This is perhaps one of the most searched questions online. The Keto Diet is one of the most popular weight loss diets in the past 10 years, with so many celebrities, artists, and athletes crediting the low carb, high fat diet for their amazing weight loss transformations.
However, many people who want to try keto for the first time wonder just how healthy it is to actually try it out for themselves or whether or not their bodies can “take” the keto challenge.
To be fair for those people, there are a lot of diets out there that can be really harmful if dieters just do things on their own. There are also a lot of misleading or downright false information out there that can confuse even the most “well-researched” people.
What is the Ketogenic Diet and can it help me lose weight?
While many diets shy away from meat, fats, and protein, the keto diet allows you to keep them as part of your everyday list of foods to eat. A keto diet can include meat, poultry, plant-based meats, eggs, fish, dairy, nuts, seeds, non-starchy vegetables, leafy greens, avocados, and berries. It also includes healthy fats like olive oil, as well as butter.
So, you can hypothetically keep eating most of your favourite foods and still lose weight.
Amazing? Yes. But how does it work? Following a keto diet relies on a natural metabolic process called ketosis.
What is Ketosis?
In a keto diet, ketosis is a metabolic process where the body uses stored fat instead of glucose, especially when you are super low on carbs – the source of glucose. Some scientists believe this was the body’s way of helping our ancient ancestors survive during times of famine or when there was little food to go around. 
In a state of nutritional ketosis, the body switches from glucose to ketones as a source of energy. Now, why is this a big deal when it comes to a low carb diet like keto?
Glucose, as you probably know, is what results from the metabolism of carbs. Glucose is the body and brain’s primary source of energy, and it is easily supplied by eating anything with carbs. As an energy source, there’s really no problem with glucose. The problem lies when you have a surplus of glucose. Unlike water, in which excess amounts can be excreted easily, surplus glucose is either stored as glycogen in the liver (to be used as an immediate source of energy) or stored as fat.
When you have too much glucose in your body all the time (and it’s easy to have too much of it in an ordinary diet), this is when you can start putting on weight. More than having flabs and a bigger number on the weighing scale, excess glucose can increase your risk of conditions such as high blood sugar, hypertension, insulin resistance, and fatty liver.
Ketones: Why this low carb diet is called the keto diet
As opposed to glucose, ketones aren’t produced from carbs. Ketones are produced by breaking down stored fats, and they can serve as an alternative source of fuel, especially for the brain. Yes, ketosis can turn those nice, fleshy mounds of fat inside you that love to pile up in your belly, your arms, and other places into a constant source of energy. 
Why can’t the body just go into ketosis in an instant? That’s because ketosis can only be activated when your body burns through whatever current supply of glucose it has. Once your body has completely used up all of your glycogen, it’s going to start looking for a different place from which to get some much-needed energy to keep your body up and running.
When the body runs out of glucose to use and prioritises body fat as fuel, your blood sugar and insulin levels tend to go down – and your body starts chipping away at all that stored fat and preparing it to become an active source of energy instead of simply a stockpile.
After your body breaks down and processes this stored fat, it produces ketones, which fuel your brain and body throughout the rest of the day. This part, as you probably already know, is ketosis: The breaking down and conversion of fats into sources of energy in the absence of carbs.
How does Ketosis work?
When your body enters this special metabolic state, fat gets converted into ketones, after which they can be used for energy. This happens when you don’t have enough glucose in your system (or if your system doesn’t have access to much of it). This is the reason why keto diets are extremely low in carbohydrates.
Some experts say people need to keep their total net carb consumption over a period of 24 hours at a maximum of 50 grams. Some even go as low as 20 grams! Do note that we’re talking about net carbs, or carbs that are not fibre. Fibre is highly regarded in the keto diet because not only is it good for general health and digestion, it’s also not stored inside the body.
