You’re now familiar with what a keto diet is and how ketosis affects your body. You’ve established why you want to go keto (e.g.. weight loss, help in treating a specific health condition, or enhanced physical performance). And you’ve solved the mystery of macro calculation.
So now you’re ready to dive right into the keto diet, right? Well, not so fast. Slow down a bit.
You’re not going to just jump into a lake without knowing something about the depth of the water or its temperature. So it is with the keto diet. Even after knowing what your daily macronutrients should be, there are still several other important things about the Keto diet that you need to know.
You might have heard some of the horror stories from people who’ve tried keto. Some report that they experienced the dreaded “keto flu”. Others complain that their strength training suffered horribly, some are hungry all the time, and others complain that they just can’t find good keto recipes.
In this post, I’ll show you how Barbara and I avoided most of the problems associated with the ketogenic diet and how we quickly corrected a very annoying unexpected problem.
First, let’s get some preliminary stuff out of the way.
Before Barbara and I went keto, we had a complete physical and blood panel. There was no medical reason preventing us from trying the keto diet. Also, even though we wanted the health benefits of ketones, we weren’t using the diet to treat any specific disease.
As I’ve said in the past, if you’re going to go keto, make sure you’re healthy enough to do it. If you’re using keto to treat a specific disease (type 2 or type 1 diabetes, hypertension, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer) or if you’re taking meds for a condition, make sure you do it under the supervision of a doctor who understands low-carb diets.
Okay, let’s get to the important nuances of a keto diet.
What Does High In Healthy Fat Mean?
A ketogenic diet is characterized as a low-carb (<30 grams net) high-fat diet. It’s called high fat because a majority of your macros will come from fat. Fat comprises about 70% of Barbara’s diet and mine.
However, just because a keto diet is high in fat doesn’t mean that Barbara and I can eat any kind of fat we want. Most of our fat comes from meat (grass fed when possible), butter, olive oil, coconut oil, salmon, sardines, avocados, eggs, and cheese.
I’m a big advocate of quality extra-virgin olive oil. I probably enjoy a good EVOO as much as some people enjoy a fine wine. See my olive oil post here.
The fats we avoid like the plague are highly processed seed oils (corn, vegetable, soybean, etc.). See my post on the dangers of soybean oil here.
Most of the fats we eat are saturated. The mainstream medical community still has this perverse antipathy to saturated fats. However, saturated fat is not your enemy.
Crucial Things We Had To Be Aware Of Concerning The Keto Diet
Before Barbara and I went keto we did a ton of research. One thing we were concerned about was the dreaded “keto flu”.
The Keto Flu
Some people who jump right into a keto diet often report experiencing symptoms like fatigue, headaches, irritability, and muscle cramps. These symptoms have become known as the “keto flu”. But this isn’t really the flu. Experts relate that these symptoms are a result of the body moving away from carbohydrate metabolism to fat metabolism.
The transition away from carbs allows the kidneys to work more efficiently whereby they excrete more sodium and water. Also, a keto diet eschews high sodium containing processed foods. If you were consuming a lot of these foods prior to keto, their removal from your diet may contribute to sodium depletion.
A simple fix for the “keto flu”, or to avoid it altogether, is to maintain the proper intake of sodium and water.
Barbara and I never experienced the “keto flu”. One probable reason is that we had a gradual transition to keto. We were paleo for many years, then switched to low-carb, and then to keto. By the time we went keto, we were already somewhat fat adapted. So apparently our sodium intake was adequate.
Also, you have to make sure you get enough water when on keto.Generally, we drink at least 6-8 glasses of water per day. This seems to be adequate for us.
Barbara and I experience this rapid weight loss when we first went low-carb, but not when we went keto. Our weight loss on keto was gradual and sustained.
Let’s explore the recommendations for sodium, potassium, and magnesium intake in more detail.
What Should Your Sodium Intake Look Like On A Keto Diet?
A teaspoon of table salt has about 2.3 grams of sodium. Doing the math means you’ll need at least a little over 2 teaspoons of salt a day.
No, that doesn’t mean you have to dump all that salt onto your food.
You’ll get some sodium naturally from food (pickles, etc.) and some from salting your food. If you don’t think you’re getting enough sodium, you can get even more from bullion cubes or broth.
In my case, and it’s something Barbara finds utterly disgusting, I’ll put some pink Himalayan salt in the palm of my hand and just lick it up. I learned this from Dr. Mercola who said he does it 6-8 times throughout the day.
Caution On Sodium Intake
Some individuals should exercise caution when adjusting salt intake. Individuals with persistently high blood pressure and fluid retention and people taking NSAIDs should be wary of raising their sodium intake until their conditions resolve. See here. Also, people performing heavy work or physical exercise in the heat may need more sodium.
