What is a keto diet?
The keto diet is a low carb and high-fat diet. It is especially important to reduce your carb intake to less than 10% of daily calorie consumption.
Our body always takes glucose for energy production first because it is converted into energy very fast. When the glucose stores are empty then our body uses fat as fuel. And that´s the time the ketosis begins.
One thing a keto diet is NOT. A keto diet is not a free ticket to eat fat all day every day and get skinny. You still need to add nutrient-dense foods like vegetables to cover all your daily micronutrient needs for optimal health.
Ketosis is a phase we reach when we starve for a long time or reduce the carb intake to less than 10% of the daily calorie intake. During this process, the liver turns fat cells into ketones. They then replace the glucose as the source of energy.
Eating fat and lose weight sounds controversial at first. But now you know that is actually true and can work fine when you pay attention to the amount of carbs you eat. If you are eating low-carb but still consume too many carb-rich foods the state of ketosis won´t start.
Let´s dig a little bit deeper and see how a keto diet for beginners looks like…
What can you eat on a keto diet?
The meal plan for your keto diet will include the following foods groups … and keep in mind the more restrictive you are on carbs the faster you will enter ketosis.
Fats will be the major part of your diet. But that is not a free ticket to eating all the crapy, fatty junk food. With junk food, you will put a lot of trans fats into your system. That is the worst form of fat you can eat.
(They are chemically processed fats to make the food more durable. Margarine would be a good example for that. Margarine is made from vegetable oils and in order to stay solid at room temperature vegetable oils are hydrogenated. Therefore the oil is blended with a nickel catalyst and hydrogen gas in a high-pressure reactor. As a result, you get a solid consistency at room temperature. This process creates trans fats.)
You have to stick to healthy fats from fresh, unprocessed food (like avocados, nuts, meat, eggs, fish …)
You get your protein for example from eggs, fatty fish, ribeye steak, bacon. It is beneficial for your health to reach for the pasture-raised and grass fed versions. They tend to be less contaminated with steroid hormones and bacteria. In contrast to the most diets don´t choose the white meat like chicken. It is not high in fat. On a keto diet, the darker meat is the better option as it is higher in fat. In case you don´t like red meat and instead prefer white meat you can add something fatty like cheese, sauces or avocados to make it a high-fat meal. If sausages or cured meat are your favorites then you should take a look at the ingredients. They can have added sugars or other processed components. Too much protein will have a negative effect on the ketone production. So don´t overdo it with your protein intake.
- Fruit & veggies
Since you have to cut down on carbs not all fruits and veggies are equally suitable for your diet. Some are lower and some are higher in their carbohydrate level. You want to eat the one with the lowest amount of carbs and the highest amount of nutrients. It comes in very handy that you can often find fresh kale smoothies to buy. Kale and all the leafy green vegetables are a perfect choice for your keto diet. If you have a buy everyday life that will not be an excuse for not getting fresh greens in. As an alternative, you can take frozen vegetables. You can buy the amount for your week ahead and store them to use later.
Nuts are a great source of fat and very nutritious. But some are more suitable than others. It might come as a bummer that the popular and delicious pistachios and cashews we like to eat for the next Netflix marathon are not a good choice. They are higher in carbs than most of the other nuts and you will reach your daily intake capacity of carbs with just 2 hands full of them.
Besides fat nuts are also rich in protein and remember what I said about the daily protein intake and that it can influence your diet negatively.
- Seasonings & Sauces
If you have to keep your carb intake as low as 10% of your daily intake to get your body in ketosis you have to be very picky about the foods you eat. Every single carbohydrate counts and can be the key to success or failure of your keto diet. To make your meals interesting and delicious you should be able to use some kind of seasoning. The best choices include sea salt, cayenne pepper, chili powder, oregano or rosemary.
If you like to spice up your meals with some sauce you have to pay attention to the ingredients. The different amounts of ingredients can highly vary from brand to brand. In generall sauces are mostly not a good choice to eat because they often have a lot of added sugars or artificial sweeteners. The sauces you could go for are ketchup (light version), mayonnaise, mustard or salad dressings like ranch dressing. The best alternative is to avoid packaged sauces. Instead, make some yourself. This way you are in control of the ingredients and all the macros you need. For example, you can make sauce hollandaise.
How to avoid sugar cravings?
Sugar cravings can make your keto diet very hard over time. If you naturally have a sweet tooth you have to be strong and consistent to avoid sweets things to not trigger your cravings.
The cravings are made by a longtime sugar consumption. By regularly consuming sugar our brain releases dopamine which is responsible for the happy feeling we get after a big, crunchy, chocolate chip cookie. Over time our body gets used to the intake and needs constantly more sugar to produce the same amount of dopamine.
