Are you looking to lose some weight and improve your overall health? If so, then you might be considering giving the keto diet a try. Short for ketogenic diet, this health and weight management strategy has been proven to be an effective way to shed pounds and achieve improvements in several other health markers, including better cardiovascular health, blood glucose (sugar) management, enhanced energy levels, better stamina, reduced inflammation, greater liver health, and even better sleep. And those are just some of the benefits. There’s no wonder it’s such a popular diet.
This low carbohydrate, high healthy fat and moderate protein diet, when done correctly, raises blood ketone levels, which leads to the above-mentioned advantages. The synthesis of ketones is the result of ketosis: A metabolic process that begins in response to changes in your dietary intake of carbohydrates.
What is Ketosis?
To understand how the keto diet works, it’s important to have an understanding of ketosis. As mentioned, ketosis is a natural metabolic process. In this state, the body uses fat to generate ketone bodies and then instead of using the sugar that’s supplied by carbohydrates for energy, the body uses fat. You can achieve the state of ketosis by sticking to a strictly low carb, high fat, and moderate protein diet.
Generally speaking, in order to enter the state of ketosis, your daily intake of carbohydrates should be no more than 50 grams, while some people might eat as little as 20 grams of carbs per day. It’s important to note that the specific amount of carbs you should eat isn’t an exact science, as each person’s body is different, and therefore, how many carbs they will need to eat in order to achieve ketosis varies. With that said, however, there are specific foods that you’ll need to abstain from to achieve ketosis. These foods include:
- Beans and legumes
- Starch veggies, such as white and sweet potatoes, yams, and squash
- High calorie fruits, like bananas and apples
- Processed sugars; however, natural, no calorie sweeteners, such as monk fruit and stevia are okay
There are plenty of foods that you can safely eat, however, on this diet. Examples of some foods that meet keto guidelines include:
- Meat, such as organic grass-fed beef, and organic, range-free chicken
- Seafood, like fatty acid-rich fish (salmon, tuna, etc.), shellfish, and invertebrates, like octopus
- Low carb fruits, such as avocados, strawberries, and blueberries
- Low carb veggies, like asparagus, avocado, lettuce, cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli
- Cheeses, including an assortment of hard and soft varieties
- Nuts and seeds, such as pecans, peanuts, walnuts, fennel, and chia
- Healthy oils, like coconut and extra virgin olive oil
While the specific amount of carbs, protein, and proteins that should be eaten each day varies from person to person and depends on several factors, such as your gender, age, lifestyle, and activity level, on average, the recommended intake for all three categories of macro and micronutrients are as follows:
- Fats = 75%
- Carbs = 5%
- Protein = 20%
The above percentages are based on the 2,000 daily caloric intake, as recommended by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Why is sticking to a strict regimen of low calories, high healthy fats, and moderate protein so important for the keto diet and how does it lead to ketosis? Normally, the body uses glucose (sugar) as the main source of energy, and typically, dietary carbs, such as starchy foods and sugars, are the primary source of glucose. Carbs are then broken down into simple sugars, and the body then uses those sugars as a fuel source or stores it as glycogen in the muscles and liver. If there aren’t enough glucose reserves available to use as energy, the body will break down and utilize its fat stores (triglycerides are converted to glucose via gluconeogenesis). Ketones are the byproduct of this metabolic process.
Ketones accumulate in the blood and exit the body via the urine. In minimal amounts, ketones are a sign that the body is breaking down fats; however, if ketone levels are too high, they can become dangerous. When that happens, ketoacidosis can occur, a condition that can be harmful to your health. In order to achieve success and reap the benefits that the keto diet can provide, entering the state of ketosis is necessary; however, in order to avoid the dangers that can be associated with high ketone levels, monitoring your production is essential.
How to Know You’re in Ketosis: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly Signs and Symptoms of Ketosis
So, you’re probably asking, “How do I know if I’m in ketosis?” There are several signs to look for, and those signs can be broken down into good, bad, and even downright ugly.
1. Presence of Ketones in the Blood
One of the most obvious signs of ketosis is increased levels of ketones in the blood. When you enter ketosis, your blood sugar levels will decrease and your ketone levels will increase. As you advance with the keto diet, you’ll begin burning fat and ketones instead of glucose for fuel. There are specialized meters available that measure the amount of ketones in your blood. These meters calculate the amount of beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB), one of the main ketones in your blood. It’s believed that the blood ketone levels that range from 0.5 to 3.0 mmol/L indicates nutritional ketosis. Measuring your blood ketone levels is the most accurate way to determine if you’ve achieved ketosis.
2. Weight Loss
For the majority of people, weight loss is the primary goal of the keto diet. Numerous studies have found that high fat, low-calorie diets are an effective way to lose weight; both in the short- and long-term. During the first week, you’ll likely see rapid weight loss (mostly caused by water being removed from your body), and thereafter, weight loss may slow, though it should continue at a relatively consistent rate as long as you maintain the keto diet.
Being at a calorie deficit is still crucial to weight loss on the keto diet. Extremely low-carbohydrate diets tend to be effective for weight loss precisely because they help to restrict the amount of calories you’re consuming.
3. Increased Energy, Focus, and Concentration
A lot of people experience feelings of lethargy, brain fog, and general malaise when they first enter ketosis. These symptoms have been dubbed the “keto flu”. After these initial feelings, your body will adjust, and eventually, many people report that they have more energy and clearer focus.
4. Keto Flu
As mentioned above, the keto flu is a side effect that is reported once individuals enter ketosis. This occurs when the body is transitioning from using glucose to using fat for fuel. The symptoms associated with keto flu include decreased energy and brain fog, nausea, headaches, and irritability. While keto flu is one of the worst side effects of ketosis, the symptoms do subside; usually within a week.
5. Short-Term Fatigue and Sleeplessness
Many report that they experience increased fatigue, yet they may also have a difficult time sleeping when in the initial stages of ketosis. This is another negative side-effect of ketosis; however, like keto flu, it does subside.
6. Digestive Problems
This is another “ugly” side effect of ketosis. Many people have reported experiencing issues with their digestive tract when they first enter ketosis, including diarrhea, constipation, and stomach cramping.
7. Keto Breath
This is another “ugly” side effect of ketosis, and it’s quite common. As ketone levels increase, acetone, a type of ketone, vacates the body via the urine and the breath, and as a result, your breath can smell less-than-pleasant. Eventually, it will subside; however, in the meantime, you can chew gum or use mouthwash to freshen your breath, just make sure that you check the carb content first.
Our Thoughts on Ketosis Symptoms
To experience the benefits that are associated with the keto diet, your body must enter ketosis. While there are some negative side effects associated with ketosis, knowing what to expect, making accommodations, and understanding that the symptoms aren’t permanent and will subside, will help you get through so that you don’t give up, can push through, and can start to reap the benefits of keto.