What “keto” means
The “keto” in a ketogenic diet comes from the fact that it allows the body to produce small fuel molecules called “ketones”.
This is an alternative fuel source for the body, used when blood sugar (glucose) is in short supply.
Ketones are produced if you eat very few carbs (that are quickly broken down into blood sugar) and only moderate amounts of protein (excess protein can also be converted to blood sugar).
The liver produces ketones from fat. These ketones then serve as a fuel source throughout the body, especially for the brain.
The brain is a hungry organ that consumes lots of energy every day, and it can’t run on fat directly. It can only run on glucose… or ketones.
On a ketogenic diet, your entire body switches its fuel supply to run mostly on fat, burning fat 24-7. When insulin levels become very low, fat burning can increase dramatically. It becomes easier to access your fat stores to burn them off.
This is great if you’re trying to lose weight, but there are also other less obvious benefits, such as less hunger and a steady supply of energy. This may help keep you alert and focused.
When the body produces ketones, it enters a metabolic state called ketosis. The fastest way to get there is by fasting – not eating anything – but nobody can fast forever.
A keto diet, on the other hand, can be eaten indefinitely and also results in ketosis. It has many of the benefits of fasting – including weight loss – without having to fast.
Who should NOT do a ketogenic diet?
There are controversies and myths about a keto diet, but for most people it appears to be very safe.
There are, however, three groups that often require special consideration:
- Do you take medication for diabetes, e.g. insulin? More
- Do you take medication for high blood pressure? More
- Do you breastfeed? More
Are you a doctor or do you need your doctor to help you with medications on a keto diet? Have a look at our low carb for doctors guide.
Disclaimer: While the ketogenic diet has many proven benefits, it’s still controversial. The main potential danger regards medications, e.g. for diabetes, where doses may need to be adapted (see above). Discuss any changes in medication and relevant lifestyle changes with your doctor. Full disclaimer This guide is written for adults with health issues, including obesity, that could benefit from a ketogenic diet.
Controversial topics related to a keto diet, and our take on them, include saturated fats, cholesterol, whole grains, red meat, whether the brain needs carbohydrates and restricting calories for weight loss.
2. What to eat on a keto diet
Here are typical foods to enjoy on a ketogenic diet. The numbers are net carbs, i.e. digestible carbs, per 100 grams.
To remain in ketosis, lower is generally better:
The most important thing for reaching ketosis is to avoid eating too many carbs. You’ll probably need to keep carb intake under 50 grams per day of net carbs, ideally below 20 grams. The fewer carbs, the more effective it appears to be for reaching ketosis, losing weight or reversing type 2 diabetes.
Counting carbs can be helpful at first. But if you stick to our recommended foods and recipesyou can stay keto even without counting.
Try to avoid
Here’s what you should avoid on a keto diet – carb foods containing a lot of sugar and starch. This includes starchy foods like bread, pasta, rice and potatoes. These foods are very high in carbs.
The numbers are grams of net carbs per 100 grams, unless otherwise noted.
This means that on a keto diet you’ll basically need to avoid sugary foods completely, as well as starchy foods like bread, pasta, rice and potatoes. Also avoid processed foods, and instead follow our keto diet advice.
Furthermore, the food should primarily be high in fat, and only moderately high in protein, as excess protein can be converted to blood sugar in the body. Avoid low-fat diet products. A rough guideline is about 5% energy from carbohydrates (the fewer carbs, the more effective), 15-25% from protein, and around 75% from fat.
More specific advice on what to eat – and what not to eat
What to drink
So what do you drink on a ketogenic diet? Water is the perfect drink, and coffee or tea are fine too. Ideally, use no sweeteners, especially not sugar.
A small amount of milk or cream in your coffee or tea is OK (but beware of caffe latte!). The occasional glass of wine is fine too.For more, have a look at our full guides to keto drinks and keto alcohol.
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