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How the keto diet works
The keto diet, otherwise known as the protein diet, is a form of low-carbohydrate diet that focuses on radically reducing carbohydrate intake and increasing the intake of two other macronutrients, protein and fat. It is currently one of the most popular weight loss methods, mainly due to its fast results.
The name keto diet comes from a process called ketosis, which occurs when the body uses fat rather than carbohydrates as an energy source. While normally the body gets its energy from glucose, which is produced during glycolysis (digestion of carbohydrates), when sugars are deficient, ketosis occurs, in which fats are broken down into ketones, which are further used as fuel in the cells. Just a small amount of carbohydrate in the diet can trigger this process.
It is generally recommended to consume no more than 50 g of carbohydrates in 24 hours, which is when 50 g of carbohydrates are found in each of the following items:
- Two smaller slices of white bread
- Three medium potatoes
- Regular portion of rice
Some versions of the keto diet have a limit even lower, around 20-40 g per day. Protein should then be consumed at around 1-1.5g per kilogram of body weight (if you weigh 100kg then you need to consume 100-150g of protein to maintain muscle mass) and the amount of fat you need not be too concerned about as fat replaces carbohydrate as an energy source, 90g is recommended for the average person.
We can tell if we are actually in ketosis by using keto strips, which can be bought at the pharmacy. The state of ketosis occurs after about three days of following the keto diet, i.e. when the body has depleted its glucose stores.
Before we talk about what’s good to eat and what to avoid, it’s important to remind ourselves of the basic principle of weight loss. Unfortunately, there’s a common perception that the keto diet is some sort of miracle weight-loss helper. However, the main goal of the keto diet is to maintain muscle mass while shedding excess fat. This means that with the keto diet, not only do you not have to lose weight, but you can even gain weight. Therefore, if you want to use a protein diet for weight loss, you need to constantly monitor your calorie intake and expenditure.
What to eat during the keto diet
The basis of the diet is good quality protein and healthy fats. It is recommended to get up to 50% of your protein from a plant-based diet. Good sources of protein include eggs and poultry, fish, pork and beef. Cheese can be consumed , which due to curdling no longer contains carbohydrates, unlike milk. Tempeh or tofu can be used as a vegetable source of protein.
Since you need to eat quite a lot of protein, it is a good idea to supplement it by drinking protein drinks. From healthy fats, it is then good to include nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, almonds), different types of oils (olive, sunflower, avocado, coconut, rapeseed), seeds (flax, hemp, sesame, pumpkin, sunflower, chia, poppy), avocado, coconut.
Quite a lot of vegetables are consumed during the diet, up to 500 g per day. However, not all vegetables are suitable for the keto diet. Leafy vegetables such as iceberg lettuce, watercress, kohlrabi, arugula, spinach, kale, cabbage and kale are particularly recommended. Vegetables with high water content such as cucumbers, zucchini, radishes. Cauliflower, broccoli, green beans, artichokes, asparagus, celery, fennel, patisons are also suitable as a side dish. Although they are not vegetables, mushrooms can be used to prepare a variety of dishes. For simplicity, we could use the rule that it is allowed to consume mainly green vegetables.
What to avoid during the keto diet
In order to keep your carbohydrate intake below 50g per day, it is essential to avoid foods such as:
- refined sugars and sweets
- sweetened drinks
- baked products
- traditional side dishes such as pasta, potatoes or rice
- fruits due to their high fructose content
- root vegetables (carrots)
- sterilised vegetables and mushrooms (as the brine contains sugar)
- green peas and maize
- it is also a good idea not to use spice mixes, flavourings, sweeteners such as honey, syrups or molasses, and to be careful with ketchup.
How often to eat during the keto diet
On a traditional keto diet, it is recommended to eat about every two to three hours to avoid hunger and different cravings. It is also important to follow a drinking regime.
Menu for inspiration:
- Breakfast: cottage cheese (150 g) with cucumber
- Snack: handful (10) of nuts
- Lunch: slice of meat, vegetable salad
- Snack 2: Protein drink
- Dinner: fried chervil, blanched vegetables
The keto diet is usually followed in three phases:
- The first phase is the weight loss phase, in which carbohydrate intake is kept below 50 g per day. If you maintain a calorie deficit at the same time, it is possible to lose up to 1 kg per week, depending on your target weight. There is no official limit to how many weeks a keto diet should be followed, but 9 weeks is generally recommended. At this stage, the so-called keto-flu, i.e. fatigue accompanied by headaches, often occurs, so high physical exertion and overloading the body, which is getting used to a new source of energy, is not recommended.
- The second phase is the stabilisation phase, when it is recommended to add about 10 g of carbohydrates every 2 to 4 weeks, while slowly increasing physical activity to maintain weight. Certain fruits such as citrus and berries (e.g. raspberries, blueberries, grapefruit, etc.) can be slowly added to the diet.
- The third phase is then a return to normal, but this does not mean that we start eating as we did before the diet or that we have cake every day. This should occur when carbohydrate intake is around 80-90 g per day, then fat intake can be reduced. However, regular exercise, a balanced diet and enough sleep are important to maintain the results.
Advantages and disadvantages of the keto diet
Benefits of the keto diet
The biggest advantage of this diet is the absence of hunger during the diet. Due to the high protein and fat intake, it’s natural to have fewer cravings, plus the frequent portions prevent you from being “chased by cravings”. The second advantage is rapid weight loss, mainly due to fat burning with minimal loss of muscle mass.
Another benefit is the “clear mind” which is due to the reduced carbohydrate intake and the elimination of sweet cravings. Thanks to this diet, you will also get rid of the unsuspected addiction to refined sugar, which is a common phenomenon in modern society.
Disadvantages of the keto diet
Most of the disadvantages are that we are giving up one of the macronutrients, namely the one that provides us with “fast” energy. Especially at the beginning of the keto diet, while the body is getting used to it, there is therefore increased fatigue , drowsiness and often headaches. However, this condition should subside after a few days and should be followed by a state of “clear mind”.
As a result of the excretion of ketones, halitosis may occur. The biggest stumbling block of this diet is the return to normal, the third phase, which is crucial to avoid a possible yo-yo effect. Therefore, even after the diet is over, we should be careful not to revert to previous eating habits and introduce regular exercise into our lifestyle.