Cut carbs, eat lots of fats, lose weight fast. That’s the Keto diet, right?
Actually, yes, in a nutshell, that’s it.
The Keto (or ketogenic) diet triggers weight loss by reducing carb intake and using fat as fuel. It starts aggressive fat breakdown in the body and gets proven results.
Scientifically proven results.
In this 2019 study patients underwent a keto diet for 25 days. Researchers observed that participants showed “a significant reduction in body mass index.” In short: eat keto, lose weight.
Plus, it’s a diet where you can eat bacon and steak! Who wouldn’t want to learn more?
This article is simply Step 1 in our keto diet series. Think of this as the primer on the keto diet for beginners. Everything we discuss from here on will build on the concepts covered below.
Where does the Keto Diet Come From?
The keto diet is a carb-reduced diet plan originally developed in the 1920s as a way to treat the symptoms of epilepsy. In initial studies, it showed benefits in helping patients manage epileptic seizures.
Use of the ketogenic diet in pediatric neurology continued from initial studies as was included in textbooks for decades.
In recent years it was observed the ketogenic diet has significant benefits for weight loss and weight management. Since this discovery, nutritionists and researchers have been studying and perfecting the ketogenic diet for weight loss and overall health.
Thanks to this new attention on the keto diet, a wealth of information on the effectiveness of the ketogenic diet has come to light. We’ll sum this research up in this intro to our in-depth keto series.
How does the Keto Diet Work?
The keto diet is simple at its core. Here’s everything you need to know about how keto helps you lose weight.
Fat for Fuel
- The keto diet focuses on cutting carbs to trigger fat burning and weight loss.
- There are 3 main macronutrients your body can turn into energy. These are:
- Carbohydrates are the easiest for your body to break down and turn into fuel. When carbs are available, your body will use them first.
- Fats are the next easiest for your body to break down for fuel. If you don’t have carbs to consume, your body will turn to fat for energy.
- Protein is the hardest macronutrient for your body to turn into energy. That means when given a choice between fat and protein, your body will break down stored fat instead of muscle.
Your Body on Keto
- It starts with what you eat.
- Eliminate carbs such as bread, rice, potatoes, candy, and soda.
- Eat more high-fat foods such as steak, pork, avocados, and nut butters.
- Eat low-carb vegetables such as greens to maintain overall health.
- By reducing your carb intake to 20–50 grams per day and adding more rich fats, your body will begin to turn fat into fuel.
- Using fat for energy puts your body into ketosis. Ketosis is the state where your liver works to break down fat for energy.
- When you’re in a calorie deficit on keto your body continues ketosis. It takes fat and converts it into energy.
- A calorie deficit can be reached by reducing caloric intake and/or a fitness routine.
- With the right balance of low carbs and calorie deficit, you’ll lose weight…fast!
Rules of the Keto Diet
Okay, so you know the keto diet is proven to work, and know you know a bit about how it works. There’s gotta be a catch, right? It can’t be that simple.
Let’s dive into the details and see exactly how the keto diet is done.
Cutting carbs to a bare minimum is the first tenet of keto. Can you cut out bread, pasta, potatoes, soda, and candy? If so, you can handle the keto diet!
Most keto diets rely on a carb intake of 20–50 grams of carbs per day. That’s about 2 slices of bread. But don’t think you’ll get to eat many sandwiches on keto. You’ll want to save those carbs for the veggies and trace carbs in high-fat foods you’ll be eating.
Carb Count vs Percentage
Most keto dieters find it easiest to count carbs by the gram since this is how they appear on food labels. This is where the 20–50 grams of carbs rule comes on.
However, if you want to count calories to make sure you’re in a calorie deficit, you can still make keto work for you. When you make your calorie goal, simply set aside 5–10% of your calories for carbs.
Well, here’s where it gets a little more complicated. Each gram of carbohydrates equals 4 calories.
So if you’re going off a calorie percentage model for keto, you’ll need to follow this formula to find the grams of carbs that will fit your diet.
(Daily calorie total) x (percentage of calories you’ll eat in carbs) ÷ 4 = Grams of Carbs per day
So, if you’re on a 2,000 calorie diet and want to eat 5% of your calories in carbs the formula would look like this.
2000 x 0.05 ÷ 4 = 25 Grams of Carbs
As you can see, if you’re on a 2,000 calories-per-day diet and will only be eating 5% of your calories in carbs, you can have 25 grams of net carbohydrates.
