There can be a lot of confusion about keto and low carb diets, and a lot of misunderstandings about what these diets really are and what they feel like.
Rumors about people who eat nothing but eggs and bacon all day and still lose weight make people wonder if that's true, if it's possible, and how it works.
Today we're answering all the most frequently asked questions about low-carb and keto diets.
What Exactly is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting, also simply referred to as IF, is a type of dieting approach where you limit your food consumption to a specific window of time. While the keto diet involves significantly cutting down carb intake (preferably to less than 50 grams per day) and increasing fat intake, IF involves fasting for a set period of time and then eating during a specific window of time.
What is a Low Carb Diet?
A low carb diet is a diet that avoids the consumptions of carbohydrates, and getting most calories from fat and protein. Most low carb diets avoid simple carbs like sugar, bread, and pasta. Some low carb diets also exclude higher-carb vegetables like potatoes, corn, and carrots. There are lots of different low-carb diets, and the Atkins, Whole30, and keto diets are particularly famous versions of low-carb diets.
What is the Difference between a Low Carb Diet and a Keto Diet?
The keto diet is one of many types of low carb diets. So the two are not at odds with one another. Low carb encompasses many types of diets, including keto. One is the genus (low carb diet) and the other is the species (keto). Low carb diets usually differ in the amount of carbs they allow (usually most range from 0 to 100 carbs per day). Each one has to choose the one that is best for them.
What is a Keto Diet?
The keto diet is named for a physical state called “ketosis,” in which the body burns fat for fuel instead of burning carbohydrates. To achieve this state, people eat a diet that is high in fat and low in carbohydrates, with sufficient protein for health. The keto diet was originally developed to ease symptoms of epilepsy, but has also become popular as a diet for weight loss and improve their health and fitness.
Is the Keto Diet Healthy?
The keto diet is proved to help reduce seizures in people with epilepsy, particularly in children. It may also be therapeutic for people with diabetes.
For healthy adults, the keto diet can be healthy if they don't have any underlying health conditions, and if they make sure that they make healthy food choices every day on the diet. The keto diet can be very high in unhealthy fats and salt, and low in vitamins and other important nutrients. Because the keto diet restricts nutrient rich fruits, vegetables, and many grains, it can be difficult to eat healthy foods and achieve and remain in a state of ketosis.
Doctors also point out that, while the keto diet does tend to promote rapid weight loss in the beginning, it is an extremely difficult diet to maintain. Diets that lead to rapid initial weight loss followed by regaining weight, are called “yo-yo diets,” and are extremely unhealthy and linked to increased mortality.
What is a State of Ketosis?
Ketosis is a metabolic state in the body, named because of the presence of ketone bodies in the blood. When the body has restricted access to carbohydrates to make glucose, the body's preferred energy source, the liver stops processing carbohydrates for energy, and instead shifts to metabolizing fatty acids.
Ketosis is naturally associated with fasting, starvation, or prolonged exercise. However, a person can achieve a state of ketosis without starving or fasting, simply by restricting carbohydrates. Restricting the amount of carbohydrates you eat forces the liver to continue converting fat into energy, and keeps you in a state of ketosis.
What Does Ketosis Feel Like?
Most people have some discomfort when transitioning to a ketogenic diet (also known as the “keto flu”). While everyone is different, after that adjustment period, most people experience:
1. Reduced Appetite and Food Cravings
A lot of people report that they don't feel as “hangry” or strongly motivated to eat.
2. Increased Mental Focus and Clarity
Many people say things like their “brain fog” has lifted and they are better able to focus and concentrate.
3. Increased Time in the Bathroom
This is highly subjective, but many people in ketosis need to use the bathroom more often.
4. More Stable Moods and Energy Levels
Many people in ketosis feel that their moods and energy levels don't fluctuate as much throughout the day.
What is “Keto Flu”?
Feeling unwell for the first week or two of a keto diet is so common that it has come to be known as the “keto flu.”
The most common symptoms of the keto flu are:
Bad Breath and Body Odor
As your body produces and uses ketone bodies, it produces chemical compound byproducts similar to acetone. These compounds are eliminated through breath, sweat, and urine, and can smell quite bad. In fact some call it poop breath. A more common and better sounding name is keto breath. Most people increase their grooming and use of breath mints during this time.
Because the body is accustomed to burning carbohydrates for energy, it is typical to be tired and have low energy as it transitions to burning fat. Experts advise scaling back workouts and giving yourself more rest time for this week or two until your energy recovers.
Problems in the Bathroom
A keto diet has less fiber than a conventional diet. Many high carbohydrate foods, like fruits, are also high in water, and burning glucose for energy produces water as a byproduct. Less fiber and less water in the body can both lead to constipation, so the keto flu often includes issues in the bathroom and with digestion.
Many dramatic dietary changes can often affect our electrolyte balance. It's also true that many people new to the keto diet also focus on eating a lot of meat, fat, and dairy, and may neglect healthier foods like nuts, seeds, fatty fish, and other important sources of minerals.
Electrolyte imbalance and low vitamins and minerals can both cause muscle cramps (many complain of leg cramps on keto), so it's important to monitor your nutrition and add supplements if necessary. When on keto potassium is one of important minerals to consider among others.
What Foods are Low Carb?
In many cases, the nutrition labels on your food are the best source of information about carbohydrate and macronutrient levels in your foods. Here's a quick overview of foods that are considered low in carbohydrates.
What is Bulletproof Coffee or Keto Weight Loss Coffee?
Since the keto diet has a higher fat percentage many seek ways to meet that target amount. Keto coffee is coffee that contains fat in the form of butter (ghee coffee), MCT Oil, or high quality Extra-Virgin Coconut oil. The mixture helps satiate the appetite fending off hunger pains. Read more about the health benefits of what many call an amazing weight loss coffee.
