What is ‘keto’?

A standard ketogenic diet refers to a way of eating that is low in carbohydrates, high in fat, with adequate protein. Instead of burning glycogen (stored glucose), your body will burn energy from the fat you're eating and the fat you have stored. Fat provides more than double the energy when burned than protein or carbohydrates. Ketones are produced as a result of the body metabolising fat and are a very efficient source of fuel for the brain and body. A ketogenic diet is designed to put the body into mild nutritional ketosis, where it uses ketones to power cells for energy. For most people, that will mean a diet that consists of approximately 70-80% fat, 20-25% protein, and 5-10% carbohydrates.

People often are surprised at the high amount of fat that’s consumed. Yes, that means you will become very familiar with avocado and coconuts, as well as many other foods! If you have a very physical job or do a lot of exercise, you should consult an expert of the ketogenic diet in order to guide you on the right amount of carbohydrates for you, but typically, there is no more than about 50 grams of carbohydrates on a standard ketogenic diet. The amount of carbohydrate can increase depending on the needs of the individual.

What is the purpose of the keto diet?

Keto is being well researched around the world, including in New Zealand at AUT by experts in the Low Carb High Fat (LCHF) area. A ketogenic diet has been shown to support healthy weight management and balanced blood sugars without leaving you feeling starved or like you’re missing out on food. Calorie restrictive diets often make people feel hungry and cause cravings, but because there is a lot of healthy fats consumed, people feel full and satisfied. This helps maintain a healthier way of eating in the longer term. As well as supporting healthy weight management, a ketogenic state can also support mental performance, healthy hormones, energy, and optimal physical performance.

How long should I stay on keto diet?

If you’re feeling good and achieving the goals you’ve set, then there’s no time limit. Some people absolutely love the way they feel on a keto diet. Others find that a keto diet doesn’t work for them in the long term because they can’t find a way to eat enough fibre, and then have digestive upset. There are also people who find it takes too much planning if they’re reliant on cafés for lunches or have lots of meals with others who have different dietary needs.

There are key concepts to take away from a keto approach to eating – don’t rely on carbohydrates for energy, choose fat or protein, choose wholefoods, find the approach that works for your body.

What can you not eat on keto diet?

  • The carbohydrates most commonly avoided are those found in grains, rice, potato, lollies, flours, bread, crackers, chips.
  • Processed foods, sugary drinks
  • Fruit except for small portions of berries
  • Low-fat foods
  • Be aware of alcohol. Beer and wine have higher amounts of carbohydrates than spirits, and mixers tend to be high in sugar too, so soda water is an option. 

What do you eat on keto diet?

  • Vegetables. Eat plenty of green, purple, orange, yellow, and red vegetables. Limit consumption of starchy root vegetables to small portions.
  • Fat! Avocado, coconuts, meat (with skin), eggs, butter, cheese, cream, full-fat dairy, nuts and seeds, olive oil, hemp seed oil, fish, and seafood
  • Herbs and spices are great to include for flavour-full dishes
  • Small portions of berries
  • It’s really important to keep water intake adequate to at least 30ml per kilogram of weight per day, and more with exercise. 

What can I snack on keto?

When you’re eating a ketogenic diet, your appetite may change. Because you are eating more fat, you may find that you aren’t as hungry, as fat is satiating – it keeps you feeling fuller for longer. If you find yourself needing a snack between meals, the following good options:

  • A boiled egg
  • Chicken drumstick
  • Avocado with chilli and sesame
  • Small handful of berries
  • Peanut butter with celery sticks
  • Egg quiche (no pastry)
  • Olives and salami
  • Guacamole with veggie sticks
  • Smoked salmon wrapped in nori sheets

There are some great snack options for keto followers - bars, balls, bites, crackers, gummies, and cookies. These are low carb or specifically designed for keto diets. You’ll still need to monitor your carb intake, but they offer a convenient option if you’re on-the-go. 

Which fruit is Keto?

