What is the ketogenic diet and what is the low-carb diet?

Let’s start with the low-carb diet since it is pretty much self-explanatory. It is a diet based on a lower intake of carbohydrates (less than 100 g a day). On the other hand, the ketogenic diet goes a step further. Not only that you are supposed to lower the carb intake, but you should reduce it to only 5% of your daily nutrients (which is for the most below 20 g a day).

While the low-carb diet focuses on losing weight, the ketogenic diet is more a change of lifestyle than merely weight loss. It boasts long bouts of energy, clarity of mind, lower anxiety, increased alertness and motivation, and many more health benefits.

To sum it up – low-carb diet is not as restrictive as the keto diet, but it also does not offer those “extra” benefits mentioned above.

How do I start?

For the beginning use this ketogenic calculator to calculate your macronutrients ratio (how much protein, fat, and carbs you should eat daily).

Once you know your macros, start measuring your food. In the beginning, at least, you should measure everything you consume (special attention to carbs). Carbs are a limit. Protein is a target. Fat should not be the goal; it should be consumed to satisfy hunger.

Do not go over your carb limit (you might be kicked out of ketosis). Try to reach your protein macro, but don’t go over it since the excess of protein can turn into sugar (gluconeogenesis) and knock down your ketone levels. If you are trying to lose weight, you don’t have to hit your fat macro unless you are really hungry.

Here you can find the list of foods that are keto-friendly and remember: dairy should not have more than 2 grams of carbs per portion, and vegetables not more than 5 grams. All the foods can be cooked, fried, roasted, grilled, braised, microwaved, baked or prepared in any other way you like (unless it involves breading – that’s a no go).

What food should I avoid?

Sugar (simple carbs) and starchy foods (complex carbs) come in many forms. If you are on the ketogenic diet, you should completely avoid fruits (with the exception of some berries that are low-carb and a good source of fiber, and avocado that is a terrific source of healthy fats, and is not that high in carb count), sugar (all kinds), honey, maple syrup, corn syrup, molasses, milk (contains lactose), flavored yoghurt, beer, fruit juice, grains (all of them even whole grains), legumes and beans, root vegetables (most of them – potatoes, carrot, parsnip etc.), pasta, pizza, bagel, crackers, bread (flour in general), rice (all kinds), cornstarch, cereals.

All fat sources are acceptable, except for margarine. Margarine or any other hydrogenated oils are the sources of trans-fats which have been shown to increase the risk of coronary artery disease in part by raising levels of LDL (“bad cholesterol”) and triglycerides while decreasing the levels of HDL (“good cholesterol”).

In the beginning, alcohol is something you should avoid. As you establish your weight loss journey and introduce some eating patterns into your routine, you can allow yourself some alcohol in limited quantities. Best choices are spirits and hard liquor (vodka, gin, whiskey, tequila, rum …) or red/white/sparkling wine. Keep in mind that without carbs in your stomach, the effects of alcohol will hit you faster and harder when on the keto diet.

What are NET carbs and how do I calculate them?

When you are calculating your macros, 20 g of carbs refers to NET carbs.


e.g. strawberry: total carbs 8 g – fiber 2 g = NET carbs 6 g

What are sugar alcohols?

Sugar alcohols come from various plant products such as fruits and berries. The carbs in these plants products are altered chemically thus providing somewhat fewer calories than regular sugar (sucrose), predominantly because they are not well absorbed. Some of these are allowed on a low-carb diet, while some should be avoided due to high glycemic index and nasty side effects (constipation, laxative effects, bloating, indigestion, and heartburn).

Although sugar alcohols are technically carbs, they have a lower energy density (calories per gram), because they are not completely metabolized by the body. The calorie count of sugar alcohols ranges from zero to three calories per gram.

Sugar Alcohol Glycemic Index Calories per Gram Sweetness
Erythritol 0 0 60-80%
Maltitol 36 2.1 75%
Sorbitol 9 2.6 50-70%
Xylitol 13 2.4 100%
Mannitol 0 1.6 50-70%
Isomalt 2 2.0 45-65%
Glycerol 3 4.3 40%

How long will it take to reach ketosis?

Ketosis begins when liver glycogen is depleted. That can happen between 24 hours and 3 days. If you remain under those 20 g net carbs, you should enter ketosis in no more than 2 days. However, for some people, it can take up to a week.

How do I know if I am in ketosis?

For more information on this topic, check the list of common physical symptoms that can answer this question.

Can I have a cheat meal?

If you decide to have a cheat meal, be ready for the consequences. Many people following the ketogenic and low-carb diet report symptoms such as upset stomach, headache, or fatigue. My personal experience after eating a sandwich was unimaginable stomach pain and digestion issues. From then on, even if I decide to cheat, I steer away from bread and gluten in general.

Cheating regularly will affect your diet for sure, but, it is not the end of the world to let it happen once in a while. Sometimes it can even be helpful because people start to enjoy this diet more and they turn it into a lifestyle after a while. It can also be of help if you hit the plateau by breaking it and boosting your metabolism.

Keep in mind that having a cheat meal at the beginning, before you are fully keto-adapted is a bad idea because you will be kicked out of ketosis immediately and all that previous effort was for nothing. Once your body is fat-adapted, you can enjoy a cheat meal once in a while. But don’t make it a habit.

Bottom line – keto is like marriage – you can’t cheat and expect it to work

Can I drink alcohol on the ketogenic or low-carb diet?

As mentioned above, In the beginning, alcohol is something you want to avoid. As you establish your weight loss journey and introduce some eating patterns into your routine, you can allow yourself some alcohol in limited quantities. Best choices are spirits and hard liquor (vodka, gin, whiskey, tequila, rum …) or red/white/sparkling wine. Avoid sweet, sugar-packed drinks. If you are going for a cocktail, chose the ones with zero carb soda, sparkling water, and similar choices. If you are a beer person, the best option is any popular “Light” variation (Heineken Light, Corona Premier, Amstel Light, Budweiser Select 55…) that contain around 5 grams of carbs.

Keep in mind that without carbs in your stomach, the effects of alcohol will lead to faster intoxication and a worse hangover.

Can I exercise while on low-carb or keto diet?

Exercising is good for your health no matter what kind of diet you are following. It decreases your risk of heart disease, obesity, and numerous other health conditions

Different types of exercises require different eating patterns and macronutrient breakdown. If you are used to high-intensity training, your performance may be limited on the ketogenic diet. In situations like this, you need to increase your carb intake before the exercise, and you must consume the adequate amount of protein.

On the other hand, if you are not practicing any high-intensity training, but you prefer aerobic, jogging, cycling or any other lower or moderate intensity activities, increasing your carb intake will negatively affect your diet and weight loss. You will, however, see the improvement in terms of endurance.


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