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The Keto Diet, Simplified (Plus, How It Works)
By Dr. Josh Axe
June 18, 2020
The keto diet is one of the most popular eating plans to emerge within the past few years. However, many people are unsure exactly what it is, what it entails, and how to get started.
Explaining the keto diet can also be pretty challenging, especially when technical terms, complicated calculations, ratios of macronutrients, and percentages are thrown into the mix.
Fortunately, deciphering the keto diet is actually pretty simple — and the diet itself easy to follow — once you get going.
Below we’ll cover what you need to know about the keto diet explained in simple terms, minus the confusing jargon. We’ll also cover the best keto supplements to consider using, such as Ancient Nutrition’s KetoProtein and KetoFIRE, which can help put you on the path to keto success.
Let’s start by looking at what exactly the ketogenic diet is and how it impacts your health.
The ketogenic diet is a low-carb, high-fat and moderate-protein diet.
This type of eating pattern involves severely cutting carbohydrate consumption while simultaneously ramping up fat intake. This helps to switch the body into ketosis, a metabolic state in which the body “burns fat for fuel” instead of using carbs.
This type of diet has actually been around since the 1920s and was originally developed as an innovative new approach for children seeking to support their neurological health.
In recent years, experts have continued to unearth even more benefits of the ketogenic diet, those which extend to almost every system of the body — impacting the brain, heart, digestive system, and so on.
Here are some of the many effects that the ketogenic diet can have:
Supports a healthy metabolism and healthy weight management
Can help you to maintain a healthy appetite, limiting cravings and overeating
Can promote healthy energy levels and fitness
Helps promote mental focus, clarity and cognitive performance
Can help support healthy metabolic function and healthy blood sugar balance (already in the normal range)
May help promote healthy hormone production and sexual function
So how exactly does the ketogenic diet work? Let’s dive right in and take a closer look at the keto diet explained.
The keto diet works by shifting the body’s metabolism away from carbs and towards fat burning and ketone production.
The carbohydrates found in foods like fruits, starches and sugary snacks are broken down into glucose, which is the main source of energy in the body. Consuming carbs increases the production of insulin, a hormone that is used to shuttle glucose from the bloodstream to the cells where it can be used as fuel.
On the ketogenic diet, carb intake is extremely limited, often to around 30-50 grams of net carbs per day. This forces the body to search for other sources of energy to help power the cells — which is where healthy fats like avocado, olive oil and grass-fed butter come into the picture.
Fats can be broken down for fuel, resulting in the production of ketone bodies in the blood, causing your body to enter a state of ketosis.
Like sugar, ketones serve as a form of energy to help maintain the function of the tissues and cells to support overall health. However, ketones are often considered a more efficient energy source than sugar, providing a higher amount of energy for each unit of oxygen utilized. Not only that, but maintaining optimal levels of ketones in the blood can also be beneficial for overall health.
Getting started on the keto diet requires a few key steps:
Start by cutting down on carbs and limiting your intake to just 30–50 grams of net carbs per day.
Net carbs is calculated by subtracting the grams of fiber from the total grams of carbohydrates in a food.
Overall carbs should account for only about 5 to 10 percent of total calories.
Stick to high-fiber, low-carb options such as non-starchy vegetables, keto fruit and certain nuts and seeds to minimize carb count and kickstart ketosis.
Next, start increasing your intake of health-focused fats such as avocado, coconut oil, ghee, grass-fed butter, fatty fish and olive oil.
These foods help support satiety and provide your body with an alternative source of fuel. Ideally, about 75 percent of your daily calories should come from fat over the course of the day.
Finally, be sure to include a moderate amount of protein in your diet, which is essential for overall healthy immune system function, tissue repair and muscle growth. However, note that high amounts of protein can be converted into glucose, which can stall ketosis and prevent you from making progress.
It’s best to limit your protein intake to about 15-20 percent of your total daily calories. High-quality protein foods such as meat, poultry, seafood and eggs are all great options to ensure you’re getting plenty of nutrients in your diet while also supplying your body with the protein it needs.
Which foods should you eat on the keto diet?
Performance cooking fats — olive oil, coconut oil, grass-fed butter, ghee, palm oil, avocado oil, avocado, MCT oil, lard, chicken fat or duck fat.
Quality protein — Grass-fed meat, pasture-raised poultry, cage-free eggs, all types of wild-caught fish and seafood (such as tuna, trout, anchovies, bass, flounder, mackerel, salmon, sardines), organ meats like liver, and turkey or beef jerky.
Non-starchy vegetables — Broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and other cruciferous veggies, all types of leafy greens (like spinach, dandelion or beet greens, collards, mustard, turnip, arugula, chicory, endive, escarole, fennel, radicchio and kale), asparagus, cucumber, celery, mushrooms, bell peppers, zucchini, tomatoes and carrots (careful to limit veggies that tend to be sweet like potatoes, butternut squash, beets, etc.).
Full-fat dairy products (in moderation) — butter, heavy cream, sour cream, organic cheeses, and in small amounts full-fat/unsweetened yogurt, kefir or milk.
