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With its focus on heavy consumption of fats, moderate intake of proteins and low carbs, the keto diet seems to have turned the you-are-what-you-eat principle on its ear. What might have once been considered one of many low carb fad diets has been attracting attention from sources like WebMD, which devotes a number of web pages to the ketogenic diet plan. A number of medical practitioners now tout the keto eating plan – with its focus on ketosis – as a healthy and effective lifestyle change that may help your metabolism, support sustained energy and vitality and help you maintain a healthy weight.
Your body typically burns glucose (sugar) as its main source of energy. The premise of the keto diet plan is a simple one: dramatically reduce the amount of glucose in your system, and your body may start burning fat instead of glucose for the fuel it needs. When not enough glucose is available, your liver may go into survival mode and begin breaking down stored fats to make ketones during the metabolic process called ketosis.
Ketones (water-soluble fats) are actually your body’s emergency backup plan, and an excellent source of fuel for all your bodily processes. If you can keep your metabolism in a state of ketosis for an extended period and combine it with regular exercise, you could watch fat melt away and your physical and mental energy increase.
The standard keto diet is a high fat, moderate protein, very low carb diet. While there are several forms of this diet, the most popular version focuses on getting 70-80% of daily calories from fat, 10-20% from protein and only 5-10% from carbs.
Weight management seems to be the main reason people consider embarking on the keto diet, but this way of eating may offer a variety of benefits for your health. Curtailing sugar and carbs in favor of healthy fats may help support cognitive function, a healthy inflammatory response in the body, lean muscle mass and greater physical and mental stamina.
Urinalysis testing strips sold at most drugstores or online will tell you when you have achieved ketosis, and will help you determine whether your eating plan is working, or whether you need to make additional adjustments to your diet.
We strongly recommend you check with your medical provider before starting a keto diet, especially if:
When it comes to a keto diet and exercise plan, certain major lifestyle changes are important to your success. Followed consistently, these simple and effective strategies can help your maintain your ketone levels and support physical and mental energy and focus for powerful results.
Cleaning out your food pantry and refrigerator of these problem foods is a great place to start:
Sugars. This includes honey, agave nectar and other natural sugars, as well as all sugar-containing foods (even natural ones, such as dried fruits, preserves and fruit juices). If you want to use a sugar-free sweetener, try Stevia, and use it in moderation, as all sweeteners have been linked to sugar cravings.
Processed foods. Most contain sugars, wheat gluten and other hidden carbs, as well as preservatives and artificial ingredients, which are bad for you and should be avoided whether you are following a keto diet or not.
All grains and starches. Wheat, oats, rye, quinoa, etc., as well as pasta, rice, breads and white potatoes. Try cauliflower rice instead of regular, and small quantities of spaghetti squash in place of wheat-based pastas.
Reduced fat and skim milk. While milk is a good source of protein and calcium, it is high in carbs and natural sugars. The lower the fat content of the milk, the higher the carbs. If you must have milk, drink raw, whole milk in limited amounts, and only occasionally. Use small amounts of real cream in your coffee or tea.
Most soy products. Most soy products are highly processed, and are from GMO sources. Stick to non-GMO, fermented soy products only (tempeh, miso, etc.), which offer many health benefits. Avoid soy “meats,” milk and cheese.
Hydrogenated oils. Refined vegetable oils are highly processed and should be avoided.
Doctors have been touting the health benefits of avocados and olive oil for decades, and these are indeed excellent additions to any diet. However, many saturated fats previously considered unhealthy, and even dangerous, are now enjoying a new reputation – they may actually be good for you! Many nutritionist now seem to agree: the human body, particularly your brain, needs fats to thrive. Adding these fats to your diet may not only help get you into ketosis, but will benefit your health in a number of significant ways:
Coconut oil. This once-maligned saturated fat has now been relegated to superfood status for its many health and nutritional benefits. Its high content of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) make it the star of any keto diet. MCTs are metabolized by the liver, which breaks them down into ketones the body can use for fuel, thus helping you achieve ketosis. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg: Coconut oil may also help maintain normal, healthy cholesterol levels in persons already within a normal range, aid the immune system, support thyroid health and help promote healthy brain function.
