Keto 101: Everything You Need to Know

I have a contributed post today talking about the keto diet. I rarely change the way I eat (says the girl who’s currently on a two week vegan challenge…) but I love reading about different diets. I find it fascinating when people take such drastic approaches, such as cutting out groups of food or having a different perspective on the way they eat. And what works for one might not work for another. But it’s interesting anyway! So here we go…

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, chances are you’ll know about keto diets or at least have heard of them. They’ve taken the world by storm with their ability to burn fat without being hungry or feeling deprived like typical low fat diets, eating while losing weight sounds too good to be true but it’s easy to wrap your head around once you know the science. Here’s everything you need to know!

What are keto diets and ketosis?

Keto plans work by reducing your carbohydrate intake. With limited carbohydrates, your body switches to burning its own fat supplies for fuel- meaning your weight loss efforts are increased. This process puts your body in a metabolic state called ‘ketosis’, you can check if you’re in ketosis using simple urine analysis strips available at any chemist.

How does it work?

Imagine your body like a fridge freezer. Your carbohydrates are like the fridge section, easily accessible and when they’re available they will be your body’s first choice for fuel. Your fat supplies are like the freezer- the backup supply. Once the ‘fridge’ is empty, the body will utilise what’s in the ‘freezer’. It breaks down this stored fat and uses it for energy, including energy need at rest such as digestion, brain activity and more. This makes it much easier to lose weight compared to a traditional low fat low calorie diet.

Is it safe?

Ketosis is a perfectly safe and natural process for your body, as humans it’s exactly how we were designed. We store fat to be used as fuel so we have energy even when food supplies are scarce. Ketosis can sometimes be confused with ‘ketoacidosis’ which is a serious complication which people with diabetes can get. But despite sounding similar, they’re completely different things. The process of your body switching from carbohydrates to its own fat supplies for fuel can be a little gruelling, many people feel a little dizzy, tired and headachy for a couple of days. However, once the body is fat adapted and reaches ketosis these side effects disappear and you feel much like your normal self again.

How easy are keto plans to follow?

Keto plans tend to be very easy to follow. While you’re cutting out much of an entire food group (carbs) you have plenty of fat, dairy and protein options which are filling, satisfying and taste great. While it’s not an invitation to eat to excess, you don’t have to count calories and can eat until your satiated meaning there’s less temptation to cheat.

One of the symptoms of ketosis is reduced hunger, this is because without carbohydrates there are no spikes in your blood sugar. It’s these spikes that cause cravings and hunger pangs, so without them you’ll notice a definite improvement in your appetite if you’re prone to overeating. Because there are so many available things you can eat and so many great recipe ideas online, you shouldn’t get bored.

On top of this, it’s the kind of diet where you can still go out and eat and enjoy food with friends. Invited to a barbecue? Tuck into the meat and enjoy with some salad and just avoid the bread (be sure to avoid sugary marinades). If you go to a restaurant, ask for your side of potatoes to be replaced with some low carb veggies like broccoli- just be wary of added sugars or carbs in gravy or sauces. Restaurants are very accommodating and can remove these, or at least let you know what’s in them if you ask.

Can vegans follow a keto plan?

Following a keto plan as a vegan is certainly possible. There are more challenges here, since many keto followers do tend to use meat, fish eggs and dairy as their primary food sources. However you do still have options- coconut products, oils, nuts and seeds, non starchy vegetables, vegan protein sources like tofu and tempeh and vegan ‘full fat dairy’ such as cashew butter and vegan cream cheese are all on the menu. The best thing you can do is log your macros on a site like MyFitnessPal, make sure you’re keeping your carbs low enough while hitting all of your nutritional needs.

Are there any side effects

There are a few side effects of ketosis. One thing that just about everyone will experience is changed in their breath, that’s because when the body burns fat it created ketones and some of the byproducts aren’t used by the body. They’re excreted through urine and the breath, a lot of people report a ‘fruity’ smell or an acetone like smell like nail polish remover. You can relieve this symptom by chewing parsley or chewing sugar free gum. Feeling cold is another common side effect. For the most part, you won’t feel all that different when you’re in ketosis and for the majority of people, the minor side effects are worth it for the ability to lose weight more effectively.

