Last Updated on July 27, 2021 by Rebecca Huff
In my next post, I'll explain how the Ketogenic diet has benefitted my health and also my husband's health. First, I wanted to share with you the basics to help you get started on the ketogenic diet if you choose to use nutritional ketosis for health purposes.
The right mindset for success
Before I explain the basics, I want to mention mindset. As I have written about in my post on being obsessed with healthy eating, any food plan can become cult-like if you don't know the warning signs. So, never blindly follow any diet plan. Do your research, take note of how it makes you feel, why you are doing it, etc.
Also, when it comes to how you look at food, remember you always have a choice. Perception of choice makes a huge difference in your mindset and your ability to follow through on your goals.
Here's a good example. We go out to dinner; our waiter places bread on the table. My kids might say, “you can't have this can you?” To which I reply,“Yes, I CAN have it, I choose not to.”
For me, losing weight is n0t my primary goal, that is just a happy side effect. After all these years, I have learned to have a healthy body image. What I am after is a way of eating that agrees with my body and improves my health. More on the results I've had later, now let's get started.
The basics to help you get started on the Ketogenic diet
What is ketosis, keto, and ketogenic? Ketogenic is relating to or causing ketogenesis. Keto is short for ketogenic; ketosis is a metabolic state.
When fat provides most of the daily calorie needs, a metabolic state called ketosis occurs. Ketosis happens when the liver breaks down fat into two parts. This process creates three primary types of water-soluble ketones: acetoacetate, beta-hydroxybutyrate, and acetone.
A person who is burning fat for fuel will get their primary energy from these ketone bodies as opposed to from glucose.
You will find a lot of variations on keto if you roam around the web. People “do keto” in various ways. I want to let you know up front that my way of doing keto is not the Atkin's way. In the way that I do not eat artificial sweeteners, processed foods, and food replacement products.
Keto has a lot of similarities with Paleo and the Whole 30 way of eating in that it doesn't include grains or sugar. If you are looking for a way to go grain-free and sugar-free, Keto is a great way to reach that goal without killer cravings all the time.
Benefits of the Ketogenic diet
Balance blood sugar levels – Metabolic syndrome is a set of risk factors that increase your risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Carbohydrates (bread, pasta, sugar, starchy vegetables) are broken down into sugar in your body which causes blood sugar levels to go up and cause insulin spikes. Following a Ketogenic diet can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Reduces inflammation – When burning fat for fuel, your body burns a cleaner energy source and releases far fewer free radicals. A simple blood test can be performed to measure inflammation. C-reactive protein (CRP) can be used to measure inflammation. A healthy range is between 0 and 3 mg/dL; ideally below 1 mg/dL.
Back when I had all my heart testing done and discovered my Ferritin levels were low, I had a CRP test done. My level was 0.4 mg/L which indicates very low risk. Perhaps because for over a decade I have avoided sugar, vegetable oil, and most grains.
Weight loss – Ketosis is a great weight loss tool as it helps access body fat. During the first three months of following a Ketogenic way of eating, I lost 26 pounds, and my best friend lost 27 pounds. Another couple I am friends with lost a combined weight of over 100 pounds as of right now, read the story in his post The Diet that Deters Diabetes.
Improved brain health and focus – Ketones are a great source of energy that allows our brain to more efficiently process the extra glutamate in GABA. When GABA production increases, it decreases the number of extra neurons firing in the brain. In turn, this improves our mental focus. (7)
Appetite-suppressant – Following a low-carb diet tends to reduce appetite. I experienced this within the first few days of being in nutritional ketosis. My appetite continues to stay in a tolerable range, and I experience almost no mindless eating binges anymore. This is much better than before I began using fat for fuel.
Cancer risk reduction – Much research has been done using a Keto diet to weaken and prevent cancer, and hopefully, the studies will continue. Healthy cells in our body can use sugar or fat for fuel. Most cancer cells cannot use ketones for energy like healthy cells can, so once your body enters nutritional ketosis, the food supply for cancer cells is cut off. Of course, more research is needed on this subject. (6)(8)
Cancer feeds on sugar. The German biologist Otto Heinrich Warburg won a Nobel Prize for his discovery that the metabolism of malignant tumors is largely dependent on glucose consumption. Insulin production triggers inflammation.(9)
Overall good health – “Is cholesterol the major cause of heart disease?” cardiologist Dr. Stephen Sinatra asked. “Absolutely not.” In his book, The Great Cholesterol Myth, Dr. Sinatra said the real cause of heart disease is inflammation, which comes from eating too many carbohydrates.
