The Keto diet is taking the health world by storm. The diet has a wide variety of benefits such as rapid weight loss, blood sugar control, increased mental focus and reported therapeutic applications. In this post we will explore the best foods to eat on a Keto diet and why. However, we first need to understand what macronutrients are.
Nutrients are used for energy, growth and bodily function. The nutrients that are needed in larger amounts are called macronutrients. There are three macronutrients. Proteins, carbs and fats. Each one has a specific role in our bodies. Each macronutrient is found in almost every food in varying proportions. For instance, an avocado consists of 75% fats, 20% carbs and 5% protein. This makes it a fat-based food. Grapes on the other hand consist of 1.9% fats, 94% carbs and 4.1% protein making it a carb-based food.
The keto diet is based on macronutrient ratios. Since our bodies are all different, the ratios differ slightly from person to person. However, the widely accepted ratio is 5%-10% carbs, 65%-80% fats and 15%-30% proteins. The main focus is to keep your carbs low and to get your main source of calories from healthy fats. Although avocados, for example, are high in fat, they are rich in nutrients, contain lots of fibre, and the fat is monounsaturated (which is considered one of the good fats).
When you eat your macronutrients in these ratios, you will achieve a metabolic state called ketosis. The way this works is you starve your body of its main energy source, which is sugar found in the carbohydrates we eat. Ordinarily your body converts carbs into sugar and sends that sugar around your body through your bloodstream. When you don’t get enough sugar your body has to produce an alternative energy source. This energy source is called ketones. Our bodies produce ketones by converting fatty acids in stored fat and dietary fat. What this means is, in ketosis your body literally burns fat for energy.
There are three macronutrients; fats, carbs and proteins. The keto diet is based on macronutrient ratios. 5%-10% carbs, 65%-80% fats and 15%-30% proteins.
For decades fat was considered detrimental to your health. Research has now shown it to be a necessary part of any healthy diet. It not only improves brain function, but also helps promote weight loss.
Fats make up the bulk of the macronutrients eaten on the keto diet. They are nutrient dense and will help keep you satisfied for longer so that you end up eating less calories through the day. This will result in a calorie deficit, which simply means you will be eating less calories than you need to maintain your body weight. Having a calorie deficit will result in your body relying on its own fat stores for energy. However it is still vital that you eat enough calories to avoid metabolic slow down.
A common concern for people starting out on the keto lifestyle is, doesn’t eating fat make me fat. The answer to this is, all the macronutrients can be stored as fat on the body. This will occur if you eat too much, resulting in a calorie surplus. The keto diet on the other hand is designed to improve your health, making you feel energised and satiated enough to eat far fewer calories during the day.
Since such a large proportion of the keto diet comes from fat, a difficulty people often find is how to get so much fat into their diets. A simple tip is to stop buying low fat products. If all you can get is low fat yogurt, you can mix heavy cream into it. As long as the fat comes from real whole foods you should be adding it into your diet.
The healthiest sources of fat come from whole foods such as, avocados, egg yolks, healthy oils such as coconut oil, olives, fatty fish, nuts, high fat cheeses, full fat yogurt and fatty cuts of meat.
Fats make up the bulk of the nutrients on a keto diet. They are nutrient dense and keep you satisfied for longer. This will allow you to easily achieve a calorie deficit.
Protein is essential for our bodies to function. They are the essential building blocks of our muscle tissue. In general protein is good for weight loss as it is the most satisfying of all the macronutrients. This means by eating higher amounts of protein you will feel less hungry and therefore eat less calories.
However, proteins can be confusing on a keto diet. Eating too few proteins can result in loss of muscle mass and can increase your appetite. Eating too much protein however, is bad for ketosis, because consuming large amounts of protein can raise your insulin levels. Insulin suppresses ketone production essentially kicking you out of ketosis. That means you have to consume enough protein to maintain muscle mass while not consuming enough to increase your insulin levels.
Keto friendly proteins come from whole foods like meats, poultry, fish, nuts, eggs and cheese. However, when you are choosing proteins, be aware that they often do include a high carb content. Some proteins have more carbs than others and those carbs do add up. For instance, cashews have 9 grams of carbs per ounce and only 4 grams of protein per ounce. Almonds however have at least 6 – 7 grams of protein per ounce and 6 grams of carbs. To get around this problem, always check nutrition labels.
