The high-fat, low-carb keto diet is all the rage these days for turning your body into a fat-burning machine, but is it the right diet for you? Health and performance specialist Steven Hightower gives us the lowdown on going keto:

What is the keto diet?

The ketogenic diet (or keto diet, for short) is a low-carb, high-fat diet that when executed properly, offers many health benefits, especially for those interested in shedding a few pounds or improving their overall health.

When the body has limited access to carbohydrates, it will shift into a metabolic state known as ketosis. When the body is in ketosis, your liver converts fats into ketones, which end up becoming the main source of energy for the body and the brain. The objective of the keto diet is to manipulate the body into a state of ketosis, where your body burns fat for fuel.

How does it work?

There are several versions of the keto diet, however the standard ketogenic diet (SKD) is the most common. It is a very low-carb, moderate-protein, and high-fat diet. It typically contains 75% fat, 20% protein, and only 5% carbs. That means that if you are consuming 2000 calories a day, you are allotted 25 grams of carbohydrates.

To put that into perspective, one medium banana has 23 grams of carbs. In order to execute this prescription, you need to be mindful of what you are putting in your body at all times.

What to eat on a keto diet

If you are a vegan, this diet is not for you. In order to stick within SKD parameters, it is recommended that you base the majority of your diet on foods such as meat, fish, eggs, butter, nuts, healthy oils, some avocado and plenty of low-carb veggies such as broccoli, spinach, and other leafy greens. The best way to find the majority of what you need is to stick to the outer perimeter of the grocery store when shopping. 

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What to avoid

In order to have the highest chance of success, avoid high-carb foods such as grains, sugars, legumes, rice, potatoes, candy, juice, and even most fruits. Here is a simple rule: if the item can last on the shelf for weeks, chances are it is not a good option for the keto diet.

Potential benefits and risks

The keto diet originated as a tool for treating neurological diseases such as epilepsy. Research also suggests that it can provide many health benefits for metabolic or insulin-related diseases such as diabetes. 

While the keto diet is safe, some side effects could occur as your body adapts. Commonly referred to as the “keto flu”, symptoms may include poor energy and mental clarity, increased hunger, sleep issues, nausea, digestive discomfort and decreased exercise performance. This can be remedied with a more gradual reduction in carbs and an increased consumption of sodium, potassium, and magnesium.

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Is it for you?

The keto diet can be effective when executed well, especially in the short term. The truth about the ketogenic diet is that it can be quite tough for the body to reach a state of ketosis, and as with most diets, it is just as hard to stay in it for an extended period of time.

If you’re looking to achieve long-term results, small lifestyle changes are more sustainable and can lead to big improvements to your health. That means making good decisions for your body and mind on a daily basis, from grocery shopping, eating out with friends, to your exercise routine. For a healthy diet, keep it simple with meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar, to levels that will fuel the body for exercise, without holding onto excess body fat.

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Steven Hightower is a certified personal trainer and health, performance & movement specialist at Coastal Fitness. Having made the transition from bodybuilding to CrossFit, he approaches training with an emphasis on correct technique as a foundation to optimise performance and works with clients on dietary and lifestyle management as a nutrition coach.

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