Total Carbs vs Net Carbs
You saw where we said “net carbohydrates,” right? You might be wondering what that means.
You may see a lot of keto-friendly foods advertising “net carbs.” Net carbs are calculated by subtracting carbohydrates from fiber from the total carb count. Because your body can’t break down the carbs in fiber it’s key to factor these out of your diet plan.
For example, 1 cup of asparagus has 8 carbs but only 4 net carbs. Only net carbs count in the keto diet, so it’s way easier to incorporate certain foods than you’d think!
You may not know this but sugars are already included in the carbohydrate count on food labels and nutrition facts. On a keto diet, you only have to worry about that carbohydrate number. That means you’ll already be eating a low-sugar diet!
Sugars are referred to as “simple carbohydrates.” They are a specific type of carbohydrate that is easily broken down by the body and used as fuel. Consuming too much sugar will absolutely knock you out of ketosis and slow your weight loss progress.
Okay, so we’ve given you the bad news—no doughnuts, no pasta, no candy. Ready for some good news?
If you’re not getting your energy from carbs you’ve got to get it from somewhere, right? Fats are the answer. You’ll be getting 75% of your calories from fat!
Some high-fat, low carb foods that fit perfectly into the keto diet include:
- Butter and high-fat creams
- Pork (yes, bacon!)
- Red meat
- Fatty fish (such as salmon)
- Nuts and nut butters
Let’s go back to our calorie formula from earlier. This time we’ll calculate how much fat you’ll be eating on a keto diet. Keep in mind each gram of fat contains 9 calories.
(Daily calorie total) x (percentage of calories you’ll eat in fat) ÷ 9 = Grams of Fat per day
Okay, pretty familiar, right? Let’s plug in the numbers.
2000 x 0.75 ÷ 9 = 167 Grams of Fat
On a 2,000 calorie per day diet, you’ll be eating 167 grams of fat per day. That’s a lot of room for eggs and bacon smothered in cheese…or a nice steak with butter. Just remember, that’s all on the menu when you’re on keto!
The Protein Question
Okay, so we put aside 5–10% of our daily calories for carbs and 75% for fats. That leaves 15–20% of our calories for protein, right?
That’s the standard, by the book keto diet right there. But what does that look like? Let’s break it down with our handy formula. This time we’ll adjust it based on the fact that protein has 4 calories per gram, the same as carbs.
(Daily calorie total) x (percentage of calories you’ll eat in protein) ÷ 4 = Grams of Protein per day
Okay, we’ve got this formula down by now. Let’s see the totals if we’re going with a diet that allocates 20% of our daily calories for protein.
2000 x 0.2 ÷ 4 = 100 Grams of Protein
Not bad. 100 grams is perfect for the average diet or if you’re on a moderate exercise plan.
But the fitness buffs among you are used to eating more protein than that. Sometimes up to a gram for each pound of body weight. To you, this looks like way too little protein.
There is a variation of the keto diet with lifters in mind that allows a ratio of 5% carbs, 60% fat, and 35% protein. We’ll cover this in more depth in our article on the High-Protein Keto Diet.
Suffice to say, the keto diet can be tweaked a little. If we shift the ratio to 35% protein we’ll end up with an intake of 175 grams of protein on a 2,000-calorie diet. That should be perfect for you gym buffs!
What is Ketosis?
Okay, so you keep hearing about how the keto diet puts your body “into ketosis” but what does this mean? Let’s dive into some science.
When your body doesn’t have carbs to use for fuels it turns to fats for energy. It uses either fat in your diet or stored fats. On the keto diet, when you reach a calorie deficit you’ll be breaking down both the fat you eat and stored fats.
Your liver does the heavy lifting here. It pulls in fat and breaks it down into fatty acids. The 3 fatty acids created as a product of this process are acetone, acetoacetic acid, and beta-hydroxybutyric acid.
Don’t worry, there’s no spelling test on these later.
Here’s the thing, these 3 byproducts are called “ketone bodies.” They are essentially fat broken down into substances your body can use for energy.
These ketone bodies can easily move into your tissues where your cells’ mitochondria use them for fuel. There you go! The keto diet just turned that pesky fat into brain and body fuel.
Ketosis is the process of breaking down fats into these ketone bodies. Not so crazy or mysterious now, right?
