What is Keto? A Beginner’s Guide to the Keto Diet
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If you’re reading this at the time of publication in early 2019, then you’ve more than likely heard about the Keto Diet. But what is Keto, exactly? And why has it gained so much popularity in recent months and years?
Disclaimer: Before we dive in, I must make it clear that I am not a doctor, nutritionist or health-care professional of any kind. Any information in this article is for educational purposes only. You should always talk to your doctor before starting any new diet.
What is the Keto Diet?
The Keto diet (aka. the Ketogenic diet) is a high fat, moderate protein, very low carb diet that guarantees weight loss, increased energy, less inflammation, sharper brain function and overall better health.
Similar in theory to the Atkins diet that swept the nation in the ‘90s and early 2000s, Keto severely limits carbohydrates, which means no bread, no pasta, no sugar and no carb-heavy fruits and vegetables like apples, bananas, carrots and potatoes.
But the Keto diet limits carbs even more than the Atkins diet and really emphasizes the importance of consuming healthy fats. In fact, it’s generally recommended that at least 70% of your diet be made up of fat on the Keto diet.
This emphasis on eating fat goes against so much of what we’ve been “fed” (pun intended) over the past few decades about fat being bad, but it makes more sense once you realize that anything claiming to be “low-fat” typically has a higher sugar content, and we all know sugar is bad the body.
Don’t believe me? Read the nutritional information on a carton of full-fat milk or cream and then compare it to the nutritional info. on a carton of skim milk. You’ll see that while the fat content is lower in a glass of skim milk, the sugars are through the roof!
Keto and Homesteading
The Keto diet is a great fit for the homesteading lifestyle!
While homemade breads, carb-heavy fruits and veggies and home-baked sugary treats are off-limits, there are many Keto-friendly foods that homesteaders can make from scratch and even grow or raise themselves.
- Full-fat milk & dairy
- Grass-fed meats
- Leafy greens
- Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, etc.)
- Tomatoes & peppers
- Berries (in limited quantities)
- Lots of fresh herbs
- Most tree nuts
It’s a homesteader’s dream! (Are you beginning to see why I’m actually excited about this diet?)
Keto is a lifestyle, not a fad diet
The science behind Keto is actually pretty cool, and it’s actually what made me finally try it out. Because you see, I am NOT a dieter.
I think the last time I actually dieted was when I was about 16 years old and was vain and wanted to be skinny and hot. (Sounds like a 16-year-old mentality, doesn’t it?) But otherwise I’ve never been a big believer in “diets.” To me, they are almost always fads that don’t last and aren’t sustainable. So I’ve always believed more in an overall healthy eating approach: whole foods, lots of fruits and veggies, lean meats and limited amounts of processed foods.
But after I had my daughter, even eating a healthy, whole, homemade foods wasn’t enough to shed the weight, and now here I am, 50 lbs. overweight and in need of some sort of healthy, sustainable change to my diet. Because what worked for me at 16 ain’t workin’ for this mama anymore. Who feels me on this one?
And so, I began researching some of the hot diets today to try to see what all the fuss was about and see if just maybe I could find something that I could actually stick with for the longterm.
I checked out Whole 30 and Paleo, but found that they were just too restrictive for me and for the foods I really enjoy eating. I knew I would probably try one of these diets out, feel overly restricted and then eventually give it up and gain all the way back plus more. But this time I’m really looking for a lasting change; A lifestyle rather than a diet. And then I found Keto.
The Science Behind Keto
The Ketogenic Diet is called so because when you follow the diet properly, your body goes into a metabolic state called “Ketosis,” which essentially means that it switches from burning carbohydrates for energy and stats burning fat instead. This means that you also start burning body fat, which means weight loss is sure to follow.
Here’s a breakdown of what happens during ketosis:
- You severely limit your carb intake, which signals to your body that it has to find an alternative source of fuel, and so your body starts burning fat instead of carbs.
