What is Keto? A Detailed Keto Guide for Beginners!

Over the past few years, there has been a spectacular rise in Google searches for the keto diet. It seems that this diet is the new kid on the block in the Nutrition and Diet industry. Thousands of people decide to join the keto family or are simply curious about it, especially due to its impressive weight loss stories.

So without further ado, let's talk about the nuances of the keto diet in an uncomplicated and evidence-based way. We also discuss the possible health benefits and side-effects you can expect, and how to get started with it. In other words: a detailed keto guide for beginners!

 

 

The origin and aim of the keto diet

Did you know that a keto diet was originally developed in the 1920s as a medical treatment to (1) ? Therefore, we could actually say: the diet is brought back by popular demand! Now, the word is slowly spreading from countries like the United Kingdom and America to European countries like The Netherlands. And not just for therapeutical reasons …

A keto diet is short for a ketogenic diet, and focuses on a very low-carb high-fat (LCHF) way of eating. With regard to the type of foods to include, this diet shares similarities with the Dr. Atkins (2) other low-carb diets, and paleo diets (3). However, there’s one profound difference between these and a ketogenic approach: its main goal. A ketogenic diets main goal is to put the body in a constant metabolic state in which it primarily relies on fat for energy instead of on carbohydrates. This may sound confusing.... Carbohydrates are the most efficient source of energy right? At least, that’s what we have always been told.

To give an answer to this question, we have to take a look at how carbohydrates are burned for fuel and how fats are burned for fuel.

 

Are carbohydrates the most efficient source of energy?

Think of your body as a vehicle that can run on two types of fuel. Let’s call them Fuel A & Fuel B. Fuel A provides fast energy for a shorter period of time, whereas Fuel B provides a slow but steady energy supply. To illustrate this: your body can store up to 90.000 kilocalories of Fuel B. It can only store up to about 2400 kilocalories of Fuel A (4). Therefore, Fuel A needs to be constantly topped up while Fuel B doesn’t. Does this description ring any bells with you?

If it does, you probably know that Fuel A is known as carbohydrates & Fuel B is known as fat & ketones. According to almost all Dietary Guidelines worldwide, the main and most efficient fuel for our bodies are the carbohydrates. Therefore, the majority of energy in the diets of most people comes from carbohydrates.

When this is the case and you mainly eat products that are high in carb, the digestive tract breaks these high-carb foods down into glucose which converts into energy. Your bloodstream carries this energy around the body to your muscles, your liver, and fat tissues so they receive the energy they need. Your pancreas produce the hormone insulin, that regulates this process. 

Since your body always takes the quickest and most comfortable path, it now uses glucose as primary fuel. Therefore, it cannot use fats for energy, and it stores excessive dietary fat in fat cells. 

However, in the case of carbohydrate deprivation, your body has to find other ways to provide energy to perform its functions. The process of creating energy out of other components than glucose, is called gluconeogenesis (5). In the situation of carbohydrate deprivation, this component is as you may guess, Fuel B, fat & ketones. During carbohydrate deprivation, your liver breaks down dietary fat and body fat into ketones, called ketogenesis (6). This is an usable and sustainable energy source that can be used by all body parts, including your brain.

 

The main goal of a Keto Diet: Nutritional Ketosis

When your body relies on fat & ketones as primary fuel for a matter of days, you put your body in a state in which it efficiently relies on fat for energy instead of on carbohydrates. This is exactly the main goal of a keto Diet! Being in this metabolic state, which is called nutritional ketosis, is more and more linked to many different health benefits. Read further to discover examples of these keto benefits!

 

The keto diet into practice

Now you now the 'what' and 'why' of a keto diet, you probably want to know the 'how to' as well! Good news, the implementation of a keto diet is relatively simple. There are actually 3 main types of a ketogenic diet, but we will discuss that in a next article. In this article, we refer to the type that most people follow, which is the Standard ketogenic diet.

Daily keto macros of a Standard ketogenic diet are: 70-80% fat, 10-25% protein, and only 5-10% net carbs (7). In addition to this, you should eat at least 25-30 grams of fibers each day. So which food products fit these keto diet macros?

  • Your carbohydrates should mainly come from non-starchy vegetables (minimum 300-450 grams/day), and nuts & berries in moderation. This means no bread, no pasta, no potatoes, no sugary products, no high-carb fruits and no starchy vegetables, - you get the picture.

  • You can find your proteins in high-quality fatty grass fed meats, organic eggs, and fatty fish.

  • And finally the healthy fats, oh yes the FATS, can be found in nutritious products like avocados, low-carb nuts like macadamias, pecans & brazil nuts, fatty cheese, full-fat dairy products, coconut oil, olive oil, grass-fed butter, coconut milk etcetera. 

In short, a keto diet is all about eating wholesome high-quality fatty foods that nourish your body and brain. It is about including nutrient-dense products high in vitamins and minerals. Macros are important, but the micros deserve equal attention. So, skip the highly processed food products!

Nutritional ketosis versus fat-adaptation

In the situation that your body uses fat (the ketones) as primary fuel instead of carbohydrates, you can enter nutritional ketosis in a matter of days (8). This basically happens when you've depleted all your stored glucose in the form of glycogen or when you fast.  The amount of days depends on individual circumstances like your activity level, and your metabolism. When your body is in nutritional ketosis for a prolonged duration (3-4 weeks or longer), it becomes “fat adapted”. This is a fancy way of saying that your body now runs on fats instead of on carbs for energy. Once your body is fat-adapted, you can experience the health benefits!

 

Keto benefits: what are the impressive potential health benefits?