Some healthy proteins to eat on the keto diet are fish, beef, poultry and natural nut butter.
Proteins are essential building blocks for our bodies. They are the most satisfying of all the macronutrients. On a keto diet however, it is important not to eat too much protein as large amounts of protein can raise insulin levels kicking you out of ketosis.
The key factor to getting into a state of ketosis is to severely restrict your carb intake. This means you will only get 5% of your diet from carbohydrates. Since our bodies are all different, the exact amount does differ slightly from person to person, however the standard rule of thumb is 30 grams per day.
In reality this is not entirely accurate. Fibre is one type of carb that is not included in the 30 gram rule. The reason for this is, since limiting our carb intake is designed to keep our sugar levels down (so that we use ketones for energy instead), fibre does not raise our blood sugar at all. Instead it is broken down in the large intestine by gut bacteria to be used for normal gut function.
Even though your carb intake is incredibly low on a keto diet, you should still be eating good carbs and avoiding bad carbs. Good carbs include whole grains, legumes, starchy vegetables, whole fruits, brown rice and potatoes. As a general rule always eat unrefined carbs. Unrefined means carbs that are in their natural state. Processed carbs such as sugar, white bread and fruit juices are to be avoided.
The key to reaching a state of ketosis is to restrict your carb intake to 5% of your diet. This does not include fibre, which does not raise our blood sugar level at all. It is important to eat healthy carbs.
It is vital to get enough vegetables, however it is just as important to eat the right vegetables, as some are high in sugar. The best vegetables to eat are high in nutrients while being low in carbohydrates. On the whole the dark leafy vegetables such as spinach or kale fit into this category. Other low carb vegetables to include in your diet are broccoli, lettuce and cucumbers. These vegetables generally grow above the ground. As a general rule you should avoid sweet and starchy vegetables as they tend to be high in carbohydrates. These include peas, corn, sweet potatoes, parsnips, quinoa and others. In general, the sweeter a vegetable is the higher its sugar content. This does not mean you should avoid sweeter or more starchy vegetables altogether. Just make sure you limit them. Many people make salads with lower carb ingredients and add a small amount of high carb vegetables for flavour and texture.
Vegetables are an important part of the keto diet. The best vegetables grow above ground. Sweet and starchy vegetables should be limited.
We have covered what to eat on a keto diet, but what should you be drinking? Your number one drink should be water. The main reason is, your body stores glucose in water. In order to get your body into a state of ketosis you have to burn through all of your stored glucose. When you deplete your glucose stores, your body has no need to hold onto the water that was used to store the glucose. It is not uncommon for people who just start out on keto to experience a rapid loss of water weight. This can leave you potentially dehydrated. It is therefore crucial to stay hydrated.
Another keto favorite is coffee. If you are looking for an energy boost try adding grass fed butter or a healthy fat to it to make yourself bulletproof coffee. Just make sure you don’t add sugar. If you find adding extra fat slows your weight loss down, cut down on the extra fat. If you like milk in your coffee, try not to overdo it, as milk is slightly higher in carbs and those hidden carbs do add up. Another option is to have heavy cream instead of milk, as there is less than one gram of carbs in a tablespoon of heavy cream.
Most teas have no carbs, so tea is a good option for keto. However, make sure that you don’t add sugar.
Fruit juices are not a healthy choice of drink as most contain sugar and almost no fibre or nutrients from the fruit. If you enjoy juices, try to train yourself to eat the fruit itself or to look for low sugar alternatives.
Another drink to be avoided is soda. Most cans of soda contain enough sugar to exceed your entire carb intake for the day. However in moderation diet soda is keto friendly. The artificial sweeteners will not kick you out of ketosis, but there are health risks associated with sweeteners. Sweeteners also have been known to produce cravings that result in overeating.
It is important to stay hydrated on a keto diet as water loss is a common symptom of burning through your glucose stores. Coffee can be used to boost energy by adding cream. Fruit juice and soda is to be avoided.