Who can use a Ketogenic diet?
It is always best to check with your physician or do research on your own to make sure any diet plan is right for you. We all have differences in the way our body reacts. Also, your specific health conditions, medications, activity levels, finances, and lots more are factors to consider.
After hearing from multiple sources that a Ketogenic lifestyle could starve cancer cells, my cousin wanted to try it to starve her cancer cells. After some research she decided against a strict keto diet, instead, she chose to modify it to fit her personal needs. The reason is that for patients with BRAF V600E expressing melanoma, the results of following a high-fat diet remain unclear. One study showed that ketone acetoacetate selectively enhances tumor growth potential in xenograft mice. (2)
Take note, that nutritional ketosis is not the same as ketoacidosis. Type I diabetics and alcoholics often have extremely high levels of ketones in their bloodstream while at the same time very high levels of glucose. Nutritional ketosis has serum ketones ranging anywhere from 0.5 to 3.0 mM.
No diet is right for everyone, and that includes the Ketogenic diet. People who have had their gallbladder removed will have a harder time digesting fats and might miss out on required nutrients. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should also avoid the Ketogenic diet due to specific compounds needed to produce healthy breastmilk.
People with very little body fat and those who have a history of eating disorders should avoid the Ketogenic diet. Those who are diagnosed with anorexia should only follow food-restricted diets when recommended by and supervised by a physician.
Types of Ketogenic diet
There are different types of ketogenic diets, but the two I am most interested in are:
1 – the Standard Ketogenic Diet restricts carbs to between 20-50 net carbs per day. This number can be higher or lower based on your individual needs.
2 – the Restricted Ketogenic Diet for Therapeutic Uses. According to a 2010 study published in the Journal of Cancer Research, pancreatic tumor cells use fructose to reproduce and grow. Glucose is the primary food for cancer cells but cannot use ketones for energy. Based on this research, ketosis is said to be a beneficial state for treating cancer.
Initially, the Ketogenic diet was created to treat seizures in patients with epilepsy. Ketogenic diets have been beneficial in treating chronic fatigue, migraines, depression and even neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's. (10)
I recommend reading read more about the Cyclic Ketogenic Diet and the Targeted Ketogenic Diet that are more beneficial for extreme athletes if you feel that is more applicable to your needs.
For those using the ketogenic diet for treatment of a health condition, some doctors recommend starting out with a fast. (5)
Case in point: A friend of the family had a granddaughter who had seizures as a toddler; her mom had discovered that a Ketogenic diet could control seizures. With the help of her doctors and physicians, the child underwent a three-day water fast to put her in nutritional ketosis. After the three days, she began following a strict Ketogenic diet and stopped having seizures. The toddler grew up and is now a happy teenager, and she currently eats carbohydrates with no ill effects.
Recognizing Nutritional Ketosis
For most of us, when restricting our carb intake, it will take about 2-3 days to get into ketosis, though some people with a sedentary lifestyle may take longer. To help us get into nutritional ketosis, the first few weeks I restricted our carbs to the lowest possible amount. During that time I didn't include nuts and dairy in our daily meals. I also monitored our progress with a blood ketone/glucose monitor.
Monitoring your ketones with a blood ketone meter or ketone detection strips can help you see where you are at in the process. Though this is not necessary, it is helpful to know your progress. When I saw the results of my test that I was indeed in nutritional ketosis, it gave me such motivation.
I originally bought the monitor to make sure my husbands' blood sugar was staying balanced and it's fascinating to see how the body reacts to different foods. Glucose test strips aren't as expensive as ketone strips.
I use a blood ketone meter that precisely determines the level of ketones in my bloodstream. Test strips are somewhat expensive, so I don't test that often. In the beginning, I used the monitor to see how different foods affected my state of ketosis. Once I got the hang of it, I use it much less often.
