The Sugar Purge
The Keto Diet
A Comprehensive Introduction to the Ketogenic Diet
Reading time: 15 minutes
Usefulness: Good for beginners
The ketogenic diet, commonly referred to as the keto diet, is a diet that is very low in carbohydrates.
On a ketogenic diet, carbohydrates are limited to such a large degree that your body is “forced” to start using fat for fuel.
Your body breaks down carbohydrates in the food that you eat into glucose. Your body then breaks down this glucose for energy.
Glucose is what we call a simple sugar. Simple sugars are class of carbohydrates and glucose is the most common simple sugar.
Your body uses glucose as its preferred energy source because it is easier for your body to use glucose for energy than it is other energy molecules from other sources of food like proteins and fats.
When the amount of glucose in your blood rises after a meal that is rich in carbohydrates, your body produces insulin.
Because glucose is the preferred energy source in your body, your body will neglect fat as an energy source and choose to store it instead of using it.
Carbohydrates are used for energy.
The simplest carbohydrates are called simple sugars.
Glucose is a simple sugar and is your bodies preferred source of fuel.
Ketosis is a process that naturally occurs in your body when your intake of carbohydrates is very low.
When your consumption of carbohydrates is very low, your body begins to look for alternative sources of energy (fuel). Fat is the next best thing.
While in ketosis, your body produces energy molecules called ketones by breaking down fats in your liver.
On a ketogenic diet, you “strong arm” your body into using fats for fuel instead of carbohydrates (glucose).
A person in nutritional ketosis has a metabolism that predominantly uses fats instead of sugars for energy.
On a ketogenic diet, your diet consists predominantly of fats, with very little carbohydrates and moderate amounts of protein.
Your brain uses a whole lot of energy and needs a constant supply of energy to function effectively.
Your brain can use both sugar and ketones for energy.
You’ve probably seen or heard of the keto diet in some form before.
Restrictive low carbohydrate diets like the Atkins diet or the Paleo diet resemble a ketogenic diet in most ways.
The main difference between a Standard Ketogenic Diet and a diet like the Atkins diet is that the Atkins diet doesn’t really restrict protein consumption, which the keto diet does.
Forget what you know
If I told you that most of what you eat should be natural fats you might call me crazy.
If I told you that increasing your consumption of salt can actually beneficial for your heart health, you might also call me crazy. (See the The Salt Fix)
The main challenge we experience when working with our clients, is correcting all the myths and paradigms about weight loss nutrition that seem to be entrenched in our thought processes.
The truth is that the keto diet is likely unbelievably different than anything you’ve done before.
The Keto diet will challenge almost everything you thought you knew about dieting for weight loss.
The keto diet is safe for most people. It is always advisable to consult with your physician prior to beginning a nutrition plan.
There is an ever-growing body of research that demonstrates the effectiveness of nutritional ketosis in improving glycemic control (stabilizing and controlling blood sugar levels) in diabetics.
Even so, the keto diet without medical supervision is not recommended for anyone managing diabetes or high blood pressure using medication.
Benefits of Ketosis
A ketogenic diet, activates and supercharges your body’s natural fat-burning mechanisms.
On a ketogenic diet, your body uses fats for fuel.
The elimination of most carbohydrates from your diet causes your metabolism to pivot towards using fats as a source of energy.
While in nutritional ketosis, your body’s fat stores become “metabolically accessible” as a immediate source of energy.
Combining nutritional ketosis with a modest calorie deficit can result in rapid and accelerated weight loss.
The Ketogenic diet was initially used (it still is) as a form of metabolic therapy at the Mayo Clinic, to treat and control seizures in children with epilepsy.
Though the exact mechanism of seizure prevention is poorly understood, scientists believe that a ketogenic diet might help stabilize neurons and increase important energy producing enzymes in brain cells.
It is also a well established fact that your brain functions better using ketones as a source of fuel.
This metabolic shift, coupled with the improved control of blood sugar while on a ketogenic diet greatly improves mental focus and clarity. It also improves memory formation and brain chemistry.
Most people who successfully follow a ketogenic diet consistently report feelings of increased mental clarity, as well as fewer and less intense migraines.
