So you finally started keto and all you really know is that it is a ‘high-fat, low-carb’ diet. You heard your ‘keto friend’ say something along the lines of, “Eat lots of meat, dairy, and avocados.” And if you’re like most of the people I’ve witnessed start keto, you basically think that cutting carbs is about leaving bread, sugar, and chips out of your diet.
If this scenario describes you… STOP!
There is no “Keto Diet for Dummies”, but this quick overview will get you up to speed on how the keto diet works and why it’s become so popular.
Before you go any further you really need to understand just how HIGH the fat content needs to be in a ketogenic diet, as well as how LOW the carbohydrate content needs to be. If you fail to grasp the mechanics behind this simple formula you will waste a lot of time, money, and effort in your weight loss journey.
Because the ketogenic diet is all about switching your body-chemistry over from running on carbohydrates to running on ketones. The ONLY way to do this is to essentially ‘force’ your body to switch fuel sources. Where it once found fuel in carbs, it now finds fuel in fats. Where carbs once broke down into sugars, fats now break down into ketones. This is the fundamental premise behind the ketogenic diet.
When you force your body into running on fat, one of the primary places it finds that fat is in your fat storage. Hence, why so many people are choosing ‘keto’ as their weight loss diet of choice.
Macros – the Keto Diet Ratio
So how much fat does ‘high-fat’ really mean?
Simple answer… 70-85% of your daily intake.
Yes, you read that correctly. A TRUE ketogenic diet consists of eating at least 70% fat each and every day.
When it comes to the percentage makeup of our diets, there are 3 major macronutrients (Macros) that make up everything we eat; Carbohydrates, Protein, and Fat. ‘Macros’ is simply a word used to define the overall percentage mix of these macronutrients in your daily diet. While some diets focus more on overall caloric intake, diets like the Atkins diet or the traditional low-fat diet focus more on the macros than they do on calories.
Since when you’re on a keto diet how much fat you eat is extremely important, knowing your macros is the name of the game. Specifically, you want to maintain a macro balance that follows a few simple rules.
- At least 70% Fat. The more, the better.
- Not all fat is created equal. Naturally occurring fats are ALWAYS the way you want to go.
- No more than 10% NET Carbohydrates. The less, the better.
- Not all carbohydrates are created equal. Fiber is considered a carbohydrate, but it isn’t digested as caloric intake (it passes straight through you). You can subtract that fiber you’ve eaten from your overall carb percentage.
- The remaining balance is Protein.
The reason I’ve put down conceptual rules instead of hard numbers is that life doesn’t always give us exact numbers. If you can understand the boundaries for each of the macros, you can better target your numbers from meal to meal. In the end, a good DAILY macro plan to shoot for is:
- Fat – 75%
- Carbs – 5%
- Protein – 20%
Tips, Tricks, and Hidden Carbs
Understanding the macro math and actually getting enough fat into your diet are two different things.
On my first day of keto, I met a friend for lunch at a local fast-casual Mexican food restaurant. Having done my research I knew exactly what I needed to do. I ordered a taco salad in a bowl (no shell). I left off the beans and rice. Got steak instead of chicken. Piled it up with extra queso, extra cheese, extra sour cream, extra avocado, and salsa.
Having done enough cooking to be able to eye-ball basic food measurements, I kept mental track of the amounts they were putting on my salad as I watched them make it so I could input them into my meal tracker app later. Thinking I had added more than enough fat to my salad, I put all the numbers into my app and was shocked that I hadn’t even come close to hitting the right macros. The queso and avocado had a ton of hidden carbs I had no idea were there. The cheese they used was a low-fat cheese (low-fat substitutes are everywhere in the US), and the steak was a lean cut without much fat as well. The sour cream was fine, but getting ‘extra’ out of them wasn’t exactly cheap. When it was all said and done, all I had was a super expensive salad that left me needing to find other sources of fat so I could hit my macros.
The reason I’m sharing this story with you is two-fold.
First, making assumptions about what foods are high-fat or low-carb is not something you want to try early on in your keto journey. Over time you will become more aware of the shortcuts, pitfalls, and reality checks, but in the beginning, you will want to rely heavily on a good meal tracker app or keto diet macro calculator like My Fitness Pal or Carb Manager.
Second, make sure you find some high-fat foods you absolutely love so you can supplement less than adequate meals at any time.
Situations like the one I shared above are going to happen. While a small cheat moment here and there can be easily balanced out with some high-fat foods before or after the fact, cheating on keto is a lot different than cheating on most other diets.
Depending on how your body adapts to the keto lifestyle, you may find that you can push the limits with higher carb intake and still not be kicked out of ketosis. I, for one, can kick my self out of ketosis if I drop my fat intake even a little bit below 70%. In other words, I CAN’T cheat on keto, and a lot of people find themselves in the same boat.
Because I can fall out of ketosis so quickly, watching my macros has been the key to my success. Some of my favorite high-fat foods like ranch dressing, sour cream, and cheese-stuffed olives have become staples in my house. The ability to follow up a meal that was less than perfect in macronutrients with a quick snack or coffee with heavy cream has been invaluable.
If you can keep good track of your macros, hit your fat intake goals, stay away from the hidden carbs, and find some favorite fatty foods, I believe you will not only find the ketogenic diet to be one of the easiest diets you’ve ever tried, but will also be some of the most dramatic results you’ve ever seen.