The ABCs of Keto
What is a Keto diet?
The ketogenic or “keto” diet has quickly become one of the most talked-about dietary plans, topped the list of Google health searches and gained many enthusiastic fans, but exactly what it is and what it does still remains a mystery to many. So what is a Keto diet?
Keto diets are notoriously high in fat (about 75% of daily calories) and low in carbohydrates (less than 5% of daily calories), with protein accounting for between 15-20% of all calories. In increasing dietary fat, while decreasing carbohydrates, ketogenic diets encourage our bodies to adapt to a state of ketosis known as ‘nutritional ketosis’. Ketosis refers to the production of ketone bodies, derived from fats, for use as an alternate fuel in times of fasting or drastic carbohydrate restriction (1). In other words, instead of relying on sugar (or glucose) that comes from carbohydrates for energy, the keto diet relies on ketone bodies, a type of fuel that the liver produces from stored fat. This enables the body to burn through fat stores at a quicker rate, and also results in reduced insulin levels, which in turn decreases lipogenesis (the creation of fats) and fat accumulation (2).
Although ‘keto’ seems like a modern buzz-word, the ketogenic diet was actually introduced in the 1920s as a treatment for those with seizure disorders such as epilepsy. Ketones and another chemical produced by the diet called decanoic acid help to minimize seizures in many patients.
What are the benefits of a Keto diet?
Rapid weight loss:
A ketogenic diet causes your body to burn fat stores quickly. Ketones also suppress ghrelin (your hunger hormone) and boost cholecystokinin that increases levels of satiety (2).Through dietary manipulation of these hormones, you can go for longer periods without eating, which encourages your body to burn through fat stores for fuel.
Ketones circulate through the body when you are in ketosis and therefore provide your brain and body with a constant and steady source of energy. Ketones also aid the brain in mitochondrial creation, boosting the ‘energy plant’ within each cell (3).
Sharper mental focus:
The brain is around 60% fat and as such needs plenty of dietary fat to enable it to work effectively. Brain cells are covered in a fatty layer called myelin, which aids in cell communication via electrical signaling. When myelin is weak, communication between brain cells (and thus focus, memory retention and learning ability) suffers. A high proportion of dietary fat works to strengthen brain pathways to boost mental performance and focus (4).
The keto diet is largely anti-inflammatory and therefore works to protect the body from chronic disease. It offers significant benefit for health conditions rooted in inflammation – diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome and neurological disorders (3).
What can I eat on a Keto diet?
A keto diet is focused on fat and protein. Increase your intake of healthy fats like avocado, olive oil, MCT oil, coconut oil, nut butters, dairy products and oily fish, and also make sure to include dark leafy green vegetables that are low in carbohydrates. Starchy vegetables like potato, carrots and beetroot are off limits, as are most fruits. Grass-fed butters and meats are also acceptable sources of fat and protein.
What is the Keto Flu?
The transition from a normal high carbohydrate diet to a ketogenic diet can cause some unpleasant effects – collectively, these symptoms are called the Keto Flu. Symptoms of keto-induction are nausea, diarrhea and constipation, headache, halitosis, muscle-cramps, brain fog, confusion and poor focus. Symptoms typically begin at the 24-48 hour mark, and last for up to 1 week, dependent on individual metabolic flexibility (3).
What causes the Keto Flu?
With severe restriction of carbohydrates and increased fat content, the body must learn how to burn ketones instead of glucose for fuel. In doing so, changes happen across all bodily pathways (4).
Firstly, a sodium and water flush occurs. Fewer carbohydrates cause a drop in insulin levels. This drop prompts the kidneys to release sodium from the body, which results in a loss of up to 4kg of water weight, as water shuttles sodium out of the body. Secondly, thyroid hormone levels decrease with carbohydrate levels; as your body adjusts to a keto diet lower hormone levels may leave you with brain fog and fatigue. These hormone levels will stabilize with time. Lastly, adaption of a ketogenic diet signals to your body that you are in starvation mode, which boosts the stress hormone, cortisol. Irritability and insomnia are signs that cortisol levels have increased, but as your body adjusts to burning ketones as its primary fuel source, cortisol levels will fall and rebalance.