Ketogenic diets have also been shown to increase cognition (knowledge acquisition and understanding) in adults with cognitive impairment, which is typically seen in Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.
There is also a growing body of research that points to the effectiveness of ketogenic diets at improving mental function across all stages of dementia. Ketosis can also help improve symptoms of Parkinson’s.
Cancer cells consume more glucose than normal cells. Cancer cells have been shown to take up and utilize more glucose than healthy cells.
Cancer cells, however, are unable to use ketones that are produced for energy in nutritional ketosis. Healthy cells remain able to use ketones for energy. In lab-based studies, ketones have also been shown to interrupt the spread of tumor cells.
Preventing Heart Disease
The stable blood sugar levels achieved during nutritional ketosis help control blood pressure. Stable blood sugar also helps lower cholesterol levels.
Eating a diet with a higher percentage of fat actually helps lower your bad cholesterol levels.
On the other hand, an excessive consumption of carbohydrates is the main factor that drives bad levels of cholesterol.
Ketogenic diets actually help improve the levels of good cholesterol (HDL) and reduce the levels of bad cholesterol (“LDL”).
The ketogenic diet is extremely effective at reducing inflammation which helps with alleviating and remedying a host of different health related issues.
An important ketone produced while in nutritional ketosis, BHB (Beta-Hydroxy Butyrate), has been scientifically shown to inhibit another key molecule (NLRP3 inflammasome), which is known to initiate inflammatory responses.
In simpler terms, BHB (one of the main ketones produced on a ketogenic diet), suppresses a key molecule that mediates many inflammatory diseases.
The implications are significant. A ketogenic diet has therefore been shown to be effective in alleviating various Inflammatory diseases like arthritis, acne, eczema, IBS, psoriasis and other inflammatory diseases.
Once fully in nutritional ketosis, most people report an uptick in energy levels and a reduction in cravings for carbohydrate rich meals.
This is mostly due to the stabilization of insulin levels, as well as the availability of an rich energy source in the form of ketones.
The science behind the improvements in sleep quality reported by individuals in ketosis is not very well understood.
It is likely that sleep improvements result from the metabolic shift that results in the brain using ketones for energy, as well as the improvements in insulin stability.
Improved Gut and Bladder Health
A low-carb diet reduces the occurrence of gastrointestinal disorders like acid reflux and heartburn.
Carbohydrate rich grain-based foods like potatoes and pasta are known to increase the likelihood of things like acid reflux and heartburn.
The reason behind improvements is multi-faceted. A ketogenic diet reduces chronic levels of inflammation, improves the profile of naturally occurring gut bacteria (microbiome) and controls unwanted autoimmune responses.
Carbohydrates have also been shown to play a key role in the formation of gallstones.
An increase in fat consumption can actually help improve gallbladder function.
Eliminating carbohydrates has been shown to pretty much address almost every gastrointestinal problem experienced by people today.
Improved Women’s Health
Numerous studies show that a ketogenic diet effective at reducing and managing the symptoms of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).
Ketogenic diets have also been shown to improve fertility. Again, the stability of insulin levels on a ketogenic regimen help stabilize and normalize hormone levels. This stabilization is particularly observed in women.
Improved Vision and Eye Health
Controlled blood sugar levels also have important implications for eye health. High blood sugar can have a detrimental effect on vision, a significant concern for diabetics.
Nutritional ketosis can help improve vision and guard against the negative effect of uncontrolled blood sugar levels on eye sight.
Improved Muscle and Endurance
Contrary to what many believe, ketogenic diets have also been shown to improve muscularity and muscle retention.
Ketogenic diets promote muscle development and also simultaneously prevent the buildup of fat stores, which typically results from diets in which carbohydrates feature as the main source of energy.
Increased mental and physical performance has also been reported in “fat-adapted” endurance athletes on ketogenic regimens.
Athletes that are adapted to metabolizing fat for energy (“fat adapted”), exhibit increased levels of endurance beyond that which has been reported in studies by athletes on carbohydrate rich diets.
What to eat on a Ketogenic diet
For most people, following a ketogenic diet requires a significant shift in how you think about food.
A ketogenic diet is not just about eliminating carbohydrates from your diet, it is more to do with replacing carbohydrates with fats as your body’s primary source of fuel.
