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The keto diet is probably best known for helping people burn more calories, reduce hunger and drop kilos.
But there are far more significant benefits to the ketosis diet such as managing (and possibly remitting) diabetes, treating epilepsy,
healthier blood pressure, reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson's disease, improving general brain function, and lowering
cholesterol, among others.
So what is the keto diet and what does ketosis actually mean for you and your wellbeing?
Keep reading for your beginners guide, the benefits of a keto diet, a list of food you can eat, and how to start.
Most important things first: is the keto diet safe?
As with all health related topics, this depends on you as an individual. If you have any medical concerns, minor or major, or if you have any doubts about how your body may respond to the keto diet, then make sure you check in with your doctor and discuss the change with them first.
Let’s get to know a little more about the keto diet, what it is and what does ketosis mean?
The term ketosis refers to a metabolic state which is a process where chemical reactions in your body’s cells change food into energy to fuel your body and mind.
Ketosis happens when you significantly reduce your consumption of carbohydrates (sugars) so when your body does change food into energy it needs to use the fat your diet has provided, because carbs aren’t available.
And the keto diet is one that ensures you are consuming, and eliminating, the foods that will allow this process - ketosis - to happen.
So, what is the keto diet?
As you read above, the fundamental element of the keto diet is significantly reducing the carbohydrates you are eating so your body can achieve ketosis, using healthy fats instead of carbs to provide you with energy.
But for this diet, reducing carbohydrates doesn’t just mean removing foods like bread, biscuits and pasta, but healthier foods as well such as beans and legumes, plus many fruits and vegetables.
Although these natural foods are generally healthy they are still too high in carbohydrates to allow your body to achieve ketosis and so need to be removed from your keto diet.
You need a very low carb, high (healthy) fat diet for ketosis to happen.
And when this does happen, your body becomes very efficient at burning fat to create energy and it also turns fat into ketones in your liver, which supply energy for your brain. Healthy fats sparking your bright thoughts!
For many of us, our daily diets regularly include simple
such as bread, pasta, rice, potatoes and soft drinks.
So when your body is working on creating energy it doesn't find healthy options to do so and will instead use this supply of simple carbohydrates.
On the keto diet, your energy supply is constantly coming from a healthy source as your body no longer has carbohydrates (sugars) available to create energy and so will turn to using the healthy fats that your keto diet and your body is providing.
This process can provide many health benefits, especially with metabolic, neurological, or insulin-related illnesses.
Some benefits to know about the keto diet are:
Consuming a diet high in healthy fats with no sugar or other simple carbohydrates can have a positive effect on your
skin reducing inflammation and oxidative stress.
These benefits can appear in numerous ways including reducing acne, lessening the appearance of varicose veins, and reducing or eliminating symptoms of inflammatory skin problems like psoriasis.
And increasing healthy-fat intake (especially sources of omega-3s, such as salmon and walnuts) can also help soothe dry, itchy, scaly skin.
Obviously, if all you're putting inside your body is good quality natural food, your skin will be grateful.
Research shows that the keto diet can significantly reduce seizures, even in people experiencing drug resistant seizures.
I have experienced this one personally.
I’ve been unwell for over 12 years and one of my symptoms is severe seizures.
When I started a diet that significantly reduced my carb intake while significantly increasing my intake of healthy fats I was the healthiest I'd been in years.
I went 18 months without having a single tonic-clonic seizure.
I was then encouraged to use an elimination diet to see if I had any food allergies (which is fair enough), and had to move to a much less healthy diet as the elimination diet removes A LOT of good foods.
My seizures returned and I was having them more frequently than ever before.
Back on a keto diet and my tonic-clonic seizures have again stopped.
Not a small feat, hey?
So I’m quite passionate about this diet when it’s used well and for the right reasons, because of the significant benefits it’s provided me.
It’s also been used to help with weight loss and has shown to be more effective for long-term weight loss than a low fat
One of the reasons for that effectiveness is you aren't battling constant hunger as you do with many diets because the high-fat nature of the keto diet keeps you feeling satisfied.
And interestingly, while eating high carb foods due to the elimination diet I mentioned above I put on a bit of weight and found it difficult to shift. It's only now on the keto diet that I’ve been able to lose it as my body has no carbs to burn so instead is burning fats.
Another thing I've noticed since being on this diet is that my body has become less tolerant of unhealthy binges meaning I'm less likely to have these even when I'm not on the keto diet.
This diet, and similar ones like the Terry
are also used to treat auto-immune illnesses like diabetes, MS (Multiple Sclerosis) and CFS/ME (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic
For some the results are extraordinary, with stories of people reversing diabetes and even remitting MS by fuelling their bodies with a diet high in healthy fats, removing the majority of carbohydrates and achieving ketosis.
The keto diet has also been used to treat very significant illnesses like heart disease, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson's
disease and has shown it could also help prevent cancer.
Image: Ala / Unsplash
On the keto diet, it’s recommended that your daily consumption of carbs is limited to 20 - 50 grams.
So instead of a high carb diet of toast for breakfast, sushi for lunch, and pasta for dinner, you want to be filling up on healthy fats such as meat, fish, eggs, and nuts, alongside leafy greens and fruits and vegetables that qualify for the keto diet.
It can also be important to moderate your consumption of protein because it can be converted into sugars if consumed in high amounts, which would get in the way of achieving ketosis.
Because some healthy high fat foods included in the keto diet such as meat and eggs are also high in protein you might need to reduce or eliminate other sources such as cheese and yoghurt (you also couldn’t have any yoghurt containing sources of sugar).
I recommend that before starting, you take a look at a full list of food you can have on the keto diet, but for now here are the basic foods you can eat while on the diet.
Your first step is to understand what
the keto diet is,
which I explained earlier in this beginners guide.
Knowing more about the keto diet will mean you’re less likely to be confused or become overwhelmed by the challenge.
Next, set some goals and boundaries for yourself.
How long would you like to remain on the diet? Are you going to use it intermittently, for example, one month on, one month off? Will you break the diet if you head out for a meal or would you prefer to remain strict for the periods you're on the diet?
Again, talk with your doctor about what’s best for you. It's a strict and challenging diet so the idea of permanently remaining on it would be difficult and may not be right for you anyhow.
And do some meal planning, consider what you can eat and collect some recipes for the keto diet that appeal to you.
There are also ways to test whether you’re achieving ketosis, but you don’t have to unless health reasons require it or you want to know for sure if you're in ketosis.
I hope this beginners guide means you've got a better idea now about what is the keto diet, what ketosis means, the benefits and how to start.
Like with all changes to your lifestyle that involve your health you need to be mindful when deciding whether to use the keto diet or not.
Are you starting this diet because you want to improve your health overall? Or are you purely focused on a goal of losing weight for appearance sake?
While losing weight might be a healthy decision for you, it can also be a bad idea for this to be your only focus.
Feeling well, healing medical concerns, having more energy, sleeping better and a bunch of other benefits from a healthy diet should be the motivation, not just looking more trim.
And of course if the keto diet isn’t what you’re after, then I encourage you to just have a think about what the core idea of the diet is: to use healthy food to fuel your body.
There are other simpler ways you can do this like reducing packaged foods and simple sugars and eating more natural unprocessed foods.
Remember, this change to your diet is about improving your health and wellbeing, which is the most important thing you can do for both yourself and those who love you or depend on you.
Let me know how you go in the comments below!
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