The Ketogenic Diet – What to Know & How Ketone Meters Work

Every diet is based on some rationale, provides inspirational testimonials and offers something which makes it attractive. But heck, do they have helpful gadgets? Do you have questions about the ketogenic diet and how to know if you are in ketosis? We're going to talk low tech and high tech, and take a look at ketone meters and keto sticks. Because diets aren't just about weight loss and food choices.
Ketogenic Diet Foods

Here We Go Again – Yet Another Diet is in the News

You’ve heard about it. Maybe know someone who’s into it.  Or perhaps like me, you initially just thought to yourself, “Here We Go Again…yet another fad diet.” I refer to it as being cuckoo for Keto.  So, is it just the latest hype, or is there something more to it?

A Matter of Success

Some fad diets actually work. Then again, if someone commits to any reasonable and healthful diet plan they are likely to experience some success.

The key issues with any diet are whether or not:

  • one is getting all of the body’s essential nutrients
  • working toward one’s overall desired body composition
  • optimizing heart health
  • the diet is sustainable

Every diet is based on some rationale, provides inspirational testimonials and offers something which makes it attractive. But heck, do they have helpful gadgets?

Low Tech and High Tech – Getting Some Meaningful Measurements

We’re going to talk low tech and high tech, and take a look at ketone meters and keto sticks. Because diets aren’t just about weight loss and food choices.

These days it’s hard to actually get to some of the valid advances in nutritional sciences, as we’ve become jaded by reading the many wild claims out there. But occasionally, there is a breakthrough which has important data and boasts significant health benefits. As with any worthwhile endeavor, results are important. And we can’t celebrate and enjoy them if we can’t measure them in some meaningful way.

How Politics, Science and Throwbacks End Up On Our Plate

I actually don’t believe in diets. But please don’t get me wrong here. I absolutely do believe in healthy lifestyle choices, and new findings based on real science.  The field of nutrition has changed significantly.  Regrettably,  the profession is increasingly influenced – and funded – by big food manufacturers. Even universities are frequently funded by corporations with a vested interest in highly processed foods, and it can be easily argued that funding impacts research.

But happily, there is also a steadily growing appreciation for whole and organic foods, a resurgence of natural healing modalities, cogent challenges to conventional medicine, and a renewed interest in ancient healing wisdom and diets – such as Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic practices.

In many ways, some “new” diets harken back to a much earlier time and are being affirmed and better understood through the benefits of cutting-edge technological advances. We will look at some of these fascinating and most remarkable advances – including research regarding the microbiome, epigenetics, cellular biology, telomeres, etc. – in upcoming blogs.

Then, It Became Personal

Interestingly, two things happened when I first heard about the ketogenic diet:  it immediately and intuitively resonated with me, and the rationale behind it made perfect sense. Ketogenic diet foods intrigued me and I definitely wanted to learn more. And – confession time – I’d been aware for quite a while that I probably should cut down on my carbohydrate intake. Geeze did that ever become the understatement of a lifetime! But I am getting ahead of myself.

To be candid, I was intrigued by keto. Initially, I sure didn’t imagine I would actually try the ketone diet myself.  I’ve never had a weight “problem” and I don’t “do” diets. I have altered my diet with high-quality meal replacement shakes (and I daily take a superb food-based vitamin and mineral supplement), to accomplish certain personal goals, such as decreasing my percentage of body fat and increasing my lean muscle mass – but not because I was overweight.

Well, after more study and research, I decided to commit to a ketogenic diet for 3 months and just see what happened. As it’s turned out, that initial 3-month trial has come and long since gone, and my love and admiration for keto have only increased. Simply put, I love keto! I have my pre-senior-citizen body back.

Being powered by ketones has me singing along with Jimmy Buffet

Thriving MY WAY again in merry ketoville,

Searchin’ for my lost bundle of pounds.

Some people claim that this can’t be sustained,

But I know, it’s my own treasure vault.

Yes, some people claim that this can’t be sustained

Yet I know, it’s my own treasure vault.

What’s So Special About Keto, Anyway?

Switching to a ketogenic diet has many health benefits in addition to weight loss.  It can also help regulate blood sugar, improve heart health and even enhance certain brain functions.  Because blood sugar is more stable, so is our mood. We don’t get the food cravings we once did. And although we may be consuming more salt, blood pressure is stabilized. Our cholesterol is better with higher HDL (helper cholesterol). Our skin really loves all of the good fats, too.