The fewer carbohydrates you consume, the faster you will fall into a ketogenic state. Almost all the carbohydrates you consume should come from vegetables, nuts and dairy.
You should stay away from processed and refined carbohydrates such as breads, pasta and cereals.
Starchy vegetables like potatoes, carrots, beans (leguminous plants) are also incompatible with an effective ketogenic diet.
What to eat
- Meats – fish, beef, lamb, poultry, eggs, etc.
- Leafy Greens – spinach, kale, etc.
- Above ground vegetables – broccoli, cauliflower, etc.
- High Fat Dairy – hard cheeses, high fat cream, butter, etc.
- Nuts and seeds – macadamias, walnuts, sunflower seeds, etc.
- Avocado and berries – raspberries, blackberries, and other low glycemic impact berries
- Sweeteners – stevia, erythritol, monk fruit, and other low-carb sweeteners >
- Other fats – coconut oil, high-fat salad dressing, saturated fats, etc.
What not to Eat
- Grains – wheat, corn, rice, cereal, etc.
- Sugar – honey, agave, maple syrup, etc.
- Fruit – apples, bananas, oranges, etc.
- Tubers – potato, yams, etc.
70% Fat, 25% Protein and 5 Carbs%
The three main macronutrients in food are fats, carbohydrates and proteins.
The term “macronutrient” allows us to distinguish between fats, carbs and proteins. Calories just measure the amount of energy in food.
Gram for gram, fats have more energy (calories) than both proteins or carbohydrates.
A ketogenic diet is high in fat, and very low in carbs with a moderate amount of protein.
As a good rule of thumb, you should aim to have a diet that consists of approximately 70% fats, 25% protein, and 5% carbohydrates.
To get into nutritional ketosis, you need to reduce your net carbohydrate intake to 30 grams or below.
The fewer carbohydrates you consume, the faster you will slip into ketosis.
Your net carbohydrate intake is obtained by subtracting your total fiber intake from your total carbohydrate consumption for the day.
Your body has to get rid of the carbohydrate “reserves” stored in your body and because of this, slipping into nutritional ketosis takes approximately 3 – 4 days.
If you’re inconsistent and you fail to string together several low carb (less than 30 grams net carbohydrates), you will NOT slip into nutritional ketosis.
Keto Macro Calculation
A slight calorie deficit once your body is in ketosis can greatly accelerate the rate at which your body uses your own body fat, in addition to the fats you consume from your diet.
Modest calorie deficits are advisable because excessive calorie restriction can actually hamper your weight loss efforts.
And this is the beauty of a ketogenic diet. You do not need to starve yourself to lose weight.
A modest deficit works wonders. In addition to this, stable insulin and blood sugar levels help in controlling your hunger response.
Use the keto macronutrient calculator below to calculate your fat, protein and carbohydrate consumption at a slight, moderate and large calorie deficit.
How to reach nutritional ketosis
Reaching nutritional ketosis requires diligence on your part.
Failure to understand what you are doing might cause you to follow a plan that is ineffective and frustrating.
The first thing you need to do is to create a nutrition plan that fits within the ketogenic macros.
This means that your daily food consumption should comprise of about 70% fat, 25% protein and 5% carbohydrates.
Commit to at least 3 weeks of sticking to the plan to reach nutritional ketosis.
Goal setting increases the likelihood that you will be successful. Three weeks gives you enough time to slip into ketosis and to begin experiencing the benefits of a very low carbohydrate diet.
Remember that your net carbohydrate number is what you need to knock down below 30 grams, and not your total carbohydrate number.
The best way to do this is to portion and track your meals to ensure that everything you consume in a day satisfied these requirements.
It is also important to note that you are not just simply eliminating carbohydrates from your diet, you are replacing them with fats. Increasing and meeting your daily consumption of natural fats is just as important.
Your body responds to your new skewed macronutrient intake by increasing the product of fat digesting enzymes and metabolic processes.
The Keto Flu
Most people who are transitioning from a high carb diet to a low carb diet will experience symptoms of the “keto flu”. These symptoms are temporary.
The more carbohydrates that you consume, the more pronounced the symptoms might be.