- When your body starts burning fat as its primary source of fuel, it goes into ketosis. This means that your liver starts converting fat into ketones, which end up in your bloodstream and are carried to all parts of your body to use as fuel.
- When you are in ketosis, your body becomes a highly efficient fat-burning machine. It starts to breakdown body fat and use that as fuel. Of course, when you start burning body fat, you begin to lose weight very quickly.
Other benefits of ketosis are said to include better brain function/less fogginess, lower blood sugar, less inflammation (because most inflammatory foods are carb-heavy), more energy and feeling fuller longer without the sugar crashes and hunger associated with a calorie-restricted diet that is still high in carbs.
Now, let me say this again: I am not a health professional, nor am I an expert on the Ketogenic Diet.
If you’re interested in the Keto Diet and want to learn more about the science behind it, I strongly recommend both talking to your doctor first AND doing some more in-depth research yourself.
Here are some articles and resources that I’ve found helpful:
- Keto 101: what it is, how it works and how to get started
- The Ketogenic Diet: A detailed beginner’s guide to Keto
- The fat-fueled brain: unnatural or advantageous?
- What happens to your body when you eat healthy and cut out sugar
How I’m approaching Keto
As a homesteader, I’m all about homegrown and homemade whenever possible, and supplementing with store-bought whole foods as much as I can (ie. I’m not about to start buying pre-made, processed, Keto-friendly TV dinners or anything).
I also believe in eating more plants than meat as a general rule, both for health reasons and in the name of frugality. So my approach to Keto is as follows:
- Cut out sugar (including all forms of refined sugar, honey, maple syrup, etc,) cut out all grains (pasta, rice, bread, etc.) and severely limit all other carbs.
- Eat lots of healthy fats (duh), including coconut oil, avocados and avocado oil, olives and olive oil, lard and butter, oily fish (salmon, sardines, tuna, trout, etc.), high-fat & low-carb nuts and seeds (almonds, walnuts, pecans, chia seeds, hemp hearts, etc.) and full fat dairy (full fat cream, cheese, yogurt, sour cream, etc.)
- Eat lots of low-carb vegetables, particularly cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, etc.) and leafy greens (kale, spinach, lettuce, chard, etc.). Also include colourful low-carb vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, zucchini and asparagus. And of course, onions and garlic. Always a tasty and nutritious addition!
- Include reasonable amounts of other healthy proteins like eggs, chicken, fish and red meat (organic free-range, wild-caught and/o grass-fed is best!)
While many people think you can just sit around eating a pound of bacon a day on Keto, I prefer a healthier, more balanced approach. (Although I’m not gonna lie, I love me some bacon every once in a while too!)
Note: When it comes to carbs, most foods have at least some carbs. On Keto, you don’t need to limit all carbs necessarily. What you want to do is limit your net carbs. In order to find out the net amount of carbs in a particular food, subtract the amount of fiber (in grams) from the total grams of carbs to get the net grams of carbs in a serving of food.
Caveats and cautionary advice about the Keto Diet
Ketosis vs. Ketoacidosis
While Keto is celebrated for helping to lower blood sugar, and can even be used to help regulate and lower the risk of Type 2 diabetes, it can be dangerous for people suffering from Type 1 diabetes. This is because without the right balance of fat, protein and carbs, people with diabetes can go into something called “ketoacidosis.”
Unlike ketosis, ketoacidosis is very dangerous and can even be fatal. While most people without diabetes, and even those with Type 2 diabetes don’t necessarily need to worry about ketoacidosis, people with Type 1 diabetes are at greater risk of developing ketoacidosis when following a Ketogenic Diet.
Again, I highly recommend talking to your doctor or health care professional before embarking on a Ketogenic Diet plan. This is especially true for anyone suffering from diabetes (Type 1 or 2).
