What is a Keto or Low-Carb High Fat Diet?
Low-carb diets have been popular for many decades. They used to be highly controversial, but have now been gaining mainstream acceptance.
Low-carb diets tend to cause more weight loss than low-fat diets, at least in the short-term. They also improve numerous health markers, such as blood triglycerides, HDL cholesterol, blood sugar and high blood pressure. However, not all low-carb “diets” are the same. There are many different types.
Below is a list of a couple popular ways for dieting low-carb…
The Average Low-Carb Diet
The typical low-carb diet does not have a fixed definition. It is simply referred to as a low-carb, low-carbohydrate or carb-restricted diet. This diet tends to be lower in carbs, and higher in protein, than a typical “Western” diet. This type of diet is usually based on meats, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruits and healthy fats. It minimizes the intake of high-carb foods like grains, potatoes, sugary drinks and high-sugar junk foods.
The recommended carb intake per day generally depends on the person’s goals and preferences, but here is a popular guideline:
- 100–150 grams: Weight maintenance or frequent high-intensity exercise. There’s room for plenty of fruit and even some starchy foods like potatoes.
- 50–100 grams: Slow and steady weight loss or weight maintenance. There’s room for plenty of vegetables and fruit.
- Under 50 grams: Fast weight loss. Eat plenty of vegetables, but limit fruit intake to low-GI berries.
All in all: The typical low-carb diet is much lower in carbs and higher in protein than a regular diet. The recommended carb intake depends on individual goals and preferences.
The ketogenic diet is a very low-carb, high-fat diet. It is often referred to as keto. The goal of a ketogenic diet is to keep carbs so low that the body goes into a metabolic state called ketosis. When carb intake is very low, insulin levels go way down and the body releases large amounts of fatty acids from its body fat stores. A lot of these fatty acids are transferred to the liver, which can turn them into ketone bodies. Ketone bodies, or ketones, are water-soluble molecules that can cross the blood-brain barrier and supply energy for the brain.
Instead of running on carbs, the brain starts running largely on ketones. The little glucose still required by the brain can be produced by the body via a process called gluconeogenesis. Some versions of a ketogenic diet even restrict protein intake, because too much protein may reduce the amount of ketones produced in some people.
A ketogenic diet was traditionally used to treat drug-resistant epilepsy in children. It may also have benefits for other neurological disorders, and metabolic problems like type 2 diabetes. It has also become popular for fat loss, even among some bodybuilders. It is a very effective diet to lose fat, and tends to cause a major reduction in appetite. A keto diet involves high-protein, high-fat foods. Carbs are generally limited to less than 50 grams per day, and sometimes to less than 20–30 grams.
All in all: A ketogenic diet, or keto, involves reducing carbs sufficiently to induce a metabolic state called ketosis. It is a very powerful diet to lose fat, and has powerful benefits for several diseases.
Low-Carb High Fat (LCHF) Diet
This is a fairly standard very low-carb diet, except an even greater emphasis is put on eating whole, unprocessed foods. The LCHF diet has become very popular in the United States. It focuses mostly on meats, fish and shellfish, eggs, healthy fats, vegetables, dairy products, nuts and berries.
The recommended carb intake on this diet can range from under 20 grams per day, to under 100 grams per day.
All in All: It is a very low-carb diet that focuses mostly on whole, unprocessed foods.
The Atkins Diet
The Atkins diet is the best known low-carb diet plan. This diet involves reducing all high-carb foods, while eating as much protein and fat as desired.
The diet is split into 4 phases:
- Phase 1 — Induction:Eat under 20 grams of carbs per day for 2 weeks.
- Phase 2 — Balancing:Slowly add more nuts, low-carb vegetables and fruits to your diet.
- Phase 3 — Fine-tuning:When you get close to your goal weight, add more carbs until weight loss becomes slower.
- Phase 4 — Maintenance:Eat as many healthy carbs as your body tolerates without gaining back the weight you lost.
The Atkins diet is very popular today.
All in all: The Atkins diet has been popular for over 4 decades. It is a 4-phase low-carb diet plan that allows eating protein and fat until fullness.
Foods to Avoid…
In short, any food that is high in carbs should be limited or eliminated (temporarily). Here is a list of foods that need to be reduced or eliminated on a ketog diet:
- Sugary foods: Soda, fruit juice, smoothies, cake, ice cream, candy, etc.
