Ketogenic Diet: Role of Macronutrients (#2)

As mentioned in my post on ‘Introduction to Ketogenic Diet’, it is important to learn and understand the relationship between energy and macronutrients to get the basics of eating right!

What this post will help with is to get you to make changes to your eating habits in a more balanced way and in a manner that is customized to your needs.

When you know the fundamentals, you will be able to tune into your body’s needs better and choose what would work best for you from a nutrition perspective.

Why is this such an important concept to understand, especially when you get started with a keto diet?

The keto diet is all about getting your ‘macronutrient breakdown’ right; what is called ‘macros’ in keto. Macros, simply mean the exact amounts carbs, fat, and protein that you need to eat daily to reach your goal – whether that’s losing, gaining or maintaining weight.

Understanding Energy

During the process of digestion, carbohydrates are broken down and converted to glucose, which are then metabolized by the body to produce usable energy in the form of ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate). ATP is considered by biologists to be the energy currency of life. When energy demands are met or low, glucose gets stored in two ways: glycogen, which is stored in the liver with a limited storage space and body fat with an unlimited storage space.

Glycogen is the most easily accessible energy source which can power the body for 24 – 36 hours. When you go on a low-carb (less than 50 grams net), high-fat diet, the glycogen reserves diminish, and the body starts breaking down fats (what we eat as well as excess body fat) for energy.  This is the meaning of going into a state of ketosis.

From a dietary perspective, fats (which are the fuel in a keto diet) are the most energy dense storage form, providing 9 calories of energy for every gram. In contrast, carbohydrates and proteins provide only 4 calories per gram. Keto meals may feel like smaller in portion and therefore not adequate, however, given that fats are energy dense, you will feel more satiated.

When we eat with the end goal of maintaining a healthy body and mind, the quality of our food matters just as much as the number of calories we consume. We need to choose foods that are macronutrient rich and that will support our health, rather than working against it.


Understanding the role of macronutrients

A keto diet doesn’t mean that protein and fats can be eaten freely.

Any diet that’s very high in animal protein and contains no whole grain or not enough fruits and vegetables could leave us with serious problems in the long run. The best way to get started with a keto diet is to first calculate the macronutrients your body needs depending on your aim, which could be losing weight.

I use the ‘My Keto’ app’s calculator. It’s simple to use – you punch in your details and it gives you customized information to get started with your diet.

Screenshot of my macros from the ‘My Keto’ Android app
What should you do before you make a switch to a keto diet
  • Eat low glycemic index food which are sources of carbs and have a significant amount of fiber, slowing the release of glucose into the bloodstream. Examples are brown/black/red rice, quinoa and rolled oats.
  • Add moderate amounts of high quality protein foods to your diet. In general, animal sources of protein like fish and eggs provide all of the essential amino acids in high enough concentrations that these foods are called complete protein sources. In contrast, plant-based protein sources like beans, lentils, nuts and tofu tend to be incomplete sources of protein.

It might seem that since plant-based proteins are incomplete in their nutrient content that they’re nutritionally inferior compared with animal-based proteins. But, in fact, the health benefits of substituting plant-based proteins for animal-based ones, ideally a few days a week, far outweighs the risk of falling short on essential amino acids.

  • Get rid of processed meats (cold cuts, salami, ready to cook meat) completely! They often contain nitrates used as a preservative, which can damage blood vessels and contribute to hardening of the arteries. These meats also tend to be very high in sodium, which can be a contributor to high blood pressure. Always check the ingredients and nutrition labels before purchasing them.
  • Have a healthy balance of unsaturated and saturated fats. Examples of saturated fats are ghee, white unsalted butter, cream, coconut oil. Unsaturated fats can be naturally occurring like the fats found in olive oil, nuts and avocados. Omega-3 fatty acids are the only kind of fatty acid that the human body can’t make, so they’re essential for our health and they need to be consumed via the food we eat such as fish, flax seeds and nuts.

What should you read next:

Read all my keto related posts here: Keto Diaries

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