It’s NOT certain that you will experience any, some or all of these symptoms! You may experience these symptoms to varying degrees of severity.
This is just part of the process of falling into ketosis.
The symptoms disappear after a few days if you stick to the plan and keep your electrolytes in check.
After the first day or so of following a ketogenic deit, you’ll notice that you are in the bathroom urinating more often.
Your body is burning up the extra glycogen (stored glucose) in your liver and muscles.
Breaking down glycogen releases a lot of water. As your carb intake and glycogen stores drop, your kidneys will start dumping this excess water.
As you start dumping water, you’ll lose minerals such as salt, potassium and magnesium as well.
Having lower levels of these minerals will make you very, very tired, lightheaded or dizzy, give you muscle cramps, and headaches.
You may also experience skin itchiness. Fatigue and dizziness are the most common of the low carb diet side effects, and they can be avoided for the most part by making sure you stay ahead of mineral loss.
You can counteract mineral losses by eating more salt or sipping salty broth throughout the day, and eating potassium rich foods. (Dairy foods, green leafy vegetables and avocados are high in potassium).
As long as your carb intake is below 60 carbs a day, you will need to continue to eat a moderate amount of salt (5 gram/day which is about the same as the standard American diet provides).
However, if you take medicine for high blood pressure, check with your doctor.
In addition, you may want to take 400 mg of magnesium citrate every night before bed. (Check with your doctor first if you have kidney or heart health issues).
It’s also really important to eat at least 1-2 cups of raw green leafy vegetables every day. These vegetables provide potassium and vitamin K, and will also help with hunger.
If you’ve been eating a higher carb diet, your body is used to putting out a certain amount of insulin to take care of the sugar which gets created from all that carbohydrate intake.
When you suddenly drop your carb intake on a ketogenic diet plan, you may have some transient low blood sugar episodes that will feel very scary.
While your body is adapting to ketosis, headaches can manifest for various reasons. You may also feel a little lightheaded, and may experience some flu-like symptoms for a few days.
In our experience, it’s usually a mineral/ electrolyte deficiency issue. To see if it’s sodium loss, try putting a quarter teaspoon of salt in a glass of water and drink it. You should feel better in about 20 minutes.
Overall, it’s important at the start of the diet to increase your salt and water intake. It will get better after 3-4 days. If it doesn’t, add a little more carbs to your daily total. This is one of those low carb diet side effects for which I don’t have a solid explanation, and it seems to vary by person.
This is another one of the most common low carb diet side effects, and is usually a function of dehydration, salt loss, eating too much dairy or too many nuts, or possibly magnesium imbalances.
The magnesium will help with this. If 400 mg of magnesium citrate isn’t helping, you may want to cut back on your dairy product consumption to rebalance your calcium intake to your magnesium intake, drink lots more water or cut back on the amount of nuts you are eating.
As your body goes through the process of retrofitting itself to burn fat instead of sugar, there’s a two to 21 day transition period where carb cravings will be worse.
If you can wait it out, the cravings will subside and eventually disappear, as long as you don’t cheat.
Eating a large amount of carb will bring the cravings right back, and for some of us, eating sugar in any amount will start the slide down that slippery slope to carb overload.
This low carb diet side effect is not unusual, and should resolve itself over a few days. It can happen just because of the change in diet, or if an unwise decision is made to also limit fat intake on a low carb diet, which results in eating too much protein.
Eating a high protein, low carb AND low fat diet will cause symptoms of “rabbit starvation”.
Make sure you replace the carbs you are cutting with more fat, preferably saturated fat such as butter or coconut oil.
Following a ketogenic diet menu means you can choose fattier cuts of meat, and use heavy cream in your coffee.
To treat, try a teaspoon dose of sugar-free Metamucil or plain psyllium husk powder right before you eat a meal. The fiber will absorb the excess water in the colon and should help resolve loose stools.
This is a side effect of hypoglycemia or low blood sugar. It could also be a symptom of low mineral levels.
Add some more protein to your daily diet to offset the drop in blood sugar levels, and eat more salt (put a 1/4 teaspoon of salt in a glass of water and drink it) and include more potassium containing foods.
You could also take 1-3 potassium citrate supplements of 99 mg, but no more than that.
