Keto & low carb guide!
Keto & low carb guide!
Our resident keto, low carb & fasting expert and nutrition rock star is registered nutritionist, Dr Mikki Williden. Mikki graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Human Nutrition, and a Bachelor of Physical Education from the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand. She attained her Masters in Science (Human Nutrition) with First Class Honours in 2003, focusing on the development of a childhood obesity prevention programme and obtained her PhD in 2011.
She has been privately consulting with clients since 2006, and has worked with thousands of people both in NZ and internationally to help them reach their health and performance goals. She has a thriving online nutrition business and is the founder of Mondays Matter, an 8 week group plan that utilises PSMF fasting for optimal fat loss results. She’s contributed to many publications including Be Well (NZ Herald) and is a sought after speaker in the health, nutrition and longevity field. Mikki is the host of Mikkipedia, a podcast that interviews world-renown experts in health, nutrition, science and performance, and also co-hosts a weekly endurance sport podcast called 'Fitter Radio'. She has worked with some notable New Zealanders, helping them achieve their nutrition-related goals, including Nigel Latta (on 'The Sugar' episode) and Simon Gault (on the documentary series 'Why are we Fat?').
Now on to our Guide to Keto!
"Nutritional Ketosis” is a natural metabolic state where your body burns fat for fuel rather than carbohydrates.
When you decrease the available glucose in your body, stored fats are broken down (metabolised) to be used instead for energy. During this process, fatty acids known as ketones are released into the blood stream, hence the name: ‘ketosis’.
A ketogenic diet is simply any way of eating that promotes this process. Other popular terms for it are “low carb high fat” (LCHF) or “high fat low carbohydrate” (HFLC). The simple premise behind LCHF eating is that by reducing your intake of carbohydrates (sugars and starches) and increasing the percentage of fat intake, your body adapts to metabolizing fat for energy rather than carbohydrate.
This is known as becoming ‘fat-adapted’, and there are many doctors, physicians and dietitians who are now encouraging their patients to adopt this way of eating.
We know how hard it can be when making the change to the ketogenic lifestyle in the beginning, so we've developed a range of delicious keto friendly products along with the information you need to make the transition easy.Please be sure to get your free Keto 101 Beginners Guide below to help you get started!
Great question! Anything that is not an obligate carbohydrate (as in, that is predominantly a carbohydrate based food) is a great start, and then youwant to tweak from there. While the amounts you will eat differs from one person to the next, we have a basic table with which you can use to help build your meals.
It is really individual as to how long it takes. For some people it can take 24 hours, others it can take 72 hours or more. The more you adhere to a ketogenic approach and the less you veer off it, the easier it is to get into ketosis and stay there. There are other things that can help encourage the body to get into ketosis, and you can find out more about them here.
It absolutely depends on your goals! If you are using a ketogenic diet for a fat loss approach, then you can transition into a lower carbohydrate diet once you have lost body fat. Some people need to follow a ketogenic approach for their health (to keep their blood sugars down, or because it helps with a medical condition) and those people are the ones that need to be mindful about being on a ketogenic diet. They are also likely receiving advice from their general practitioner about this though.
For others, sometimes a ketogenic diet can reverse inflammation that is creating blood sugar problems for them and they are able to transition into a lower carbohydrate approach. Some people also really enjoy a ketogenic diet which for most people is perfectly safe. It’s quite individual.
A ketogenic diet can be a sustainable approach, however the important thing with a ketogenic diet is that it builds metabolic memory. The changes that occur at the cellular level are maintained, even if you periodically eat more carbohydrate. It is generally considered that, if you do not have a medical reason to stay on a ketogenic diet indefinitely, then it is arguably better to cycle between a ketogenic diet and a lower carbohydrate diet.