Raw, organic, grass fed butter and clarified butter (ghee). After decades of a bad rap, the medical establishment is coming around to the idea that both raw butter and ghee (clarified, lactose-free butter with the milk solids removed) contain nutrients essential to many bodily functions and may be good for your health. Like coconut oil, they are rich in medium-chain triglycerides and other fatty acids, and are excellent sources of naturally occurring vitamins A, E and K, as well as butyric acid, a short chain fatty acid thought to help support the liver in the breakdown of fats.
Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3’s may help support normal, healthy cardiovascular function, joint, bone and cognitive health. Good sources of omega-3 are low-mercury, wild-caught fish, such as wild Alaskan salmon, anchovies and sardines, as well as avocados, walnuts, eggs, flaxseeds and chia seeds. If you’re not getting enough of these in your diet, consider a quality supplement like Zhou Nutrition Fish Oil Purified Omega 3 or Nature’s Life PFO Pure Fish Oil 1000mg. For a complete range of naturally occurring omega 3-6-9 fatty acids, we also recommend Nature's Life The Total EFA or KAL Ultra Omega 3-6-9.
If you are consuming coconut oil, you are already getting some of these medium-chain triglycerides, healthy fats your body converts into ketones (see coconut oil entry above). But MCTs are so important, we strongly recommend you also take them as a supplement to make sure you are getting enough. MCT Oil blends well into coffee, shakes, smoothies and other recipes, and as an added bonus, it may help support gut health.
Some people prefer the MCT Oil Powder over the oil because it's designed to be gentler on the stomach and dissolves easily into your favorite drinks. Whether you use the oil of powder forms, MCT, taken consistently on a daily basis, may help support your ketone load and can help with your appetite by keeping you feeling fuller longer.
Keeping a food diary is a good way to keep a close eye on how much fat, protein and carbs you’re consuming, and how best to meet your dietary goals for the day. You may be shocked at how much hidden sugar and carbs some foods you’ve been eating actually contain.
People who keep a food diary regularly may lose twice as much weight and have an easier time keeping it off. A number of apps and websites – many of them free – will allow you to keep a record of your fat, protein and carb intake, and help you learn which foods are most beneficial and which ones are likely to bump you out of ketosis.
Staying on the keto range by consuming 70-80% of your calories from fat can be a challenge. This is the perfect time to step into the kitchen and try your hand at a “fat bomb.” Snacks, desserts or side dishes made from as much as 90% fat, fat bombs can be tasty treats that feel like an indulgence, but will deliver healthy fats to help raise your ketone levels and keep your diet on track. Many popular fat bombs contain coconut oil and some form of high fat dairy, such as cream, butter or cheese. There is a large variety of recipes for sweet or savory fat bombs to be found online. Or you can get creative with high-fat, low-carb ingredients and make your own versions.
Be sure to check out two of our favorite fat bomb recipes. A truly delicious “sweet” bomb is the Sugar-Free Peanut Butter Fat Bomb, a creamy fudge that delivers around 30g of fat, 5.4g of protein and just 2.6 g of net carbs per serving. If you prefer a savory treat, you can’t go wrong with rich, tasty Cheezy Pizza Dip. It provides roughly 40g of f at, 13g of protein and 5.6g of net carbs and goes great with pork rinds of a few celery sticks.
On top of maintaining a healthy digestive tract to help keep you regular, the proper amount of fiber in your diet may help support balanced, healthy glucose and cholesterol levels. But getting sufficient fiber on a daily basis is one of the main challenges keto dieters face. A healthy adult needs 20 to 35 grams of fiber daily, but when you’ve cut most fruit and reduced the amount of veggies you consume, those numbers can be hard to maintain.
While many fruits are high in sugar and should be avoided, raspberries, blackberries and other low-glycemic berries are lower in carbs and can be eaten in moderation to help boost your fiber content. Shredded coconut meat and unsweetened coconut flakes are a delicious addition to low-carb baked goods and smoothies, while chia seeds contain 5.5g of fiber per tablespoon and may be added to smoothies and whole, plain yogurt sweetened with Stevia or a handful of berries. Sprinkle fiber-dense ground flax seeds on salads and cooked veggies, or add them to one of your “fat bombs” for extra crunch. Avocados are also a good source of fiber – one cup will give you 40% of your daily needs – and are rich in healthy fats and other nutrients.
