The ketogenic diet or the keto diet is a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet that promises weight loss, as long as you track your macros and keep on top of other important keto metrics.
If you're confused already, don't panic. Those new to the concept are often taken aback by the sheer amount of effort that the keto diet seemingly requires.
But going keto doesn't have to be complicated.
Before you know it, you'll be well on your way to reaching the physiological state of ketosis. That's when you can start using specific keto metrics to track your progress.
The Keto Diet and Achieving Ketosis: How Difficult Is It Really?
Before we discuss important keto metrics, let's talk a little more about the keto diet in general.
The keto diet (1) is all about reducing your carbohydrate intake and upping your fat consumption instead.
Sounds relatively simple, right?
The problem is that most of the foods you consume daily are full of carbs. And we're not just talking about grains, starches, pastries, and sweeteners.
Fruits, root vegetables, beans, legumes, low-fat dairy, sweetened sauces and dips, and even alcoholic drinks such as beer, cider, and sweet wines are also high in carbs and are consequently off-limits while on a keto diet.
So, what can you eat?
Plenty! You certainly won't starve on a keto diet.
Keto diet approved foods (2) include meat, fish, high-fat dairy, eggs, low-carb vegetables, nuts, berries, and dark chocolate. You can even indulge in hard liquor, champagne, and dry wine, albeit in small quantities.
The main goal here is to put your body into a state known as ketosis. When in ketosis, your body no longer relies on carbohydrates but burns fat for energy instead.
Weight loss is the main reason people set out to achieve this natural metabolic state.
However, there are plenty of other benefits ascribed to the keto diet.
Reducing carbs and increasing fats can potentially:
On the other hand, those who go keto might experience some short-term negative side effects, such as nausea, dizziness, and constipation.
Long-term adverse effects (3) include kidney stones, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, hypoproteinemia, and hepatic steatosis.
Keto Metrics That'll Help You Stay on Track
Alright, now that we have the basics covered, let's take a look at key keto metrics.
If you're planning on going keto, you'll want to track the seven (4) keto metrics below.
What the heck are macros?
When it comes to keto metrics, we can't help but mention macros.
Macros, or macronutrients, are nutrients that fuel our body.
Humans require three macros:
A standard keto diet is made up of 75 percent fat, 20 percent protein, and 5 percent carbs.
However, the exact ratio varies from person to person and depends on factors such as body type, weight loss objectives, and activity levels.
The truth about fats
Fats are an essential part of a keto diet.
Our bodies need fats for energy. Fats also help our bodies perform critical functions. For example, fats protect organs and encourage cell growth.
Of course, not all fats are created equal. Some fats, such as artificial trans fats found in processed foods, are detrimental to our health and should be avoided.
Fats have nine calories per gram, the most out of the three macronutrients.
Many people find it challenging to hit their 75 percent daily fat intake, at least initially. Their taste buds aren't yet used to high-fat foods.
On the other hand, it's also possible to consume too much fat, thus stalling your progress if your goal is to lose weight.
Protein is overrated
Protein is another crucial macro. This nutrient, which provides four calories per gram, is vital for your immune system and tissue repair.
Furthermore, protein helps with the building of tissues, enzymes, and hormones.
However, too much protein on a keto diet can stop ketone production.
Carbs are everywhere
The least important macro is carbohydrates (consisting of starches and sugars).
Typically, carbs, similarly to protein, also provide four calories per gram and make up the most substantial part of people's calorie intake.
Most carbs are broken down into glucose (blood sugar), which is either used for immediate energy or stored in your muscles and liver.
Consuming an excessive amount of carbs on a keto diet causes insulin release and throws you out of ketosis.
While fiber is also technically a carb, it's harder to digest. Because fiber doesn't seem to affect blood ketone levels, most people don't count it toward their total carb intake.
Micros are important too
Micronutrients, or micros, are minerals and vitamins (5). They comprise only a small part of a keto diet but are essential for good health.
Unfortunately, when you limit your carb intake, you also reduce your consumption of micronutrient-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables.
