What exactly is keto?
Ketosis, or “keto”, is a natural state for the body in which it becomes almost completely fueled by fat through eating a ketogenic diet: low carb, moderate protein, lots of healthy fats. As babies, we are all born in a state of ketosis and remain that way until we begin eating solid foods (breast milk is almost entirely fat!) We also dip into a state of ketosis when we enter prolonged periods of not eating, or fasting, including while we are asleep. It is highly likely that you wake up in a ketogenic state!
While in ketosis, the body is producing ketones. These small molecules are used as fuel when we have depleted our glucose (a.k.a. blood sugar) supply. Ketones are produced in the liver, from fat, as we eat very few carbs and a moderate amount of protein. The entire body – including the brain – consumes ketones as fuel.
The brain can ONLY run on one of two fuel sources: glucose or ketones. It’s a common misconception that the brain needs carbs. The truth is that carbs are the single macronutrient (there are three: protein, carbs, fat) that we do NOT need, and the brain will happily burn ketones for fuel.
Those of us who follow a ketogenic lifestyle switch our fuel sources back to the way we were born; we run almost entirely on fat. Insulin hormones dip to low levels and we rapidly burn stored fat for fuel. Outside of weight loss, you’ll experience sustained energy, mental focus, exercise endurance, and a bevy of other health benefits such as disease prevention and treatment.
But aren’t carbs necessary for survival?
Carbohydrates are actually the one macronutrient that the body can do without. There are three macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein and fat. The body needs protein and it needs fat. It also needs glucose, but in the absence of dietary carbohydrates, the body will produce glucose in the liver.
When the body becomes fat-adapted, it has changed its primary source of fuel from glucose back to fat (yes – “back to” – because we are born in a state of ketosis). All of the vital organs in the body actually prefer to use fat for fuel.
So, carbs are the devil?
Absolutely not, and Ketogenic Living 101: Healthy Fats. Healthy Life! is not a “zero carb diet”. Whole food sources of carbohydrates, including those in non-starchy vegetables, seeds, nuts, certain berries, herbs, and high-quality dairy provide valuable micronutrients. My clients are encouraged to include these whole food carbohydrates each day.
You want to know the real devil? It’s sugar. Sugar truly destroys the body and causes life-threatening disease. In 2016 a huge sugar industry scandal revealed that the sugar lobby sponsored a phony Harvard research study in the 1960’s to take the heat off of sugar’s role in heart disease and place it on fat. Even before that, in 2014, researchers were able to scientifically prove that too much sugar will significantly increase the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.
Not only will sugar stop your heart, but it will also lead to fatty liver disease, leaky gut, obesity, metabolic disease, diabetes, and several forms of cancer. Sugar can significantly increase your risk of an early and potentially very painful death.
Won’t I miss carbs??
Maybe, especially at first, and especially if you are used to consuming a lot of carbs daily. It might take some getting used to, but there are some incredible ways to make keto breads, pastries, “pasta” dishes, “rice”, and so much more that you will never miss out on a thing.
Something I do during my first consult call with all of my clients is learn more about their favorite foods so that I can make sure they have recipes they will love to eat. It is important to not feel like you are “dieting”, but that you feel full, satisfied, and GOOD about what you are eating. This is how we can create a sustainable lifestyle.
But, won’t fat make me fat?
Le Sigh. Where to start? Fat is an “f word” that has been wrongly demonized for way too long. Ever since the rise of low fat and low calorie foods, obesity, Diabetes and heart disease have become a scary epidemic. We’ve removed fat from our diets, but have become fatter and sicker. It’s time to wake up and smell the bacon!
Will fat make you fat? Heck to-the NO! UNLESS fat is paired with high levels of carbs. Consuming a burger and fries on the daily is a surefire way to pack on unhealthy pounds.
There are certain fats that could certainly make you fat, and/or block your ability to burn fat. Omega-6 oils like corn oil, vegetable oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, and sunflower oil – most of which are found in mayonnaise (even the “natural” kind) – and trans fats are some of the bad fats. A ketogenic way of eating is focused on consuming HEALTHY fats, such as avocado, coconut oil, grass-fed butter, high-quality meats, dairy, seeds and nuts.
Isn’t keto dangerous?!
Ketosis and ketoacidosis are often confused for one another, yet they are completely different.
When the body is producing ketone bodies and has transformed from using glucose to using fat for fuel, this is ketosis. We are born in a state of ketosis and remain that way until we are given formula and/or solid food. Breast milk is almost all fat! During any prolonged period without eating, like when we’re sleeping, we enter ketosis. It is literally the most natural and normal metabolic state for our bodies to be in.