The reason for losing weight on a ketogenic diet is more likely to be that the higher fat and protein foods make you feel fuller, and therefore you end up eating less calories over time, creating a calorie deficit that allows you to drop weight. Initially you will also deplete your own stores of carbohydrate, which is what leads to the initial weight loss that occurs (and with the carbohydrate stores dropping, you drop water. When you eat carbohydrate you end up weighing more on the scales as you fill your muscle glycogen stores. This is partly water too, as for every 1 gram of carbohydrate you store, you store an additional 3g of water. So, if you move from a ketogenic diet to one that has a higher carbohydrate load, you will gain weight, but if the caloric value of the diet is the same, it’s nothing to worry about. However, if you go back to a diet that contains more processed carbohydrate that makes you feel hungrier and you begin to eat more calories because of it, you can indeed gain weight. It’s about finding a balance that suits your lifestyle, and we can help you with that.
A low carbohydrate approach, under the guidance of your medical practitioner, has been shown in clinical trials and in the scientific literature to be a safe and effective way to manage blood sugar for type 2 diabetes. However, it is advised that, particularly for type 1 diabetes, this is done under the guidance of a medical practitioner to help ensure medication is matched to the dietary approach.
In the literature and in case studyreports there are many reports of the symptoms of type 2 diabetes going into remission on a ketogenic diet. Done properly, there may be a remission of type 2 diabetes and research is constantly emerging that supports to use of aketogenic and lower carbohydrate diet as a powerful therapeutic tool for type 2 diabetes.
What you can eat to stay in ketosis is dependent on a number of things. However, generally speaking, non-starchy vegetables including carrots is typically fine as they don’t actually contain that much carbohydrate. You’d have to eat quite a few of them to have a noticeable impact on your blood sugar, especially compared to potatoes and kumara.
Fruit is higher in carbohydrate, which increases your blood sugar response. As the goal is to keep blood sugars in check, most people need to minimise or avoid a lot of fruit. Berries are low sugar enough to typically be fine on a ketogenic diet, other fruits like apples and bananas are usually too high in carbohydrate (unless you are very active).
No. A well formulated ketogenic approach allows for adequate protein to help retain muscle. Protein is recommended to be around 1.5-2g per kg body weight in a ketogenic approach, depending on your activity level. The more active you are, the higher your protein intake is likely to be. In addition, it can protect muscle more than a high carbohydrate diet for people who have insulin resistance. The state of IR can prevent energy (glucose) entering the muscle and allowing for adequate fuel. This makes the glucose being stored elsewhere, contributing to fat gain and fatty liver (other health complications). In addition, the oxidative stress than can occur from high blood sugar levels can contribute to muscle breakdown, and encourages your body to produce more insulin. Over time this approach leads to insulin resistance and your body
In the first few days, as you switch from higher carbohydrates to a lower carbohydrate or ketogenic approach, you can feel lethargic, low energy and a bit irritable. In part, this is because the ready source of fuel (glucose) in blood stream is a lot lower, and your body hasn’t adapted to switching over to using fat as a fuel source. This changes over time, though, as you become more adapted to the ketogenic approach. In the beginning, it can be really helpful to have more water and sodium, as the lower carbohydrate approach drops our body’s ability to store water and electrolytes. Focusing on these two elements can help mitigate what people refer to as the ‘keto flu’. Some people do need to continue to focus on electrolytes in their lower carbohydrate lifestyle.
A ketogenic diet can increase your total cholesterol, by increasing both your HDL and your LDL cholesterol. However, the important numbers with your cholesterol are your ratio of total cholesterol to HDL, and your triglycerides number. Essentially, most people have an improvement in their lipid profile when they lower their carbohydrate intake. This won’t always result in a lower cholesterol but almost always results in a healthier lipid profile.
No, in fact if you come to a ketogenic diet and you’ve got inflammation, then actually a ketogenic diet can help lower inflammation and protect the arteries, not ruin them. Further, the increase in overall fat, and with it the increase in omega 3 fatty acids through an increased intake of foods such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines (even canned) is important for blood flow through the arteries and can improve their function.
Yes. Fat helps us absorb vitamins that need fat to help transport them (vitamins A, D, E, K). Fat helps support and protect our brain, it helps us produce hormones, helps with satiety and also supports our immune system. The types of fats that do all of this are ones that we recommend you eat which you can find in our food list.