- Grains or starches: Wheat-based products, rice, pasta, cereal, etc.
- Fruit: All fruit, except small portions of berries like strawberries.
- Beans or legumes: Peas, kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas, etc.
- Root vegetables and tubers: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, etc.
- Low-fat or diet products: These are highly processed and often high in carbs.
- Some condiments or sauces: These often contain sugar and unhealthy fat such as ketchup, bbq sauces, some salad dressings, etc.
- Unhealthy fat: Limit your intake of processed vegetable oils, mayonnaise, etc.
- Alcohol: Due to its carb content, many alcoholic beverages can throw you out of ketosis.
- Sugar-free diet foods: These are often high in sugar alcohols, which can affect ketone levels in some cases. These foods also tend to be highly processed.
All in all: Avoid carb-based foods like grains, sugars, legumes, rice, potatoes, candy, juice and even most fruits.
Foods You Can Eat…
You should base the majority of your meals around these foods:
- Meat: Red meat, steak, ham, sausage, bacon, chicken and turkey.
- Fatty fish: Such as salmon, trout, tuna and mackerel.
- Eggs: Look for pastured or omega-3 whole eggs.
- Butter and cream: Look for grass-fed when possible.
- Cheese: Unprocessed cheese (cheddar, provalone, munster, swiss, goat, cream cheese, blue cheese or mozzarella).
- Nuts and seeds: Almonds, walnuts, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, etc.
- Healthy oils: Primarily extra virgin olive oil, ghee, coconut oil and avocado oil.
- Avocados: Whole avocados or freshly made guacamole.
- Low-carb veggies: Most green veggies, tomatoes, onions, peppers, etc.
- Condiments: You can use salt, pepper and various healthy herbs and spices.
All in all: Base the majority of your diet on foods such as meat, fish, eggs, butter, nuts, healthy oils, avocados and plenty of low-carb veggies.
Healthy Keto Snacks…
In case you get hungry between meals, here are some healthy, keto-approved snacks:
- Fatty meat or fish
- A handful of nuts or seeds
- Cheese with olives
- Serving of Pork Rinds
- 2-3 hard-boiled eggs
- 90% dark chocolate
- A low-carb milk shake with almond milk, cocoa powder and nut butter
- Full-fat yogurt mixed with nut butter and cocoa powder
- Strawberries and whipped cream
- Celery with salsa and guacamole
- Smaller portions of leftover meals
All in all: Great snacks for a keto diet include pieces of meat, cheese, olives, boiled eggs, nuts and dark chocolate.
Tips for eating in Restaurants While on a Keto Diet…
It is not very hard to make most restaurant meals keto-friendly when eating out. Most restaurants offer some kind of meat or fish-based dish. Order this, and replace any high-carb food with extra vegetables. Egg-based meals are also a great option, such as an omelet or eggs and bacon. Another favorite is bun-less burgers. You could also leave the bun and swap the fries for vegetables instead. Add extra avocado, cheese, bacon or eggs. At Mexican restaurants, you can enjoy any type of meat with extra cheese, guacamole, salsa and sour cream.
For dessert, ask for a mixed cheese board, sugar free cheese cakes without the crust, or double cream with berries.
All in all: When eating out, select a meat, fish or egg-based dish. Order extra veggies instead of carbs or starches, and have cheese for dessert. You can view my reviews here for ideas on items to order while eating out.
Side Effects and How to Minimize Them…
Although the ketogenic diet is safe for healthy people, there may be some initial side effects while your body adapts. This is often referred to as “keto flu” – and is usually over within a few days. Keto flu includes poor energy and mental function, increased hunger, sleep issues, nausea, digestive discomfort and decreased exercise performance. In order to minimize this, you can try a regular low-carb diet for the first few weeks. This may teach your body to burn more fat before you completely eliminate carbs. A keto diet can also change the water and mineral balance of your body, so adding extra salt to your meals or taking mineral supplements can help. For minerals, try taking 3,000–4,000 mg of sodium, 1,000 mg of potassium and 300 mg of magnesium per day to minimize side effects. At least in the beginning, it is important to eat until fullness and to avoid restricting calories too much. Usually a keto diet causes weight loss without intentional calorie restriction.
