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Have you tried countless diets in the past? Or are you trying to lose weight for the first time?
Either way, you’ll want to check whether the diet you’re thinking of trying will actually work.
Enter the much-hyped keto (or ketogenic) diet.
Keto diet results are said to be rapid and significant weight loss, as well as increased energy.
Some people report weight loss of ‘belly fat’ – unwanted fat in the abdomen area.1
The keto diet is a way of eating which turns the long-accepted rules of healthy eating on their head.
Instead of being based - like most standard diets – around carbohydrates such as grains, legumes, starchy vegetables, fruit and minimal fat, the keto diet is based around a daily diet of 5% carbs, 20% protein and 75% fat.2
Nutritionist Alexander Thompson says, “Carbohydrate intake is kept very low and this is thought to fine tune the body’s ability to use stored fat as an energy source.
Advocates of the keto diet report that the dietary approach is useful to support healthy weight management.”
In short – yes. What’s more, keto weight loss can be significant. In one study, 83 people followed a keto diet for 23 weeks. After this time, the mean weight of the participants dropped from 101kg to 86.6kg – reduction of almost 14.5kg.3
What’s more, following the keto diet for 24 weeks also reduced risk factors for various chronic diseases. This included lowering levels of harmful cholesterol in the blood as well as lowering blood glucose.4
Most diets encourage you to eat more grains, fruits and vegetables and avoid fat wherever possible – so a diet plan that seems to demonise these healthy foods whilst encouraging consumption of fat can be met with suspicion.
Most diets (with exceptions including Atkins, Paleo and Dukan, with which the keto diet shares some similarities) focus on fat and calorie restriction as a way to prevent the body taking on more energy than it can burn.
Conversely, following the high-fat, low carbohydrate keto diet means that instead of restricting the body’s fuel, you can ‘hack’ your body’s preferred fuel source. Instead of burning glycogen from carbohydrates for energy - on the keto diet, your body burns fat, instead.
After an initial adjustment period of around a week, the body enters a state of ketosis, where fat is converted to ketones – a rich energy source that is only usually utilised during periods of fasting or intense exercise.5
It’s the way that the keto diet changes the way your body uses energy rather than simply restricting energy which sets it apart and can offer people that usually struggle with dieting real results.
Fat around the abdominal area (known as visceral fat) can be particularly stubborn and dieters often seek out ways to reduce it.
It’s generally accepted by researchers that no diet can help you lose fat from specific targeted areas. When you lose fat, you lose fat from all over your body, including the belly.
Keto results in good overall fat loss. So, if you’re carrying excess weight in specific locations (such as around your middle) then you can expect it to reduce while on keto.
However, it has been reported that keto diet weight loss can cause more belly fat loss than a standard low-fat diet.
One study found that people following a very low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet lost more fat in the trunk area than those following a low-fat diet. The fat loss from around the middle of the body was not merely due to overall fat loss, because the ratio of abdominal fat to total fat was also significantly reduced.6
The first week or so on keto can be a tough adjustment period. If you’re used to most of your daily calories coming from carbohydrates, it can be a shock to the system to switch to a majority-fat diet.
Many people experience ‘keto flu’, a temporary period of feeling nauseous, lightheaded or fatigued while they adjust to the new diet.7
Ketosis usually occurs after about 2 – 7 days.
The most obvious reason you may be experiencing no weight loss on keto is that you’ve accidentally eaten too many carbohydrates, thus preventing the body from entering the keto fat burning stage of ketosis.
Even healthy vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes and parsnips can blow your small daily carb budget (of around 20g – 50g daily).
Another common reason could be that you’re eating too many calories. Although the keto diet isn’t a classic calorie-restricted diet, its success relies on you eating a variety of satiating whole foods like meat, dairy, nuts and non-starchy vegetables. These foods fill you up and stop overeating.
If you’re eating too many unhealthy snacks such as keto chocolate, sweets or very large portions of foods like bacon and cheese, you do risk overloading your body with more calories than your body can realistically burn.
Because grains and starchy foods are off the menu, the keto diet can be low in fibre as a result.
Fibre slows down digestion, helps you feel full and keeps your bowel movements regular – all associated with weight loss.8
Make sure you eat nuts, low-carb vegetables, leafy greens and seeds along with your protein and fat to ensure optimum wight loss.
Keto-friendly foods include anything which has little to no carbohydrates or added sugar.
This is so important on a keto diet. If you’re arriving home ravenous with an empty fridge, a few slices of hot, buttered toast or a takeaway pizza can suddenly seem very tempting.
Keep your home stocked with keto-friendly foods, including some snacks for those moments when you’re so hungry you’re willing to risk all your hard work.
You can’t do keto on snacks alone. Even if you’ve never cooked before, you’re going to need to learn a few simple dishes like omelettes, cheesy chicken breasts and baked halloumi peppers so you can whip up a keto meal in minutes.
If you cook for people who aren’t following keto, learn a few tricks so you only have to make one meal. For example, if you’re making scrambled eggs on toast for a child’s lunch, be ready with some smoked salmon and avocado on the side to make sure you get a meal, too.
Tomatoes are keto-friendly, but ketchup? Just a tablespoon contains up to a quarter of your daily carb allowance, making it a real keto bad guy.
Be wary of artificially flavoured products, too. For example, despite fruits such as strawberries being keto-friendly, a strawberry yoghurt doesn’t count as they include ingredients like added sugar and corn starch.
Similarly, being allowed to eat full-fat dairy might seem like a free pass to eat ice cream. However, ice cream usually contains wheat flour and plenty of added sugar, which would be enough to nudge your body out of ketosis.
Protein is satiating, meaning it makes us feel full. Ensuring you get enough protein on keto stops you getting too hungry and snacking.
A healthy non-keto diet usually calls for around 2.2g of protein per kg of body weight.9 On keto, 0.7 – 0.9g protein per kg of body weight is about right to hit your 20% protein daily target.
For an 80kg person, that’s about 56g – 72g protein per day. That’s about equivalent to a roast chicken breast (at 54g protein) and two large eggs (at 6g protein each).
Any keto diet plan for weight loss should be accompanied by exercise to offer the best fat-burning benefits.
Not only does this burn calories itself, but it helps rid the body of lingering glucose which can interfere with the state of ketosis in your body.
Last updated: 15 April 2021
Joined Holland & Barrett: Jan 2018
Bsc in Nutrition, Registered Associate Nutritionist and Certification in Pre and Post Natal Nutrition
Donia started her career as a freelance nutritionist, later she joined Nestle as their Market Nutritionist to help support their healthier product range, before joining the team at Holland & Barrett in January 2018.
Donia has over 6 years experience as a Nutritionist and also works with clients on a one to one basis to support their goals which include weight loss, prenatal and postnatal nutrition and children’s health.