You can eat too much of anything! However vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli and other non-starchy vegetables can be eaten without having to worry about carbohydrate intake. Of course, if you notice an increase in bloating or gas as a result of an increased intake of these, you might be reacting to a type of carbohydrate fibre known as FODMAPs. Essentially, swapping these out for other vegetables that don’t contain these can reduce overall bloating while you adjust to the change in diet. We have additional tips that can help you navigate your intake of these foods, help with overall gut health and allow you to enjoy these higher FODMAP foods.
Effectively, if you veer off a ketogenic diet then you will stop producing ketones for fuel, and be kicked out of ketosis. In addition, the combination of fat and carbohydrate together is not too far removed from the standard Western diet that we are trying to move away from when embarking on a ketogenic diet, and can result in body fat gain and increased blood sugar and insulin levels. If you are following this approach for fat loss or another health reason, it is recommended that you follow as closely as possible the principles that we outline in our Keto 101 guide and cheat sheet found at the bottom of the page. If following a ketogenic approach for performance, your ability to produce and use ketones is compromised when you add carbohydrate into the mix, making it harder for you to adapt to a higher fat approach and potentially compromising your progress.
In the initial phases of a ketogenic diet, the more you can stick to the principles, the better you’ll adapt to the approach and the easier it will be in the long term. Every meal that you choose that is ketogenic, the more you give your body the opportunity to produce ketones and burn fat as a fuel source (i.e. be in a ketogenic state) and enhance the production of enzymes that are required to do this, making it easier to do it over time. This is where the benefits lie – the consistency of the approach. If you take a “day off” then you run the risk of not being consistent and not getting the full benefits of a ketogenic approach.
It entirely depends on your goals. For athletes who cycle through different phases of training, you can adopt the ketogenic diet into the base phase (lower intensity, lower workload) of your training cycle. During base phase, for example, this is the perfect opportunity to enhance your ability to burn fat, improve body composition and your ability to go longer. However, in the key phase of improving speed and performance, it is more appropriate to fuel with carbohydrate. This same approach can be adopted for team-based athletes during their off season.
Pregnancy requires additional nutrients to support the growth and development of the tiny human, and these nutrients are often in short supply in the modern diet, including iron, omega 3 fatty acids, zinc, folate, b12 and other b vitamins. A lower carbohydrate approach that is well formulated can supply these in abundance. Pregnancy is also a state of insulin resistance, and her cells take up less carbohydrate so the mother can easily deliver fuel to the tiny human. In this instance, a lower carbohydrate approach also makes sense. A ketogenic diet, however, isn’t necessary if it isn’t your preferred way of eating, yet isn’t dangerous at all if it is. We always recommend to consult with your doctor or midwife first.
Supplying nutrients into the diet is just so important for our tamariki. However it isn’t necessary for most healthy children to adopt a ketogenic diet. Instead, focus on minimising processed food in their day to day food choices, get them outside and being active, and be mindful of the amount of time they spend on screens in their leisure time. Kids need fuel, and are a lot more carbohydrate sensitive than adults, so adding potato or kumara to their meals, having fruit throughout the day and incorporating dairy into their diet is no problem, as long as it isn’t crowding out other food choices that are nutrient dense, such as meat, fish, and eggs.
We don’t doubt that your whanau is super supportive of your dietary goals, so if you haven’t talked to them about it (and are constantly surrounded by or offered non-ketogenic options) then that is the first step. If they understand what the ketogenic diet is and why you are doing it, then it will be so much easier for them to support you. Second is to make sure you are fully satisfied by your meals so you are less likely to be tempted by other non-ketogenic foods. A mistake that some people make is to undereat earlier in the day which makes it more challenging to resist other food later in the day. Bulk up the volume of your meals by adding non starchy vegetables to them so you feel more satisfied. If you do find yourself getting tempted by foods you wouldn’t normally eat, you can also ask that the biscuits, chocolate, crackers, chips or other foods are put in an opaque container and kept high up or down below, out of your eyeline so you aren’t facing temptation every time you open the pantry door. Finally, if you are sharing your dinner meals then hopefully it’s not too difficult for you to leave the carbohydrate out of the meals and just eat the protein portion with non starchy vegetables.
