What is Keto? Here are the Basics to Get You Started.
You’re probably aware of the ketogenic, or “keto” diet. Maybe you’ve heard it has something to do with fats and your liver. Hint: Your liver will need to be in tip-top shape for a keto diet, so grab your liver support now!
So, what is keto? Could it help you be healthier, have more energy, or manage your weight? Here’s the lowdown on the benefits of the keto diet. I’ll cover how to get started, how to know you’re doing it correctly, and when to stop.
The keto diet is not new. It was developed around 100 years ago to help children with epilepsy. It has since been shown to be an effective tool in managing type 2 diabetes.1 Fast-forward to today, and keto is everywhere.
What Is Ketosis?
Usually, your body is fueled by the conversion of carbohydrates into glucose. This happens through the insulin produced in your pancreas. A ketogenic diet, however, focuses on putting your body into a state called ketosis.
In ketosis, your liver processes fats to generate energy for your body. (This is where supporting your liver comes in!) The keto diet does this by depriving your body of glucose. Keto achieves this by focusing on high-fat, low-carb foods so that your liver creates an alternative fuel called ketones.
When these ketones accumulate in your blood to a level of 0.5 to 3.0 millimoles per liter (mmol/L), you’re in ketosis.2 Testing your blood sugar and ketone levels is the only sure way to work out exactly what level of ketosis you’re in. However, certain signs can give you a pretty good idea of whether or not you’re in ketosis. I’ll get to that in just a minute.
Why Try a Keto Diet?
Following a keto diet has been shown to improve insulin resistance, high blood pressure, and elevated cholesterol and triglycerides. All of these impact overall heart health and heart disease in particular.3,4 Studies show that low-carb diets may also improve fertility in overweight and obese women.5
A keto diet can help you lose weight because an increase in fat intake tends to have a satiating effect that reduces food cravings. A ketogenic diet can also decrease hormones such as insulin and ghrelin that stimulate the appetite. Finally, ketones appear to simply reduce hunger overall.
These effects result in less body fat.6 And the diet is markedly more effective at burning fat than low-fat, high-carb diets.7 In a review of 1,797 overweight and obese patients from 17 different studies, the probability of greater weight loss thanks to a low-carb diet was over 99%.88
What are the Other Benefits of Keto?
Some researchers surmise that ketones are a more efficient fuel than glucose. They may also produce fewer free radicals in their breakdown. This may result in mental benefits such as:
- Improved concentration
- Reduced stress and anxiety
- Brain changes that help depression, bipolar disorder, and dementia9
These theories are supported by anecdotal evidence and more research needs to be done. However, many people who have tried the diet report:
- Less lethargy
- Increased alertness
- Greater mental clarity, and sharpness
- Quicker thinking
- Improved mood
- Increased productivity
- Less need for sleep10
How to do the Keto Diet
While there is no “standard” ketogenic diet with specific ratios of carbs, protein, and fat, keto diets usually involve reducing total carbohydrates to less than 50 grams per day. Some diets even go as low as 20 grams per day.11 For your reference, one small apple has about 15 grams of carbs; one large banana has about 30 grams.12
Around 70-80% of your calories should come from fat. And not just any types of fats! You should still focus on healthy dietary fats rather than trans fats. Replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats for the most part. Finally, about 10-20% of your total calories should come from proteins like fish and some red meat. Eating too much protein prevents ketosis because breaking down protein into glucose doesn’t involve ketones and it raises your blood sugar levels.13,14
When you’re on the keto diet, you’ll be staying away from all whole and refined grains. You’ll skip starchy vegetables such as potatoes, corn, and winter squash. You’ll also pass on the majority of fruit and fruit juices, legumes, and alcoholic drinks. Typical foods include:
- Fish, seafood, and organ meats
- Berries in small portions
- Non-starchy vegetables in abundance, such as broccoli, onions, garlic, mushrooms, cucumber, celery, summer squash, leafy greens (kale, Swiss chard, collards, spinach, bok choy, and lettuces)
- Healthy fats such as avocado, nuts, coconut oil, olive oil, and butter or ghee
- Butter and hard cheeses, which contain less lactose sugar than full-fat milk and cream
- Herbs, spices, cocoa powder, unsweetened tea, coffee, vinegar, and mustard
How Do I Know I’m in Ketosis?
When you lower your carb intake enough to go into ketosis, you’ll certainly know about it. Ketosis produces physical symptoms that are hard to miss. Fortunately, these symptoms disappear as soon as your body becomes accustomed to using ketones for energy.15
Here are some typical symptoms:
- Weight loss
- Bad breath
- Weakness and fatigue
- Muscle cramps and spasms
- Headaches, yet better focus and concentration
- Stomach upset and other digestive symptoms such as constipation
- Nighttime waking or difficulty falling asleep, initially16
How Safe is a Keto Diet?
Long-term, very low carbohydrate diets have been reported to lead to ketoacidosis, a state when excessive ketones produce a dangerously toxic level of acid in the blood. This can damage the liver, brain, and kidneys.17
Following a keto diet in the short term — generally no more than a few months — may cause no problems and allow you to enjoy all its benefits. However, I do suggest increasing carbs again in the long term. And as with all changes in your health regimen, seek the advice of your healthcare professional before you begin.
Ready to Start a Keto Diet?
I stress that ensuring your liver is functioning optimally is critical for ALL aspects of health. Your liver is already responsible for breaking down and filtering toxins out of your blood. Aside from dealing with toxins, your liver is also responsible for a host of other activities, including methylating B vitamins, helping to regulate blood sugar, and converting excess blood glucose to triglycerides. Your liver also creates cholesterol, stores glycogen, and creates clotting proteins and bile. Add the job of creating ketones, and you can be sure that your liver will be working overtime.
Fortunately, I’ve custom formulated a supplement to complement and support your liver. This is especially important when your liver is taking on an even greater workload! My Liver Support contains milk thistle which contains a polyphenol called silymarin that helps protect liver cells from damage. In addition, milk thistle supports bile flow and viscosity, and healthy levels of inflammation in the liver.
I also made sure to include the potent free-radical scavengers, N-Acetyl-Cysteine (or NAC for short), alpha-lipoic acid, and selenium. They work together to protect your liver tissue from oxidative stress. Before you give this hard-working organ an even bigger job to do, show it some love with Liver Support.