What is the keto diet?

11th August 2021

Diet trends are nothing new. Every few years, a new diet begins doing the rounds amongst friendship groups and offices, and before you know it, everyone in your life seems to have changed their eating habits. A currently very popular diet is keto.

 

What is keto?

The ketogenic diet, or keto for short, is a diet that encourages the consumption of low carbohydrates but high levels of fat. An easy way to describe this is like having a cheese sandwich but swapping the bread for a low carb alternative such as Ezekiel bread, lettuce leaves or a portobello mushroom. Low carbohydrates, but a high fat intake. The diet offers many health benefits and some studies have praised its results, declaring that it can help you not only lose weight but improve your health.

Similar to Atkins and other low carbohydrate diets, it promotes drastically reducing your carb intake and replacing it with fats. This process will force your body into the metabolic state known as ketosis, hence the name of the diet. Ketosis allows your body to become extremely efficient at burning fat.

Unlike other diets which can be very rigid, keto can be personalised to fit your lifestyle. There are several versions of the ketogenic diet, including:

  • Standard ketogenic diet (SKD): This is an exceptionally low carb, moderate protein and high fat diet. It typically contains 70% fat, 20% protein, and only 10% carbs.
  • Cyclical ketogenic diet (CKD): This diet involves periods of higher carb refeeds, such as 5 ketogenic days followed by 2 high carb days.
  • Targeted ketogenic diet (TKD): This diet allows you to add carbs around workouts.
  • High protein ketogenic diet: This is like a standard ketogenic diet but includes more protein. The ratio is often 60% fat, 35% protein, and 5% carbs.

 

Meatballs with courgette noodles – a keto alternative to spaghetti bolognaise

 

 What is ketosis?

The idea of ‘forcing’ your body into a new metabolic state does sound extremely sci-fi. Ketosis is the process in which your body now uses fat for its fuel, instead of carbohydrates. This occurs when you have drastically reduced the amount of carbohydrates you are consuming, thus also limiting your body’s supply of glucose – sugar. Glucose is your body’s main energy source for every one of your cells.

 

As well as the keto diet, many people force themselves into ketosis by intermittent fasting. The most common method for this involves you reducing your food intake time to just 8 hours per day, then fasting for the remaining 16 hours. Many people do this unintentionally by not eating breakfast - by the time they have lunch, it will have been around 16 hours since their previous meal.

 

What foods should I avoid on a keto diet?

  • Sugary foods: fizzy drinks, fruit juice, smoothies, cake, ice cream, sweets, 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: low fat mayonnaise, salad dressings, and condiments
  • Some condiments or sauces: barbecue sauce, honey mustard, teriyaki sauce, ketchup, etc.
  • Unhealthy fats: processed vegetable oils, mayonnaise, etc.
  • Alcohol: beer, wine, liquor, mixed drinks
  • Sugar-free diet foods: sugar-free candies, syrups, puddings, sweeteners, desserts, etc.

 

What foods should I eat on a keto diet?

  • Meat: red meat, steak, ham, sausage, bacon, chicken, and turkey
  • Fatty fish: salmon, trout, tuna, and mackerel
  • Eggs
  • Butter and cream: grass-fed butter and heavy cream
  • Cheese: unprocessed cheeses like cheddar, goat, cream, blue, or mozzarella
  • Nuts and seeds: almonds, walnuts, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, etc.
  • Healthy oils: extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil
  • Avocados: whole avocados or freshly made guacamole
  • Low carb veggies: green veggies, tomatoes, onions, peppers, etc.
  • Condiments: salt, pepper, herbs, and spices

 

It’s these lists which separates keto from many diets. Advising you to avoid diet products, fruit and some vegetables? Encouraging you to eat cheese, meat and fatty fishes? Many people who have struggled with diets find this very appealing as many of the recommended foods for keto are already in their diet.

 

Soft boiled eggs with halloumi, avocado and lettuce

 

Are there any side effects to the keto diet?

Although a popular diet, like all diets, the keto diet will have side effects. Although not very severe, they are important to note and consider when deciding if you’d like to adapt to the diet.

 

  1. Bad breath

Once you have achieved full ketosis, a common side effect is smelly breath. Although a positive sign that your body has reached the desired stage of ketosis, it may put a damper on your social life. Many people on the keto diet regularly brush their teeth numerous times a day and use sugar-free gum.

  1. Short-term fatigue

The initial switch to the keto diet can bring on episodes of immense weakness and fatigue. This ‘keto flu’ is what causes most people to quit the diet early on.

  1. Digestive issues

As your diet changes, constipation and diarrhea are common side effects during the initial switch.

  1. Insomnia

During the initial diet switch, many people do report issues with sleep. This will improve over the next few weeks and some keto dieters report that they sleep better than before they started the diet. But this is an important slump to note about the whole process.

 

Deciding to follow a new diet is a very personal choice and the bottom line is, picking the diet that fits your lifestyle and health needs. Keto can be greatly beneficial, but some food intolerances and medical conditions may make it not appropriate for you to follow the diet. It’s vital that you have a clear understanding of your overall health and your body’s responses to key foods in the keto diet before embarking on the change.