How do I treat the Keto Flu?
* Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Water is the key to kicking the keto flu.
* Drink Bone Broth: Bone broth provides both hydration and necessary electrolytes - sodium and potassium – to offset discomfort.
* Eat more fat: Upping fat consumption can speed up your body’s adaptation of the new diet and minimize symptoms. Increasing dietary fat will encourage your body to burn fat rather than glucose.
* Sleep: A good night’s rest is the key to stabilization of cortisol levels, which works to lessen keto flu symptoms. Aim for a minimum of 7-9 hours per night during this period of change to support your body.
Supplements to support the Keto diet:
MCT oil is a fantastic addition to the keto diet as it makes ketone production more effective, thereby fueling the body and brain with minimal effort. MCT stands for medium-chain triglycerides, a type of fatty acid. Unlike most fats, MCT oil isn’t digested in the gastrointestinal tract, but travels straight to the liver to be broken down into ketones and distributed in the bloodstream. In short, when you supplement a keto diet with MCT oil, you increase good fats, your body produces more ketones, and you boost available fuel to power your body successfully. A study of overweight men and women determined that MCT oil reduced body weight to a greater capacity, lowered total fat mass and specifically decreased abdominal fat when compares to another source of healthy fat, olive oil, making MCT oil a superior choice for weight loss (5).
Recipes to support the Keto diet:
Eggs in pots with smoked salmon:
2 tb extra virgin olive oil
2 leeks, halved, thinly sliced
2/3 cup thickened cream
100g smoked salmon, cut into thick strips
1 tb fresh thyme leaves
Preheat oven to 180C. Grease four 1 ½ cup-capacity ovenproof dishes. Heat oil in a large frypan over medium heat. Add leek. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until tender. Divide leek mixture among prepared dishes. Drizzle evenly with cream. Scatter over smoked salmon and thyme. Carefully crack 2 eggs into each dish. Place dishes on a baking tray. Bake for 20min until egg is just set or cooked to your liking. Season and serve.
Spicy tuna-stuffed Avocado:
1 avocado, pitted
1 small can of tuna
1 teaspoon mayo
1 teaspoon wholegrain mustard
small squeeze of lime juice
salt and pepper
Sriracha, drizzled to taste
Cut your avocado in half and remove the pit. In a small bowl, mix the tuna, mayo, mustard, lime juice, salt and pepper until combined. Give it a taste and adjust accordingly. Spoon tuna mixture into each avocado half. Drizzle Sriracha over the top.
Choc-coconut Fat Bombs:
1 cup coconut oil
½ cup cocoa powder
½ tsp vanilla bean powder
pinch of sea salt
1-2 drops of peppermint essential oil
5 drops of liquid stevia
Blend all ingredients in a food processor. Pour into silicone molds or ice cube trays and freeze. Once frozen, pop out of molds and keep in zip-lock freezer bag. Enjoy!
1. Bueno NB, De Melo ISV, De Oliveira SL, da Rocha Ataide T. Very-low carbohydrate ketogenic diet vs low-fat diet for long-term weight loss: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. British Journal of Nutrition 2013; 110 (70): 1178-87
2.Paoli A, Bosco G, Camporesi E, Mangar D. Ketosis ketogenic diet and food control intake: a complex relationship. Frontiers in Psychology. 2015; (6): 27
3. Harvey C, Schofield G, Williden M. The use of nutritional supplements to induce ketosis and reduce symptoms associated with keto-induction: a narrative review. Peer Journal 2018; March.
4. McClernon FJ, Yancy Jr WS, Eberstein JA, Atkins RC, Westman EC. The effects of a low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet and a low-fat diet on mood, hunger and other self-reported symptoms. Obesity. 2007; 15 (1): 182-7
5. St-Onge M-P, Bosarge A. Weight-loss diet that includes consumption of medium-chain triacylglycerol oil leads to a greater rate of weight and fat mass loss than does olive oil. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2008, March. 87 (3): 621-6