What would the proverbial “fly on the wall” see if it spent a week in your kitchen?
Think about it.
Would it see a house full of active people making good nutritional choices? Or would it see individuals, driven by cravings, struggling to lose weight?
Perhaps your story is somewhere in the middle. Maybe you eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy snacks. In fact, you even practice good portion control most of the time. Yet somehow you still can’t seem to take off extra weight.
It’s frustrating, to say the least.
Putting your body into a state of nutritional ketosis by following a ketogenic diet might be the jumpstart you need to turn the corner in your weight loss efforts. Here are some specifics of what a ketogenic diet looks like and 5 compelling reasons to consider this approach to your nutrition.
What Exactly is a Ketogenic Diet?
Your body runs on fuel – plain and simple. There are three main categories of macronutrient “fuels”:
- Carbohydrates – Bread, fruits, vegetables, grains, pasta, cereal, foods high in sugar, etc.
- Proteins – Meat, fish, egg whites, nuts, peanut butter, etc.
- Fats – Butters, oils, salmon, egg yolks, fried foods, cheeses, avocado, etc.
The kinds of foods you eat determine the type of fuel your body will use. Frequently, in our culture, this means your main fuel is glucose, which is a simple sugar that mostly comes from the carbohydrates you consume.
In a ketogenic diet, you turn the “typical” American diet upside down. Instead of most calories in a day coming from carbohydrates, you focus on eating healthy fats, a moderate amount of protein, and very low carbs.
Your body responds to the loss of available glucose and switches to using a different energy source. The liver begins to breakdown fats and convert them to small molecules called ketones – a fuel source that can cause you to start tapping into your stored fat.
Is It Safe?
Perhaps you have heard that low carb diets can be dangerous. When done correctly this is not true.(1) Nutritional ketosis is actually a natural response by your body to adapt when there is not enough glucose.
If you were to go on a fast from food you would potentially put your body into a state of ketosis. By following a ketogenic diet you get the same health benefits as a fast… but you are not depriving yourself of food, just the carbohydrates.
Here Are 5 Specific Reasons You May Want to Consider a Ketogenic Diet
1) You Can Retrain Your Body to Burn Fats
When you exercise, you train your muscles to get stronger or more flexible because you are making them adapt to a stimulus. In this case, it might be lifting heavier weights each time, biking a little faster, or stretching a little longer and deeper.
Similarly, by changing the ratios of macronutrients in your diet you can cause your body to adapt and change the fuel it uses. With a ketogenic diet, you are training your body to use fat instead of glucose by simply limiting access to carbs and increasing healthy fats.
Try this: Plan your meals and snacks at the start of the day and keep in mind that 1/2 of your calories should come from healthy fats, approximately ⅓ of your food should come from lean proteins, and about ⅕ should come from unprocessed carbs. Here are the percentage breakdowns for what that looks like daily:
- 50% of food from healthy fats
- 30% of food from lean proteins
- 20% of food from unprocessed carbohydrates
Eventually, if you notice that you are feeling better and having success with weight loss you could decrease your fat to 40% and increase the carbs to 30%.
2) You Don’t Have to Be a Victim to Sugar Lows
Have you ever counted the number of carbs you take in during a typical day?
If you are like most Americans it might hover around 225-325 grams a day. That is a lot!
You experience sugar highs and consequently sugar lows as your body tries to compensate for too much sugar. It is not an efficient way to fuel your body and will negatively affect your energy levels. You become trapped in a chain reaction that, when simplified, looks like this:
- You eat a lot of carbs, which results in…
- Your pancreas dumping insulin into your system, which eventually causes…
- Your sugar levels to plummet, which in turn means…
- A significant drop in energy, causing your body to….
- Crave more carbs, so you respond by eating more carbs…
- And the cycle repeats itself.
Nutritional ketosis breaks this cycle because there is no longer a steady supply of glucose. Ketones become the new source of fuel and do not cause the crazy spikes in insulin levels.
Try this: If you are coming off of a high carb diet and want to steady your blood sugar levels, start by introducing healthy fats with each meal and snack. Here are some good examples:
- Add almond butter to a bowl of fresh berries or in a morning smoothie.
- Use olive oil instead of salad dressing on your salad. Add a hard boiled egg and some flax seed for a healthier and more filling version.
- Choose salmon with a healthy green for dinner.
- Snack during the day on cut up avocado, nuts, and/or cheese.
3) Healthy Fats Can be Your Friends
If any of the macronutrient groups have gotten a bad rap, it is the fats. For decades we have heard that a diet low in fats and high in carbohydrates is the way to good health. Unfortunately, this has resulted in more people being overweight with more disease.