Another measuring tool is strips which detect ketones in urine. These are less expensive but also less accurate, showing only excess ketones excreted vs. the level in your bloodstream. Still, they can be useful to see how your body reacts to different foods that slow down or speed up your progress.
After your body shifts away from glucose and begins burning fat for fuel, you are keto-adapted. Becoming keto-adapted happens faster for people who intend to live a low carb lifestyle as a lifestyle as opposed to a quick weight loss solution. Depending on your body it could take weeks to months before your body learns to burn ketones for energy efficiently.
Macros and using a food diary
Eat protein in moderation on the ketogenic diet because when we consume more than an adequate amount of protein the body converts the excess into glucose. So, too much protein can begin this process, also known as gluconeogenesis.
Using Cronometer to track your meals, in the beginning, will help you plan how much protein to eat. Eventually, you'll learn what size serving of protein is right for you. After being in nutritional ketosis for several months, I no longer feel it necessary to track my food daily. Sometimes I will check a new recipe I'm creating or what a serving size of a particular food is.
I also monitor my progress by recording my biometrics – weight, ketones, glucose, etc. on Cronometer. Though I don't weigh myself every day or even an every week basis. Usually just when I go to the doctor or I notice my jeans won't stay up. *The only downside to losing weight. You can see my weight chart here
How often do you eat
There is a learning curve involved in the ketogenic diet if you have formerly followed a diet that recommends eating every 2-3 hours. Eat only when you are hungry. It's best to eat when you start feeling hungry but don't wait until you are ravenous. Practicing mindful eating will help you learn to stop eating when you are full and break the habit of overeating.
On a personal note, when I started using fat for fuel, I ate three meals a day plus a snack, sometimes two snacks. Over time with keto, I noticed I wasn't hungry in the mornings, so I stopped eating breakfast. Gradually, I just didn't eat until I was hungry, sometimes that is once a day, but most days I eat twice. On occasion, I will fast from after dinner one day until I eat dinner the next night.
What do you eat on a ketogenic diet
There are a couple of ways people do the ketogenic diet; I prefer a whole foods approach. What I mean by this is that while I do eat bacon and cheese, it's not the main staple of my daily diet. For disease prevention and good health, it's preferable to avoid processed foods even if the macros fit your diet plan.
If improving health is your primary objective, try to avoid eating processed “low-carb” foods that may fit the ketogenic diet but are still unhealthy. Just because you can eat certain foods doesn't mean you should eat them every day.
Many shoppers are oblivious to the ingredients in the foods they buy. Unfortunately, when purchasing foods, most consumers only read the front of the package. I encourage you to learn to read food labels the right way.
The Ketogenic shopping list includes healthy fats, proteins, and vegetables. In the beginning, you may need to keep a food diary to help you learn which food goes in which category and how much of it you need to eat.
Using Cronometer to calculate percentages based on your body size, activity level, and goals is the best plan. However, the ketogenic diet is typically high in fat, with a moderate amount of protein and low in carbohydrates. Some suggest 70% fat, 25% protein and, 5% carbs.
Having a way to stay in those ratios can be useful, especially in the beginning. The reason I switched over to Cronometer is to calculate based on personal preferences so that I don't have to do the math on my macros. (Macros is short for macronutrients – the nutrients in the foods you eat)
The best vegetables for a ketogenic lifestyle are leafy greens! There are plenty of non-starchy vegetables you can enjoy.
Nuts are pretty low in net carbs and work well for many people on the ketogenic diet. Though some people may experience faster weight loss when restricting how many nuts they consume.
Butter, cream, cheese are all okay in moderation while on the ketogenic diet. In my experience weight loss happens faster when I restrict dairy products. See my simple printable Ketogenic Grocery List for more details.
Beneficial supplements for the Ketogenic lifestyle
Extra virgin cod liver oil – Rich in many fat-soluble vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids. Most of us get enough Omega-6 so we benefit from adding some omega-3 to our diet. Cod liver oil has a perfect balance of Vitamins A & D, two very powerful fat-soluble vitamins. In addition, it is very immune-boosting so we take it, especially in the winter, instead of getting a flu shot.
Cod liver oil contains EPA/DHA. One scientific study demonstrated that a very-low-calorie ketogenic diet supplemented with DHA was significantly superior in the anti-inflammatory effect. (1) One note, it's best to take any vitamin D-containing supplements in the morning; experts say taking vitamin D at night can cause insomnia.
