04 Jun If You’re Going to Try the Keto Diet, Here’s How to Get Started
Marni Wasserman | Real Food & Real Life Nutritionist
The ketogenic diet is among the most widely searched-for diets online these days. It’s gaining so much momentum which is great, but I fear that people may be approaching “keto” for the wrong reasons.
There are definitely some things to consider before you choose to go on such an extreme diet. Don’t get me wrong, there are many benefits and you will see some results in the short term. But long term, you may want to reconsider.
Just know what you’re getting into and you may find ways to incorporate keto principles without going full on. So let’s start with the basics.
What is the keto(genic) diet?
The keto diet consists of eating mostly fat and protein and very few carbohydrates.
The body’s preferred source of energy is sugar, which comes from carbs. Without sugar, the body begins to create ketones from stored fat. It usually takes about 3 days for the body to make this switch from burning glucose to fat. This process, known as ketosis, then becomes your body’s new way to create energy until carbs are introduced back into the diet.
Why is it popular?
The keto diet has become increasingly popular for weight loss over the last few years. Rapid weight loss is a short term benefit. Much of the weight loss is from water because carbs store water and once carbs are depleted, the body lets go of the water that was once stored.
Aside from weight loss, people follow this diet to treat conditions such as type-II diabetes and seizures. The diet has also showed to improve blood sugar levels for people with type-II diabetes in the short term and has been proven to reduce seizures.
In the short-term, many people also experience initial bouts of energy, focus, clarity, and a general sense of well-being.
What CAN you eat on the keto diet?
- Fats (e.g., butter, coconut oil, lard, avocado, olive oil, etc.)
- All meats, including processed meat (e.g., chicken, bacon, pork, steak, etc.)
- Dairy (incl. full fat yogurt, cream, and cheese)
- Nuts & seeds (e.g., cashews, pecans, almonds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, etc.)
- Non-starchy vegetables (e.g., leafy greens, zucchini, broccoli, asparagus, etc.)
What can you NOT eat?
- Sugar (incl. honey, cane sugar, maple syrup, etc.)
- Fruit (e.g., apples, pineapples, bananas, mango, dried fruits, etc.)
- Grains (e.g., wheat, rice, oats, quinoa, millet, etc.)
- Legumes (e.g., black beans, lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, pinto beans, etc.)
- Starchy vegetables (white potato, sweet potato, corn, peas, etc.)
How do you get started?
Beginners starting keto should aim for total carbs to be under 35g per day. Ideally, you should start slowly by eliminating your carbs and then once you reach the threshold, you can maintain or add some carbs back in periodically. It’s really important to pay attention to how you feel.
As your body is transitioning into ketosis, you may experience something called “keto flu” for a few days and then will begin to feel normal again. Keto flu systems may include headaches, dizziness, irritability, nausea, and trouble sleeping.
HOWEVER, the keto diet is not sustainable for everyone – here’s why.
The ketogenic diet is highly restrictive, which makes it difficult to follow in the long term. Most fruits and starchy vegetables are off limits, but they contain essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Without fiber, constipation can occur. Further, eliminating whole food groups may lead to disordered eating such as binge eating.
Studies have shown that weight loss from ketogenic diets usually end up being no more than other diets over time. In addition to the fat loss, you will also experience muscle loss.
If you’re an athlete thinking about starting a ketogenic diet, you may not want to drop the bread just yet. When tested with this diet, athletes saw no significant change in performance. And over time, restriction of carbohydrates can cause other impairments like injury recovery in athletes, which can be detrimental in the long term.
Women should also be particularly cautious as ketogenic diets lower thyroid hormones. To function, thyroid hormones need insulin and insulin is released when you eat carbs. Lower thyroid hormones slow the metabolism, contribute to hair loss, and can lead to depression. Low carb diets also signal stress to the body, which in turn produces more cortisol. When cortisol is increased, additional stress is placed on adrenal glands. Not enough carbs and too few calories can contribute to irregular menstrual cycles.
Do your research.
Everyone has their own reasons for going keto but be sure to equip yourself with sufficient education and knowledge first. I would recommend getting yourself some books to help you; I personally like Leanne Vogel’s approach in her guide called “The Keto Diet.” There are also lots of episodes that cover the topic on my podcast, The Ultimate Health Podcast. In addition, there are some supplements than can help you achieve getting into ketosis without doing the full on diet. But these need to be researched carefully before consuming.
All in all, you should carefully consider the pros and cons as well as your unique needs before deciding to start a ketogenic diet.