You’ve probably heard of the keto diet before. Perhaps you’ve even given it a go in the past, to varying degrees of success. But according to Martina Slajerova, creator of the KetoDiet blog and app and author of several keto cookbooks, once you’ve got the principles down, it really can be a life-changing plan.
‘I changed the way I ate in 2011, when I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune disease that affects the thyroid. I had no energy, and I found it more and more difficult to maintain a healthy weight,’ she explains.
The keto diet worked so well for Martina that she now spends her days educating others about its benefits, and although the concept of eating high-fat, low-carb to send your body into ketosis might seem daunting at first, she says it’s easier and more effective than you might expect. ‘The key to success is to keep your diet simple and always have some low-carb staples at hand,’ she notes.
So, what can you eat, and what can’t you? And most importantly, how can you understand the science that can make it work for you? We asked Martina for her ultimate guide to all things keto, and here’s what she had to say:
What is the basic principle of the keto diet?
The ketogenic diet is high in fats, moderate in protein and low in carbs. When you follow a keto diet, you essentially become a fat burner. Additionally, carbohydrate restriction helps to suppress appetite and induce satiety.
What is the science behind the keto diet?
When you reduce your carbohydrate intake to less than 50 grams of total carbs, your body switches from glucose to fat as the main energy source. Your liver will start producing molecules known as ketones and that’s where the word ‘keto’ comes from.
According to over 60 randomized controlled trials, carbohydrate restriction is the most effective weight loss tool. The health benefits of low carb diets extend beyond weight loss and the ketogenic diet has been used as adjuvant treatment for health conditions such epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and even some types of cancer.
What foods can you eat on the keto diet?
There are many foods you can eat on a keto diet:
- full-fat dairy
- fish & seafood
- non-starchy vegetables
- nuts & seeds
- low-sugar fruit such as berries, coconut and avocados
It’s always best to keep your diet simple and focus on eating whole foods. When it comes to beverages, avoid all sweet drinks, and opt for coffee (with cream or black), tea, still or sparkling water with lemon or lime.
Use heat-stable fats such as ghee, duck fat, lard or coconut oil for cooking. When making a salad or a dressing, use healthy fats like extra virgin olive oil, avocado, walnut, or macadamia oil.
Watch out for added carbs in sausages (starches), bacon (sugar), condiments (starches and sugar) and canned vegetables (sugar).
When eating out, opt for simple protein sources such as fish, seafood, and meat served with grilled vegetables, leafy greens or low-starch salad. Beware of sauces, dressings and meatballs as these may contain starches and sugar. If you order a starter, go for olives or meat & cheese boards.
Here you can find a complete keto diet food list (what to eat and avoid), and keto food pyramid.
And what should you definitely avoid?
You should avoid high-carb foods such as grains (bread, pasta, rice, etc), foods with added sugar, most fruits (apart from low-sugar fruits like berries), low-fat dairy, milk (including whole milk), potatoes and legumes. These foods are too high in carbs and even one serving can take you over your daily carb limit.
What would a typical day of food on the diet look like?
My blood sugar levels are stable which is is one of the main benefits of low-carb eating. As a result, my appetite is under control and I eat when I’m hungry. A natural side effect of this is that I skip meals when I’m not hungry. This is known as intermittent fasting which goes hand in hand with the ketogenic diet. I don’t need to snack and I rarely eat more than twice a day.
I start my day with a cup of coffee with cream, coconut milk or unsweetened almond milk. On most days I skip breakfast and have my first meal between 1-3 pm. My first meal is either full-fat yogurt with nuts and berries, an egg omelette or fried eggs with avocado, spinach and bacon or smoked salmon. For dinner I’d have a steak or fatty fish with a big bowl of salad, steamed non starchy vegetables such as broccoli or asparagus, and drizzled with plenty of olive oil.
What is the benefit of following the keto diet over other diets?
Unlike other dietary approaches, once you learn the basic principles of the keto diet, it’s easy to follow and it’s easy to stick with in the long term. You will enjoy the food because fat tastes good and will keep you fuller for longer. I never looked back and I don’t feel like I am ‘dieting’ anymore.
Numerous studies have shown that low-carb diets outperform other diets in terms of weight loss and health benefits.
What should people know about ‘the keto flu’?
It’s crucial that those new to the keto diet understand what ‘keto flu’ is and how to counteract it.
It’s common to experience ‘keto flu’ when you enter the induction phase of a ketogenic diet. This is because you’re ‘starving’ your body of carbohydrates in order to enter ketosis. You may experience headaches, nausea, fatigue, brain fog, muscle weakness, cramps, and heart palpitations.
An easy way to counteract ‘keto flu’ is by drinking bone broth and eating foods high in electrolytes (sodium, magnesium and potassium), such as avocados, spinach, nuts, beef, salmon, and even dark chocolate. Always keep hydrated and take it easy with exercise for the first couple of weeks. If you need to, take supplements – I take magnesium almost daily.
The simple keto diet breakdown: 75% fat, 20% protein and 5% carbs
This is a good way to describe the keto diet in simple terms. Percentages will give you an idea of the macronutrient composition of a diet, however, they are only relative and don’t reflect the amount of calories you are eating. To determine the amount of calories, you have to look at absolute numbers, i.e. macronutrients in grams. For example, 75% of fat is different on a 4,000 calorie diet compared to a 2,000 calorie diet.
Calories do count, even on a ketogenic diet. It is just very likely that you won’t need to count them because you will naturally eat less.
Calorie counting helps if you are close to your target weight and weight loss becomes more difficult to achieve. On a keto diet, you regulate your energy intake via fat, while protein and carbs remain more or less constant. It’s simple: if you want to lose body fat, you need to stay within a calorie deficit. If you want to gain weight, you have to eat more (healthy) fats to increase your calorie intake.
To calculate your macros based on your goal, use our macronutrient calculator.