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What is KETO?

Below are my experiences and opinions on keto. I am not a healthcare professional.
What is KETO? A Complete Guide to the Ketogenic Diet

What is this keto thing? It seems to be all over the place these days. Everywhere you look you see keto YouTube channels, Instagram accounts, blogs, books, recipes, supplement companies, and classes/courses popping up. It seems to be all keto all the time. But, what is keto? 

If you've been curious about this new keto trend, you're in the right place! In this in-depth guide, I will answer all your questions about all things keto.

What is keto?


Keto is simply short for the keto diet, which is short for the ketogenic diet. They all mean basically the same thing. I will use them interchangeably throughout this blog post.

A ketogenic diet, or keto as I personally refer to it, is a high fat, adequate protein, very low carb eating approach. Through eating this way consistently your body will get into a state referred to as nutritional ketosis. Once adapted to the keto approach in this way, your body will begin to use ketones as a primary fuel source instead of glucose. Ketones are broken down from fat sources. Whether that be dietary fat or stored body fat. Thus, why people call themselves "fat burners" on keto.
 
keto results
My first 2-months keto progress.


Why keto?


This diet has been around for ages and is most known for being used to treat epilepsy patients. It has, however, seen a great resurgence lately and is touted as a dietary approach to help remedy everything from obesity to Type 2 Diabetes, to neurological disorders. It is even suggested as a supplementary Cancer therapy for certain types of cancer. Currently, much of the evidence is anecdotal but encouraging nonetheless. Promising research is trickling in pretty consistently though.

Just a side note, if you're interested in the studies and research that are being done surrounding keto, LCHF, insulin resistance, etc definitely follow Benjamin Bikman on Twitter or Instagram.

While there is some promising research coming out to suggest many health, wellness, and longevity-related implications for keto, most people are generally looking to keto for fat loss and body composition goals. Many see weight loss and strength gains adding keto into their healthy lifestyle plan. Ketones have a protein-sparing, anti-catabolic, anti-inflammatory effect. People looking to lose fat and gain muscle or strength look to keto for this reason.

Two keto benefits often overlooked are increased energy levels and mental performance. Most people on a keto diet experience noticeably increased energy levels as well as improved mental focus and clarity.


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How do you get started with keto?


The simplest way to start keto is to drop your carbs to 20 to 30 grams total carbs per day (plans above this level of carbohydrates are really modified ketogenic diets). From there you can play around with protein and fats levels and see where you feel best and see the best results. I started with these, standard keto, macros:





What are keto macros?


There's much discussion surrounding keto macro goals. Keto macros are simply the macronutrient ratios you eat on a ketogenic diet based on the percentage of calories consumed. So, if you eat 1500 calories a day, what percentage of those calories are fat, protein, and carbohydrate? Those are your macros.

Keto macros vary widely based on your goals. For example, someone looking for fat loss will have different macros from someone looking to use keto as an Epilepsy therapy. 

While you will see keto macros from 90% to 60% fat, 5 to 35% protein, and 5 to 20% carbohydrates, the most common recommendation for a keto diet is 75% fat, 20% protein, and 5% carbohydrates. Again, it's usually best to focus on total carbohydrate grams (20 to 30) and then play with your fat and protein percentages until you find your sweet spot. Those looking for therapeutic ketone levels may want a higher fat percentage and those wanting body composition changes may want a higher protein percentage.

How do you know when you're in nutritional ketosis?


While there are purported "signs" of being in nutritional ketosis, the most foolproof way to know is to test your ketone levels

There are several methods of testing your ketones. The first is urine test strips. There are varying opinions among the keto community whether these are accurate once you've been in ketosis for a while. They can be an affordable option for beginners though. Ketostix are the best and only ones I use. The second is ketone breath meters. These don't seem to garner high reviews on Amazon (at the time of this writing) and I haven't personally tried one. They are however very convenient as you just have to breathe into them and they don't require replacing test strips. The last option (and best in my opinion) is ketone blood meters. These are similar to meters diabetics use to test their glucose (in fact, many test glucose as well). Blood ketone meters give an exact reading for ketone levels, such as 1.6 millimolar, and are handy for those really looking to optimize their keto diet. I use this one.

