Going full keto can feel like you’re constantly stepping on eggshells. There are fine margins when you assemble the shopping trolley that will get you through the next week. Go over your carb quota and you’ll pay dearly by snapping out of ketosis. Then it’s back to warring with the insulin crisis.
This sentiment is a big problem that makes the ketogenic diet look far more intricate than it needs to be. And that’s not to say that you don’t need to count the macros before you shovel them in, because that’s still an essential part of starting keto. The key is in not stressing over small margins.
The 20 Net Carb Rule
The gate to ketosis is generally drawn at 20 grams of net carbs, which drops some fiber from the counter. A good example of a programme that puts this rule to use is the Atkins diet. It’s tight, and you’re not going to be allowed much leeway in this setup. Even green vegetables need to be managed with some care.
You Could Just Measure Your Ketones
It is technically possible to skip all this guesswork and quell the doubts by testing your ketone levels after eating the suspect food, but those things are seriously expensive. And I don’t mean ketostix, because they stop functioning after the first couple of weeks. That leaves you with the option of pricking your finger, and the strips cost an absurd amount right now. Perhaps it’s best to wait till keto becomes more popular and the market starts to normalise.
So what we’re left with, is the 20 gram guideline. To give you something visual, here are a few classic foods that will be met with a strong dose of portion control.
Greek Yogurt – 350g – 22 grams of carbs
Blueberries – 200g – 25 grams of carbs
Carrots – 300g – 20 grams of carbs
Peanut Butter – 150g – 25 grams of carbs
There’s not much to play with when putting a few plates together. When you step over the drawn line, levels of ketones drop and glucose rises. This can certainly be a problem, as insufficient levels of either can put you at risk of energy scarcity and bouts of hypoglycemia. The process of keto adaptation gets delayed, which can prevent the brain from optimising its new fuel source.
But it’s the sort of problem that can be quickly alleviated, and might not even be in need of a fix.
You Can Get Into Ketosis With Higher Carbs
The requirements of ketosis can’t be pinned to 20 grams, and while it’s a great reference for beginners, there’s a solid chance that you could be getting away with plenty more. There are a lot of factors that favourably affect the state of ketosis by increasing ketogenesis and suppressing insulin.
This is something I’ve already touched in an article about ketosis without the keto diet.
Intense exercise, especially weight training, clears out blood glucose and gradually depletes muscle glycogen. If you’re prone to regular sets of squats, raising carbs as high as 100 grams can have little to no negative effect on ketogenesis. Especially when making sure to consume the bulk of those carbs around training sessions.
Fasting for 18 plus hours can deplete liver glycogen to the extent where you can enter ketosis over the last few hours of the fast. If you were to go ahead to combine a fasting protocol like OMAD with a low carb diet of 100-150 grams of carbs, ketosis can become the dominant state over glycogenesis.
Even on a high carb diet, ketosis can be brought on by consuming exogenous ketones, and to a lesser degree, MCT oil. In these cases however, we’re talking acute supplementation, and there’s unlikely to be any more benefits beyond the few hours following the dose. There’s not going to be much of an adaptation taking place.
Delving further, genetics and meal building will also play a role in either enhancing or suppressing ketogenesis. Some people will have crazy levels of insulin sensitivity that swallow up sugar like a sponge. Eating whole meals balanced with fat and protein will blunt the insulinogenic response to meals. Having a decent amount of muscle mass will naturally increase insulin sensitivity and let a few more carbs in before spilling over and cancelling ketosis for good.
And to wrap it all up, it’s worth understanding that ketosis itself isn’t a switch that gets thrown to send the body straight back into the dark ages. In a case where you accidentally reach for an extra wedge of sweet potato and go over your personal threshold, it’s only going to create the slightest suppression. Your liver glycogen isn’t going magically top up from a few extra grams. So all you have to do here, is not beat yourself up and end in a negative spiral that ends in a carb coma.
The Low Carb Alternative
If the diet relaxes slightly and becomes low carb instead of ketogenic, then it’s harsh if you’re going to label that as a failure. Simply reducing carbs to a point where blood sugar normalises, that’s a huge step for better insulin sensitivity, reduced inflammation, and an open door for fat burning. It’s not the full picture, and it might not be enough for type B dieters who struggle to shift weight, but it’s going in the right direction.
Having temporary insulin dominant states won’t stress the system to its limit. In fact, it may even be beneficial for performance and adherence to plan carbs in the week. Demonising sugar and insulin will only increase the anxiety that comes with trying to tightly control every facet of the diet. Chronic stress however, is the enemy of fat loss, and that’s something you should always watch out for.
Metabolic flexibility is the idea of having a body that’s adept at handling both carbs and fats with little fuss. During starvation, it can mobilise lipids from fat stores and shape them into ketones, allowing you sustained energy despite technically wasting away. For times of feasting, you’ll want the body to be able to handle the insulin response and replete glycogen with little fuss. So thinking logically, it makes some sense to expose the body to both these types of environments.
That being said, most of us have had decades of practice at the latter, so it may be time to focus on the ketogenic side of things and get good at surviving the famine.
Don’t Worry About What Foods Don’t Work For Keto
As a takeaway, if you’re worried about a food having a few too many carbs, make a decision and don’t lose sleep over it. Ketosis doesn’t have a set threshold that applies to everyone, and going over the line is only going to cost you if you keep eating for another hour or so. Which depends on your feeding style, I tend to cancel ketosis within twenty minutes once I’ve decided I hate myself.