Getting Started with The Keto Diet – Is the Keto Diet Right for You?
Learn about the keto diet, its health benefits, and how to get started!
The ketogenic, or keto, diet has received a lot of attention for being an effective weight loss diet that still allows people to enjoy indulgent, high-fat meals. While it has shown to be successful for many people, this diet is not suited for everyone and must be done correctly and safely in order to achieve weight loss results. In this article, we cover the basics of a keto diet, the potential benefits and how you can get started if you determine that it is right for you. Speak to a health care advisor first, especially if you are managing diabetes or another medical condition, to make sure you have all of the knowledge and tools you need to get started.
Disclaimer: The information in this article is not medical advice. A low carb diet may not be suitable for you. Consult your health care provider before making any changes to your lifestyle or use at your own risk.
What is the Keto Diet?
The keto diet aims to put the body into a metabolic state known as ketosis. During ketosis, the body switches into a fat-burning state as reduced levels of glucose (sugar) in the blood force the liver to start generating an alternate fuel source known as ketones. The body actually produces a small amount of ketones on a high carb diet as well, but this mainly occurs overnight and while fasting, since there is not enough glucose to provide energy during those times.
The way to promote sustained ketosis, other than fasting and sleeping, is to consume high amounts of fat, low to very low amounts of carbohydrates and moderate amounts of protein. We have been told for so long that consuming fat will only make us fatter, but this is not the case if the body is in a state of ketosis. That said, eating keto-friendly foods when you are not in ketosis can add extra calories to your diet and can cause you to gain weight. To achieve ketosis, it is recommended to eat fewer than 50g of carbohydrates per day, or less than 10% of your daily calories.
Benefits of The Keto Diet
- Less hunger and steady supply of energy.
One of the main things the keto diet is praised for is its ability to help with weight loss without hunger! Keto dieters are able to enjoy delicious foods that leave them feeling satiated after a meal while their bodies do all the fat-burning work. Since fat is burned more slowly by the body than carbohydrates, many people report better appetite management and sustained energy levels. Lower levels of ghrelin, the “hunger hormone”, have been reported in keto dieters, which can make it easier to avoid overeating and manage cravings.
- Management of diabetes and prediabetes.
Diabetes and prediabetes lower insulin sensitivity. Insulin is a hormone involved in converting glucose into energy. It also instructs our bodies to store fat. So, with reduced sensitivity to insulin, the body doesn’t recognize when blood glucose levels get too high, which can cause increased hunger, higher blood pressure and weight gain. Excess glucose can remain in the bloodstream and cause severe damage to organs and tissues inside the body. As such, it is often recommended for those with diabetes and prediabetes to lower their intake of carbohydrates (glucose) to keep blood sugar at safer levels. A ketogenic diet makes sense in these cases since it is very low in carbs, thus reducing insulin levels and promoting weight loss.
- Increased mental function.
One of the main arguments against the keto diet is the belief that the brain needs carbs, or glucose, in order to function. While it is true that the brain requires very large amounts of energy, it doesn’t necessarily have to be from glucose. In fact, many people who switch to a ketogenic diet notice improved focus, better sleep and other mental benefits. One simple suggestion, if you’re experiencing a foggy head or low energy, is to include MCT oil into your diet. MCT oil can act like a carb by carrying nutrients from your keto diet to your brain! We wrote an entire article about the keto diet and its relationship to our minds called, Mental Benefits To A Low Carb Diet. In addition, many neurological disorders such as epilepsy and seizures can be treated with a ketogenic diet. Neuron function seems to be stabilized with the keto diet, perhaps because glucose is burned so quickly and requires quick replenishment, while ketones are a more efficient fuel source, providing more energy per unit of oxygen used.
- Focus on real, whole foods.