Just a note, these discussions of ketone levels are NOT for Type 1 diabetics. Type 1 diabetics are a special case and should check with a knowledgeable health practitioner and do further research.

What readings are considered ideal nutritional ketosis levels? Ketone levels of 0.5 millimolar or above are considered nutritional ketosis and 1 to 3 is considered the optimal range for most people seeking fat loss, strength performance, and mental focus benefits. Though, Jimmy Moore shares his levels ranged even up to 5 in the beginning. Also, levels around 3-5 millimolar are generally considered optimal therapeutic ranges (though I've seen recommendations up to 6).


Keto Mojo Review

Do you have to track on keto?



Tracking seems to be quite the hot topic among the keto community. Some are for it, some vehemently against it, and some "meh" whatever.
 
Overall, most people beginning a new ketogenic diet or seeking specific health or wellness goals with keto will be best served to track their calories, macros, and definitely their carbohydrate grams.

There are great apps available to track your keto diet. I currently use My Fitness Pal and have used Lose It and Spark People in the past. A free version that allows you to customize your macronutrient goals is what you're looking for.


Tracking Printable

Do calories count on keto?


Do you have to track calories on the keto diet? Well, that depends greatly on your goals and how in-touch you are with your body and hunger and fullness cues. 

I often see people profess that you absolutely shouldn't count calories on the keto diet. While that will work fabulously for a lot of folks, it will not work for everyone. Including me. Ultimately you can out-eat a keto diet. Meaning, you can reach a level of just too much fuel for fat loss- even on perfectly clean, keto foods.

Beginners, those really out of touch with their hunger and fullness cues, and those simply not seeing the results they desire on keto would be best served by tracking their calories on keto. Though it needn't be a forever thing, it can be beneficial for a period of time.


Does carb type matter?


Are all carbs created equal or does quality matter? It seems to be a common notion that keto is just bacon, eggs and butter. In reality, a well-crafted keto diet will be abundant in low-carbohydrate, nutrient-dense greens and veggies. 

Because you are limiting your carbs so much on keto, you want to get the most bang for your buck nutrition-wise from the carbs you do choose. Therefore, it is best to focus your carb choices on nutrient-dense carbohydrates. Think nutrient-packed, low-carb veggies like greens, broccoli, etc. Berries and avocadoes are other nutrient-dense powerhouses. In order to reach your nutrition requirements, you will want to focus on these nutrient-dense carb sources and minimize empty, junk carb sources like sweeteners and keto junk food as much as possible.


activity levels on keto

What about exercise on keto?


Do you have to exercise with keto? What are the best exercises to do on keto?

First, no you don't have to exercise on keto. Will you see optimal gains towards your goals without exercise? Maybe. But probably not. Most importantly, exercise can help with insulin and blood sugar regulation, two things crucial for a keto diet. But, bigger picture, exercise is good for us overall. We should all exercise at our current ability level and work towards improvement. Whatever your goals on keto, exercise should be part of your game plan.

Now, as far as the best exercise, it's the same for keto as anything else. Everyone should start at their ability level and work towards a program including strength training, some level of cardio that gets your heart rate up, and flexibility training. A well-rounded fitness program will benefit everyone, keto included.

The one caveat, it may be wise to go easy the first 3 weeks or so on keto. As your body transitions, be a little gentle. Just focus on keeping your daily movement up. Walks are a great option. After that, find what you love and will do consistently. If you already have a consistent workout program, just take it slightly easier as you adapt.

If you find, even once keto-adapted, that your workout energy levels are down or you're struggling with workout performance, consider trying a keto pre-workout and some LMNT electrolytes.

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Best Keto Supplements

What about all of these keto supplements flooding the market?


Keto supplement companies are popping up all over the place. As with any diet that becomes popular, companies will swoop in to capitalize on the new market. Though it is best to focus on real, whole foods, I still think these can be beneficial depending on your situation. Just beware not all keto supplements are created equal, nor are they even necessarily truly keto. Always read your labels for carb counts and ingredients.

Also, some are touting claims that you can simply take their keto supplement as a replacement for the keto diet. I would humbly disagree. Taking a keto supplement and eating a standard high carb American diet is no comparison to consistent keto eating and quite possibly a recipe for disaster. However, many of these supplements can be a great addition to your existing ketogenic diet lifestyle.