Ketoacidosis occurs when the body cannot regulate ketone production, causing an accumulation of keto acids which will throw off the pH balance of the blood. Blood becomes acidic which can be a life-threatening metabolic level of toxicity. Type-1 Diabetics who are insulin-dependent are most at risk for developing ketoacidosis (also called diabetic ketoacidosis), though prolonged alcoholism and extreme starvation may also cause this to occur. Diabetic ketoacidosis occurs in under 1% of Type-1 Diabetics annually.
If you are a Type-1 Diabetic, alcoholic or have a history of anorexia, please consult with your doctor before attempting a ketogenic lifestyle. Please note that Ketogenic Living 101: Eat Fat to Burn Fat is not suited for clients who are Type-1 Diabetic, or who are currently alcoholics and/or anorexic.
What about the “keto flu”?
The keto flu is simply the name for the flu-like symptoms some people experience as their bodies enter ketosis. A better name is “carbohydrate withdrawal”.
Won’t keto cause high cholesterol and heart disease?
Cholesterol is another demonized word, but we NEED cholesterol to live. Cholesterol is produced in the liver, and the body is so dependent on it for a variety of reasons that the liver makes sure the body always has enough to function. Not only does the liver make sure we have enough cholesterol, it also regulates production so that if we eat more cholesterol, it will produce less.
Those of us who follow a ketogenic lifestyle do tend to have higher total cholesterol levels. Here’s why: our production of high density lipoproteins (HDL) increases. HDL transfers cholesterol from the body’s tissues to the liver. It is ESSENTIAL for survival, which is why HDL is the “good” cholesterol.
Low density lipoproteins (LDL) is known as the “bad” cholesterol, but that’s only partly true. The body still needs LDL cholesterol (LDL-C) for cholesterol transportation from the liver to the body’s tissues, but high levels of LDL particles (LDL-P) put you at risk for cardiovascular disease.
Finally, triglycerides are the form that fat takes as it travels from the body’s tissues and into the bloodstream. Again, this is a normal function of the body, but high triglyceride levels with low HDL levels are a red flag; the body may be insulin resistant, Type-2 diabetic, inflamed, have cardiovascular disease. What causes high triglyceride levels? Lots of carbs and sugar.
If you want to truly be schooled in cholesterol’s role in the body, and keto’s role in cholesterol, I highly recommend picking up a copy of “Cholesterol Clarity” by Jimmy Moore.
How much weight can I expect to lose, and how quickly?
This is a loaded question, as every person is different and entering this lifestyle at varying levels. Health, fitness level, age, metabolism, hormones – these are just some of the factors involved in weight loss. Those with more weight to lose will likely lose faster, and those with 10 pounds or less may see it happen more slowly. Keep in mind, though, that a scale only measures your relationship with gravity, not your overall health. Instead of weight loss, the goal should be to change body composition by reducing body fat and maintaining – or building – lean muscle.
Many people experience fat weight loss within the first week of adopting a ketogenic lifestyle. While the majority of that weight is water, there is certainly some fat loss as well. Once that initial “whoosh” happens, weight loss can slow to anywhere from 0.5-5lbs per week, but note that the body will take a few days to heal itself and adjust to a new balance of water and glycogen. As the body heals, it is not uncommon to gain a little bit of water weight, but that will not hold for very long.
Since it is most important to focus on body composition, don’t be discouraged if your weight goes up slightly when you are exercising. A fat-adapted body will hold onto muscle while burning fat, and fat weighs more than muscle.
If your weight is trending upwards without exercise, or has stalled for more than two weeks, other tactics including macro adjustment, intermittent fasting, fat fasts, or carb-ups may be considered.
What are the diseases that keto can help with?
Benefits include the following: lower triglycerides, sustained energy without blood glucose spikes, mental clarity, euphoria, lower blood pressure, lower LDLp cholesterol, increased HDL cholesterol, eliminate sugar cravings, weight loss, exercise endurance, Epilepsy, Type-2 Diabetes, some forms of Cancer, Alzheimer’s, leaky gut, thyroid issues and Hashimoto’s, hormone regulation, PCOS/infertility, Osteoporosis, depression/anxiety.
What if I have thyroid issues?
Many women suffer from thyroid dysfunction, and simply taking a synthetic hormone might regulate symptoms, but will not actually heal the thyroid. In fact, when combined with a diet high in carbohydrates, sugar, grains, gluten, dairy and starch, a thyroid medication will barely work at all.
A ketogenic lifestyle removes gluten, sugars and processed carbohydrates which reduce inflammation and stimulate the endocrine system. People with thyroid issues should also avoid dairy as it can cause inflammation and is often an allergen.
Sometimes eating a very low-carb ketogenic diet can harm the thyroid, which is why it is important to work with a professional who can help you get into ketosis with thyroid-friendly foods. Supplementing with a high-quality iodine and adding seed oils and nuts may also help heal the thyroid.
What if I have cancer?