Additionally, when you first go keto, your body increases the excretion of certain micronutrients (such as magnesium, sodium, calcium, and potassium), thus further disturbing their balance.
This issue generally self-resolves naturally as soon as your body adapts to your new lifestyle.
In the meantime, eat plenty of fish and seeds for magnesium and snack on nuts, avocados, and dark green vegetables for potassium. Add extra salt to your meals for sodium and incorporate cheese and leafy greens into your meals for calcium.
Your urine, blood, and breath are good indicators of your progress
How quickly or how slowly you reach ketosis depends on several factors, including genetics and your levels of insulin sensitivity or resistance.
Testing your ketone levels can help you see whether or not you're on the right track.
There are three different methods for tracking the number of ketones that your body produces:
Urine tests are affordable and easy to use, but not very accurate (6). The ketones found in your urine can't give you a good idea as to what's happening inside your body. Urine strips show only the number of ketones that your body couldn't use and therefore excreted.
Blood tests are the most reliable but also the most costly. You'll need to purchase not only the actual meter but also replacement strips.
Besides, this method requires that you prick your finger, which is something you might not want to do if the sight of blood makes you squeamish.
A reusable breath test is a nice compromise between the two. A breath analyzer won't break the bank, but it'll still give you precise results.
Not for the fainthearted
Measuring fasting blood sugar levels is important too.
Fasting blood sugar levels indicate two things:
As you reduce carbs and use up glycogen stored in your body, your fasting blood sugar levels should decrease.
If the number rises for no apparent reason, it could mean that you've accidentally ingested more carbs than you should've or that your physical activity that day was lower than usual.
Test your fasting blood sugar levels first thing in the morning, two hours after a big meal, and before and after exercise for five days to establish a baseline.
Ditch the scales
If you go keto hoping to lose weight, you might find yourself stepping onto the weighing scales every single day.
Stop right there!
Some people lose very little weight while following a keto diet, and still others gain weight. Does that mean that you're doing something wrong? Not at all!
If you notice that your weight remains the same, but your clothes fit you better, you're most likely replacing useless fat with muscle.
The scales can be misleading, not to mention discouraging. Evaluate your progress with a flexible tape measure instead.
Areas you might want to measure are:
Sweat it out but don't go crazy
Physical activity boosts your metabolism, keeps your endorphins flowing, and generally improves your overall health. So naturally, in addition to tracking keto metrics such as your macros, you should also track your movement patterns.
Glucose is your brain's primary fuel source, and limiting it might make you feel groggy.
As such, give your body time to adjust (7) and skip workouts that are too intense or require quick reaction times, such as cycling or hiking.
Stick to your usual exercise routine. Now's not the time to try that self-defense class at your local gym.
Remember that changing too many things all at once makes it difficult to find out what's working and what isn't.
Going keto will probably disturb your sleep
Getting enough sleep is more important than you think. Indeed, when it comes to managing blood glucose levels, sleep can be as crucial as nutrition.
When you don't get enough sleep, you're negatively affecting the hormones that regulate your appetite. Thus, you might find yourself craving high-calorie foods that are deficient in nutrients.
Besides, poor quality sleep might trigger symptoms that resemble insulin resistance.
Most individuals feel their best after six to eight hours of sleep. Ideally, you want to invest in a sleep tracker that tracks not only the quantity but also the quality of your sleep.
Some people have insomnia (8) when they first embark on their keto journey. Nonetheless, sleepless nights should become a thing of the past as your body adjusts to your new lifestyle.
Are You in Ketosis Yet?
How do you know if you're in ketosis?
Signs indicating (9) that you've reached the elusive metabolic state include weight loss, decreased hunger, bad breath, short-term fatigue, and long-term increased energy.
If you feel like you're getting nowhere, use the above keto metrics, and, in particular, ketone levels and body tape measurements, to track your progress.
Keto metrics should motivate you, not discourage you. Don't get too hung up on numbers. After all, they're merely a guide. If you adhere to the basics, results will follow sooner or later.
Have you tried the keto diet? Were you impressed with your results? We'd love to hear from you in the comments below!