These benefits begin to occur when our body is in a state of ketosis. Ketosis is what happens when the body switches fuel sources – when we change from burning carbohydrates or glucose and begin burning fat or ketones instead. When your body is in the metabolic state of ketosis you are burning the fat you’ve stored as well as the healthy fats you are consuming in your diet. In order to know with certainty that our body is truly in ketosis, there are simple tests we can do at home.

Ketogenic Diet Meal Plan and 120 Recipes
Great ketogenic diet foods, ketogenic diet plans and ketogenic diet menus!

So, How Do You Know If You’re Actually in Ketosis?

There are three ways to test for ketosis. When you begin consuming a low carb, high-fat diet, the level of ketones in your blood will become elevated. These become the go-to fuel source instead of glucose. Your insulin level will decrease and the fat you store and consume will become your source of fuel or energy.

The increased level of ketones can be measured in three ways:  by testing your blood, urine or breath. While a simple blood test through a tiny pinprick is the most effective, urine strips or a breath analyzer  – known as a breath ketone meter – also work well.

Urine Strips (or Keto Sticks) – How Do They Work?

This is an easy way to determine if your body is in the metabolic state of ketosis.  It is a preferred method for those who don’t want to prick a finger and draw blood to test for ketosis. The strips measure the number of ketones in your urine. And because there will be variations throughout the day, it is best to measure first thing in the morning. Keto sticks or strips are affordable and fairly accurate, although not as precise as a blood test.

Breath Ketone Meter – How Does It Work?

Ketone meters, which you breathe into (like a breathalyzer to test blood alcohol levels), are small, hand-held devices which measure the acetone level in your breath. Acetone is a by-product of ketosis. So you can enjoy a ketogenic meal, breathe into your meter, and in a matter of seconds get a reading. This method is very easy and also fairly accurate, although it isn’t as precise as a blood test.

Our research only found one really accurate and reliable breath ketone meter. Many of the products that were recommended either did not exist or measured blood alcohol instead of ketones. To see our recommendation for an actual breath ketone meter and consider whether it might be right for you, check out our blog, “The Best Breath Ketone Meter for 2019.”

Blood Ketone Meter – How Does It Work?

Blood ketone meters measure the number of ketones in your blood and are very similar to the way diabetics measure their glucose. It only takes a tiny amount of blood from a pinprick to your finger.

Taco Lettuce Wrap – A Great Keto Fast Food

Is There a Blinking Yellow Light With Keto? Yes, Proceed With Caution!

As with any major change in diet or lifestyle, it is important to understand your current health status. Next, you will want to determine your health goals and the best way to achieve them.  You also may want to consult with your primary healthcare provider. This is especially true if you have any health challenges such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or poor liver or kidney function.

Obesity, diabetes, cancers, and heart disease are at epidemic levels in our country. I think it’s valid to say alternative approaches to the conventional American diet and our current healthcare system merit serious and thoughtful consideration.

Benefits Which May Surprise You:  This Isn’t Your Mother’s Weight Loss Program

It’s easy to think of the ketogenic diet as just one of the latest in trendy diet fads and health crazes.  But it might surprise you to know that benefits attributed to a ketogenic diet have been well documented to be therapeutically helpful in the treatment of epilepsy. These results have been known since the 1920s.

And various research studies show ways in which glucose actually fuels the growth of cancer cells, whereas ketones inhibit cancer cell growth and support healthy cells. One article entitled, “Ketogenic diets as an adjuvant cancer therapy: History and potential mechanism” published in 2014 and found in the US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health is both fascinating and hopeful.

There are biases against keto, as well as some myths and misinformation. So it is important to do your own due diligence and learn from those who have many years of experience and up to date expertise. It is very exciting that more and more experts are making their findings known.

How to Easily Avoid Electrolyte Deficiencies and Dehydration

In addition to these considerations, there are some areas where there are valid concerns. Because keto diets are very low carb, our bodies change the way they metabolize, absorb and eliminate nutrients. By definition, keto means cutting way down on the number of carbs you eat.  When you do this your body will produce less insulin, which in turn will deplete glycogen levels stored in your muscles.

As you store fewer carbs, you also store less water. So it is important that you increase your water intake to compensate for this.  When the amount of glycogen you store is reduced, your kidneys switch from retaining water to actually excreting it. So you’ll want to drink plenty of fresh, preferably filtered, water. I like to add a spritz and slice of organic lemon in mine.