Now, how do you reduce carb intake to lower than 50 grams? Most often start by eliminating all sorts of sugary treats from their daily intake. Unless they’re made to be keto-friendly, they’ll have to say goodbye to cakes, pancakes, cupcakes, bread, and all their other favourite desserts. They’ll also need to stay away from starchy, carb-rich vegetables and fruits.
As a result, insulin levels should decrease, which in turn leads to fatty acids being released inside the body en masse from fat stockpiles. When they go to the liver, they are then finally converted to ketones through oxidation.
The benefits of a ketogenic diet
For health and wellness, long term weight loss is the most common reason why people follow a low carbohydrate or keto diet. As time progresses, however, even those who said keto can help you lose weight stick to this lifestyle for its other benefits.
Below are some of the many health benefits of the ketogenic diet. 
Provides more energy throughout the day
Ketosis is the ultimate goal (and for some, the reward) of following a ketogenic diet.
When you finally maintain a state of ketosis, and your body gets used to fat and ketones as a source of energy, you will likely become much more energetic than ever before. Not only that, you also won’t experience the “crash,” or a sudden feeling of fatigue after a sugar rush.
Since your brain is also using ketones over glucose, you may find that you eliminate the condition called “brain fog,” or when you lack focus or memory.
Lean muscle mass is preserved
The keto diet helps burn body fat and body fat alone, allowing for efficient lean muscle growth. However, many doubt this claim since the keto diet does remove a lot of carbs. 
Studies have shown that the body finds a way to retain body composition even in ketosis through yet another metabolic process called gluconeogenesis.
Gluconeogenesis is another natural process wherein the body turns to non-carbohydrate sources as fuel. This process involves the liver and kidneys and is always “on,” regardless of whether you’re in ketosis or not. However, being in ketosis speeds it up. 
I know what you’re thinking “How can I stay in ketosis if my body produces glucose?”
Gluconeogenesis only provides the minimum amount of glucose to tissues that don’t recognize ketones as a fuel source. These tissues are primarily your red blood cells, the inner part of the kidneys called medulla, and (for men) testicles.
For bodybuilders, gluconeogenesis can help prevent muscle catabolism (the breakdown of muscle tissue for protein), which is to be used for gluconeogenesis. So long as you have adequate protein intake, your body will not touch your hard-earned gains while in ketosis.
Helps suppress appetite
Many suggest that the best way to capitalize on the weight loss benefits of being on a keto diet is by pairing it with intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting involves limiting your food intake to a certain eating time window. Once the window closes, you don’t eat until the eating window is open again. This restriction can help with weight loss.
The body is then focused on purely digesting and metabolizing the food you eat. Since the keto diet is high in fat with a moderate amount of protein, you should feel satiated and not have the urge to eat for extended periods.
Fat, together with protein, can help keep you from eating too frequently, and the keto diet mainly uses fat and protein as food sources. Put two and two together and you should experience weight loss easier.
Can lower the risk of Type 2 Diabetes
In a ketogenic diet, you consume a limited amount of carbs and a modest amount of protein, which can help to prevent blood sugar spikes and insulin resistance, two problems that can increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This also explains why people with type 2 diabetes often prefer a keto diet. Using ketones as a primary fuel source can also help your body to not be as dependent on insulin to keep your blood sugar levels in check. 
Boosts cardiovascular health
One of the many criticisms about the keto diet is how it’s “absurdly high” in fats which many have always known as a “bad” nutrient. The focus was always how fats are linked to heart disease. This is also why some experts would rather promote low fat, high carb diets over high fat, low-carb diets.
While there are special cases where fat consumption should be limited, given a healthy body and the right sources, including fat in your diet may very well help your heart not only stay healthy, but also work at a more efficient rate.
Many types of fat from plant sources such as avocados and olive oil have been cited for their heart-healthy benefits, particularly in helping reduce LDL (aka the “bad” cholesterol), while also boosting HDL (“good”) cholesterol. The keto diet could also help to burn fat and help you lose weight, which can be effective against those with metabolic syndrome.