Since the keto diet eliminates most carbs such as bread, pastries, candies and sodas, it automatically gets rid of a lot of highly processed and refined foods from the diet. These foods are poor sources of nutrition and can contain harmful chemicals, preservatives and refined starches and oils – all of which are not so great on the body. The best way to achieve ketosis is by eating meat, seafood, full fat dairy products, fresh vegetables, nuts, seeds, and healthy oils and fats. This type of diet can reduce oxidative stress, or inflammation, in the body which is responsible for a number of chronic diseases. Basically, oxidative stress is the buildup of toxic waste particles in the body which can damage our cells. By eating a diet rich in antioxidants from fruits and vegetables, as well as omega-3 fatty acids from things like fish and eggs, we can reduce oxidative stress and promote optimal functioning of our bodies.
Who Should Not do a Keto Diet?
While the benefits we’ve mentioned might sound great to a large number of people, there are some individuals who should avoid a keto diet or speak to a physician before making any dietary changes. These include:
- Those taking medication/insulin for diabetes, as your doses may need to be adjusted.
- Those taking medications for high blood pressure (hypertension)
- Breastfeeding or pregnant women
- Children and teens
How to Get Started
If you have decided that a keto diet is right for you, or are curious about how to get started, here are the initial steps you should take and what to expect.
- Invest in a journal to log your meals, download a nutrient tracking app, and get a kitchen scale to measure your food.
Yes – this might sound a little obsessive. But, if you are going to commit to a keto diet, it needs to be done right and it will require some accuracy. These tools can help make it easier to track your macronutrients, plan ahead and stay organized.
- Measure a typical day of eating for yourself (pre-keto).
This will give you an idea of your typical carb, protein and fat intake and what needs to change. Be prepared – the results might surprise you!
- Figure out if you want to cut carbs all at once or gradually.
Cutting carbs all at once is an efficient strategy for transitioning into ketosis, however, it will come with some unpleasant side effects including brain fog, cravings, headaches, trouble sleeping, and possibly nausea or constipation. Gradual elimination will make these side effects less severe, but they will persist for longer.
- Calculate how many calories from carbs, protein and fat you will need to consume.
A typical keto diet consists of about 5-10% of calories from carbs, 20-25% from protein and 70% or more from fats. Based on the number of calories you aim to consume in a day, calculate how many calories of each macronutrient you will need. While you don’t need to count your calories each day, this planning tool can help give you an idea of what and how much you will be eating on a keto diet.
- Learn how to count net carbs.
Certain carbs, like fibre and sugar alcohols are listed as carbohydrates on nutrition facts. However, these won’t release glucose into the blood and are therefore safe to consume on a keto diet. You want to avoid sugars and starches, which do constitute non-keto carbs. You can calculate the net carbs (i.e. the real number of carbs you should be concerned with) by simply subtracting fibre and sugar alcohols from the total number of carbohydrates listed on food labels. To get the full scoop on Canadian food labels, see our article, “How To Understand Canadian Nutrition Labels”
- Make a grocery list and plan out some meals!
Meal planning is a great dieting technique that can help you stay on track and avoid falling out of ketosis when hunger strikes and you have nothing prepared. Browse the internet for some keto-friendly recipes (there are tons) and make a grocery list. While you’re at it, be sure to get rid of anything in your pantry that isn’t compliant with your new diet (but be mindful of other family members in the house).
Here are some other things to keep in mind when you start a keto diet:
- Stay hydrated! Ketosis can cause more frequent urination, which means our body is losing more water and electrolytes. This can be dangerous if you lose too much, so be sure to drink 2-4L of water a day and don’t shy away from adding extra salt to your meals. Aloe vera, magnesium powder, lemons, leafy greens, nut and seeds are also great sources of electrolytes. Remember, Gatorade is not keto-friendly.
- Exercise weekly. Physical activity can help stimulate ketosis and make your diet more efficient and effective. Aim for around 150 minutes a week (about 20 minutes a day), even if you simply go for a brisk walk or do a quick at-home bodyweight workout.
