Everything You Need to Know about the Keto Diet Plan

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll have heard of the ketogenic diet. It’s a low-carb, high-fat, moderate-protein food plan that promises to slice inches off your waist by putting your body into a metabolic state called ‘ketosis’. The lure of nigh-on unlimited steak and bacon is enough to tempt even the hardiest pizza fiend, but how does the diet stack up?

The ketogenic diet was developed in 1924 by Dr. Russell Wilder as a treatment for epilepsy. It has also been used during management of liver disease, cancer, neurologic conditions and chronic pain. Nearly 100 years on, there is massive hype about the diet, but now for purposes of a very different nature. You can guarantee in the office you’ll hear how someone has started it, and usually, how fantastic their initial results are, or conversely, how gruelling it is and how they've given up.

Allow us to separate keto fact from keto fiction.

salmon fillet topped with arugula pesto and salad
Image by Sherry Galey - Getty Images

The Keto Diet Plan: What is it?

The keto diet is a very low carb and high fat diet which results in weight loss. It is similar to the Atkins diet in terms of how it works.

Following a ketogenic diet helps weight loss initially by causing a substantial amount of water loss when your body turns to glycogen for fuel in the absence of carbohydrates in the diet. Glycogen is carbohydrates stored in your liver and muscles. According to research, each gram of glycogen is stored in human muscle with at least three grams of water. When it is used for energy, the bonded water is expelled, resulting in the initial dramatic weight loss, which is what makes you ecstatic when you step on the scales in those first few days. However, weight loss doesn't always equal fat loss.

The evidence for keto aiding weight loss more so than other diets is mixed, but tends to show fairly similar weight loss as other diets. Keto is thought to be superior over other diets due to it causing 'ketosis'.

What is Ketosis?

You may have heard of the word 'ketosis' being banded about by keto diet fans. According to Examine, 'When most people eat less than around 50 grams a day of carbohydrate, they soon start producing high levels of something called ketone bodies. These are simply breakdown products of fat, and are used to fuel cells that normally depend on glucose.'

Ketosis occurs when you greatly reduce your carbohydrate consumption to <50 grams of carbohydrate a day. According to diabetes.co.uk, 'Ketosis is a state the body goes into if it needs to break down body fat for energy. The state is marked by raised levels of ketones in the blood which can be used by the body as fuel. Ketones which are not used for fuel are excreted out of the body via the kidneys and the urine.'

Ketosis has been linked to improvements in weight loss, blood glucose control in diabetes, epilepsy and overall metabolic health.

What Are the Basic Rules of Keto?

The keto diet plan requires fat to comprise roughly 60 to 80 per cent of your total calories. Protein makes up around 10 to 15 per cent, and the remaining 5-10 per cent (more or less) comes from carbs. Exactly how many grams you should get depends on your energy needs, and there are a wealth of online calculators that can help you work it out. Generally speaking, you won’t eat more than 25 grams of carbs each day; equivalent to one slice of whole wheat bread or a small apple.

What Are the Top 10 Keto Foods?

If you're considering starting a keto diet plan, get to know these foods:

  1. Meat: steak, chicken, turkey, pork

  2. Fish: salmon, tuna, mackerel

  3. Eggs: whichever way you prefer them!

  4. Vegetables: think low-carb so green veggies, tomatoes, onions etc

  5. Avocados: most fruits are high in carbs so are to be avoided, but avocados are definitely on the keto shopping list

  6. Berries: these are the exception when it comes to fruit, due to their low carbohydrate content

  7. Healthy oils: extra virgin, coconut and avocado oil

  8. Nuts and seeds: almonds, walnuts, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds etc

  9. Cheese: cheddar, goat, cream, blue and mozzarella

  10. Butter and cream: especially the grass-fed variety

Foods to Avoid on the Keto Diet

With the keto diet, you should avoid foods that are high in carbohydrates, such as the following.

  • Fruit: except for avocados and berries

  • Alcohol: the carb content of alcohol is sure to throw you out of ketosis

  • Foods and drinks high in sugar: cakes and fizzy drinks are off the keto diet plan

  • Beans or legumes: peas, kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas etc

  • Grains or starches: avoid wheat-based products like rice, pasta, cereal etc

low carb lettuce wrap sliders
LauriPatterson - Getty Images

What Are the Different Types of Keto Diet?

There are many different types of the ketogenic diet you can try. Some of which include:

  • Standard keto diet (SKD): 70% fat, 20% protein and 10% carbs.

  • Very-low-calorie keto diet (VLCKD): Less than 800 kcal/day, low carbohydrate intake <50 g/day and 1–1.5 g of protein per kg of ideal body weight.

  • Well formulated keto diet (WFKD): Sustained nutritional ketosis, adequate protein to avoid muscle loss 2 to 2.0 g/kgof bodyweight, adequate minerals and majority of daily intake from fats.

  • MCT keto diet: the addition of medium-chain triglycerides.

  • Cyclical keto diet (CKD): SKD 5–6 days per week, followed by 1–2 days of 60–70% carbs, 15–20% protein and 5–10% fats.