What can you eat on a ketogenic diet?
One of the many pervasive myths about the keto diet is how utterly punishing it is for the average person when it comes to food choices. Of course, there will always be restrictions when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle and to lose weight, but keto diet enthusiasts aren’t as food deprived as many people would have you believe.
Whilst there are supplements you should consider on the keto diet, here are some foods you can definitely eat if you follow a ketogenic diet.
The ketogenic diet revolves around fat as a direct and main source of energy. You won’t be able to take advantage of the state of ketosis if you don’t have enough fat to run on, but that doesn’t mean you can just eat whatever fat you want.
When it comes to fat sources, the best will always come from whole foods instead of foods that come in a box or can such as margarine and hydrogenated fats.
It may sound crazy to think, but you can actually get a lot of nutritious fats from plants and their resulting fruits or seeds. Some of the best plant fats come from avocados, chia seeds, coconut oil, olive oil, sunflower seeds, peanuts, and other nuts.
These fat sources are continuously cited for many, many health benefits: Improving cholesterol levels, reducing triglycerides, boosting cardiovascular health, reducing inflammation, and some even possess potent antioxidant and anticarcinogenic (anti-cancer) properties. Many scientists believe that a lot of what makes plants healthy are largely due to their oils.
Perhaps the main audience draw of ketogenic diets, and why it’s trending past other popular diets, is the fact that you get to keep eating your favourite meat-based meals and recipes.
Take for instance fish (and fish oil) and its omega-3 content.
Omega-3 fatty acids have some serious brain and heart health benefits. They also exhibit anti-inflammatory properties, which is great since chronic inflammation may play a role in the development of many chronic diseases.
Apart from being just overall “good” for us, omega-3 fatty acids are also known as essential fatty acids (since the body is incapable of producing adequate amounts of omega-3s on its own). Sure, the body can definitely synthesize omega-3s from omega-6 fatty acids (a type of fat found in plant products), but the conversion rate is only an abysmal 5% at most, certainly not providing the body with the omega-3s it needs to function.
Other than fish, some great fat sources are eggs, other dairy products, and meat. Eggs in particular are considered one of the healthiest and most nutritionally “complete” foods on the planet. Meat, on the other hand, is filled with B vitamins, especially B12 which is critical for a host of metabolic processes in the body.
However, there’s also one caveat regarding animal fat intake, especially when talking about meat: protein.
Remember our short discussion about gluconeogenesis and how it converts non-carbs into glucose? Well, gluconeogenesis can convert proteins found in meat into glucose. So, take care not to overeat meat, or you might just get taken out of ketosis.
Coffee and Tea
Whether you’re into a strong cup of Joe or prefer the soothing and calming effects of a bag of leaves dipped in hot water, coffee and tea will always be excellent beverage options for someone on a keto diet. The key is to simply remove sugars or just not add anything “carb-y” (such as regular creamer), and you should be able to maintain ketosis.
The best part? Coffee and tea – especially green tea – are also beneficial for your health! With advantages ranging from weight loss, improved metabolism, and increased energy to brain function, stress protection, and immunity, what’s not to like? 
Fruit naturally packs quite a lot of sugar, so it can be difficult to include fruits in a ketogenic menu. However, if you know exactly how many carbs you’re going to be getting or if you can have control over how much fruit you’ll be eating, you shouldn’t be scared of including fruits in your diet.
Berries tend to be lower in carbs compared to other fruits – so feel free to enjoy strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries. They’re also high in fibre and powerful antioxidants.
Depending on who you ask, chocolate can be a good or bad thing for low carb ketogenic diets. Our stance is, you can eat chocolate but you always must choose dark chocolate. That’s because dark chocolate is typically lowest in sugar.
More than a “cure” for that keto sweet tooth, cacao and dark chocolate are known for their antioxidant content – similar to berries. The flavonoids abundant in dark chocolate have been cited for their cardiovascular benefits, particularly on reducing hypertension symptoms. 