The Keto Flu
Another thing you should know about is the “Keto Flu.” The Keto Flu is not really a flu, it’s simply the name that has been given to the feeling that some people get when they are first starting Keto and their body is transitioning from burning carbs to burning fat.
Some people report feeling lethargic and under-the-weather, much like you would when suffering from the flu. It usually starts about 24-48 hours after transitioning to a ketogenic diet and should pass within a week or two at the most.
Not everybody experiences the Keto Flu. So far I haven’t experienced any of the Keto flu symptoms. In fact, I’ve felt great since day one! (Knock on wood).
Know Your Macros
One last caveat about the Keto Diet is that, in order to be successful, you’ve gotta know your macros.
Macros (short for “macronutrients”) include fat, protein and carbs. So knowing your macros means knowing the balance and ratios of fat, protein and carbs in your diet.
In order to be successful on Keto, you need to figure out exactly how much of each macronutrient your body needs. In general, you want to aim for about 70% fats, 25% protein and 5% carbs.
Of course, everybody is a little different and has different health goals, and so every body needs something a little bit different.
I use this macronutrient calculator to help me calculate my macros.
How do I know if I’m in ketosis?
So how do you know if you’re in ketosis?
There are three main ways to know for sure if your body is in ketosis:
1. Urine testing strips
You can use these urine testing strips to measure the level of ketones in your body. You pee on the strip and then match the colour of the strip to the colour spectrum on the bottle of testing strips. The darker the strip, the higher the level of ketones in your blood. This is what I’m currently using to measure my ketones.
2. The breath test
Ketones are made up of three different molecules, one of which is acetone. Acetone (the same ingredient in nail polish remover) is naturally occurring in the body, but on Keto your body will produce more acetone, which can leave your breath smelling slightly sweet and metallic. This is a normal side effect of ketosis.
3. Blood testing
You can also test your ketones with a blood glucose and ketone testing kit. Similar to testing your blood glucose when you have diabetes, this monitor will read your glucose and kept levels. While you could use this method to test your ketones right from the beginning, I would start with the urine testing strips and then move onto blood testing after a while of following the Keto Diet since urine strips eventually become less effective once your body stops excreting ketones through urine.
Easing into a healthier lifestyle, one good habit at a time
If you’re signed up for my weekly newsletter, you probably received an email I sent out just after Christmas (2018) about how I have a big, scary goal of losing 50 lbs. by December 31st, 2019. While I could have jumped on the weight loss bandwagon with everybody else on January 1st, I knew it would be better to ease myself into a routine and develop healthier habits, one-by-one, in order to create sustainable, lasting change.
So I used the month of January to research different diets and find something that would work for me. I wanted a lifestyle change, not just a fad diet, so I landed on Keto and decided that I would start on February 1st.
I used the month of January to get into some other healthy habits that would get me into a better physical and mental space to take on Keto. One of them was giving up alcohol completely. My goal is to go the whole year. I’ll reassess as I go (especially because wine is allowed on Keto!) but for now I don’t miss it at all. My head is clear and I feel happy and healthy and in the right state of mind to go after my big goals.
Another thing that’s been a game-changer is going to bed early, getting a full 7 to 8 hours of sleep and then waking up early (usually around 5 a.m.) This gives me the chance to start my day off right. I get lots of work done before my husband and daughter wake up, I take time to stretch and meditate and start my day on the right foot.
So as I said, my plan was to start Keto on February 1st, but after a super carb-heavy meal at our annual Ukrainian New Year celebration, I literally woke up the next morning and knew I was ready to start Keto right away.
This is the exact same way I finally conquered my goal of quitting smoking two years ago. I woke up one morning and I was just done with cigarettes. I quit smoking that day and I’ve been a non-smoker ever since! I knew if I could quit smoking this way, I could start Keto this way too, so I decided to start that day when I was feeling good and motivated.