Lemon infused water is delicious and helps maintain alkalinity.When you flush out more water, you’re releasing electrolytes with it. Electrolytes are essential minerals your body needs for proper health and functioning. Electrolytes are calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sodium. Magnesium, potassium, and sodium are at risk of being depleted.

Together electrolytes help regulate and support many of our bodies functions. Primarily, these are heart rhythm, body temperature, neurological and muscle health.

Before going full-on keto I used to eat one organic banana a day for added potassium.  Because bananas have 27 carbs each, I stopped eating them. A beginning ketogenic diet plan to jump-start ketosis recommends restricting your diet to a total of 20 carbs for the entire day so that clearly meant no more daily bananas.  As a result, the only adverse side-effects I experienced with keto were some muscle cramps in my legs or feet during my first few nights.

What is Keto “Flu?”

In the beginning, when just starting the keto diet, some people experience discomfort and flu-like symptoms commonly referred to as Keto Flu. This can happen when they have been indulging in a rather unhealthy diet.  Symptoms occur as a result of detoxing the body from all manner of toxins associated with a diet high in carbs – including excessive sugar, and highly processed foods.

The most common side-effects are:

  • fatigue
  • light-headedness
  • headache
  • mild nausea
  • difficulty sleeping

While I didn’t experience any of these, I understand they generally only last a few days to a couple of weeks.

For me, the increased energy, loss of visceral fat (the dangerously unhealthy fat that forms around our internal organs and puts stress on our bodies), and mental clarity are well worth the few days it took me to adjust.

Happily, it is easy to get the electrolytes we need through our keto diet. Instead of eating a high carb banana every day for potassium, I eat half an avocado and some nuts. I also add salt to certain foods (my preference being Himalayan Pink salt), eat more fresh fish, leafy greens, and dairy. I love all kinds of hard cheeses and have heavy cream in my tea every morning. And I drink lots of fresh water throughout the day.

I also take a phenomenal multi-vitamin and mineral supplement with telomere support twice daily.  It actually comes in convenient AM and PM packets.  This was a game-changer for me in terms of increased energy, vitality and enhanced immune support even before I started Keto. I never go a day without them.  And the more we discover about how our telomeres function, the more grateful I am for this unique supplement. In terms of the very best of cutting-edge science and nature combined, I encourage you to compare it to what you’re taking (if you are). And then, I invite you to try and find anything comparable – at any price. You might be surprised! Their quality and purity are guaranteed and they are specially formulated to be gender specific. Because when it comes to health and wellness our physiology is not the same, and well – vive la différence!

An Overview of Macros: Calories, Carbohydrate, Fat, and Protein

It’s important when you start on a ketogenic diet plan that you understand what you should be eating and what you should skip.

Given your gender, age, and current weight, the number of calories you need, if you want to lose weight and the grams of carbohydrate, fat, and protein to consume each day, are fairly easy to calculate. The important thing to know is that a ketogenic diet is based on a ratio of 70-75% fat, 20-25% protein, and 5-10% carbohydrate.  This might look something like 137 grams Fat, 68 grams protein and 20 grams of carbohydrate for the day.

Simply put, the diet is made up of meats (beef, pork, poultry, lamb), fish, eggs, cheese and other whole fat dairy products, nuts and seeds, low carb vegetables, and a small selection of fruits. The best vegetables are those that grow above the ground, especially leafy greens. They are lower in both calories and carbs. You want to stay away from grains, flour and sweets, beans, starchy vegetables, (root vegetables, corn, winter squash, and potatoes), and most alcohol. Vegetarian and non-dairy options are available for those who have those preferences.

Calories

One of the benefits of a ketogenic diet plan is that the foods are very satisfying so it’s easy to eat less. That said, if you eat more calories than you are expending, your weight loss will be slow to non-existent. So if you want to lose weight, you need to be at a calorie deficit and reduce your portions.

Carbohydrate

In order to stay in ketosis, you really need to keep your carb intake very low and never more than 50 grams per day. And if you are wanting to lose weight, keep your carbs at 30 grams a day or less.  Most of your carbs will come from dairy products, nuts, seeds, and vegetables (the kind that grow above the ground), especially leafy greens.  Root vegetables and other starchy vegetables, grains, and beans are too high in carbohydrate to include in your ketogenic diet foods.

Not all carbs count. Another consideration is whether to count all of the carbohydrates you consume or only Net Carbs. Net carbs are total carbohydrate minus those that are not digestible. So you don’t have to count fiber or carbohydrates from some sugar alcohols. Our bodies don’t break them down, so they don’t get absorbed or metabolized. Counting Net Carbs is recommended because it gives you a lot more to work with over the course of the day.