Right, the topic that you’ve probably been waiting for: the goodies you can expect from a well-formulated keto diet and fat-adaptation (9). Weight loss is currently one of the most well-discussed benefits of a keto diet. You start to lose excessive body fat, since your body uses stored fats as energy. In addition, when you provide your body with a steady source of energy, it results into reduced hunger / appetite and less spikes in energy levels. So losing weight without feeling hungry!

Weight loss is actually not necessarily the most profound reason why you should try and live this low-carb high-fat lifestyle. As a result of lower insulin levels, your blood sugar levels decrease (10). This can greatly reduce the risk of insulin resistance, Prediabetes and therefore Type 2 Diabetes (11). Many studies support low-carb diets for the treatment of Type 2 Diabetes, and luckily a low-carb approach has now been accepted  as an effective treatment (12)!

Other impressive keto benefits are  increased energy levels, improved mood, lower LDL cholesterol levels (13), and improved endurance performances (14). In addition, studies have shown potential anti-inflammatory health benefits in a wide variety of health conditions such as heart diseases, cancer, alzheimer's, polycystic ovary syndrome, acne (15) and even depression (16). 

  

So: are you joining the keto fam?

So now you know all the essentials and fundamentals of a keto diet, you probably want to know how to reach ketosis as fast as possible and become fat-adapted so you can experience all the health benefits.

It is also very understandable that you have no idea how to do it, so we guide you through the first steps. It has to be mentioned that the practical implementation depends on individual differences, needs and goals. If your main goal is weight loss and increased energy levels, stick to the standard ketogenic diet as mentioned above. However, if you want to get into the keto diet to treat one of the above mentioned health conditions, you need to consult your health professional or doctor!

If you are a healthy individual aiming at increasing your energy levels, losing weight, or improving your endurance performances the way to start is basically the same. First of all, it is important to keep track of your macros with an app like Macros. Restrict your carbohydrate-intake to a maximum of 30 grams, and increase your fat-intake. You can decide to slowly decrease and increase these amounts, or you can do it the cold turkey way. This is up to you. In both situations it is important to keep meals down to two or three a day, and finally add 30 minutes of exercise to your daily routine.

In the beginning, it might feel a bit odd to extremely increase your fat intake whereas extremely decrease your carbohydrate-intake. You might even go through something that is unnecessarily feared and easily avoided - the keto flu (17). The keto flu is nothing but the flu-like feeling. While your body switches from using carbs to fat as a source of energy,  your body also produces less insulin since there are less carbohydrates to absorb. As a result of these decreased insulin levels, the kidneys release more sodium from the body. The good news is that you can easily avoid this “Flu”. How? Stay hydrated, ideally with some salt and liquid electrolytes (sodium, magnesium and potassium). Bouillon is also a great choice. In addition, use salt to season your meals, and eat more potassium and magnesium rich keto foods such as avocado and leafy vegetables.

 

When you follow all these steps, your body should be in ketosis after a week or so. And then: congratulations, welcome to the keto family. Enjoy the fat life and its health benefits ;)

Personal note from Saahil Karkera

Personally, the biggest and most noticeable benefit for me has been shedding twelve kilos of body fat while gaining some quality muscles, all while eating one third of the amounts of proteins I was consuming earlier(freedom from all those whey shake-yay). Later this year, I will do a blood test to compare markers, pre and post one year of doing keto!

Disclaimer

Keep in mind that the ketogenic diet is not an one-size-fits-all answer to all of our individual health circumstances, needs, and goals. Information and other content provided on Myndfuel, or in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice or as a substitute for a substitute for your current medical treatment. Always talk to your doctor or healthcare professional before starting to implement a significant diet change. On Myndfuel you can get advice from a Certified Dietitian who creates a personalised program for you, meeting your individual needs and wishes.

Sources

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2: Lawler M. What’s the Difference Between Keto and Atkins? Everyday Health, 2018.

3: Damen L. Paleo vs a Ketogenic Lifestyle. The Noakes Foundation, 2018.

4: Hedrick Fink H. Practical Applications In Sports Nutrition. Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2011.

5: Phinney S. What are ketones? Virtahealth.

6: Phinney S and Volek, J. Ketones and Nutritional Ketosis: Basic Terms and Concepts. Virtahealth, 2018.

7: Freeman JM, Kossoff EH, Hartman AL. The ketogenic diet: one decade later. Pediatrics, 2007

8: Phinney S and Volek J. Keto-Adaptation. Virtahealth, 2018.

9: Phinney S, Bailey B, Volek J. The Ten Defining Characteristics of a Well-Formulated Ketogenic Diet. Virtahealth, 2018

10: Healthline. How the Ketogenic Diet Works for Type 2 Diabetes.

11: Newman JC and Verdin E. β-hydroxybutyrate: much more than a metabolite. Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice, 2014.

12: Scher, B. Low-carb diets get a seat at the table. Diet Doctor, 2018.

13: Dashti HM, Mathew TC, Hussein T, Asfar SK, Behbahani A, Khoursheed MA, Al-Sayer HM, Bo-Abbas YY, Al-Zaid, NS. Long-term effects of a ketogenic diet in obese patients. Experimental & Clinical Cardiology, 2004.

14: Chang C-K, Borer K, Lin P-J. Low-Carbohydrate-High-Fat Diet: Can it Help Exercise Performance? Journal of Human Kinetics, 2017.

15: Paoli A, Rubini A, Volek JS, Grimaldi KA. Beyond weight loss: a review of the therapeutic uses of very-low-carbohydrate (ketogenic) diets. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2013.

16: Damen L. The Ketogenic Diet and Depression. The Noakes Foundation, 2018.

17: Healthline. What Is the Keto Flu?