Some of the most promising keto supplements currently out are low-carb electrolyte supplements, MCT powders, and various keto shake products. Keeping your electrolytes in balance is extremely important on keto. low carb/no sugar electrolyte supplements are an amazing help for this common keto issue. This is the one supplement that will benefit the majority of people on the keto diet, especially beginners. MCT Powders are a great option for those that don't do well with (or dislike the taste of) MCT oil. Try some MCT Powder in your keto coffee or post-workout shakes. Exogenous ketones are exactly what they sound like, ketones you consume. They can be a great boost to your ketone levels when you're first beginning ketosis or looking for therapeutic ketone levels. Try adding MCT powder to your exogenous ketones for maximum benefit. Keto shake products can be a good option for those too busy for breakfast or looking for a replacement for their high carb post-workout shakes. Just be sure to read labels, some are just too high in carbs.



Which sweeteners are allowed on keto?


You will find wildly varying opinions here. From purists who think sweeteners of any kind should be banned because the mere sweet taste can cause an insulin response, to those who allow artificial chemical-laden sweeteners of all kinds. 

Best case scenario, try to minimize your sweetener use. Dr. Jason Fung shares in his book The Obesity Code that many no-calorie sweeteners like stevia have been shown to raise insulin. In light of this, I use very little sweeteners, even more natural ones. When you do choose to use sweeteners, look for naturally derived varieties with the least amount of carbs. Read your labels! You would be surprised how carbs can sneak in here, even with natural, calorie-free sweeteners. Some stevia blend products can contain 2+ grams of carbs per serving. That can really add up.

The most common natural keto diet friendly sweeteners currently used are:
  1. Stevia
  2. Monk Fruit also called Luo Han Guo

What is "keto flu" and how do you avoid it?


The "keto flu" is a term widely used in the keto community to describe the not great, withdrawal-type symptoms some experience while their body transitions to fad adaptation. Transitioning from being a glucose burner to being a fat burner will take time. Many will experience fatigue, headaches, muscle cramps, and just general unwell feelings at the beginning of this transition. You're taking away carbs that your body is used to running on and it tends to let you know it is disgruntled. Also, keto tends to cause your body to flush water and salt, which is great for getting rid of bloating and excess water, but can cause electrolyte imbalance and dehydration.

Thankfully, this will all pass once your body adapts and most people will feel amazing at this point. In the meantime, however, it's not a whole lot of fun.
Electrolytes
This is where keto supplements really shine. Electrolytes and exogenous ketone supplements can greatly help ease this transition and keto flu suffering. Also, ensuring you're getting enough water and salt is imperative on keto. It's all about finding that balance.


Best Exogenous Ketonesbest keto flu supplements

What is "low carb purgatory" and can keto help with this?


Low Carb purgatory is another slang term used for not feeling great on a low carb or LCHF (low carb high fat) diet. Generally, the cause of low carb purgatory is eating low carb, but not low carb enough to be in ketosis. Your body is caught in this weird state of not getting carbs, but not necessarily being low enough in carbs to get into ketosis and transition to burning ketones. Again it will let you know it is not happy.

It can also be used interchangeably with "keto flu", meaning the transition time on a low carb diet.

Keto is often the answer to low carb purgatory symptoms. Simply restructure your macros to be ketogenic and once you transition into nutritional ketosis (see keto flu above for coping tips) the low carb purgatory symptoms should vanish.

Total carbs or net carbs?


Should you count total carbs or "net" carbs? This is another hot-button topic, though most people seem to be relying on net carbs. "Net carbs" is simply not counting the fiber grams or sugar alcohols in your carbohydrate gram counting. I heard someone say once, "Don't blame keto for what the net carbs did." And I agree. I hear over and over people lamenting the failure of keto and it was simply that they were counting net carbs and it resulted in their carbs just being too high to see good results. If you're going to count net carbs it's best to accompany this with testing your ketones. I personally count total carbs and stick to 20-30 grams. It just works for me. If you're not seeing the results you want consider counting total carbs only.


Don't Quit!
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How do I beat a keto plateau?