While it’s always best to get the necessary fiber from your diet, you may want to take a fiber supplement such as Natural Balance Ultra Colon Clenz or Zhou Nutrition Pro-Clenz occasionally, as needed, to help you along.
Water may be the most important nutrient around. Every cellular process in your body depends on it for proper function. Being dehydrated by as little as 1% can make your metabolism sluggish and affect most other systems in your body.
Carbohydrates help your body retain water. When you drastically reduce your carb consumption, excess water is released and excreted from the body in your urine, which is why you lose so much water weight at the beginning of a low-carb diet. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can quickly lead to dehydration if you are not drinking enough. Extra water has the added benefit of helping to prevent constipation, which as we discussed earlier, is a common concern on the keto diet. To avoid these issues, be sure to consume a minimum of eight glasses a day, and to build up a surplus of fluids in your body before exercise or other strenuous activities.
Here are some good tips to prevent dehydration: Drink a full glass of water first thing in the morning, before your coffee, to replenish fluids lost during the night. Drinking another glass before your meals will help you feel full, so you eat less. Squeezing a little fresh lemon juice into your water will make it more palatable; but more importantly, lemon juice keeps your body more alkaline and may help balance production of uric acid during ketosis, which can be hard on your kidneys.
One point we want to make here: If you’ve fallen behind on your water consumption for the day, chugging huge quantities all at once won’t help you catch up. Instead of tossing back five or six glasses in one sitting, drink four ounces every half hour for the next several hours until you feel you’ve had enough.
When you are on the keto plan, your kidneys may begin to eliminate sodium at a faster rate. As a result, your potassium and magnesium levels may go down, which could throw off your electrolyte balance. This can result in fatigue, mental lethargy and just feeling generally unwell. This feeling may fade as your body gets accustomed to being in ketosis, but can return at any point your electrolytes get out of whack.
To help prevent unpleasant signs of electrolyte imbalance, drinking plenty of water should help, but may not be enough. Consuming sugar-free sports drinks throughout the day might also be helpful, but these drinks can be expensive and often contain artificial ingredients that are not ideal for your health.
To keep you feeling your best while your body is in ketosis, this homemade sports drink can provide electrolytes you’ll need to help you feel better:
Mix all ingredients in a non-metallic container, refrigerate, then drink throughout the day, particularly before and after your workouts.
The majority of Americans tend to graze throughout the day, consuming half or more of our calories at dinnertime and after, with extensive late-night snacking. Skipping a meal or two not only gives your digestive tract a rest, but may be as effective for weight management as total fasting, when you go for a period of days without food (which may cause you to lose muscle mass).
During this type of short-term fast known as “Peak Fasting,” you stop eating for 13 to 18 hours, consuming all your calories for the day during the remaining time. The easiest way to accomplish this is to skip either breakfast or dinner. (If you opt to eat dinner, be sure to stop all food consumption at least three hours before bed.) You can do this fast as little as once or twice a week, or as often as every day, depending on your preference, and how normal your weight is.
Short-term fasting has additional benefits beyond weight management: When you forego food for a period of time, your metabolism can stimulate a self-cleansing process that may help the body rid itself of toxins. There are a number of fasting protocols online. Do a little research until you find one that works with your lifestyle.
While diet and proper supplementation are vital parts of a keto lifestyle, exercise is also an important component of your daily regimen. Plan to work out three to five days a week to boost muscle mass, strengthen your core, and keep you looking and feeling your best.
Aerobic exercise that raises your heart rate for an extended period and can help you burn fat is an excellent option while you are in active ketosis. Walking, light jogging, cycling or swimming are all good choices. Anaerobic activities, such as weight lifting and short-burst, high-intensity workouts (such as running) are also good for you, but because this type of workout relies on carbs for fuel, you’ll need to adjust your keto diet somewhat for best results.
Known as the Targeted Ketogenic Diet, this alternate keto plan especially formulated for athletes recommends eating most or all of your carb allotment for the day (20 to 50 grams) 30 minutes to one hour before a high-intensity workout, then follow with a small high-protein meal shortly after exercising to help your muscles recover.
Yoga and tai chi are also excellent for the keto lifestyle. In addition to adding strength and increasing flexibility and range of motion, they may have a balancing and centering effect on the mind, which helps fight stress and promote a feeling of wellbeing.