The science for the ketogenic diet has been around for over 100 years, and its first application was for use in weight loss and in seizure control for people who have epilepsy. Since then, we have science emerging on an almost daily basis about its use in weight loss, performance, metabolic health, neurological conditions and some cancers. A ketogenic diet will not be debunked any time soon.
Sometimes doctors aren’t aware of the science behind how helpful a ketogenic diet is for restoring metabolic health and blood sugar management. So it can be really helpful for them to be shown studies (such as this one here) so they can seethat it is a safe and effective way to help reduce symptoms of and even reversetype 2 diabetes. It is important that you are working with your medical professional as your diet does impact on your medication requirement. Sometimesa second opinion can be helpful, and here is a list of general practitioners who use low carbohydratediets to help support their patients with managing their type 2 diabetes.
No. KFC is processed, high carbohydrate (due to the batter) fried food and is not a ketogenic food choice.
Anything that doesn’t contain sugar or carbohydrate could be included in a ketogenic approach. The one thing to be mindful of with soft drinks that contain artificial sweeteners is that they may encourage a desire for sweet foods or drinks, therefore making it more difficult for you to adhere to a lower carbohydrate approach. Your best bet with these drinks is to drink them less often and instead rely on water or sparkling water as your fluid of choice.
Stevia, erythritol, allulose, monkfruit and thaumatin are all sweeteners that don’t impact on blood sugar the way that sugar does and can be good alternatives to use in cooking and baking (or if you see them used in food products).
Your rate of weight loss depends on how much of a calorie deficit you create. Eating a ketogenic diet is more satisfying, so you tend to eat less food overall and therefore less calories. Much of the initial weight that is lost when you change to a lower carbohydrate or ketogenic diet is water weight, as your body reduces its carbohydrate stores and its water stores. However, as you continue, you will lose body weight at around 0.5-1.2% of your initial starting weight depending on how much of a calorie deficit you create and your initial starting weight.
Exercise is the single most important thing that you can do for your health and your blood sugar management. If you are following a ketogenic diet to help you lose weight, and want to add in exercise, then one of the best things you can do is collect steps across the course of the day. Structured exercise is really important, but we know that prolonged sitting and a reduction in every day activity makes it a lot harder to lose weight and control blood sugar. Our body is designed to move, but our environment doesn’t always make it easy. So, if you recognise that you are generally inactive during the day, then this is the first step. The next important thing is to do resistance training 3-4 x per week. Using your own body weight (or dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, weight machines) to build muscle then helps maintain your metabolic rate, helps improve body composition (including bone mass) and provides a ‘sink’ for the carbohydrates you do eat to go (instead of circulating in your bloodstream). Finally, if you have the time, doing some high intensity cardiovascular training 2-3 x per week will allow you to burn more calories to accelerate fat loss.
Make it easy for yourself. A ketogenic approach doesn’t have to be time consuming. Some great things to have on hand include hard boiled eggs, rotisserie chickens, deli meats and ham to fill the protein component. Cheese, avocado, nuts and seeds, coconut cream, coconut oil, butter, olive oil to add fat to meals. And have on hand lettuce, courgette, coleslaw mixes (get rid of the dressing), salad leaves to help form the base of a salad. If you also get into the habit of prepping some food in advance it can go a long way to saving you time during the week. Roasting chicken drumsticks, slow cooking pork or beef, making a big mince-based dish and freezing in single sized portions are all ways to be prepared. Like any diet, eating well doesn’t happen by accident.
