The ketogenic diet is a low-carb high-fat diet which is helping people to achieve a healthy weight, improve energy levels and live healthier lives. Find out how to become fat-adapted in 4 easy steps.
STEP ONE: Don’t fear the fat
We have been taught that fat is the enemy, but it is now time to abandon any fat-related fears. The whole notion of ‘fat-as-the-bad-guy’ was an idea generated by bad science (1) (2) , which has now been shown to be the fake news of the 80s and 90s.
When following a ketogenic diet you can eat generous amounts of fat, medium amounts of protein and up to 50gms of carbs per day, although the exact amount can be slightly higher or lower depending on the person. Healthy fats like grass-fed butter, MCT oil, coconut oil, olive oil, avocados and ghee give your body fuel because your body converts these to ketones. What’s more, healthy fats provide nutrients and essential fatty acids which we need for energy metabolism, brain health and immune function.
The best keto-friendly fats are:
- Extra Virgin Cod Liver Oil (EVCLO), which is rich in long chain omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA as well as containing beneficial Vitamin A and D in its natural form, rendered from sustainably-caught Norwegian cod.
- Coconut Oil, which provides beneficial lauric acid and also contains medium chain triglycerides (MCT). Coconut oil is an ideal fat to use for cooking as it is stable at high temperatures. There are many cold-pressed options that come without the coco-nutty taste.
- Butter and ghee, which are delicious nutrient-dense foods containing Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, Vitamin B12 and Vitamin K2, as well as butyric acid and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which has immune boosting properties.
- MCT Oil, which is derived from pure coconut oil retaining only the C8 medium chain triglycerides. This is the easiest fat to digest and absorb because it is shuttled straight into the liver, making it an ideal source of energy for your brain and body. (MCT oil is a key ingredient of bulletproof coffee).
All fats are not created equal
Choosing healthy fats is even more important when you are on the high-fat ketogenic diet, which is why we recommend coconut oil, butter, olive oil and other unrefined fats and oils.
However there are some fats that are best avoided. Highly-processed vegetable oils like canola oil contain high levels of Omega-6 and are pro-inflammatory. Consuming too many Omega-6 fatty acids without balancing these with Omega-3s can lead to excess inflammation. For this reason, vegetable seed oils are better avoided, along with ultra-processed “trans-fats” like margarine. Trans-fats have now been banned in the US because of how detrimental they are to health (3).
Eating lots of inflammatory fats is sometimes described as ‘dirty keto’ which you want to avoid, because these fats contain the least nutrients and cause inflammation in the body. You can find out more about healthy saturated and unsaturated fats on our blog Know your Fats, and even more about the best keto fats on our What to Eat blog.
STEP TWO: Monitor your ketones
Nutritional ketosis is defined by ketones in the blood ranging from 0.5mM - 3.0mM. For most people the optimal range for being ‘in ketosis’ would be 0.7mM - around 2.0 mM.
Why monitor your ketones?
Monitoring your ketones each morning will really support your keto journey. This helps you to:
- Track your progress as you enter ketosis, anything above 0.5mM means your body is burning fats instead of carbs
- Identify foods that may hold hidden carbs and knock you out of ketosis, including eating too much protein
- Stay motivated in the early stages of a keto diet, because you are tracking your progress each day
- Fine tune your macro balance and the amount of carbs that you can tolerate but still stay in ketosis
There are a few different options for monitoring your ketones each morning, and we find the skin prick test to be the easiest and most accurate. Keto Mojo offer a testing kit but there are many options available on Amazon and eBay. Other testing options include breath test kits and urine ketone strips, but these are less accurate and more of a hassle.
Experimenting with different foods will give you a pretty good sense of what works for your body in maintaining a state of ketosis. Eating too much protein can be an issue for some people, as excess protein converts to glucose in a process called ‘gluconeogenesis’. The macro balance in the diet is different for each person - you can find out more about macronutrients in our blog, What are macros? In the early stages it can be handy to track your food via an app such as MyKeto. Once you have consistent results over a month or two you can probably cut back the daily testing routine to weekly or whatever works for you.
How will I know when I am fat-adapted?
Being fat-adapted is a metabolic state where your body is efficiently using fats for energy. Depending on the person, this can take a few weeks or a few months of eating a ketogenic diet. One sign that you are fat-adapted is that you don’t feel the need to snack between meals, because your blood sugar and insulin levels are more stable once you have reached this metabolic state.
Becoming fat-adapted has lot of benefits, as it means your body can use adipose tissue (i.e. your stored fats) for energy. If you are monitoring your ketones, you will notice you can easily switch back into nutritional ketosis after eating carbs once you are fat-adapted. This is helpful because many people eating keto opt for a carb ‘re-feed’ day, where you can include sweet potato or white rice one day each week. This is also known as ‘cyclical ketosis’, and is covered in more detail in a recent Bulletproof blog.
STEP THREE: Focus on good food
Keto-friendly staples include organic meats, coconut oil, butter, eggs, sustainably-caught fish, avocados, berries and a range of colourful seasonal vegetables. This type of keto diet is high in nutrients and antioxidants, and low in foods that cause inflammation in the body.
One of the benefits of eating low carb is that you are cutting out a bunch of unhealthy foods, such as potato chips, soft drinks, sweets, bread, gluten and pastries. With the link between sugar, insulin and inflammation well-established, it’s no surprise that a keto diet has been shown to reduce inflammatory markers in the body.
In addition to the low-inflammation diet, the metabolism of someone in ketosis is also probably helping out with inflammation. The metabolism of ketones produces fewer reactive oxygen species (ROS) than glucose metabolism, which are known to be inflammatory. When you are in ketosis, your body produces ketones including beta hydroxybutyrate, which itself is a strong anti-inflammatory. So there’s a lot going on here for anyone dealing with inflammatory issues including skin conditions, gastro upsets, autoimmune disease.
STEP FOUR: Drink plenty of water
A low-carb diet does mean you will store less water. In the first few days of eating keto, your glycogen stores will be depleted and most people lose a fair amount of water weight. It’s helpful to consider your salt intake, as well as making sure you have adequate magnesium while eating keto. We wrote more about magnesium here. Adding a pinch of Himalayan salt to a glass of water is one easy option to help keep your electrolytes up.
Drinking lots of water during this period also helps with any ‘keto-flu’ symptoms that you may experience. During the first few days of eating keto some people suffer an energy dip while their body shifts from glucose to ketones as it’s source of energy. We talked more about this in our blog All about the Ketogenic Diet.
We hope these 4 steps help you on your way to a healthy ketogenic way of eating. The first few days can be tough as your body adapts to using ketones instead of glucose as fuel. Eating quality fats, nutrient-dense foods, drinking plenty of water and keeping your electrolytes up will all help you adjust to the keto diet in the early days. Once you are fat-adapted there are many benefits including getting to a healthy weight, reducing inflammation in the body and boosting energy levels.
1. Carbs, Good for You? Fat Chance! Dietary dogma’s defenders continue to mislead the public and put Americans’ health at risk. (WSJ Paywall)
2. Chris Kresser: New Study Blasts the Ridiculous Low-Fat Dietary Guidelines
3. Washington Post: Economic Policy Analysis Artificial trans fats, widely linked to heart disease, are officially banned