If you’re healthy and concerned that consuming 5 grams of sodium is dangerous, this 2014 study should allay your concerns. After observing 100,000 individuals, it found that the lowest mortality risk occurred at 5.0 grams of sodium per day.
For Dr. Phinney’s sodium recommendations, see here.
Let’s take a look at potassium.
What Should Your Potassium Intake Look Like On A Keto Diet?
Potassium is another important electrolyte to consider on a keto diet. It is generally recommended that you get at least 1000-3,500 mg of potassium daily. If you’re on a well-formulated keto diet, you should get enough potassium from foods like raw spinach, avocado, mushrooms, salmon, steak, and pork loin.
To be on the safe side, occasionally we’ll sprinkle some of this potassium salt on our meat. Caution: it tastes rather blah.
What Should Your Magnesium Intake Look Like On A Keto Diet?
Magnesium is a mineral that many Americans are deficient in. According to a 2011 report in the Journal Nutrition, 45 percent of American adults do not get the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) amount of magnesium from their diet.
Barbara and I were already aware of the importance of supplementing with magnesium well before we went keto. We were taking 200 mg/day.
Since we were getting 200 mg from our supplements and the rest from our food, we thought we were okay. We found out the hard way that we were very wrong.
Constipation: A Side Effect Of A Keto Diet
After a few weeks on the keto diet, I developed constipation. This was the first time I had this problemsince before going on a paleo diet years ago. Suggestions to eat more fiber and drink more water were not helpful as I was already doing that.
I read that upping my magnesium intake might help. So Barbara and I increased our magnesium to 600 mg/day. Literally, overnight the problem disappeared and never returned. What a relief that was!!! This is the magnesium that we use.
What About Micronutrients?
Since Barbara and I were on a paleo diet for at least 5 years, we were already eating a lot of whole foods and we continued doing this on our keto diet. We eat at least 3-6 portions of above ground leafy and cruciferous veggies daily. This ensures that we get a good supply of micronutrients.
Maintaining A Good Omega-6 To Omega-3 Fatty Acid Ratio On A Keto Diet?
An important nutritional parameter Barbara and I seek to maintain in our keto diet is an optimal omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio. These fatty acids are essential fatty acids. That means that even though our bodies need them to function properly, our bodies cannot produce them. We must, therefore, get them from our diet.
Omega-3 fatty acids are recognized as promoting healthy cells and having beneficial anti-inflammatory properties. Several studies had been performed that show they help in reducing the risk of heart disease. See here, here and here.
Omega-6 fatty acids are important for maintaining cell wall integrity and providing energy for the heart. However, when the omega-6 level is elevated, they become pro-inflammatory in a negative way.
Increased omega-6s have been associated with chronic inflammatory diseases such as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, CVD, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease. See here and here.
More importantly, for health concerns, is the proportion of omega-6 to omega-3 you get from your diet. Here’s why.
Today’s research suggests that a healthy ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 should fall between 1:1 – 4:1. However, with today’s Western Pattern diet this ratio has now increased to between 15:1 – 16.7:1. See here and here.
This ratio does have health consequences. For example, a ratio of 4:1 was associated with a 70% decrease in total mortality, a ratio of 2-3:1 suppressed inflammation in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, and a ratio of 5:1 had a beneficial effect on patients with asthma, whereas a ratio of 10:1 had adverse consequences. See here.
In order to maintain a good omega-6 to omega-3 ratio on our keto diet, we do these three things:
- Consume foods higher in omega-3. This means eating more fatty fish like salmon and sardines. We eat salmon almost once a week. Sardines are a big staple for us. We have them for lunch at least 5 days a week. These are the best.
- Eat pastured or 0mega-3 enriched eggs.
- Reduce our omega-6 intake by avoiding processed foods.
- Avoid processed “heart healthy” PUFA vegetable oils high in omega-6. Obviously, this is contrary to what the FDA, USDA, and American Heart Association have recommended. However, it is consistent with what research tells us about the danger of PUFA oils especially when they are subjected to high heat.
An Additional Supplement To Our Keto Diet
In my last post, I included a sample of what we eat during a typical day. You may have noticed that MCT oil was on that list. MCT oil is not essential to a keto diet, but if you’re looking to up your ketone production, it may help.
Remember one of the main reasons for us going keto was so that our bodies would be in a state of ketosis. MCT oil is a supplement that is known for increasing ketone production in the body.