The low-fat approach to nutrition is leaving out an important part of the story. Healthy fats such as the ones listed below can actually lower the bad cholesterol (LDL), keep you full longer, give you shiny hair, improve your memory, and provide a more stable source of energy.
Try this: Add these healthy fats to your daily diet to help you reach nutritional ketosis.
- Egg yolk
- Olives and olive oil
- Coconuts and coconut oil
- Nuts and nut butter
- Real butter or ghee (clarified butter)
- Flax seeds
- Chia seeds
- Grass-fed beef
4) Eating Lean Proteins Can Help You Succeed
If you are trying to lower the number on your scale, you do not want it to happen at the expense of your muscle. To avoid this on any diet it is important to consume enough lean protein.
In a ketogenic diet, the window of time that you are most at risk for this to happen is when you are attempting to become keto-adapted. Once your body reaches a state of ketosis it will begin to use fat as its fuel source. Until then, be sure to eat plenty of lean proteins from healthy sources.(3)
Try this: A regular influx of protein in every meal and snack protects your muscles. Add these to your healthy fats and limited carbs:
- Peanut butter (or almond butter) with apples
- Greek yogurt sprinkled with flax or chia seeds
- Hard-boiled eggs drizzled with olive oil
- Lean turkey breast and avocado
- Chicken breast and cheese
- Whey protein powder added to smoothies, oatmeal, or baked goods
5) It Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated
A number one sign that a diet will not work is if it is too complicated or too restrictive. Even if it initially causes you to lose weight, the likelihood of staying on it and maintaining your weight loss goes down if it is too difficult to follow.
If the thought of limiting your carb intake scares you, it might be helpful to take a more modified approach to this diet. As mentioned earlier the percentages of macronutrients needed to reach ketosis will vary depending on the individual. However, most of us can greatly benefit by lowering the amount of processed carbs we eat daily.
Here are three ways that you can easily do this:
- Eat 6 small meals a day and aim to have only healthy fats and lean proteins in 4 of them. You can include unprocessed carbs in the other two meals.
- Limit your healthy carbs (fruits and vegetables) to before 4 pm. Healthy fats and lean proteins any time throughout the day.
- Drink a healthy smoothie made with whey protein and a healthy fat to replace one meal throughout the day. Here are two great recipes:
Fresh Berry Smoothie
Place these ingredients into a blender and mix until smooth.
1 Tbsp. Flaxseed oil
1 cup of frozen berries of your choice
1 cup of unsweetened coconut milk
¼ cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
2 scoops of a quality Whey protein (vanilla)
3 – 4 ice cubes
Combine these ingredients in a blender until smooth.
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
½ cup cucumber
½ cup spinach or kale
½ medium avocado
1 cup brewed decaf green or ginger tea
2 scoops of a quality Whey protein (Vanilla)
3 – 4 ice cubes
Final Take Away
Successful weight loss is always accompanied by healthy lifestyle choices. The ketogenic diet is an effective diet when you view it through the lens of long term, doable adjustments.
Foods from all three macronutrient groups are important to good health. Changing up the typical carb-heavy diet may help you to stabilize your blood glucose levels and cause your body to tap into your fat stores for fuel.
Pick one of the simple suggestions mentioned above to get started. Listen to your body and work towards a healthier ratio of fats to proteins to carbs.
We would love to hear from you. Tell us how you plan to reduce processed carbs or share your favorite healthy smoothie recipe in the comments below.
Steve Sisskind, M.D.
Hi, I'm Dr. Steve Sisskind, Chief Medical Officer & Founder at RealDose Nutrition.
As a young physician, I struggled because my patients came to me with serious health issues, but I didn't have the right tools to help them. Medical school taught me how to put "band aids" on their symptoms with drugs and surgery, but not how to address the root causes of their problems.
Years later I discovered a better approach... based on the fundamental idea that the power of nutrition can transform your health and vitality. But there's a lot of confusion... What foods should I eat? Which supplements should I take? What does the science say?
I have dedicated my life to answering these questions... And I share this knowledge with you every day here at RealDose Nutrition.
I invite you to connect with me by joining my free private community. I've helped thousands of people and I know I can help you too!
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1) Hussein, Dashti M and Thazhumpal, Mattew C and Talib, Hussein and Sami, Asfar and Abdulla, Behbahani and Mousa, Khoursheed A and Hilal, Al-Sayer M and Yousef, Bo-Abbas Y and Naji, Al-Zaid S (2004) Long-term effects of a ketogenic diet in obese patients. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2716748/
2) Siri-Tarino, Patty W and Sun, Qi and Hu, Frank B and Krauss, Ronald M (2010) Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease. Retrieved from http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/early/2010/01/13/ajcn.2009.27725.abstract
3) Manninen, Anssi H (2006) Very-low-carbohydrate diets and preservation of muscle mass. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1373635/