Potassium – When switching over to burning fat for fuel you may lose electrolytes. To avoid dehydration and the possibility of kidney stones, consider making an electrolyte drink with potassium, sodium, and magnesium.
Magnesium – Most Americans are deficient in magnesium. Nuts, leafy greens, fatty fish, and dark chocolate are all foods that contain magnesium and can also be part of the Ketogenic diet. During the first weeks on a low carbohydrate diet, water weight is lost.
Because magnesium levels are controlled through the kidneys, keto dieters often experience a drop during the first few weeks when they are losing some water weight. Magnesium can also be beneficial for preventing or treating symptoms of Keto-Flu (which I'll explain next).
Digestive Enzymes – I have used digestive enzymes for many years. You might find it beneficial as using this supplement can help break down food as well as help your body to assimilate nutrients better. (Whether or not you are following a ketogenic lifestyle.) Digestive enzymes help increase nutrient absorption and may help reduce symptoms such as inflammation, gas, bloating, indigestion, diarrhea, constipation, and more. My aunt was able to stop taking her acid blockers after learning how to use Digestive Enzymes.
Sleep – It's not a supplement, but this seems like a good place to mention that getting an adequate amount of sleep will help you achieve your weight loss goals.
Unpleasantries you may experience
Some people experience something called Keto Flu during the first couple of weeks in ketosis. As you can imagine, flu-like symptoms such as feeling tired, changes in digestion, and bad breath are not pleasant. Symptoms tend to go away as your body adjusts to burning fat for fuel. I think it just depends on the individual; I did not experience keto flu at all so I can only go by what I have read and what I have been told by others.
One way to combat keto flu is to drink some homemade bone broth to help restore electrolyte balance. You can also mix your own electrolyte drink, which I make for my husband and I. An electrolyte drink also helps to give you back some energy.
It might also be necessary to cut back on exercise just during the unpleasant phase. You can always hit the gym hard when you start gaining more energy in the days to come.
If you have intense cravings, try to consume a bit more fat to achieve satiety. Try adding some MCT oil to your diet.
Not surprisingly, many people also experience constipation when they begin a keto diet. Avoid this by drinking plenty of water and herbal tea. Eating plenty of green leafy vegetables can also prevent constipation.
Many people also experience bad breath while adjusting to keto dieting. This is normal and can be helped by chewing cloves. It's best not to chew gum or breath mints if they contain sugar or other ingredients you are avoiding. I like to keep a vial of On Guard or Peppermint Beadlets in my bag to use in case of bad breath.
Books that helped me understand ketogenesis
- Fat for Fuel by Dr. Joseph Mercola
- Eat Fat Get Thin by Dr. Mark Hyman
- 30 Day Ketogenic Cleanse: Reset your metabolism with 160 Tasty Whole Food Recipes and Meal Plans by Maria Emmerich (All of the cookbooks by this author are wonderful in my opinion – I have five of them!)
On my homepage, you can join the TOM Tribe and get access to members-only content. Make sure to stay informed of the latest health and wellness topics by joining. The Ketogenic Diet does not require any special tools or ingredients but some do make it more fun. My Ketogenic Idea List on Amazon can be helpful for you, and if you hover over the little chat box in the upper lefthand corner, you can read my notes on each item.
Don't forget to pin this post.
1 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27117144
2- image used with permission:
3 – http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1097276515004384
4 – https://articles.mercola.com/ketogenic-diet.aspx#
5 – https://thetruthaboutcancer.com/video-benefits-of-intermittent-fasting-cancer-patients/
6 – https://thetruthaboutcancer.com/ketogenic-diet-weakens-cancer-cells/
7 – https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolutionary-psychiatry/201104/your-brain-ketones
8 – http://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/healthscience/2012/december/starving-cancer-ketogenic-diet-a-key-to-recovery
9 – http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/you/article-1025497/The-anti-cancer-diet–introducing-healthy-new-way-life.html#ixzz4wEQT8DRW
10 – http://evolutionarypsychiatry.blogspot.com/2011/01/alzheimers-mild-cognitive-impairment.html