What Foods aren't Keto?
There are many different specific types of keto diets, and they may have different guidelines. As a rule, here are foods to avoid on a keto diet:
- Legumes and pulses: beans, peas, lentils, peanuts
- Grains: rice, pasta, oatmeal
- Dairy: any reduced or low-fat dairy products, any dairy pre-sweetened dairy products (like flavored yogurt)
- Sugars and sweeteners: all sugars and sweeteners, natural and artificial
- Sweet beverages: fruit juice, sodas (including “diet” versions)
- Fruit: no fruits except lemons and limes
- Vegetables: starchy vegetables like corn, potatoes, and carrots
- Fats: trans fats like those in margarine and hydrogenated oils
- Baked goods: breads, pastries, buns, rolls, etc.
- Snack foods: most keto diets eliminate snack foods like chips, pretzels, crackers, cookies, etc.
- Alcohol: most keto diets prohibit alcohol of all kinds (some allow clear liquors like vodka, gin, and rum, as long as they are not mixed with other sweetened ingredients)
Do You Need To Track Calories on a Keto Diet? What About Tracking Macros? Do You Need to Track Ketones?
Weighing, measuring, and tracking can be the most difficult part of any diet. Here's a breakdown for tracking on a keto diet:
As a rule, you begin a keto diet by tracking your macros. Macros are usually tracked by grams per day, so it can be helpful to weigh your food and consult labels or nutrition guides.
You are aiming for 60-80% of your daily food intake as fat, 15-35% as protein, and 5% or less as carbohydrates. Your specific needs may vary, and there are some great personalized macro calculators online (like this one to help you get started.
Tracking your ketones is a fantastic idea, particularly when you are new to a keto diet. While ketosis is a normal metabolic state, ketoacidosis is a serious health condition. While most healthy people are unlikely to accidentally enter ketoacidosis on a keto diet, measuring and monitoring can help ensure that you are staying safe.
Monitoring ketones is also a good idea for newcomers, as it will help them better identify the state of ketosis, so that they can tell what it feels like and measure less over time. Ketones can be measured quickly and easily with urine strips or a breath analysis device.
The most accurate way to measure ketones is with a blood ketone monitoring device, but that level of accuracy is typically not needed for healthy people with no underlying medical concerns.
For people who are using a keto diet for weight loss, and seeing no or slow results, calorie counting might be a good idea. At the most basic level, losing weight consists of burning more calories than you consume, and a low-carb high-fat diet like a ketogenic diet may lead to consumption of excess calories that make it slow or difficult to lose weight.
For most people, it's a good idea to get used to the keto diet and the state of ketosis, then decide if calorie counting for weight loss is right for you.
Does a Keto Diet Help You Lose Weight?
Research has shown that the keto diet is a good choice to jump-start weight loss: people lose more weight more quickly on the keto diet than on calorie-reducing diets. However, over the course of a year or so, these effects tend to even out, and the keto diet is no better than any other diet at helping to keep weight off over time.
However, many people love keto for the quick results, which can help to improve motivation and keep people focused on a weight loss plan. It's a good choice for people who have struggled to lose weight on calorie-reducing diets.
Can You Do a Keto Diet if You Have High Cholesterol? Can You Do a Keto Diet if You Have Diabetes?
Studies have shown that, despite the high fat, keto diets can have positive effects on cholesterol. And the keto diet may be a good choice for people with diabetes who need to control their blood sugar.
However, the keto diet does have some risks and counter-indications, so if you have any health conditions or concerns, it's important to consult with your doctor before beginning the keto diet (or any diet). They will be able to give you professional guidance and tell you what to watch out for if you have high cholesterol or diabetes on the keto diet.
How do I Choose the Right Type of Keto Diet for Me?
There are dozens of different specific types of keto diets, based on different lifestyles and dietary goals. Here are some of the most popular types of keto diet:
1. Strict Keto
This is a very tightly controlled form of keto diet used for treating epilepsy, with no more than 4% dietary intake from carbohydrates.
2. Standard Keto
Standard keto (also called “very-low-carb keto,” or “well-formulated keto” is the most common form of keto, in which 5% of daily intake is from carbs.
3. MCT Keto
This type of keto diet follows the standard keto macro guidelines, but focuses on medium-chain-triglycerides (MCTs) as the primary source of fat.
4. Calorie-Restricted Keto
This type of keto follows the standard keto macro ratios, but limits calories to help improve weight loss.
5. Cyclical Ketogenic Diet
This type of keto, called CKD or “carb backloading” follows the standard keto diet for five days, and then increases carbohydrates for two days. It is typically used by athletes who need carbohydrates to replace glycogen lost during intense workouts. It may also be used by people who have a hard time sticking to standard keto seven days a week.
6. Targeted Ketogenic Diet
This version of keto, also called TKD, follows the standard keto diet, but daily carbohydrate intake is timed just before or just after workouts, to feed the muscles.
7. High Protein Keto Diet
This type of keto diet puts more emphasis on proteins rather than fats, so the daily macros are 35% protein, 60% fats, and 5% carbs. This type of keto diet may help to build lean muscle, which improves strength and may promote weight loss.
8. Lazy Keto
Lazy keto is a variation for people who don't want to spend a lot of time tracking macros. This version simply focuses on restricting carbs (usually to less than 50g per day) so that the body naturally stays in ketosis.
There is also Clean Keto, with a focus on organic and natural foods; Mediterranean Keto, which focuses on heart-healthy foods like olive oil and fatty fish; and Keto 2.0, which is a bit more balanced in macros and easier to sustain over long periods. To choose the right keto diet for you, be clear about your goals, your health concerns, and your lifestyle.