You can eat too much of anything, including fat! In the initial phases of going into a ketogenic diet it can be helpful to lean in and eat more fat as it does allow your body to get better at burning fat and accelerates getting into ketosis. However, as you do adjust to this way of eating, and if weight loss is a goal, then you might need to pull back a little on the amount of fat you eat. When losing weight on a ketogenic diet part of the energy you want to burn is the energy that you’ve got stored on your body. If you over consume fat, then your body has no need to draw on its own stores. While you can still be in ketosis, the fat you are burning is from dietary fat and not body fat.
People often use almond flour and/or coconut flour for their low carbohydrate baking choices. These do change the way that the products turn out and it isn’t always a straight swap. For almond flour (or almond meal) it is generally a 1:1 swap, however coconut flour is often best used in addition to another flour (such as almond) as is more absorptive than other flours. Not all gluten-free flours are ketogenic friendly, however other keto-friendly flours such as chia flour, lupin flour and pork-rind dust is also used in some instances. Psyllium husk is also used, and despite it appearing to be higher in carbohydrate, it is predominantly fibre.
Going for a bunless burger is a good hack at a fast-food restaurant or when eating out, and being mindful of the sources used is also important, as some of these can be high in sugar. Some fast food outlets might also use more processed ingredients and overall not provide as many nutrients as you would get if you were eating at home. However, once in a while is no issue.
Some of the pre-packaged ketogenic food options can be so expensive: such as granola, ketogenic chocolate bars, keto-friendly flours and already prepared ketogenic baked goods. However, if you are focusing on a minimally processed ketogenic approach that incorporates seasonal non-starchy vegetables, meat, eggs, nuts, seeds and sources of fat, then it doesn’t have to be as expensive. Further, as these types of foods are more filling than the standard western diet, filling up on your ketogenic diet will leave you satisfied for longer and less likely to be spending money on snacks that you might fall into the habit of doing. Cheaper cuts of meat that are slow cooked, mince that is regular (and not premium) and reduced for quick sale produce items can be good hacks for saving money at the supermarket.
It isn’t necessary to eat any pork, bacon, ham, gelatin, tallow or lard are part of the ketogenic diet. There are plenty of halal-friendly options outside of these which are available on a ketogenic diet. Check the keto food table to get a better understanding of all of the food choices you can eat.
It’s not all bacon. Check the keto cheat sheet & food table (below) to get a better understanding of what constitutes a ketogenic diet
Plenty of people successfully eat a ketogenic and low carbohydrate approach without eating dairy. Substituting coconut cream or yoghurt for Greek yoghurt, coconut cream for cream, nutritional yeast flakes for cheese and you can easily follow a ketogenic diet. Check the keto food table below to get a better understanding of what constitutes a ketogenic diet
While it makes it more difficult to eat a ketogenic diet as a vegan, it is not impossible. Legumes (such as red kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils, black beans) are higher in carbohydrate. However a well formulated vegan ketogenic approach would include pea protein powder, tofu, tempeh and all of the sources of fat that aren’t dairy or animal-based. Check the keto food table below to assess what constitutes a ketogenic diet that would fit into your vegan way of eating.
Your taste buds definitely adjust as you start following a ketogenic diet – and while initially you might miss a pie, that may not be the case in 2-3 weeks! Try to make sure that you include variety into your meals, add plenty of spice and seasoning so your taste buds get the different flavours that they need to help keep you on track. Celery with peanut butter, pork rinds or pork crackling, crunchy lettuce salad with toasted nuts and seeds are just some examples of crunchy foods that you can still enjoy.
The ketogenic diet is probably one of the most googled search terms that relate to dietary approaches, and if you do just a quick investigation you might find up to 10 different ways to do a ketogenic diet. In the literature, though, there are four diets that are differentiated by their macronutrient distribution, but all are designed to induce ketosis.
1. Ketogenic Diet (SKD).
2. Modified Atkins Diet
3. Medium Chain
Triglyceride (MCT) ketogenic diet
4. The Low Glycemic Index Diet.
Another one of our favourites it the Cyclical Ketogenic Diet (CKD).
All of these have slightly different approaches and reasoning behind them, which we've elaborated on HERE.
Please send through any other questions you would like us to address and we'll get back to you as quickly as possible!