For the ketogenic diet to work, your diet needs to consist of eating very little carbs, a lot of fat, and adequate amounts of protein.
The rules and guidelines for the keto diet will work best if you find out what your body responds to and stick to it over the long run. It will be slightly different for each person, but the main idea is the same for all.
What You Should Be Eating
The main three macronutrients are protein, carbs, and fat, and how much you consume of each of these macros is important when following the keto diet.
Generally, you’ll be eating around 5% of your daily calories from carbs, around 20-25% protein, and the rest, around 70-75%, will come from fats.
At first glance, this may seem a little difficult to achieve, but these keto diet rules are simple to follow with the right guidance.
Getting the balance right of these three macronutrients is important because you will not achieve ketosis if they’re not followed.
This is the fat-burning stage you’re aiming to achieve, so this macro breakdown will affect how your food is broken down in your body.
Here are three rules to remember:
- Carbs raise your insulin and glucose levels. This is why you will be eating so few carbs daily, as they are anti-ketogenic.
- Protein can be consumed at a little higher percentage because it can be both ketogenic and anti-ketogenic. When broken down by the body it’s important to know that protein can be converted into glucose by as much as 50%. If not watched carefully, the conversion to glucose can kick you out of ketosis due to insulin spikes.
- Fat, which you’ll be consuming the most, is also both ketogenic and anti-ketogenic. Although counterintuitive, the anti-ketogenic piece is important because the anti-ketogenic part of fat can help your brain convert triglycerides into glucose if it needs it.
Fatty foods are needed to get your body into ketosis, and weight loss is the goal of most people who decide to go on the keto diet. You’ll be burning body fat or fat coming from foods as fuel.
Let’s further break down each of the macronutrients so you can see what can be adapted to you and your lifestyle to get the most out of the ketogenic diet.
Since you’ll be limiting carbs in your diet, the rule of thumb is to have no more than 20 grams of carbs each day. These are net carbs.
As you get used to how your body reacts to the diet, you can increase this to as much as 50 grams of net carbs a day and still be able to remain in a state of ketosis.
Where will you get your carbs? Green leafy and non-starchy veggies. A diet mistake made when attempting keto is cutting out vegetables altogether. This is a very bad idea as a lot of micronutrients come from vegetables. It’s not sustainable and unhealthy for you.
What Are Net Carbs?
Carbs and net carbs are different, and it’s important to note that we’ll be counting the net carbs you consume daily.
To get your number of net carbs, you take the grams of carbohydrates and subtract the grams of fiber you’re eating.
Carbohydrates that have fiber mixed in with them have a different effect on blood sugar levels than carbs without fiber do.
Fiber does not break down into glucose in the body like other carbohydrates, thus resulting in a lower glycemic load.
Which Carbs Should You Avoid?
The list can get extensive, but as a rule of thumb, the following should be avoided when attempting the keto diet:
- Sugar, especially from processed food
- Starches and grains like rice, pasta, oatmeal, etc.
- Starchy vegetables such as potatoes, corn, carrots, etc.
- Most fruit
- Processed snacks like rice cakes, popcorn, granola bars, etc.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but keep these in mind as you start to alter what you buy at the grocery store.
Something to watch out for is consuming too much protein as it will be converted into glucose and kick you out of ketosis.
This is the reason keto and Atkins differ, as it’s not a high protein diet.
However, you want to have the right amount of protein to protect that hard-earned lean muscle mass. There’s a balance, though, and knowing your limit will keep you in the fat-burning state.
How Much Protein Should You Eat?
People who are active or passive are going to require different levels of protein. As a general rule of thumb, if you’re less active, you’ll want to be around .8 grams per pound of lean muscle tissue or body mass.
If you’re a more active person, then you’ll want to be closer to 1 gram per pound of lean muscle tissue. People who like to strength train will be right around this mark, if not a little higher.
You can calculate your lean muscle tissue by subtracting your total body weight from your body fat. The easiest way is to use an online calculator to get a rough estimate. No calculator is going to be perfect here.
Another alternative is to measure your body fat with a caliper to get an idea as well. You should use this week to week to see your progress as the scale isn’t always telling you the whole picture.
You may be gaining muscle and losing fat depending on your activity, so if the scale isn’t budging in the direction you want, there may be a good reason for it.
What Is A Healthy Lean Body Mass?
Here are general guidelines that will give you an idea of what range to aim for.
- A lean body mass healthy for a woman would be between 69-75%
- A lean body mass healthy for a man would be between 76-84%
- This percentage will be lower for those who are overweight or obese
For example, someone who doesn’t lead an active lifestyle at 160 pounds would eat around 125 grams of protein per day.
So if you’re eating around 2,000 calories for the day, 25% of those calories would come from protein which is 500 calories.
Since there are four calories per gram of protein (same with carbs), 500 divided by four is 125.
If you make sure to balance out your protein with good fat, you’ll stay within the recommended guidelines of the keto diet and not knock yourself out of ketosis.
What Are Good Sources Of Protein?
Some good choices for protein are as follows:
- Red meats that have a higher fat content
- Chicken or turkey
- Sliced meat from the deli
- Fish and other kinds of seafood
- Full-fat dairy such as cheese, heavy cream, and sour cream
Always look at the nutrition label to get more information on the foods or drinks you’re consuming.
Look at the carbohydrates, protein, fat, and fiber content so that you can get a good idea of the breakdown of net carbs and the nutritional value of the food.
Monounsaturated And Saturated Fats
Since you’ll be consuming lots of fat on the ketogenic diet, you should know that not all fat is created equal. There are certain ones you should avoid.
Olive oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil are rich in monounsaturated fats. You’ll also find this in grass-fed butter and red meat.
The fats you want to avoid are saturated and polyunsaturated. Make sure you read the labels and avoid these.
How Much Fat To Eat
Seventy-five percent of your daily calorie intake should come from fats. Based on your weight loss goal, you should have a target of how many calories you’ll be eating throughout the day.
So taking the example above, if you’ll be consuming 2000 calories, then 1500 of those calories will come from fats.
Now fats have a higher gram amount per calorie. Carbs and protein each have four calories for each gram. Fats have nine calories for each gram.
Yes, that means you’ll be eating less food due to that, but fat keeps you full so you won’t need to worry about being hungry.
1500 divided by 9 is 166, so you should have around 166 grams of fat per day to meet your keto requirements.
Other Rules For The Ketogenic Diet To Consider
Eat Until You’re Satisfied
That doesn’t mean to overeat, but as long as you stay within your guidelines, enjoy the food you’ll be eating.
Hunger pangs on this diet will be almost non-existent because higher fat foods are more satiating.
Drink Plenty Of Water
Because water is needed to metabolize fat, you’ll notice yourself thirstier than normal when you start burning ketones for energy.
Your body will also be flushing out a lot of water due to limiting carbs, so make sure you keep hydrated.
Add Lots Of Salt
Yes, salt will also need to be replenished in your body on this diet.
To keep your electrolytes balanced, adding salt is necessary to reduce any side effects of switching fuel sources.
Some people get something called the “keto flu” and have headaches, body aches, cramping, and a few others.
Some may consider this a con with the keto diet, but by following this advice, you can limit or even bypass the keto flu by giving your body back the electrolytes it is losing.