- Choose healthy cooking oils. This is a big one for keto dieters, since you’ll likely be going through a lot of oil. Ditch low quality vegetable oils (corn oil, hydrogenated palm kernel, soybean and canola oil) and opt for higher quality sources of fats such as coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, grass-fed butter or ghee. For salads and homemade dressings, you can also use sunflower oil, safflower oil or flaxseed oil (these are not recommended for cooking as they are not as stable at high temperatures).
- Try intermittent fasting. Fasting can accelerate fat-burning. Once a week, try to follow a 16:8 (fast for 16 hours, eat during an 8-hour window) or 18:6 intermittent fast. Fasting has incredible benefits not just for weight loss but also overall health as it allows the body time to repair its cells without having to expend energy digesting food.
There are thousands of keto-friendly products out there, but we want to share our favourite products that will make the keto diet way more enjoyable and easier!
Low Carb Bread and Wraps
A lot of first-time keto dieters struggle to replace their favourite breakfast and lunch meals such as toast and sandwiches. That’s why there are so many low carb breads and wrap options available. Some of our best rated brands of low carb bread are:
- Unbun made with almonds, coconut, flaxseeds, psyllium husk, eggs, and apple cider vinegar. These healthful ingredients make for a low carb, gluten-free bread that tastes and toasts just like regular bread!
- Baker’s Deluxe Dream Breads, which are high in both fibre and protein to keep you satiated for longer! Also made with healthful ingredients such as golden flaxseeds, oat fibre, almond meal and olive oil (note: these are not gluten-free).
- Nuco Organic Coconut Wraps are made entirely from coconut meat, which is great for people with food allergies or sensitivities. They come in 4 unique flavours and are highly versatile; use them to make any kind of lunch wrap or even breakfast/dessert crepes!
Low Carb Pasta, Noodles and Rice
Other foods that are hard to give up on a carb-restricted diet are pasta, noodles and rice. Miracle Noodles truly are a miracle, not only because they taste like regular pasta, but also because they reduce the glycemic index of your meal and help you feel full faster. Made from konjac root fibre and water, they are very low in calories and highly versatile.
Choose from a variety of styles such as ziti, angel hair, fettuccine, capellini and rice! We also carry lightly flavoured versions and ready-to-eat meals to make cooking low carb simple and easy.
Bars are a great snack option to keep in your bag, the car or your desk at work. We carry a wide selection of keto-friendly snack and protein bars which can help fuel you through your day. Some of our favourites are Love Good Fats Bars and Good To Go Bars – both high in healthy plant-based fats and available in delicious, low sugar flavours. We broke down many keto bars in our article, “Know Your Health Bars (Protein vs. Fat vs. Energy).”
A great snack or light breakfast. Many of our keto granolas are made from blends of nuts and seeds and sweetened with natural sweeteners. Try them with plant milk, over yogurt or by the handful. Nolaa Granolaa Keto Power Blend is the perfect-sized pouch to take with you anywhere hunger might strike. KZ Clean Eating also offers a keto-friendly take on breakfast cereal in crave-worthy flavours like chocolate & strawberry. Also check out KZ Clean Eating keto-friendly crispbreads – a perfect low carb, high fibre cracker or toast replacement.
Low Carb Chocolate
Dark chocolate is the perfect treat for keto sugar cravings, since it is naturally high in fat and provides a number of other health benefits! Check out some of our favourite keto-friendly chocolates from Ross Chocolates and Lily’s.
Last but not least, natural sweeteners are a must-have for keto dieters. Since you’ll want to ditch sugar, and artificial sweeteners can be incredibly harmful to our bodies, natural sweeteners are your best guilt-free option. Plus, you’d be surprised to find out how many natural substances exist that are zero glycemic, zero calories and still taste surprisingly sweet! Stevia, erythritol, xylitol and monk fruit sweeteners are all great options. Add them to your coffee, tea, smoothies, yogurt, cereals, homemade baked goods – really anything that calls for a little sweetness! Check out some of our top-rated sweeteners from SugarLike, Krisda, Lakanto and Swerve.
We hope that this article helped you increase your knowledge about the ketogenic diet and helped you prepare to take on the journey!
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