No fruit is keto because all fruits contain carbohydrates, however, that doesn’t mean that you can’t eat fruit on a keto diet. Fruit contains many essential vitamins, minerals, and plant compounds that help make a healthy body, so it’s important to include in the diet. On a keto diet, the amount is more important. Some fruits have a lower carbohydrate content, these include berries, in particular raspberries, watermelon, and lemon are great for salads or enlivening water. If you’re calculating your carbohydrate intake, you can consume any fruit as long as it’s under the amount of carbohydrates for you to remain in nutritional ketosis. 

Can you drink coffee on keto?

Yes, coffee can be part of a ketogenic diet. Some recipes call for butter being added to coffee and blended to reduce the caffeine hit. You’d want to avoid adding sugar, and choose the lowest carb milk available to you, which might result in your “white with one” tasting a bit different. There are natural sweeteners available which contain zero carbs and have no aftertaste, but can add a welcome sweetness to your bitter brew. If you don’t want to add milk, but you want to add fat and flavour, Creamers are another option. Loaded with ingredients like collagen, coconut powder, MCT powder, and some with fantastic natural flavours like Vanilla Toffee or Cookies & Cream, or more simple Vanilla or Natural. 

Can you drink milk on keto?

As with pretty much everything…. It’s all about quantity.

The average ‘blue top’ milk in NZ contains (per 100ml):

  • Fat 3.4gm
  • Protein 3.3gm
  • Carbohydrate 4.8 gm

‘Silver top’ contains (per 100ml):

  • Fat 4.0gm
  • Protein 3.8gm
  • Carbohydrate 4.8gm

If you need some kind of creamy addition to your coffee, cream would be the best keto option with (per 100ml):

  • Fat 37.4gm
  • Protein 2.4gm
  • Carbohydrate 3.0gm

In terms of plant-based milks, they are a good option for being very low in carbohydrate, but are also low in protein. An unsweetened coconut milk has (per 100ml):

  • Fat 2.1gm
  • Protein 0.2gm
  • Carbohydrate 0.3gm

Unsweetened almond milk has:

  • Fat 1.4gm
  • Protein 0.6gm
  • Carbohydrate 0.3gm 

What about Keto supplements?

These are also known as exogenous ketones. They’re used to support you into ketosis faster by providing ketones that are usable immediately for fuel. Taking these supplements can be dehydrating to the body, so make sure you drink lots of water. The most common example of an exogenous ketone supplement is MCT oil, the medium-chain triglycerides usually sourced from coconut oil.

What’s the Keto-flu?

In the first few days, as your body adjusts to a different fuel, there can be side effects that feel similar to the flu – low energy, brain fog, and discomfort in the digestive system. It’s best to just be aware of these, rest, drink plenty of water, and know that it will only last a day or two. You can also increase the amount of salt on your food during these first few days as well to assist the symptoms. Including electrolytes in your diet can also help to keep you hydrated.

Who shouldn’t do keto?

The keto diet has been found to be safe in research and is generally defined as low levels of ketones in the blood (0.5 – 1.5 mmol/L), so should be a helpful way to eat for many people, including diabetics. Ketosis shouldn’t be confused with Diabetic ketoacidosis, which can occur in type I diabetics when insulin and diet aren’t being well managed. This is a highly serious condition that needs urgent medical attention. If you have any concerns at all, it is best to work with a practitioner who is experienced in nutritional ketosis.

Some people are concerned at the extra cost of the extra food. If you are purchasing a whole-food diet, it’s likely that it won’t cost any more than your usual grocery bill. But you may have to invest in a few extra things that might not be in your cupboard, like a low-carb sweetener like erythritol or stevia) if you enjoy making treats (like keto cheesecake- yum!).

Remember, it may take up to a month to adjust, and it can help to measure your ketone levels in the blood to get consistent results. It is quite a change for the body to shift metabolically from burning one source of fuel to another, so be gentle with yourself. There are heaps of recipes available online that are tasty and easy to prepare. Exercise can be a satisfying part of everyone’s life – moving our body is essential for good health, so make sure you are active, which can also support you moving to a ketogenic state. 

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