Can I still exercise?

Yes, you can still exercise when you’re in ketosis and you should- exercise is useful for everyone. However there’s one main thing to bear in mind, and that’s the body can take a little longer to fuel your body with energy from fat. There’s a reason why athletes ‘carb load’ before a workout, it provides instant and accessible fuel for energy. When you’re in ketosis, you don’t have that instantly accessible fuel. For this reason, you might feel a little light headed if you suddenly start exercising intensely. Warm up first, and stick with moderate paced activities rather than intense exercise. Swimming, cycling, even jogging is still fine, but sprinting, hiit workouts and other very intense exercise might not be the best choice in keto.

Resistance training is a great choice when you’re following a keto plan, try out the weights machines in the gym or use Resistance bands by OriGym at home to tone up your muscles. With so much protein in your diet you’ll recover quickly, and added muscle will boost your metabolism and burn even more fat.

Have you ever followed a keto plan?

Going vegan

If you’ve read my blog for a while, or know me even a little bit, you’ll know when it comes to food that I’m a) very greedy and b) a big meat lover.

Chicken wings, ribs, bacon, sausages, gammon, roast dinners, BBQs… I love it all. I openly admit that I eat a lot of meat. I have quite a bit appetite and am definitely more of a protein fan than a carb fan. That said, it’ll be a rare occasion that I’ll say no to cake. God I love cake.

Eating 40 chicken wings…

I know that eating a lot of meat is not great for the environment. I don’t live in a box. I know this. As humans, we eat too much of it. The way we farm animals isn’t great either. Animals are not treated with the respect they deserve. Though I won’t go as far to say we shouldn’t use animals as food, I do believe we could be doing it better for the animals’ welfare. And I’m guilty of putting my head in the sand on this front. Sure I’ll try and find free range products where I can but sometimes I’ll reach for whatever’s cheapest or easiest, and I eat out in restaurants a lot and many of them I’m sure are not ethically minded (Nando’s I’m looking at you).

So I decided to see what it would be like to be vegan for two weeks. It would be a (big) challenge to myself and also I could raise some money for a local animal shelter (the Stubbington Ark) –> please sponsor me if you can HERE. Yes of course I could do this in stages and gradually reduce meat and dairy etc. but I want this to be a shock to the system. Force me out of my comfort zone and hit my hard. I need a big shake up. Something to get me thinking, researching, planning and reinvigorating my love of cooking.

Supermarket haul

I also want to be see if I can take anything away from my two weeks. Make any long term changes. Changes I wouldn’t normally try because I’ve become so dependent on animal products. But now I can really test things out and force myself out of my usual routine and habits and open my mind to other options.

I knew going into this I had to be prepared. I researched what I could and couldn’t eat. I found recipes, created myself a Pinterest Board (check it out HERE), planned my meals for the first week and meal prepped like a boss on Sunday. If I was going to succeed and do this properly I needed to have a plan.I planned out the meals I’d be eating for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the next five days.

Breakfast was easy. I always eat porridge with almond milk. I currently add whey protein to it but I obviously wouldn’t be able to use that anymore. So I did a little bit of research online and decided that though I’d heard amazing things about the Awesome Supplements Vegan Protein it was just too expensive. Spending £26 (plus postage) for a tub was a lot. I’m used to spending about £12. So instead I went with the MyProtein Vegan Protein Powder. I’m happy to give it a go for the cost – I hate food waste so I’ll be using it up even if it’s not that great, don’t worry! Who knows, I might even change my whey protein habits.

Lunches I meal prepped on Sunday… lentil, chickpea curries and a beetroot and roast vegetable salad.

Dinners this week are actually easy as we went to the cinema on Tuesday night (we always get a Subway to eat during the trailers and they have vegan options now) and Wednesday we’re out and I’ve found a vegan-friendly restaurant.

I’ll do a post in more detail of how I’ve found it and the things I’ve been eating soon…

Again, HERE’s my sponsor page for a very good cause.

Are you a vegan/vegetarian?

Have you ever gone vegan?

Would you struggle?