Tips for a Successful Keto Diet
The Ketogenic Diet has been around since the 1920’s but it has become very popular over the past few years as an effective way to:
control blood sugar
reverse type 2 diabetes
promote fat loss
and increase energy, mental clarity and cognitive function.
My husband, Steve, and I have been doing a Ketogenic diet for over 2 years now, and I have helped many of our members start a well-formulated Ketogenic diet. The results of this low carb, high fat lifestyle can be amazing, but there are some pitfalls that can definitely occur if the diet is started without the proper guidance.
Here are 6 tips to ensure success on a Keto Diet:
1. You must eat fat, lots of fat.
- Sixty five to seventy five percent of your calories must come from fat on a Ketogenic diet. So many people have to wrap their minds around the fact that fat isn’t bad and it will not make them fat or cause heart disease as long as it is not consumed in conjunction with high carbohydrates.
- Saturated fats such as those in coconut products, dairy, and red meat are staples of a Ketogenic diet along with monounsaturated fats found in avocados, olives, and their oils. Nuts and seeds also provide good fats on a Ketogenic diet.
- The fats to avoid are the inflammatory fats from corn and vegetable oils. These include canola oil, soybean oil, grapeseed oil, and hydrogenated fats like margarine. As long as you are eating the right fats and not combining them with carbs (ex. butter + bagel, cheese + pepperoni + crust= pizza) you will stay in ketosis and see all the benefits of the diet.
2. You must moderate your protein intake.
Unlike carbs and fat, protein cannot be stored in the body, so if you take in more protein than your body needs, your liver converts it to sugar through a process called gluconeogenesis. This way it can be used to replenish glycogen stores or, in more cases, be stored as fat. Protein comes from meat, poultry, eggs, cheese, and nuts. As a general rule of thumb, men can typically have about 3 palm sized portions of protein containing foods per day and women can typically have about 3, half palm sized portions. This equates to about 90g for the typical male and about 50g for the typical female.
Activity level definitely plays a role as well. If you are lifting weights and have an active job and lifestyle, you will be able to get away with more protein than someone who is more sedentary and doesn’t work out. The best way to determine your protein threshold is to test your ketone levels regularly (more on this in the next tip).
3. You need to test your ketone levels to ensure that you are doing the diet correctly.
Every body is different. Some are genetically more insulin sensitive or resistant than others. Some are more physically active than others, some get better quality sleep and manage stress better than others. But by testing your ketone levels, you will learn your body’s carbohydrate and protein tolerance. It is actually a pretty interesting n=1 experiment. The most accurate way to test ketone levels is with a blood ketone meter. There are two readily available in the states- the Precision Xtra and the Keto Mojo. Using either of these tools, you are a tiny finger prick away from knowing whether you are in nutritional ketosis or not.
The range of nutritional ketosis is 0.5-3.0 mM/dL of blood. After about 2 weeks of a strict Ketogenic diet, most people will find that they are somewhere in this range as their body has been deprived of glucose and has started breaking down fat and producing ketones as the byproduct. Testing even once a week (alternating between morning and evening testing) can help ensure that you are in ketosis all day long. Once you are through the 4-6 week keto adaptation period, you can try introducing more protein, or berries, or for some even some sweet potato and test your blood the next morning to see if you are still in ketosis. If so, you know that your body is insulin sensitive enough to handle the extra protein and/or carbs and still get the benefits of being in ketosis. But you will never know if you don’t test.
4. You must replenish electrolytes.
Because insulin levels are consistently low on a Ketogenic diet, the kidneys don’t retain electrolytes they way they do on a standard diet when insulin is chronically elevated. For this reason, it is extremely important to supplement with sodium, potassium, magnesium, and zinc, or be sure that you are eating keto-friendly foods that naturally contain these important electrolytes.
- Using pink Himalayan salt at each meal is one way to ensure you are getting enough sodium as well as other trace minerals.
- Seventy percent of Americans are deficient in magnesium, so this is one supplement I definitely recommend on a Ketogenic diet. It can prevent muscle cramping, aid in sleep (if taken before bed), and relax the bowels for anyone dealing with constipation.
- Potassium can be found in leafy greens and avocados (there is actually more potassium in an avocado than there is in a banana) both of which are great staples of a Ketogenic diet.
5. You must be cautious of sweeteners!
Ideally you would stay away from all sweeteners in order to retrain your taste buds and eliminate cravings for more sweet foods. But I realize that may not be feasible for everyone (who doesn’t want a keto version of cheesecake on their birthday?).
- So the best, natural sweeteners that won’t spike blood sugar or insulin are Truvia, Stevia liquid drops, erythritol, Swerve (erythritol-prebiotic fiber blend) or Pyure (erythritol- stevia blend).
- Stay away from any sweetener that has maltodextrin or dextrose (code names for sugar) in the ingredients- examples include Stevia in the Raw, Splenda, Equal, and Sweet N Low.
- Another tricky sweetener that is marketed as sugar free but has been shown to spike insulin and kick you out of ketosis is called asulfame potassium or ACE K. This is commonly found in many “sugar free” products such as sugar free Jello, pudding, and Coke Zero. Make sure you are reading the nutrition labels of any and all packaged products, and steer clear of products with these non-Keto sweeteners.
6. You must be patient!
The process of transforming your metabolism from sugar burning to fat burning does not happen overnight. It generally takes a good 4-6 weeks to become fully fat adapted and feel all the benefits of the low carb, high fat lifestyle. And the first week or two can be really tough as your body goes through the “carb or Keto flu”. You may have cravings for sugar, you may be extremely tired, you may have sugar withdrawal headaches, if you workout, your performance in the gym may take a dive. But these symptoms pass quickly as your body breaks down more and more fat for fuel and ketones begin to be produced and start to fuel your brain and muscles.
But if you throw in the towel during the keto flu period, you will never get to experience what it is like to be in ketosis and the mental clarity, energy, fat loss, performance gains, satiety, and loss of sugar cravings that go along with it. If you are thinking about starting the Ketogenic diet, I highly recommend doing it for no less than 8 weeks before deciding if it is the right lifestyle for you.
Jess Pinkerton is the nutrition coach and co-owner of Crossfit Vitality in Concord, NC.
My passion has always been physical fitness. I got involved in sports through swimming and have been training ever since. Prior to CrossFit, I spent a lot of time running and training for local races. I was skeptical of CrossFit at first with my background being mainly aerobic endurance training, but I instantly became a believer when I saw my run times drop without doing anything other than CrossFit. I enjoy working with younger populations to provide a foundation of fitness that will enable individuals to live long, healthy lives. I also enjoy working with adult populations to help them rediscover their fitness potential. Steve and I have a two year old daughter, Reagan (who is already in the process of learning the CrossFit nine fundamental movements), so I can empathize with busy moms who often do not have the time to put themselves and their fitness first.