How Do I Start a Ketogenic Diet? Pros and Cons

The low carb, high fat nature of the ketogenic diet makes it difficult to follow, thus it’s critical you consult with your doctor before starting any new eating plan or diet. 

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Ketogenic diets are low in carbs and high in fats. PHOTO via @AdobeStock/2 April 2021

Ketogenic diet is low in carbs and high in fats. They reduce blood sugar insulin levels and shift the body’s metabolism away from carbs and toward fat and ketones.

The diet is designed to force your body out of its normal metabolic pathway and turn it into a fat-burning machine, says David Andrews, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.

Some say that keto dieting can help you lose weight by suppressing hunger and breaking through weight-loss plateaus when done correctly. 

Other benefits often cited include improved blood sugar levels, reduced inflammation, better control over type 2 diabetes symptoms (e.g. improved insulin sensitivity) and improved energy levels.

Ketosis, or the presence of ketones in the blood over 0.5 millimolar, instead of being detected by glucose meters, is a sign that your body has entered a state in which it burns fat for fuel instead of carbs. 

This is called being in “nutritional ketosis” or “keto” for short. It is generally safe for healthy people to be in this state, although there are some cases where it can be dangerous.

When your body is producing less glucose due to dietary changes (e.g. fewer carbs), your body can start producing ketones for fuel. The result of this process leads to a buildup of acids called ketoacidosis, which can be excreted in the urine. 

A state of nutritional ketosis is reached when the level of ketones in the blood is over 0.5 millimolar for an extended time.

The diet has taken the world by storm and gained fame among celebrities, but not without controversy. Celebrities (like Hugh Jackman) and athletes alike have sworn by it as a way to lose weight and improve performance, while others have decried it as an unhealthy fad. 

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However, the diet has been proven to be effective in some cases.

How does it work?

The exact mechanism for how the ketogenic diet works are still being digested by scientists and researchers but the basic process goes something like this: When you eat carbohydrates (such as a doughnut), your body turns them into glucose, which it uses for energy. 

But what happens when you’re in a state of ketosis

To enter nutritional ketosis, the body starts producing small amounts of fatty acids from its fat stores instead of glucose from carbs. These fatty acids are a source of energy that reduces the amount of glucose in the blood.

Many people have said that the diet works simply because it’s a low-carb diet, but this isn’t entirely true. Not all low-carb diets are ketogenic, and many (but not all) ketogenic diets don’t rely on consuming excessively low amounts of carbs. 

Scientists aren’t yet sure why the body goes into ketosis when it doesn’t consume enough carbohydrates, but theories exist about how ketones may help regulate blood sugar levels, reduce inflammation and improve energy production. 

Both of these effects may be caused by the reduction in available glucose.

Keto dieting is not for everyone

The low carb, high fat nature of the ketogenic diet makes it difficult to follow, thus it’s critical you consult with your doctor before starting any new eating plan or diet. 

A ketogenic diet has been linked to increased rates of poor cardiovascular health as well as a decline in physical performance in athletes. 

Some people may even experience side effects from being on a ketogenic diet such as fatigue, dizziness, headache, nausea or constipation.

To be in a state of ketosis and burn fat for fuel, you’ll need to consume fewer than 50 grams of carbs and more than 150 grams of fat daily. That’s a pretty tough order for someone who is used to eating an American diet, which is rich in carbs. 

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Most people with diabetes are accustomed to consuming at least 3 cups of simple carbs per day (e.g. cookies, cake or candy) and getting half their calories from carbohydrates alone.

So how does the diet work? What food to eat?

Some of the foods that are restricted in the ketogenic diet include grains, many fruits (especially high fructose corn syrup) and all starches.

There are plenty of substitutions that can be made for these restricted foods, but I would still recommend speaking with your doctor before making any changes to your diet.

What foods can you eat?

Good fats (e.g. extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil and butter)

Healthy oils (e.g. avocado, olives, nuts and seeds)

Non-starchy vegetables (e.g. artichokes, peppers, mushrooms and spinach)

Healthy proteins (e.g. grass-fed beef or lamb, skinless poultry, wild salmon or non-processed dairy products like full-fat Greek yoghurt)

MCT oil (if the dieter consumes regular cooking oils like coconut oil or olive oil they will not need to restrict these foods.

Good fats are probably the easiest components of a keto diet to understand, so let’s take a look at some of the ways that you can incorporate them into your diet.

Keto appetizers with good fats

Here are some ideas for appetizers to enjoy when eating on the ketogenic diet:

Nutritional yeast: this is an all-natural seasoning (it’s not vegan) with a cheesy flavor that can be found at health food stores. Great on salads, sandwiches and burgers.

this is an all-natural seasoning (it’s not vegan) with a cheesy flavor that can be found at health food stores. Great on salads, sandwiches and burgers. 

Butter: If you can’t find the good stuff, margarine is also a great alternative. Don’t use the types with added sugars or hydrogenated oils though – opt for real butter as a replacement.

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If you can’t find the good stuff, margarine is also a great alternative. Don’t use the types with added sugars or hydrogenated oils though – opt for real butter as a replacement. 

Mayonnaise: There are many brands and variations out there these days, so take your pick!

Keto appetizers with protein

You don’t need to go for just pizza on keto. You can also use these protein-rich foods to create a variety of keto-friendly appetizers:

Salmon: Can be used as a base for salads and wraps. 

Chicken: You can marinate the meat in spices, herbs or pesto sauce prior to grilling. This will give it more flavor while cooking.

You can marinate the meat in spices, herbs or pesto sauce prior to grilling. This will give it more flavor while cooking. 

Turkey: It’s more lean than chicken but not quite as lean as salmon. If you need an even leaner option, try trying ground turkey breast (which also contains more protein).

It’s more lean than chicken but not quite as lean as salmon. If you need an even leaner option, try trying ground turkey breast (which also contains more protein). 

Pork: Pork can be used in sandwiches, casseroles and as a base for meatballs.

Beef: There are a wide variety of beef cuts that are low carb and keto-friendly. They include sirloin, porterhouse, tenderloin and filet mignon. Some notable cuts include skirt steak, the eye of round and flank steak.

Musasi Isaac Christopher

An aspiring Lifestyle blogger who specializes in health, food and restaurant sectors. WhatsApp me on +256759100143.

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