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Starting Keto: A Beginner’s Guide

Starting Keto: A Beginner’s Guide

As you read this, you may well be wondering if this is a good time to be starting keto. You’ve thought about, read about it, talked about it with your friends. Yet still, you are not quite sure. So many questions. How many carbs? Do I need to count calories? What’s this I hear about keto flu? The questions just go on and on. Yet, in reality, keto is remarkably simple. Almost too simple, it seems. In this blog, I am going to address the very basics of starting a ketogenic diet.

This piece is going to be somewhat ‘un-sciency’, just simple answers to simple questions. There will be only one paragraph to each question and no links to check out. If you need more, this information will be enough to at least set you off in the right direction.

What is a ketogenic diet?

A ketogenic diet is simply one that promotes the production of ketones from fat cells. Ketosis is a state wherein the body uses ketones as its main source of energy, rather than using glucose from the bloodstream. Glucose is produced by carbohydrates, hence a ketogenic diet discourages consuming them. Burning ketones is burning fat, so the diet will automatically lead to weight loss if don’t properly. A normal body will have around 135,000 calories available from its fat. On the other hand, it has only around 800 calories available from glucose in the blood, muscle and liver at any one time. Which would you rather rely on for long-term energy?

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How many carbs am I allowed?

You will read on the internet a whole range of recommendations for the number of carbs to consume in any one day. Some say 20 grams, some 30, some say as much as 50. Any of these are fine and will tend to provoke the process of ketosis in your body within just a few days, if not a shorter period of time. Body size comes into this equation. If you are 5’3″ tall then you should probably be looking to the lower end. If you are 6’6″ or taller, then you can get away with the upper limit. The point is to get into ketosis though, so don’t get too hung up with exact numbers of carbs.

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What’s the difference between net carbs and gross carbs?

This is something that many people get very hung up on, and the cause of many an online controversy. The argument is should carbs that are not converted into glucose, ie fibre, be counted in the number of carbs allowed on a ketogenic diet. Gross carbs is simply the number of carbs consumed. Net carbs are gross carbs minus the carbs that are in the form of soluble fibre. For example, an apple has 4.8 grams of which 0.8 grams are in the form of soluble fibre. The gross carbs figure would be 4.8 grams, whereas the net figure would be 4.8 – 0.8 = 4 grams. Personally, I veer towards net carbs, but I’d advise deciding at the start which you think makes the most sense and stick with it.

Do I need to calorie count?

No. In fact, I would recommend that you should avoid it. Calorie counting is based on a pretty crude understanding of human nutrition. There is some sense behind it in the very general sense but really is as good as useless when applied to a ketogenic diet. Focus on keeping the carbs down, and the proteins moderate, and don’t allow yourself to become obsessed with such things as calories.

What about protein?

Yet another controversial subject but, as you’ve probably noticed, this is the nature of humanity (especially when said humanity is online!). The standard recommendation when starting keto is that proteins should represent 25% of what you eat on a ketogenic diet (70% fats, 25 % protein, 5% carbs). With most versions of ketogenic diets, you may well struggle to keep the protein down. Another important point is the exact circumstances of the person on keto. For example, if you are doing a lot of resistance training, you may want to up your proteins. Think of your personal goals and set the limits appropriately but … don’t get too hung up about this either!

Is the keto diet safe?

Yes. Some people have been on keto for decades with no obvious health challenges. Of course, one always needs to adapt to one’s own particular predilections as different challenges occur. For example, in my case, it turned out that I had an inability to process hard cheeses. Rather than insist that these form part of my diet, I simply dropped them and found alternative sources of fats. Consult your doctor if you have any particular doubts about your personal situation.

Is the keto diet healthy?

Yes. Very much so. Over the last few decades, it has become clearer and clearer that keto offers a range of protection against many of the most common health threats we face in this day and age. There is strong evidence that keto mitigates against a range of modern-day health challenges such as cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and Alzheimer’s. As ever, be guided by the science, but pay particular attention to what are known as randomised control trials, rather than associational evidence from epidemiological studies. The latter are nowhere near clear enough to base any solid assumptions on.