Nuts and seeds — almonds, walnuts, cashews, sunflower seeds, pistachios, chestnuts, pumpkin seeds, nut butters and seed butters, chia seeds and flax seeds are also good sources of fats (stick to having about 1/4 cup per day, or 2 tablespoons of nut/seed butter).
Low-carb beverages — water, water with a slice of lemon or lime, seltzer, herbal tea, black/green tea, coffee, bone broth, unsweetened almond or coconut milk, or freshly made vegetable juice.
Condiments, herbs and spices — all types of fresh or dried herbs/spices like cinnamon, basil, rosemary, thyme, turmeric, ginger, cilantro, red pepper, etc., hot sauce, apple cider vinegar and other vinegars, unsweetened mustard, soy sauce, lemon/lime juice, cocoa powder, stevia extract, vanilla extract, and sour cream.
Which foods should you avoid on the keto diet?
Anything made with added sugar (white, brown, cane, raw and confectioner’s sugar, syrups like maple, honey and agave)
All drinks high in sugar
Foods made with any grains or grain flour (this includes all whole grains and white/wheat flour)
Corn and all products containing corn
Potatoes and other starchy veggies (may be appropriate in very small quantities)
Conventional dairy products such as most yogurts, ice cream, milk, etc.
Snacks like granola bars, most protein bars or meal replacements, most canned soups, many condiments, and many prepackaged meals
All fruit (berries can be eaten in small quantities)
How long does it take to enter ketosis?
The more you restrict your carb intake, the quicker you’ll enter ketosis. Most people can enter ketosis within several days of following the diet correctly.
One option is to temporarily decrease down to just 15 grams of carbs per day, which is recommended to help speed up the process and minimize the amount of time you deal with what is often termed the “keto flu,” although it’s really not a flu at all. If people experience it, it is only temporary and typical.
Within just a matter of days, or sometimes up to 1-2 weeks, symptoms like hunger, fatigue and low energy typically subside as your body transitions to ketosis and begins burning fat instead of sugar.
Certain keto supplements can help make the transition into ketosis go more smoothly, but they are not required.
Here are the most helpful products to consider using, which may help support you while you’re body adjusts to your new diet, while helping you in reaching your goals:
Exogenous ketones offer the body an immediate usable source of ketones, which work well with your keto diet and lifestyle.
Ancient Nutrition’s KetoFIRE product includes exogenous ketones (in the form of BHB salts), fats called MCTs, caffeine, as well organic and energizing adaptogenic herbs with antioxidant properties. KetoFIRE is designed to take your mental and physical performance, energy and fitness to the next level.
Protein powders intended for people on the keto diet are those that are typically high in both protein and performance fats, but very low in carbs and sugar. They can help to keep you feeling full, help you meet your protein needs, and support healthy muscle growth and recovery from workouts.
KetoPROTEIN by Ancient Nutrition is an ideal product for anyone looking to boost mind and muscle power while on the keto diet. It provides high-quality protein and fat from chicken bone broth and coconut MCTs, plus energizing antioxidants and adaptogenic herbs. There is even Keto Plant Protein now.
MCTs stands for medium chain triglycerides, which are fatty acids that the body can use for energy and to produce ketones. You can use MCT oil in many of the same ways you would use coconut oil, such as by adding it to a smoothie or your coffee. It’s also simply taken by the spoonful as a supplement.
Ancient Nutrition’s Keto FUSION Organic MCT Oil combines organic turmeric oil with organic coconut-derived medium-chain triglycerides to not only support natural ketone and energy levels in the body, but also to supply you with antioxidants that support overall health.
Since certain food groups are somewhat limited while on the keto diet, such as some starchy vegetables and fruits, it may be more difficult than usual to get all the essential nutrients you require, including important electrolytes like magnesium, potassium and sodium.
A good way to ensure you’re obtaining the vitamins and minerals you need to feel your best is to supplement with a good quality multivitamin. Taking a magnesium supplement is also encouraged, since this can help to support healthy muscle function, healthy sleep and more.
You’ll also want to be sure to consume enough salt/sodium, such as by adding sea salt to your meals, since you’ll be losing more sodium than usual due to increased urine production.
Two options to consider are Ancient Nutrition’s Keto MULTI and Ancient Nutrition’s Magnesium. Keto MULTI features a whole food formula of fermented nutrients and enzyme-activated minerals, delivering 100% or more of the Daily Value of 15 vitamins and minerals to help ensure adequate nutrient intake.
Our enzymate-activated magnesium is also formulated from real food and features multi-kingdom ingredients inspired by TCM (Traditional Chinese Method).
Dr. Josh Axe, DC, DNM, CNS, is a doctor of chiropractic, doctor of natural medicine, clinical nutritionist and author with a passion to help people get well using food and nutrition. He operates leading natural health website DrAxe.com and is co-founder of Ancient Nutrition, a health supplement company. He’s also author of the books Eat Dirt, Essential Oils: Ancient Medicine, Keto Diet and Collagen Diet.