Zhou Nutrition Keto Drive Orange Mango. Complex of patented beta-hydroxybutyrates (BHB) exogenous ketones is formulated to increase blood ketone levels when paired with a low-carb, keto diet and exercise. These powdered ketones are designed to help you achieve ketosis and support healthy weight management, energy, stamina and mental focus. Great Orange Mango flavor makes for a refreshing drink. Non-GMO, no caffeine or sugar, lab verified, 60-day money-back guarantee. 8.3 oz, 16 Servings.
Zhou Nutrition Keto Drive Capsules. When you’re pressed for time or just aren’t up to the task of measuring and mixing, this Keto Drive offers the same benefits of BHB exogenous ketones in convenient capsules that go anywhere you go. Keep a bottle in your gym bag or desk drawer for daily use, or take one along when you travel. Hardworking formula contains apple cider vinegar to help support healthy digestion. Non-GMO, gluten free, lab verified, 60-day money-back guarantee. 60 Capsules, 30 Servings.
Zhou Nutrition MCT Oil. A clean source of medium chain triglycerides, healthy fats that quickly convert to ketones in the body, MCT Oil is another excellent addition to your keto lifestyle. Taken regularly as part of a ketogenic diet and exercise plan, it may help you reach and stay in ketosis and support healthy energy and vitality to increase the intensity of your workouts. Non-GMO, vegetarian, gluten free, lab verified, 60-day money-back guarantee. 16 oz, 31 Servings.
Nature’s Life Liquid Coconut MCT Oil. Extracted from coconut oil, this MCT oil provides 13g of medium chain triglycerides per serving. Take 1 tablespoon daily for energy metabolism and ketosis support. MCT oil may also be used as a cooking oil, blended into salad dressings, or applied topically as a rich moisturizer for skin and hair. Vegetarian, lab verified. 12oz, 24 Servings.
Zhou Nutrition MCT Powder. The same health properties of MCT oil in a fast-dissolving powder formulated to be easier on digestion and mix readily into hot or cold drinks, smoothies and soft foods. One scoop gives you 4g of healthy fat and 9g of MCTs. As an added benefit, Zhou's formula includes gut-healthy acacia prebiotic fiber, providing 18% of the fiber you need to keep your digestion on track. No maltodextrin, non-GMO, lab verified, 60-day money-back guarantee. 14.5oz, 45 Servings. Also try Nature’s Life Coconut MCT Powder.
Zhou Nutrition MCT Collagen. An optimal source of energy, this blend of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) and collagen brings together two powerhouse ingredients for clean, sustained energy and weight management support. As an added bonus, hydrolyzed collagen peptides also help support cellular health, more vibrant hair and skin and stronger nails, bones and joints. With prebiotic fiber for easy digestion, plus Ceylon cinnamon for antioxidant support. No added sugar, non-GMO, lab verified. 13 oz, 25 Servings.
Zhou Nutrition Keto Test Strips. Stop guessing and start testing! Perfect for keto, Paleo and other low carb diets, these urinalysis reagent test strips are a fast, accurate and easy to use. Plus they tell you if your keto diet is working. Simply hold the test strip in your stream or dip it in a urine sample for 1-2 seconds. In 40 seconds, compare the color on the test strip with a color chart on the bottle to find out where your ketone levels are. 125 Strips.
Zhou Nutrition Lyte Up. Powerful electrolyte supplement is designed to help replenish electrolytes lost through excessive sweating during workout or from imbalances caused by a keto, Paleo or other low carb diet. Scientifically formulated for rapid rehydration, this advanced complex supports faster recovery and peak performance to keep you feeling your best. Non-GMO, gluten free, lab verified, 60-day money-back guarantee. 100 Capsules, 100 Servings.
KAL 7-Keto DHEA. This powerful formula provides 50mg of 7-keto DHEA, a metabolite of DHEA naturally found in the body, designed to support healthy adrenal function and metabolism. When used in combination with a ketogenic diet and exercise, 7-keto DHEA may help support healthy weight management. ActivTab technology guarantees tablet disintegration within 30 minutes according to USP standards for rapid assimilation. Lab verified. 30 Tablets, 30 Servings.
Statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or health condition.