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Everything you need to know about the keto diet
Keto diet – the ratios
The keto diet requires fat to comprise between 60-80% of your total calories. , and the remaining 5% comes from carbs. Exactly how many grams you should get depends on your energy needs, and there are a wealth of online calculators that can help you work it out. Generally speaking, you won’t eat more than 25 grams of carbs each day; equivalent to one slice of wholewheat bread, or a small apple.
Keto diet – the benefits
Still interested? Die-hard keto followers love touting the myriad benefits of this regimented diet. The biggest motivator has to be the scales. Carbohydrates attract and retain water, so the first thing you’ll notice is a drop in water weight and a reduction in bloating. Since fat is your primary energy source, you’re burning through more of it, which means you can expect to continue shedding pounds at a rate of knots.
(Related: What's better for losing weight, diet or exercise?)
Ketosis also does a great job of turning off hunger cues and slashing sugar cravings. “One theory is that your body responds to a ketogenic diet like it would to a fasting state, as it adapts to burning fat as fuel, releasing ketones into the blood,” Steve Hertzler, PhD, RD, and chief scientific officer at EAS Sports Nutrition, told MensHealth.com. The elevated production of ketones is thought to suppress the appetite centres in the brain, he explained.
(Related: 9 ways to stop feeling hungry)
Other regularly reported benefits include improved mental focus, higher energy levels, satiety, better brain function, stable blood sugar levels, and a reduction in blood pressure, harmful VLDL cholesterol, and insulin. So far, so good.
Keto diet – the drawbacks
The diet is incredibly limiting, for starts. Loading up on high-fat foods while keeping carbs to a minimum seems straightforward on paper, but maxing out your micronutrients makes for a tough balancing act. While chowing down untold amounts of rib-eye, pork rind, cream and butter sounds like the dream, omitting so many vitamin and mineral-packed fruits and vegetables – never mind fibre-rich grains – spells bad news for your gut health (constipation, anyone?).
(Related: 5 sources of fibre you should be eating right now)
There’s also the dreaded ‘keto flu’ – your body’s natural response to carbohydrate restriction. Like regular flu, symptoms include fatigue, dizziness, nausea, and restlessness. Unlike regular flu, they tend to subside within three to five days, though this varies from person to person. Depleted water and salt levels are to blame, so staying hydrated and bumping up your electrolyte intake is key to combating it.
Your brain naturally runs on glucose, so keto fanatics frequently complain of a ‘brain fog’ – slower cognition, memory loss, headaches, and confusion – that manifests as your body transitions between the two fuel sources. There’s also the matter of undesirable ‘keto breath’, which is caused by the breakdown of acetoacetic acid.
As for athletic performance, strength and endurance – the jury is out on whether following keto will help or hinder your gains, with small-scale short-term studies providing evidence for and against in equal measure, and no large-scale or long-term data to draw from. However, the most recent research, published in theStrength and Conditioning Journal, concluded that the longer you follow a keto diet, the greater your risk of muscle loss.
(Related: The quick six-pack diet)
The final word on the keto diet
While we’re all for ditching the demonisation of fat, man cannot (and should not) live on steak alone. Ultimately, the best diet is the one you can stick to. Following a regimen where a Friday night pint could send your whole body out of whack is a) insanity and b) destined to fail from the offset.
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