Cancer cells thrive on sugar because they have 10 times more insulin receptors on their cellular surface. Glucose in the bloodstream is like Viagra for cancer cell growth. High amounts of carbohydrates will feed cancer cell growth since carbs convert to glucose. A diet very high in protein can also stimulate cancer cells because excess protein converts into glucose.
A ketognic lifestyle – low carb, moderate protein, lots of healthy fats – starves cancer cells of the glucose it needs to grow. Combined with intermittent fasting, a ketogenic lifestyle may help kill off cancer cells and save the lives of those diagnosed with the disease.
Can I ever cycle off of keto or will I have to eat this way forever?
Diets are restrictive, while a lifestyle is just that: living. Only you can decided if you will eat 100% ketogenic forever. I can personally tell you that I do not worry about being ketogenic when I am traveling to different countries and wanting to experience the food and culture. If my body calls for a carb-up, I give it some sweet potatoes. There are many ways to practice ketogenic living, but restricting yourself to never having a burger with the bun and a side of fries ever again does not have to be one of them.
That said, if you are someone who has a history of binge-eating with sugar and carbs, or you have a condition such as cancer, type-2 diabetes or epilepsy, ask yourself if a “cheat meal” is really worth it.
What if I’m allergic to dairy?
Consuming dairy is not a requirement of a ketogenic lifestyle. In fact, there are many ways to substitute dairy in any recipe, including nut milks and cheeses, coconut cream, ghee, avocados, to name a few. There are many ways to create and eat delicious foods and reach your daily fat goals without traditional cows milk dairy products.
I’m a vegetarian. Can I still do keto?
Absolutely! Keto is not all about bacon and burgers. Eggs, dairy, wild-caught seafood, certain seeds and nuts, and some vegetables are excellent sources of protein for vegetarians. There are also some high-quality low-carb protein powders, such as Jay Robb, that will help vegetarians hit their protein goals without going over in carbs.
What if I travel frequently for work?
Keto on the go! Many restaurants – even fast food – can provide low-carb options. Burgers without the bun and a salad instead of fries will help you avoid ketosis-hindering carbage. Have fun asking your server to top your protein with “more butter than the chef has ever given anyone. Ever.”
Can I/do I have to workout on keto?
Yes you CAN, and yes you SHOULD. When we talk about a healthy lifestyle, daily movement needs to be a part of it. Remember, the goal is fat loss, not muscle loss. Without any exercise it is surely possible to lose weight with a ketogenic way of eating, however, some of that loss could be muscle density. Incorporating exercise into any nutrition plan will yield better, faster results. When the body is fat-fueled, you will notice an increase in energy and endurance, allowing you to power through your workouts and hold onto strong, lean muscle.
Do I have to eat all organic foods?
It would be amazing if you were able to shop at the local farmer’s market and/or Whole Foods all the time and buy 100% organic. The thing is, that is very expensive. If it’s in your budget, by all means, make it happen. If you’re like me, though, with a family to feed and not in a position to spend $22 per pound on grass-fed ribeye steaks, shopping wherever you shop is totally fine.
Don’t get me wrong, grass-fed, organic meats and wild caught seafood are ideal. In a perfect world, all of our food would be raised and produced this way, but that’s just not the way it is. Even “organic” labels on produce can be a slippery slope as some of the regulations are loose, and cross-contamination occurs regularly.
Almost all of my grocery shopping is done at Aldi, a very low-cost grocery store. Trader Joe’s is my second stop, Walmart my third, and Amazon and Whole Foods are where I purchase some specialty items. The “high cost of ketogenic foods” is simply an excuse not to embark on this amazing lifestyle.
I will say this: whenever possible, do try to purchase foods that have not been treated with antibiotics. Consuming antibiotics can poke tiny pinholes in our intestine, which can lead to leaky gut among other digestive issues. If this is completely unavoidable, please take a good probiotic daily to protect your gut.
Is this possible while raising my family?
Without a doubt! Ketogenic foods are delicious! If your family doesn’t plan on going completely keto with you, it’s still an easy lifestyle to maintain. You may need to make some pasta or rice as a side item for them, but keeping it simple by serving proteins and non-starchy vegetables will be easy for you to prepare while keeping your family happily fed. Give them the grains and/or starch, and load your plate up with healthy fats!
I am a breastfeeding mom! Is this a healthy option for me?
Join the club, girl! I think at this rate I will still be nursing my little one through college…
Keto is absolutely a healthy option for you because you are fueling your body with the best foods. That said, we will need to work closely together on your macros so that you get into ketosis, FEEL good, while your breast milk supply stays up.
Will my food choices be boring?
Have you been on Pinterest or Google lately?! Keto goes way beyond bacon and butter! There are a million of delicious ketogenic recipes out there. When you have some extra time, perhaps on a weekend, experiment with some of these tasty treasures!