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Is the keto diet good for weight loss?

Keto is not merely good for weight loss, it is fantastic. If kept to, it is probably one of the best, if not the best, type of diet to follow if your main goal is losing weight. Perhaps the majority of people starting keto being with this motivation. If you are determined enough to stick with the diet, especially through the somewhat challenging first few weeks, you are more or less guaranteed substantial reductions in your body weight.

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What can I eat on a keto diet?

There is no getting away from it, the keto diet is restrictive. This is especially the case if you, like me, avoid processed and packaged foods that pose as ‘keto friendly’. On the other hand, there still are enough food groups to choose from to guarantee a varied and nutritional diet. Allowed are meat, fish and seafood, poultry, low GI vegetables, most berries, hard cheeses, yoghurt (careful with this, high-fat Greek is fairly safe though), eggs, nuts and seeds, avocados, tea and coffee (obviously without sugar), dark chocolate (I go for anything above 75% cocoa), and cocoa itself. These food groups will give you literally hundreds of possibilities when starting keto.

What can’t I eat on a keto diet?

You will see a wide range of opinion on this question. Given that, I will advocate what I believe to be safe and healthy choices for those starting keto. So, the main categories to avoid are sugars of all sorts, grains of all sorts, and vegetable oils, other than olive oil. High fructose fruit such as pineapples or bananas should also be avoided, as should starchy vegetables such as potatoes and parsnips. Eating any of these will quickly put you through your carb limit for the day and probably kick you out of ketosis..

Which fruits can I eat on a keto diet?

More or less any berries are allowable on a keto diet. I personally love to indulge in blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries and tayberries. Avocado, with its monounsaturated fat, is also highly recommended. Cantaloupe, watermelons and lemons are also considered OK.

Which vegetables can I eat on a keto diet?

Mainly green leafy vegetables and those with a low glycemic index. Spinach, kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce, zucchini, eggplant, cucumbers, and tomatoes are all considered fine. Many people seem to feel that keto is a low vegetable diet. In reality, as you can see from the above, you’ve actually got a fairly wide range to choose from.

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What is Dirty keto?

Again, people have a wide range of opinions as to what this term actually means. For me, it entails including all sorts of processed food into the diet as long as it passes the simplest of criterion: it is low carb. It will include highly processed and packaged food of very dubious nutritional value. The rationale behind it is that it avoids the need to prepare food. Given the fact that one can rustle up a decent keto meal, consisting entirely of fresh and wholesome foods, in about five minutes, I don’t really buy that rationale!

What is lazy keto?

Lazy keto is often used as another term meaning dirty keto. The two are more or less interchangeable. In justification, this approach will produce weight loss, if that is your main goal when starting keto, and you are not too concerned about the consequences of your diet. On the other hand, it is not likely to be particularly good for your overall health.

Can I have cheat days?

You are an adult. You can choose exactly what you wish to do in these matters. If you cheat, you simply cheat yourself, but that is your choice. In my experience, those that want to know if they can have ‘cheat days’ don’t tend to last very long on keto. One cheat leads into another, and before they know it they are back on a high carb diet, even if still in denial themselves. It is your choice, of course, but I would advise against it.

Finally, should I go on a ketogenic diet?

‘Yes’ is the word that springs to mind. It has much to recommend it on many levels. As a weight loss intervention. As a way of addressing long term health issues. As a way of fighting inflammation in your body. As a way of possibly guarding yourself against the predations of such things as cancer, heart problems, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and many other threats. On a more day to day level, within just a few weeks of starting keto, you are likely to notice levels of slow-burn energy that you haven’t experienced for years. Rashes, acne and other skin problems will improve too. And, to put it simply, you are likely to feel more alive than you have for a long, long time!

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