It’s better to get potassium from food. Taking too many potassium supplements can stop your heart, so choose food.
This is another side effect of the loss of minerals, specifically magnesium. I recommend taking 3 slow release magnesium tablets such as Slow-Mag or Mag 64 for 20 days, then continuing to take 1 tablet a day afterwards. NOTE: if you have kidney problems or kidney failure, don’t take oral magnesium supplements without checking with your doctor.
Some people report that they can’t stay asleep when on a ketogenic diet. This may be an indication that insulin and serotonin are low.
Try this solution: eat a snack which contains both protein and some carbohydrate right before bed (example: Greek yogurt with a 1/2 tablespoon of fruit spread or a little square of 70% chocolate). The carbohydrate will increase insulin, which will allow more tryptophan from the protein to get into the brain.
Tryptoplan is the precursor for serotonin which has a calming effect on the brain. In addition, there may be a histamine intolerance involved. Low carb diets are higher in histamine containing foods, and some people react to higher intake of these foods with anxiety and sleeplessness.
Taking vitamin supplements before bed is not conducive to sleeping well.
Although this side effect is usually presented as a negative, it is in reality just a natural consequence of being in ketosis and eating less food, which is what usually happens when you are keto-adapted and hunger is reduced.
The same thing happens on calorie restricted high carb diets. In addition, it’s possible that the body becomes more sensitive to T3 when you are in ketosis, so it doesn’t need as much T3 to get the same job done.
You MUST understand the basics of macronutrient tracking to do well on a keto plan.
Learning how to use a simple macronutrient tracker is a key skill, and a significant determinant of long-term success on a keto plan.
You won’t always have to track, but its important to do so initially.
Carbohydrates are ubiquitous in our environments.
Fast food restaurants around every street corner, social gatherings, busy schedules…these are all factors that MUST be addressed and mitigated if you are to be successful on a keto plan.
Approximately 80% of food items you would find in a grocery store have added sugar in them. Failure to plan is almost certainly setting yourself up to fail.
The initial stages of a ketogenic regimen are the most challenging and as such, this stage requires the most guidance and diligence.
Behavioral science tells us that when complexity increases, compliance decreases. When you have too many options to begin with, it is less likely that you will pick any option.
Too much information, instructions or resources at once causes confusion, and increases the likelihood that your attempt at reaching nutritional ketosis will be unsuccessful.
For this reason, we recommend starting of with a very simple nutrition plan, with only a few options, that you can adhere to for at least 3 – 4 weeks.
You can begin the process by experimenting with different ketogenic recipes to familiarize yourself with what you like, and what’s easy for you to make.
We are creatures of habit. Our bodies are built around routine. Even from a biological standpoint, your body maintains a fine balance of the various metabolic processes that occur in your body.
It therefore makes sense that an attempt at drastically changing how you eat, and how you think about food must begin with a concerted attempt to habituate new practices into your routine.
At The Sugar Purge, habituation is a focal point of the plans we design.
Nutritional ketosis is accompanied by a disruption in the balance of key mineral and electrolytes in your body.
This is not a bad thing. In actual fact, electrolyte imbalance are the key reason most people fail at reaching nutritional ketosis.
Most of the keto flu symptoms are a direct consequence of electrolyte imbalances and as such, a robust supplement regimen of minerals like salt and magnesium are especially important at the start of a keto plan.
Once in nutritional ketosis, it is important to expand your horizons.
Experimenting with different meals and low-carb foods allows you to expand the selection of foods that are available to you within a ketogenic regimen.
Many people report feeling overly restricted on a keto plan but the honest truth is that they haven’t spent enough time learning about all the low-carb alternatives and recipes that can add loads of “color” to their diets.
It is, however, important to begin varying the composition of your diet only after you have successfully achieved nutritional ketosis and learned how to manage the process.
The power of human interaction is grossly understated. All our keto coaches are living breathing examples of the kind of success you can experience by following a ketogenic diet.
In addition to being an incredible source of information, the experiences our coaches share allow you to vicariously experience the process through them before attempting it yourself.
You can also avoid all the common pitfalls most people face on ketogenic plans, and effectively troubleshoot all the hurdles and plateaus you might experience.