What You Should Know Before Starting a Keto Diet

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A Keto diet, or Ketogenic diet, is a popular diet very low in carbohydrates. The Keto diet makes your body think it is fasting and it begins to burn stored fat rather than glucose. Your fat becomes fuel for your body.

“Keto diets focus on non-starchy vegetables, lean proteins and fats,” says Rachel Wagner, MS, LD, a licensed dietitian at the St. Elizabeth Physicians Weight Management Center. She adds, “Often people think of it as a high-fat diet and you can eat bacon and burgers all day. But in reality, it allows for healthier, plant-based fats and the right types of vegetables and lean proteins.”

Ketosis vs. Ketoacidosis

“Some people think of the term ketoacidosis when you say the Keto diet. They are two different things and one is not healthy,” Rachel says.

Ketoacidosis has nothing to do with the Keto diet, and the symptoms are severe—stomach pain, extreme thirst, nausea, vomiting, and confusion. Ketoacidosis is a dangerously high level of ketones in your blood. “Most people can naturally keep ketone levels within a healthy range, but diabetics have trouble maintaining their ketone level naturally,” Rachel added.

The state of ketosis is a goal of the Keto diet and it means the presence of ketones in your blood. Having ketones in your blood is an indicator your body is burning stored fat, rather than carbohydrates or glucose.

Fat Burning vs. Carbohydrate Burning

Fat and carbohydrates can both serve as sources of fuel for your body. They can help you make it through a tough day at work or help you cross the finish line of a 5K. But your body burns the two types of fuel very differently.

When you have a diet heavy in carbohydrates, your body produces glucose, which your body uses first for immediate energy. Your body will pull the glucose from your bloodstream to convert it to energy before it looks for any other energy source. Since your glucose is being used, the fats you are eating are not needed and are stored in your body.

When you are on a low carbohydrate diet, high in fat and protein, you go into a state of ketosis. During ketosis, your body produces ketones instead of glucose. Ketones are formed from the breakdown of fat. So, your body is using stored fat as fuel rather than glucose.

Racheal explains the benefits of ketosis, “When you are in ketosis you have an unlimited supply of energy or fuel. You aren’t relying on glucose which needs to be resupplied to your body regularly. Many people experience a clear mind and increased energy once they are in ketosis.”

What to Expect When You Start the Keto Diet

Once you start the low-carbohydrate diet, it takes your body about 7-10 days to start to produce ketones. At the start of the diet, you may experience what is known as the “Keto flu.”.

“Many people feel sick at the beginning of a Keto diet. You may get a headache, be irritable and have leg cramps,” explains Rachel. She adds, “Those symptoms typically go away in a few days but you should add sodium to your diet and drink plenty of fluid to get past those symptoms.”

The Keto diet isn’t for everyone. The carbohydrate intake is approximately 20 grams per day. For your body to stay in ketosis, it must produce ketones, so there isn’t much room for cheating on the Keto diet. Also, Rachel advises, if you have diabetes, have high blood pressure or are pregnant or breastfeeding you should consult your doctor before going on any diet plan.

If you need help keeping your weight goals on track, talk to your primary care physician or schedule an appointment at the St. Elizabeth Physicians Weight Management Center by calling (859) 212-4625.