Critics of keto often site the restrictive amount of carbs allowed as one reason the diet isn’t sustainable. But given how well-documented the dangers of lots of carbs and refined sugars are, I find the restriction not only doable – but inspiring.

Protein

The amount of protein you will eat is a moderate amount, so think about eating the amount you normally do.  For example, you might have 1 or 2 eggs in the morning and a 3-4 oz portion of meat, chicken, fish, etc. at lunch and dinner. The concern here is that if you eat too much protein, your body will convert it into glucose (blood sugar) and throw you out of ketosis. If you don’t eat enough protein, you risk losing muscle mass. The loss of lean muscle will exacerbate electrolyte imbalance and water loss and leave you prone to dehydration, muscle cramps, and nausea. It also lowers your metabolism and reduces your immune function.

Fat

Most of your calories will come from fat. This can include healthy fats like those from nuts, seeds. avocado, coconut. But it will also include some fats from meats and dairy. There are a couple of things to consider here.

  1. If you are at a calorie deficit – that is using more calories than you are taking in – and in ketosis, you will burn both stored fat and the fat you are consuming.
  2. Plant-based oils are somewhat healthier for your heart than animal fats. But during ketosis, your body prefers to burn saturated fats.

So eat plenty of nuts, seeds, avocados, and plant-based oils but don’t be afraid of eating some fatty cuts of red meat, bacon, poultry and dairy products, as well.

In the beginning, this can sound a bit fishy and feel a little daunting. But it becomes clear and fairly easy once you get into a rhythm. You’ll begin to know which of the ketogenic diet foods satisfy and work for you.

Red Snapper is good protein for a Ketogenic Diet

The Heart of the Matter

Some people have a lot of experience with dieting.  I’m not one of them. Which is one reason I have always been a bit skeptical of dieting in general. My approach has always been to eat whatever I want, keeping it sort of healthy.  Through the years I have seen how some people always seem to try the latest diet, and then eventually go off of it. They end up gaining back the weight they lost and frequently add on even more weight than they had when they started. Every dieter knows about yo-yo dieting, even if they haven’t experienced it. Then there is simply trying a new diet to see if it suits you. Maybe you find that it doesn’t help you meet your goals. Or it just doesn’t fit with your lifestyle, so you stop. That certainly makes sense to me.

Eating habits are hard to change, and if something isn’t working for you there’s no reason to keep doing it. There are many variables with each individual. I don’t believe a one size fits all solution exists or is feasible. That means basically two things:  you need to know your own body, your medical history, and current health status, as well as your specific lifestyle goals; and you want to find something that effectively works for you.

I have a real sweet tooth and have always been a major carb consumer. But I am also very committed to a healthy lifestyle, and want to remain as vibrant, strong and active as possible, for as long as possible. So for me, the issue was giving up things I love and enjoy in order to achieve and attain other things I value even more.

Ketogenic Diet Meal Plan and 120 Recipes

Life is About Choices, Priorities, and Trade-Offs

The keto diet is working very well for me. Actually, I love it and I love how I feel.  Should you decide to try it, you might consider getting a ketone meter. We’ll be reviewing the best ketone meters in an upcoming post. Discipline and testing are important elements of doing keto right.  Like anything worthwhile, it takes some effort. But the rewards are so great that following a keto diet plan quickly becomes easy. And the way I feel acts as an additional incentive. If you don’t currently love living in your body, this may be for you!

Life is about choices, priorities, and trade-offs. First, determine what you most want, and then decide the best ways to get there.  For me, keto is a brilliant choice and a wonderful experience, full of challenges and rewards. It is certainly not for everyone. Being honest with ourselves is key. We can say we want something and mean it at the moment. Yet if we aren’t willing to make the changes, do the work, and stick with what’s required it won’t work. The rub is that we must live with the results of our actions and the consequence of our choices.  The beauty is, they are ours to make. What’s most important to, and right for, you?

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Phenomenal advice from someone who walks the talk. I’m trying this method right now and am amazed at the difference in my sleep, in my energy and overall feeling of well-being. Not to mention the stubborn weight that has finally started to come off after trying everything from food binges to starvation. Guess I need to start actually taking the vitamins, too!

    1. Peg, thank you so much for your kind words – and for letting me know about your new adventure. I am SO happy for you! Please keep us updated on your progress.

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