A "keto plateau" is generally when someone is not losing weight on a keto diet. Or was losing weight on a keto diet, but temporarily stalled. There are several things to be tried when this happens:
  1. Track your calories and macros and make sure they are ideal. Many will find their calories, carbs, or protein levels are too high.
  2. Track TOTAL carbs. If you're counting net carbs, try switching to counting total carbs.
  3. Cut out all sweeteners. As I mentioned above, they've been shown to raise insulin.
  4. Test your ketone levels and make sure they're ideal. Some people will think they're eating keto but aren't actually at optimal ketone levels.
  5. DITCH the "keto" or "low carb" prepackaged treats. This will stop many a keto weight loss journey in its tracks. Often these are laden with sugar alcohols, artificial ingredients, and "hidden" carbs.
  6. Make sure you're getting enough water and salt. Keto can cause your body to flush both, which we need optimal levels of when trying to lose weight.
  7. Try going dairy-free for a few weeks. This seems to be an issue for many more than realize it and is a common cure for keto stalls.
  8. Try cutting out nuts for a few weeks. Again, a common stumbling block for weight loss on keto.
  9. Try adding some keto supplements. Some MCT powder, exogenous ketones, or electrolytes might do the trick to get the scale moving again.
  10. Alternately, take out the keto supplements. On the flip side, if you're doing a lot of keto supplements, like exogenous ketone blends, try taking them out and see if that gets you the results you're seeking.
  11. Try intermittent fasting. While beyond the scope of this blog post, IF is commonly practiced alongside keto. A simple google search will provide many options to try.
Hot Cocoa Keto Pancakes

What if I get bored on keto?


The best weapon against boredom is variety. For keto, this means trying new foods and recipes. Really try to get out of your comfort zone, you may find new loves.

The internet has done an amazing job at providing loads of free keto recipes. A quick search on Google or Pinterest will provide a host of delicious options. (You can find my keto Pinterest board here.) There are also some great keto recipe books starting to become available. Go nuts, try new things!

One word of caution, as with anything else, one person's keto may not be keto. Check ingredients and carb counts.

What are the most common keto foods?

 

Clean keto foods list:

  • Fats: Coconut oil, grass-fed butter, grass-fed ghee, walnut oil, macadamia nut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, avocado oil mayo and salad dressings, low carb nut butters (reading labels and practicing portion control is vital here), MCT oil, coconut, coconut cream, coconut milk, coconut butter, cream cheese, sour cream, low carb cheeses, eggs.
  • Meats: Virtually all meat, poultry, and fish or seafood. Read labels on processed versions as many add non-clean additives and sugars. Also, grass-fed, wild caught, organic is always best when relevant depending on budget. Beef, chicken, pork, venison, duck, salmon, oysters, sardines, lamb, cod, tuna, turkey...
  • Low carb nuts: Pecans, Brazil nuts, and macadamia nuts are best, but many others are great with tighter portion control. Check carb count on the labels.
  • Low carb veggies: Green veggies are best. Check carb counts on labels. Salad greens, broccoli, asparagus, cucumber, zucchini, collard greens, swiss chard, green onions, spinach.
  • Fruit: Portion control is extremely important here, as well as reading labels (or googling) carb counts. Berries are best. As well as non-traditional fruits like avocado.
  • Salts and Spices: Experiment with a variety of salts and spices. Always read labels on spice blends for lurking carbs and sugar. 
  • Beverages: Unsweetened versions of any coffee, tea, mineral water, electrolyte-added water, sparkling water, Perrier, lemon water, cucumber water, and low carb non-dairy milk alternatives (like unsweetened versions of Milkadamia, cashew milk, coconut milk, Ripple, etc).
  • Treats: Be extremely careful with keto treats. Especially the various keto-treat and bread-type recipes online and the pre-packaged keto foods beginning to roll out. Read ingredients and count the carbs! Good options are low sugar dark chocolate and fat bombs.
  • Alcohol: It may be a good idea to test your ketones and see how various alcohols affect them. Low sugar red wine and low carb hard alcohols like vodka are good options for many. Because of the way our body processes alcohol, most will find it beneficial to limit it, especially at the beginning of their keto diet.
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I hope that answers all your questions. From my perspective of course. Also check out my take on should you do carb-ups on the keto diet?



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