MCT oil has been reported to help with metabolic syndrome, and to increase cognition in mild to moderate Alzheimer’s patients.,
Also, since your liver converts MCT oil directly to ketones, it won’t store the oil as fat. The newly produced ketones, therefore, are an instant source of energy for our bodies.
Anecdotally, individuals had reported increased clarity and energy after consuming MCT oil. You can add my name to that list.
This is the MCT oil we are currently using. I pour one tablespoon into my 12:00 PM green tea, and I’m good for the day. There is no change in the taste of the tea, but the consistency is a little oily. It is oil after all.
For more on the benefits of MCT oil, see here. It’s important to note that you don’t need to consume MCT oil to be in ketosis.
Some Cautions When Consuming MCT Oil
- If you’re not adapted to eating coconut oil, then you will have to proceed slowly when consuming MCT oil. Some individuals experience mild gastric distress. It’s recommended that people start with one teaspoon of MCT oil.
- Remember that MCT oil is a fat and as such its calories will comprise your overall daily calorie total. So if you consume 1 tablespoon of MCT oil, that will be about 14 grams of fat. If you don’t take this into consideration, then you may consume more calories than you’re expending during the day. Which means your body will store the excess fat and you won’t lose weight.
- Since MCT oil will produce ketones, people claim that you can up your carb intake and still be in ketosis. But I take MCT as insurance for producing more ketones not so that I can cheat with carbs.
There’s one more diet tweak I’d like to mention.
Many people who practice a keto lifestyle engage in fasting. If you refrain from eating, your body will have no choice but to consume its own fat for energy. Thus you will lose weight. Also, because no carbs are being consumed, your body will produce ketones.
Fasting will also aid in bringing your body into a better state of insulin sensitivity.
However, I have tried prolonged fasting (more than 24 hours), but it doesn’t work for me. I’ve found the stress on my body is too much for me to handle. Barbara coped better with it, but she also found it stressful.
Since we were not trying to lose humongous amounts of weight, we decided not to incorporate it into our keto regimen.
For everything, you want to know about fasting, visit Dr. Jason Fung’s site here.
There’s also some controversy in the keto world about the dangers of a loss of muscle mass when fasting. Dr. Phinney says it’s possible while Dr. Fung says it’s not. The jury is still out on this issue.
While we don’t fast, we do engage in delayed onset eating.
Delayed Onset Eating
While we don’t do prolonged fasts, we do practice delayed eating. We generally finish eating about 8:00 pm and don’t eat again until at least 12:00 PM the following day. That gives us a 16-hour fast period every day. Eating this way should produce better insulin sensitivity and more ketones.
I’m never really hungry until about 12:00 PM so I’ve experienced no problems with this practice. At 12:00, I’ll have a couple of eggs, bacon or a sausage, some greens, green tea, MCT oil, and a scoop of collagen, and I’m good until about 4:00 PM. At 4:00, I’ll have a sardine salad, EVVO, greens, almonds, more green tea, some avocado, and maybe some blueberries. Then at 7:00, I’ll have whatever Barb is cooking up for dinner.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Going forward, we’re concerned with 4 things:
- Maintaining our waist measurements
- Increasing muscle mass
- Optimizing body fat percentage
- Continuing to produce ketones
In order to accomplish these goals, we’ll stay on a keto diet. We don’t eat a lot of refined carbs, potatoes, or rice so that won’t be difficult. Some keto experts state that when individuals who have been on a keto diet become fat adapted they can up their carb intake.
I don’t anticipate doing that at the moment.
In order to gain muscle mass, I probably will up my protein intake to 0.8 grams per pound of lean muscle mass. That means I’ll consume about 104 grams of protein a day.
I may also slightly increase my fat intake. But I have to be careful here because I still have a bit more body fat to lose.
Barbara is completely ecstatic with the diet. She’s just about hit her target weight and has boundless energy. Keep going, girl. 61 is the new 41. She may up her protein a little, but for now, she is happy where she is.
Do You Strength Train And Walk?
While the keto diet is a healthy diet, it’s not everything you needfor a long, healthy life. Strong muscles and moving often are also important.
If you already strength train, keep getting stronger. If you don’t but want to, here is the easy method Barbara and I use.
And keep walking. It may be one of the best exercises you can do.
That’s it! Oh, wait, no, it’s not. Remember, we have over 50 delicious low-carb recipes for you to check out. See them on our home page.
If you’re someone who needs more keto info, see the ketogains.com Reddit FAQ page here. Also, check out Mark Sisson’s new book, The Keto Reset Diet. It containsa wealth of information on the keto diet.
Okay, that’s definitely it for this post. We love to hear your comments. Have a blessed week!
This article originally appeared on glutenfreehomestead.com.