  • Targeted keto diet (TKD): eating carbs 30-60 min before exercise and following SKD all other times.

  • High protein keto diet: 60-65% fat, 30% protein, 5-10% carb.

How Do I Start a Keto Diet for Beginners?

Here are our 10 favourite low-carb recipes to help you get started:

  1. Low Carb Beef Chilli

  2. 5 Minute Low Carb High Protein Carbonara

  3. The Only 4 Omelette Recipes You'll Ever Need Again

  4. Rustic Spinach & Pepper Omelette

  5. Spiced Khlii Recipe

  6. Serve Up All Day Muscle With Our Protein Pizza Recipe

  7. The Best Way to Cook Chicken Breast Is Also the Easiest

  8. 15 Minute Grilled Asian Style Salmon

  9. Baked Eggs with Spinach

  10. Roast Halibut and Artichokes

5 Keto Diet Tips

It can be overwhelming to get started on the keto diet plan, here are some simple tips to help:

  1. Start to write a food diary, this can help you be more aware of your current diet. There are many nutrition apps you can use to help with this.

  2. Meal planning can help you be more organised especially when you're busy.

  3. Choose some recipes from the list above to keep your diet varied.

  4. When eating out at restaurants, have a look at the menu beforehand to see if there's any keto friendly meals.

  5. Bring keto friendly snacks with you when leaving the house so that you're not caught short.

Benefits of the Keto Diet Plan

Still interested? Die-hard keto followers love touting the myriad benefits of this regimented diet. According to Harvard School of Public Health the ketogenic diet can promote:

  • A satiating effect with decreased food cravings due to the high fat content of the diet.

  • A decrease in appetite-stimulating hormones, such as insulin and ghrelin, when eating restricted amounts of carbohydrates.

  • A direct hunger-reducing role of ketone bodies—the body’s main fuel source on a diet.

  • Increased calorie expenditure due to the metabolic effects of converting fat and protein to glucose.

Drawbacks of the Keto Diet Plan

The diet is incredibly limiting making it particularly difficult to stick to long-term. According to Examine, 'Keto is only effective if you maintain it; occasional keto is fine but yo-yo dieting with keto followed by carb binges is not.'

Loading up on high-fat foods while keeping carbs to a minimum seems straightforward on paper, but maxing out your micronutrients makes for a tough balancing act. While chowing down untold amounts of rib-eye, pork rind, cream and butter sounds like the dream, omitting so many vitamin and mineral-packed fruits and vegetables – never mind fibre-rich grains – spells bad news for your health.

Aside from this, Medical Director of Penn Medicine, Neel Chokshi says 'Consuming a lot of saturated fats, like the ones found in fast food and red meat increases a person’s risk for atherosclerosis, which promotes coronary disease and heart attacks.' Perhaps an idea to skip the bacon.

There’s also the dreaded ‘keto flu’ – your body’s natural response to carbohydrate restriction. Like regular flu, symptoms include fatigue, dizzy spells, nausea and restlessness. Unlike regular flu, they tend to subside within three to five days, though this varies from person to person. Depleted water and salt levels are to blame, so staying hydrated and bumping up your electrolyte intake is key to combatting it.

slice of steak
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Your brain naturally runs on glucose, so keto fanatics frequently complain of a ‘brain fog’ – slower cognition, memory loss, headaches, and confusion – that manifests as your body transitions between the two fuel sources. There’s also the matter of undesirable ‘keto breath’, which is caused by the breakdown of acetoacetic acid.

As for athletic performance, recent research, published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition concluded that the keto diet wasn't exactly great for building muscle. Another recent study found that participants on a ketogenic diet were quicker to fatigue when cycling with participants revealing 'experiences of muscle fatigue during daily life activities, as well as during exercise.'

Can the Keto Diet Reduce Belly Fat?

There's much discussion around whether a high-carb or low-carb diet is better when calories are matched. According to a meta-analysis of 32 trials comparing carb levels, there is fairly similar weight loss from keto as other diets, causing controversy about the drivers behind the ketogenic diets' success (or lack thereof). Layne Norton PhD explained that the 'Ketogenic diet is not superior to calorie/protein equated, non-ketogenic diets. Actually, this is the latest in a long (30+ ) line of studies that equate calories and protein but vary the number of carbohydrates and fats.'

There are undeniable benefits of how the keto diet plan affects your calorie intake. According to the Harvard School of Public Health including a reduction in appetite and an increase in the thermic effect of food (how much energy you use to digest food). This is why we hear people raving about their minimal cravings while leaving the biscuit tin alone on the diet.

Is the Keto Diet for You?

While we’re all for ditching the demonisation of fat, man cannot (and should not) live on steak alone. Ultimately, as research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association proved, the best diet is the one you can stick to. Following a regimen where a Friday night pint could send your whole body out of whack is a) insanity and b) destined to fail from the offset. Our advice? Strike a balance and shift those extra pounds in no time with these easy-to-follow tips.

When embarking on any new diet there are always risks involved and it's of high importance to consult a registered dietitian or your GP first to ensure your safety.

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