All in all: Many of the side effects of starting a keto diet can be limited. Easing into the diet and taking mineral supplements can help.
Supplements for a Keto Diet…
Although no supplement is necessary, some can be useful.
- MCT oil: Added to drinks or yogurt, MCT oil provides energy and helps increase ketone levels.
- Minerals: Added salt and other minerals can be important when starting out, due to shifts in water and mineral balance.
- Caffeine: Caffeine can have benefits for energy, fat loss and performance.
- Creatine: Creatine provides numerous benefits for health and performance. This can help if you are combining a ketogenic diet with exercise.
- Whey: Use half a scoop of whey protein in shakes or yogurt to increase your daily protein intake.
All in all: Certain supplements can be beneficial on a keto diet. These include exogenous ketones, MCT oil and minerals.
10 Most Common Signs That You Might Be In Ketosis
The ketogenic diet is a popular, effective way to lose weight and improve health. When followed correctly, this low-carb, high-fat diet will raise blood ketone levels. These provide a new fuel source for your cells, and cause most of the unique health benefits of this diet. On a ketogenic diet, your body undergoes many biological adaptions, including a reduction in insulin and increased fat breakdown. When this happens, your liver starts producing large amounts of ketones to supply energy for your brain. However, it can often be hard to know whether you’re “in ketosis” or not.
Here are common signs and symptoms of ketosis, both positive and negative.
Bad Breath…( I know… I know… What??? Are you serious??? Why???)
People often report bad breath once they reach full ketosis. It’s actually a common side effect. Many people on ketogenic diets and similar diets, such as the Atkins diet, and Low-Carb report that their breath takes on a fruity smell. This is caused by elevated ketone levels. The specific culprit is acetone, a ketone that exits the body in your urine and breath. While this breath may be less than ideal for your social life, it can be a positive sign for your diet. Many ketogenic dieters brush their teeth several times per day, or use sugar-free gum to solve the issue. But be careful, if you’re using gum or other alternatives like sugar-free drinks, as a lot of sugar free gum and drink choices still contain carbs. These may raise your blood sugar levels and reduce ketone levels. Always check your labels. The bad breath usually goes away after some time on the diet. It is not a permanent thing.
All in all: The ketone acetone is partly expelled via your breath, which can cause bad or fruity-smelling breath on a ketogenic diet.
Weight Loss… (Yes! This is what I want!)
Keto diets, along with normal Low-carb diets, are highly effective for losing weight. As dozens of weight loss studies have shown, you will likely experience both short- and long-term weight loss when switching to a ketogenic diet. Fast weight loss can occur during the first week. While some people believe this to be fat loss, it is primarily stored carbs and water being used up. After the initial rapid drop in water weight, you should continue to lose body fat consistently as long as you stick to the diet and remain in a calorie deficit.
All in all: Fast weight loss commonly occurs when you start a ketogenic diet and severely restrict carbohydrates.
Increased Ketones in the Breath or Urine…
Another way to measure blood ketone levels is a breath analyzer. It monitors acetone, one of the three main ketones present in your blood during ketosis. This helps give you an idea about your body’s ketone levels, since more acetone leaves the body when you are in nutritional ketosis. The use of acetone breath analyzers has been shown to be fairly accurate, but less accurate than the blood monitor method.
Another good technique is to measure the presence of ketones in your urine on a daily basis with special indicator strips. These also measure ketone excretion through the urine and can be a quick and cheap method to assess your ketone levels daily. However, they are not considered very reliable.
All in all: You can measure your ketone levels with a breath analyzer or urine strips. However, they are not as accurate as a blood monitor.
Increased Ketones in the Blood…
One of the hallmarks of a ketogenic diet is a reduction in blood sugar levels and an increase in ketones. As you progress further into a ketogenic diet, you will start to burn fat and ketones as the main fuel sources. The most reliable and accurate method of measuring ketosis is to measure your blood ketone levels using a specialized meter. It measures your ketone levels by calculating the amount of beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) in your blood. This is one of the primary ketones present in the bloodstream. According to some experts on the ketogenic diet, nutritional ketosis is defined as blood ketones ranging from 0.5–3.0 mmol/L. Measuring ketones in the blood is the most accurate way of testing, and is used in most research studies. However, the main downside is that it requires a small pinprick to draw blood from the finger. A test kit also costs around $30–$40, and then an additional $5 per test. For this reason, most people will just perform one test per week, or every two weeks.