This did mean that I had to go out and spend a chunk of our February food budget on January 21st so that I had enough Keto-friendly food in the house to get going without falling off the wagon. Plus, I figured starting early would give me a week to feel out the diet and get used to it.
So far I give it a massive two thumbs up! While I haven’t lost any weight yet, I already feel better, my skin has started to clear up and I’m surprisingly full most of the time.
What my day looks like on Keto
My favourite part about Keto is starting my day with a Bulletproof coffee, which is essentially a fatty coffee that’s mixed with heavy cream and healthy fats.
You could just mix some coconut oil or butter in with some coffee and heavy cream, but personally I love the following latte-style Bulletproof coffees…
“Cinnamon Dolce” Bulletproof Coffee
I especially love this recipe from Ruth Soukup from Living Well Spending Less. It uses a dash of cinnamon and reminds me of a Cinnamon Dolce latte from Starbucks, minus the sugar:
- 1 cup freshly brewed coffee
- 1 Tbsp. butter
- 1 Tbsp. coconut oil
- 1 Tbsp. heavy cream (I usually pour a little more)
- Dash of cinnamon
- Splash of vanilla extract
- Blend on high for 15-20 seconds and enjoy:)
I’m also a bit of a chocoholic, so I invested in some organic cacao powder (no added sugar and zero net grams of carbs) as well as this upgraded cocoa butter, which is high in fat but zero carbs and has a hint of creamy chocolate flavour to it. This is how I make my Keto mocha:
- 1 cup freshly brewed coffee
- 1 Tbsp. coconut oil
- 1 Tbsp. upgraded cocoa butter (it comes in solid chunks so I estimate about a tablespoon)
- 1-2 Tbsp. heavy cream
- 1 Tbsp. organic cacao powder
- Splash of vanilla extract
- Blend on high of 15-20 seconds
Intermittent fasting is recommended on Keto as well, so I’ve been starting my day with a cup or two of Bulletproof coffee and a couple glasses of water to get hydrated, then I make my Keto brunch around 10 or 11 a.m. These are a few of my favourite Keto-friendly breakfasts so far:
- Scrambled eggs with sour cream instead of milk whipped into the eggs
- Broccoli Cheddar Omelette made with the homegrown broccoli we still have in the freezer
- Baked eggs on avocado with cheese and homemade salsa
Yum, yum, yum. I think mornings are my new favourite on Keto. No wonder I can get up at 5 a.m. now!
For lunch, I’ll usually have Keto-friendly leftovers from the night before or I’ll have a Keto-friendly snack platter that looks something like this:
- Sliced tomato
- Sliced avocado
- Raw almonds
- Keto-friendly veggies and dip (tomatoes, cucumbers, celery, broccoli, etc.)
For dinner I change it up between meat and veggie main courses and often have a salad on the side with leto-friendly ingredients like olives, tomatoes, cucumbers and avocado. I add some healthy fat to my main course in the form of creamy sauce, cheese or healthy oils. So far I’ve had:
- Chicken Parmesan (without the breadcrumbs)
- Keto Meatballs (with hemp hearts instead of breadcrumbs)
- Broccoli Baked with Cheese and Curried Homemade Mayo
- Chicken Caesar Salad
- Taco Salad (no chips)
- Veggie (or add chicken or shrimp) Stir-Fry with Cabbage “Noodles”
Join me on my Keto journey
If you’re on my regular mailing list (and if you’re not, you should be!) look forward to some Keto-friendly recipes coming soon!
If, however, you’d specifically like to follow my weight-loss journey (and hold me accountable for sticking with my goals!) then click below to receive regular updates on my progress with Keto, along with Keto-friendly recipes and health and fitness inspo. to help you achieve your BIG health and fitness goals this year too!
>> Sign up to receive health & fitness updates from The House & Homestead, including Keto-friendly recipes, health & wellness tips and inspiration from the front lines of my own weight-loss journey. <<
Wishing you health, wealth & the courage to go after your BIG goals this year 🙂
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