Why is Ketosis so Powerful?
Alright, ketosis is good because it breaks down stored fat, but wouldn’t the same thing happen if you simply counted calories? Your body has to get the energy from somewhere. Once it ran out of energy from carbs and fat in food it would turn to stored fats for fuel, right?
Essentially, yes, but ketosis makes this all so much easier.
Beat the Carb Cravings
You see, your body gets addicted to carbs, which is why people experience phenomenon such as sugar cravings. If you simply reduce the number of calories (and carbs) you’re eating in order to get to a calorie deficit you’ll end up trapped in a cycle of cravings and never feeling satisfied.
By drastically reducing the number of carbohydrates your body takes in and beginning the process of ketosis, you’re essentially causing your body to kick its carbohydrate addiction. This can be hard at first (but we’ll cover the keto flu later). However, once you adjust you’ll feel the benefits of the keto diet, including:
- Increased energy
- Improved mental clarity
- Reduced food cravings
“How can the keto diet possibly help me kick food cravings?” you might be asking. It’s a good question, and the answer is pretty amazing.
The ketone bodies your liver produces when breaking down fats actually suppress hunger-inducing hormones. According to this study, taking in ketones decreased hunger levels by suppressing ghrelin, which is known as the “hunger hormone.”
Studies have also linked the ketogenic diet to increased expression of Cholecystokinin, which is a hormone that provides the feeling of fullness.
Those ketone bodies will make you feel more full, so going on the keto diet allows you to cut weight without feeling hungry! Not a lot of other diets can promise that.
Achieving and Maintaining Ketosis
Achieving ketosis is all about burning through residual carbs in your body. If you transition from a standard diet to a ketogenic diet, you will enter ketosis in 2–4 days.
Kick Off Ketosis with Calorie Burning
If you want to jump start ketosis, burn off those carbs with an exercise program, but there’s no need to go beyond your sustainable workout plan though! Simply by cutting carbs to that 20–50 grams range you’ll get to ketosis either way.
Beat the Keto Flu
Maintaining ketosis is all about dedication, and it’ll get a lot easier! You may experience some carb withdrawals early in the keto diet. This is commonly referred to as the “keto flu” and can cause headaches, nausea, increased cravings, and irritability.
This all sounds pretty bad, but it only lasts a week or two and there are a few ways to make it a lot easier to power through.
Keto Flu Cures:
- Stay hydrated – drink lots of water
- Get plenty of rest – your body will use this time to recover and adjust to ketosis more quickly
- Exercise – by maintaining a workout routine your body will adjust to using fat for fuel.
- Combine keto with intermittent fasting – we’ll get into the details later, but this combo can knock out cravings and give you a serious energy boost.
- Add more fat to your diet – increase your intake of keto-friendly foods and really feed your body some energy to ease the transition.
- Eat more fiber – take advantage of the net carbs rule and add some more carbs from fiber into your meal plan. It can really make a difference.
Once you get through the keto flu you’ll see the keto diet benefits without the downsides! Your body will adjust to using fat for energy and kick into the next gear of your fat-burning journey.
Health Risks of Keto Diet
The ketogenic has been studied and recommended for nearly a century for a variety of reasons. One of the chief reasons for its popularity is because it is extremely safe for most individuals.
However, it’s important to point out that the keto diet does increase acid levels in your blood. For most people, this is not dangerous at all. But for individuals with diabetes, this can lead to a dangerous condition called ketoacidosis.
For this reason, if you’re diabetic, pre-diabetic, or concerned about the impacts of the keto diet on your body please consult a physician before beginning a keto plan.
Our main goal here at Fitness Day One is to put you on the path to health and fitness. Fitness is not one size fits all, and we recognize that while the keto plan is a fantastic option for weight loss it may not be for everyone.
How to Begin a Keto Plan
Now that you’ve read through our intro and would like to give the keto diet a try, you might be wondering where to begin.
Good news! You’ve already taken the first step by reading this article! Just keep going by moving to the next article in our keto series.
In upcoming articles we’ll cover:
- Beginner keto recipes and meal plans
- How to stay keto while eating out
- What to expect in the first 30 days of your keto diet
- Short term and long term benefits of the keto diet
- Different keto diet variations
- Keys to boosting the fat burning power of the keto diet
- Timed eating schedules and the keto diet