending on their size, a serving of 7-10 olives will only cost you 1 gram of carbs.
Berries: Although 3.5 ounces of blueberries might be a splurge at 12 grams net carbs, that amount is cut in half if you opt for blackberries, raspberries or strawberries.
Butter: Butter is nearly carb-free and an excellent fat to include in a ketogenic diet.
Dark Chocolate: Believe it or not, chocolate can be part of your diet without breaking the carb bank. One ounce of 70-85% dark chocolate is typically 10 grams of net carbs.
If you’re drastically altering the number of proteins, carbs, and fats you’re consuming daily, your body is going to give you the side-eye for the first week. That comes in the form of the minor stomach and gastrointestinal issues. You may have also heard of “keto breath,” a form of halitosis that is likely sparked by the production of acetone. This is true, so it might not be the best idea to start this diet before a date night!
Some effects are more serious. If the diet isn’t managed properly, the sudden lack of carbohydrates can cause the body to go into shock after two to four days and spark the “keto flu”, which is often highlighted by fatigue, dizziness, and restless sleep.
However, these side effects typically don’t occur beyond the first week. A 2004 research project, published in the journal Experimental & Clinical Cardiology, tracked participants who followed a ketogenic diet for 24 weeks. The researchers noted there were no “significant side effects in the patients” and that they maintained reductions in body weight and body mass index throughout the study.
Ketogenic Diet & Epilepsy
Approximately 70% of adults who suffer from epilepsy are able to keep their seizures completely under control with medication. For those who experienced limited success with this form of treatment, a ketogenic diet could help in managing epilepsy.
A recent study in the journal Practical Neurology found that about 30-40% of adults who follow a ketogenic diet reported at least a 50% reduction in seizures. Modified versions of the diet, including the Atkins diet and low-glycemic-index diet, have also yielded success.
Any diet plan designed to help manage this condition should be done in consultation with a doctor or medical professional. Should you elect to stop this diet, it should be done over a period of at least several months. Stopping the diet at once can cause seizures to get worse for some people.
Ketogenic Diet & Diabetes
A new randomized clinical trial, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association of Internal Medicine, enrolled 263 adults with Type 2 diabetes into group medical visits Half of the participants received weight management counseling using a low-carb diet, while the other half underwent medication adjustment for better blood sugar control.
Although both groups showed lower average blood sugar levels at the end of 48 weeks, those in the weight management group on the low-carb diet had greater levels of weight loss. They also required less medication to treat their diabetes and had fewer problematic low blood sugar episodes.
For those with Type 2 diabetes, a low-carb diet seems to improve average blood sugar levels better in the first year than a high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet. A review from the National Lipid Association found that although this difference disappeared after the first year of the diet, the low-carb participants were able to use less medication to treat their diabetes.
The American Diabetes Association also released a report in 2019 that suggested low-carbohydrate diets show promise for diabetes treatment. Their assessment of a trial involving 262 adults with Type 2 diabetes assigned to a low-carb diet showed their average weight loss was 14 pounds. A separate survey of 316 children and adults following a low-carb diet for Type 1 diabetes showed high levels of reported satisfaction with their diabetes management.
Other Benefits Of Ketogenic Diet
Restricting carbs instead of fats has been shown for decades to be more effective in treating obesity. A classic clinical trial from the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that participants on a low-fat diet reported less energy and feeling “discouraged because they were always conscious of being hungry.” Those on a low-carb diet reported overall satisfaction and that “hunger between meals was not a problem,” despite losing more weight than the low-fat diet group.
A 2010 study published in the Journal of Lipid Research suggested that low-carbohydrate diets might reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Carbohydrate restriction helps with several aspects of metabolic syndrome, which is a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Low-carb diets have been shown to improve hyperglycemia, triglycerides, and overall cholesterol levels.
“Eating a ketogenic diet lowers inflammation naturally, without the use of prescription medications such as statins,” writes Eric Westman, M.D., author of Keto Clarity. “It’s this inflammation that is the true culprit in heart disease and the fact that ketosis reduces systemic inflammation is further evidence supporting the use of a low-carb, high-fat diet for improving heart health.”
Risks Of Keto
Because the ketogenic diet is difficult to maintain in some respects, some dietitians view it as a quick fix and not a long-term solution. The liberal use of fats in the diet also makes it easier for less-experienced dieters to consume the wrong types of fats. As I said before, this diet isn’t an excuse to eat all the junk food you want.
“More often than not, it’s not sustainable. Oftentimes weight gain may come back, and you’ll gain more than what you lost,” said Wellness Dietitian Mary Condon, RN. “There are heart-healthy sources of fat. However, if that person is not educated on heart-healthy sources of fat, they may consume excessive amounts of saturated fats that can increase your risk of heart disease.”
A pair of studies also suggest that low-carb or ketogenic diets could lead to a shorter lifespan. Findings published in The Lancet noted that “mortality increased when carbohydrates were exchanged for animal-derived fat or protein and mortality decreased when the substitutions were plant-based… suggesting that the source of food notably modifies the association between carbohydrate intake and mortality.” These findings were also supported by a study presented at the European Society of Cardiology.
It’s important to know that a ketogenic diet isn’t an excuse for only eating animal-based proteins. The journal PLoS Medicine released the findings of a 2019 survey highlighting the eating habits of more than 470,000 Europeans across 22 years. Researchers found that those with lower “nutritional quality” in their diet such as a lack of fresh vegetables, legumes and nuts, were more likely to develop forms of cancer in the colon, lungs, liver, and stomach.
Talk With Your Doctor
We highly recommend consulting with a physician or dietitian before embarking on any diet plan that’s drastically different from what you’re accustomed to. They will be able to help monitor any side effects and ensure you’re doing it safely. This is especially important if you’re planning to work out regularly while consuming a low-carb diet.
Not every doctor will be supportive of a ketogenic diet. Feel free to get a second opinion if needed. If you’re committed to experimenting with this diet to see if it’s right for you, there are plenty of podcasts and other resources online about the ketogenic diet.
Not A Quick Fix
All of us at TTP Fitness believe that a diet is only one piece of the puzzle in achieving optimal fitness and health. To maintain healthy body weight or manage specific medical conditions, we believe that it’s important to focus on making lifestyle changes that can be sustained long-term.
Do you have any questions about what we talked about here? Drop a note in the comments or shoot us an e-mail so we can help put you on the right path to health.