To break the vicious circle the best scenario would be to avoid sugar at all to avoid the temptation.
Especially in the beginning when you shift to a keto diet the cravings for sweets might get overwhelming. Prepare for that and clean out your pantry. You can´t eat what is not in your kitchen, right. Out of sight, out of mind 🙂
Can you drink on a keto diet?
For some people, the bottleneck of the diet might be to give up or at least drastically reduce the sweets. Other might have a hard time to reduce the alcohol consumption. The glass of red wine for dinner or the beer while watching soccer or the cocktail while out with friends. Habits can be hard to change and even harder if you are in company and now you are the only one who isn´t drinking at the table.
And yet again it is all about moderation and making the right choices. Beer and wine are higher in carbs than hard liquor is. You can swap your beer for a vodka shot for example. The hard liquor (35-50% alcohol) won´t affect insulin as hard as for example wine and beer do.
It is possible to drink alcohol and still be in ketosis. But it comes with the cost of a slow down in fat loss and weight loss. Our body detects alcohol as a toxin and wants to get rid of it immediately. In order to do this, the alcohol gets metabolized before every other nutrient. That means also the fat has to wait until it gets metabolized in the liver.
So, if you feel the need to have a drink go for these options: Vodka, Rum, Tequila, Brandy, Gin, Whisky, Scotch
Is coffee ok on a keto diet?
If you don´t want to drink your coffee black you can make it keto approved with a spoon of MCT oil, grass-fed butter or try coconut oil. This version of coffee is called bullet prove coffee. If you drink it first thing in the morning the span of ketosis from the night will keep going on. You provide your body with easy to digest fat sources.
It´s actually beneficial to have a bulletproof coffee in the morning because it gives you a big energy boost for the day and keeps your body in the ketosis state. Your body is burning fat for energy and not storing it on your hips.
Using fats as your main energy source is more satisfying. It keeps you full for a longer time and you don´t feel the need to snack so often.
Needless to say that the coffee should be drunken on an empty stomach for the best results. It should be a meal replacement and not an addition to your normal breakfast.
Biggest keto mistakes
Eating high-fat foods and losing weight sounds too good to be true. There are a lot of success stories out there from people who lost a lot of weight. While some people praise this form of a diet there can actually be done some things wrong. It´s not only about cutting out carbs and the fat will melt away. Here are the biggest keto mistakes you need to avoid.
1. Eating hidden carbs
When you eat fresh vegetables, nuts, fruits it is easier to track your carb intake. It´s the processed food that has hidden carbs. The industry is very resourceful in hiding sugars in processed foods. Always check the food labels. Sugar can be hidden as HFCS (high fructose corn syrup), maltose, dextrin (see 56 different names for sugar).
2. Minerals are missing
Sure, macros are important, but so are micronutrients – the minerals and vitamins derived from plants and other living things.
Not having enough minerals is probably one of the biggest keto mistakes you can make. To get into ketosis it is crucial to have good amounts of sodium, magnesium, and potassium in your diet. It will lead to flu-like symptoms such as lethargy, headaches, and fatigue.
The keto flu is not just a myth it´s a real thing. When you eat carbs, your body produces insulin to transport carbs and lower blood sugar levels. Since you avoid carbs there is also less insulin.
The lack of insulin causes the liver to flush out sodium. Plus, working out increases the sodium loss. To balance the deficit you have to eat salty foods.
3. Too much protein
When you eat too many protein-rich foods you don´t end up in ketosis. Instead, the process that happens is called gluconeogenesis. That means protein is treated like carbs and is converted into glucose. And there goes your ketosis.
Always choose high fat, low protein foods. So, no chicken. Eat full-fat ground beef and regular, fatty bacon.
4. Not enough fat
It is important to manifest your mindset to “eat enough fat”. The keto diet is a high-fat diet and not getting enough healthy fats is one of the biggest keto mistakes you have to avoid.
To get into ketosis you have to lower your carb intake to under 10% per day.
In the beginning, it can be hard to change your mindset and habits. You are probably used to avoid fat to lose weight. And now it is the opposite. Your fridge is now full of fatty foods likes bacon, eggs, avocados, sausages, coconut oil, ground beef.
Your primary energy source was carbs and on a keto diet, your main energy source is fat. If you are not getting enough fat your energy levels run low and you are more likely to quit the diet and fall back into old habits.
Not all fats are created equal. You want to avoid the processed fats at any cost. Stay away from vegetable and seed oils.
5. Patience is key
Rome wasn´t built in a day and neither is your body. You have to be patient and give your body time to adapt to the new changes. We are programmed to use carbs as a primary energy source. And when you change fundamental things like that and redirect your body it takes some time until all processes run smoothly.