The Ketogenic diet – low carb/high fat – is gaining popularity with those who want to lose body fat, tackle neurological issues, or increase energy levels for training and general day-to-day life.
Once labelled as ‘extreme’ and ‘faddish’, particularly when the Atkins diet was in vogue in the early 2000’s, both the medical community and the general populace are now warming to the diet, which sees users shift into a state of nutritional ketosis, switching from glucose (from carbohydrates) to ketones (from fatty acids) as the body’s main energy source.
How do you go Keto?
To follow the ketogenic diet you need to restrict the amount of net carbohydrates you take in, and increase the amount of good fats in your diet. Protein intake should be kept relatively low. The ideal macro ratio differs from person to person, but a good starting point to become Keto adapted is a split of approximately 10% carbs, 20% protein and 70% fat. As your body becomes accustomed to burning ketones instead of glucose, your tolerances for carbs and proteins may increase.
Top tips for the ketogenic diet
When starting the diet, you may experience ‘low-carb flu’ (headaches, aches, fatigue) as your body depletes its glycogen stores and adapts to burning ketones. To minimise the symptoms, make sure that you take in lots of water to replenish the water you’re losing along with your glycogen, and take in plenty of electrolytes (sodium, magnesium, phosphate, calcium, and chloride). A good source of all major electrolytes is bone broth. You can also purchase over-the-counter electrolyte powders but be sure to check the ingredients as these often also contain glucose.
Don’t skimp the fats. We’ve all been indoctrinated into the ‘fat is bad’ mentality from an early age, but now we know better we can do better. The key principle of the ketogenic diet is ‘high fat’ not just ‘low carb’ so be sure to increase your good fats, excellent sources include olive and coconut oils, avocado, nuts, and oily fish as well as just dairy-based fats such as butter, cream and cheese.
Don’t smash the protein. These days you can’t turn full circle in a supermarket without hitting a protein-enriched product (weetabix, snickers bars, pancakes…) but when you’re eating Keto, surplus protein is a habit you need to kick. The main reason for this is that your body will turn any excess protein into glucose in a process called gluconeogenesis, thus kicking you out of ketosis.
Don’t forget about net carbs. Many people are religious about counting macros, and while this can be a good habit while you get adapted to the diet and learn your personal thresholds, don’t forget that when you’re Keto, it’s the NET carbs that count. Net carbs are the total carbohydrates less the total fibre present in food, which is why many wholesome carb-containing snacks (such as most nuts) are more Keto-friendly than they might seem at first glance.
Do test for ketones. Until you’re Keto adapted and become familiar with the feelings you get when your body switches to running off ketones (which can include lightheadedness, clarity of thinking, lack of fatigue, a general feeling of positivity and well-being) it’s useful to use urinalysis reagent strips (ketostix) or a blood glucometer to test for ketones in your blood or urine. This is a sure fire way to check whether you’re in ketosis, and to test your thresholds for protein/carbs for your own personal ideal macro split.
Do supplement with a good quality multivitamin, especially if you’re unsure of the quality of your current levels of all the essential vitamins. Deficiency is far easier to prevent than correct, and while of course it’s possible to gain the essential vitamins and minerals from diet and sunlight, a belt and braces strategy to dietary vitamins is the best approach to maintaining optimum levels, particularly of the minerals which can cause issues on the ketogenic diet, such as selenium.
As with any drastic lifestyle diet, we’d recommend that you consult your doctor before commencing the change, particularly if you have a medical history which necessitates special consideration of dietary requirements.
Let us know what your experiences are of ‘going Keto’ – and visit us again in a few weeks when we’ll discuss more complimentary Keto strategies such as intermittent fasting, carb cycling and carb refeeding.
By Stella Blackledge Dip BNC RegNutr