It’s no secret that a bowl of salad is much, much more nutrient-dense than a bowl of corn flakes or even porridge. In terms of the nutritional bang-for-buck, salads are almost perfect companions that fit into all sorts of eating styles and habits. However, the healthiness of a bowl of salad can be instantly offset by dousing it with “bad” dressing.
Many keto diet followers use balsamic vinegar, but we suggest olive oil or even coconut oil if you don’t mind the cookie-like smell. Not only will these oils improve your salad’s palatability, but they can also provide a good source of healthy fats.
Properly formulated high fat, low-carb ketogenic diets should not be devoid of fibre and should contain a regular supply of low-carb, high-fibre vegetables on a daily basis. Some of the best high fat, low carb keto-friendly fibre sources are leafy greens (lettuce, spinach, kale, etc.), celery, artichokes, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, berries, hemp seeds, almonds, walnuts, and flax seeds.
A diet for weight loss is just the tip of the iceberg for high fat ketogenic diets. The ketogenic diet is definitely strict, but you get used to it quite fast once you see how your body positively responds to it. So the next time you look up anything about the keto diet or whether a keto diet is right for you, just read this blog and let it be your personal diet refresher.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is Keto Flu?
Keto flu is a term given to the affects the keto diet can have on your general health and wealth being. Symptoms can include headache, brain fog, difficult in sleeping, general fatigue and constipation. Symptoms can appear between 2 and 7 days after starting a ketogenic based diet. If you are in doubt about the keto diet we suggest you consult your doctor before starting a keto diet for weight loss.
How many grams of carbs should you eat on the Keto diet?
On a strict keto diet 20 grams of carbs is generally the rule of thumb. However, followers of “dirty keto” suggest around 30 grams of carbs per day.
- Paoli A. Ketogenic diet for obesity: friend or foe?. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2014;11(2):2092–2107. Published 2014 Feb 19. doi:10.3390/ijerph110202092. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3945587/ Visited 23/03/2021
- LaManna JC, Salem N, Puchowicz M, et al. Ketones suppress brain glucose consumption. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2009;645:301–306. doi:10.1007/978-0-387-85998-9_45 Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19227486/ Visited 23/03/2021
- Dashti HM, Mathew TC, Hussein T, et al. Long-term effects of a ketogenic diet in obese patients. Exp Clin Cardiol. 2004;9(3):200–205. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2716748/ Visited 23/03/2021
- Manninen AH. Very-low-carbohydrate diets and preservation of muscle mass. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2006;3:9. Published 2006 Jan 31. doi:10.1186/1743-7075-3-9 Available from: https://nutritionandmetabolism.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1743-7075-3-9 Visited 23/03/2021
- Berg JM, Tymoczko JL, Stryer L. Biochemistry. 5th edition. New York: W H Freeman; 2002. Section 16.3, Glucose Can Be Synthesized from Noncarbohydrate Precursors. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK22591/ Visited 23/03/2021
- Bolla AM, Caretto A, Laurenzi A, Scavini M, Piemonti L. Low-Carb and Ketogenic Diets in Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes. Nutrients. 2019;11(5):962. Published 2019 Apr 26. doi:10.3390/nu11050962 Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31035514/ Visited 23/03/2021
- Poole R, Kennedy OJ, Roderick P, Fallowfield JA, Hayes PC, Parkes J. Coffee consumption and health: umbrella review of meta-analyses of multiple health outcomes [published correction appears in BMJ. 2018 Jan 12;360:k194]. BMJ. 2017;359:j5024. Published 2017 Nov 22. doi:10.1136/bmj.j5024 Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29167102/ Visited 23/03/2021
- Katz DL, Doughty K, Ali A. Cocoa and chocolate in human health and disease. Antioxid Redox Signal. 2011;15(10):2779–2811. doi:10.1089/ars.2010.3697 Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4696435/ Visited 23/03/2021