All in all: Testing blood ketone levels with a monitor is the most accurate way to measure whether you are in ketosis or not.
Many people report decreased hunger while following a ketogenic diet. The reasons why this happens are still being investigated. However, it’s been suggested the hunger reduction may be due to an increased protein and vegetable intake, along with alterations to your body’s hunger hormones. The ketones themselves may also affect the brain to reduce appetite.
All in all: A ketogenic diet can significantly reduce appetite and hunger. If you feel full and don’t need to eat as often as before, then you may be in ketosis.
Increased Focus and Energy…
People often report brain fog, tiredness and feeling sick when first starting a very low-carb diet. This is termed the “low carb flu” or “keto flu.” However, long-term ketogenic dieters often report increased focus and energy. When you start a low-carb diet, your body must adapt to burning more fat for fuel, instead of carbs. When you get into ketosis, a large part of the brain starts burning ketones instead of glucose. It can take a few days or weeks for this to start working properly. Ketones are an extremely potent fuel source for the brain. They have even been tested in a medical setting to treat brain diseases and conditions such as concussion and memory loss. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that long-term ketogenic dieters often report increased clarity and improved brain function. Eliminating carbs can also help control and stabilize blood sugar levels. This may further increase focus and improve brain function.
All in all: Many long-term ketogenic dieters report improved brain function and more stable energy levels, likely due to the rise in ketones and more stable blood sugar levels.
Short Term Fatigue…
The initial switch to a ketogenic diet can be one of the biggest issues for new dieters. Its well-known side effects can include weakness and fatigue. These often cause people to quit the diet before they get into full ketosis and reap many of the long-term benefits. These side effects are natural. After several decades of running on a carb-heavy fuel system, your body is forced to adapt to a different system. As you might expect, this switch does not occur overnight. It normally requires 7–30 days before you are in full ketosis. To reduce fatigue during this switch, you may want to take electrolyte supplements. Electrolytes are often lost because of the rapid reduction in your body’s water content and the elimination of processed foods that may contain added salt. When adding these supplements, try to obtain 2,000–4,000 mg of sodium, 1,000 mg of potassium and 300 mg of magnesium per day.
All in all: Initially, you may suffer from tiredness and low energy. This will pass once your body becomes adapted to running on fat and ketones.
Short-Term Decreases in Performance…
As discussed above, removing carbs can lead to general tiredness at first. This includes an initial decrease in exercise performance. It is primarily caused by the reduction in your muscles’ glycogen stores, which provide the main and most efficient fuel source for all forms of high-intensity exercise. After several weeks, many ketogenic dieters state that their performance returns to normal. In certain types of ultra-endurance sports and events, a ketogenic diet could actually be beneficial. There are also some further benefits, primarily an increased ability to burn more fat during exercise. One famous study found that athletes who had switched to a ketogenic diet burned as much as 230% more fat when they exercised, compared to athletes who were not on a ketogenic diet. While it is unlikely that a ketogenic diet can maximize performance for elite athletes, once you become fat-adapted it should be sufficient for general exercise and recreational sports.
All in all: Short-term decreases in performance can occur. However, they tend to improve again after the initial adaptation phase is over.
A ketoc diet generally involves a major change in the types of foods you eat. Digestive issues such as constipation and diarrhea are pretty common side effects in the beginning. Most of these issues should subside after the transition period, but it may be important to be mindful of different foods that may be causing digestive issues. Also, make sure to eat plenty of healthy low-carb veggies. They are low in carbs but still contain plenty of fiber.
All in all: You might experience digestive issues such as constipation when you first switch to a keto diet.
One big issue for many ketogenic dieters is sleep, especially when they first change their diet. A lot of people report insomnia or waking up at night when they first reduce their carbs drastically. However, this usually improves in a matter of weeks. Many long-term keto dieters claim that they sleep better than before after adapting to the diet.
All in all: Poor sleep and insomnia is a common symptom during the initial stages of ketosis. This usually improves after a few weeks.
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