Anyone who has dabbled with a ketogenic diet can attest that it's not for the faint of heart. Any clean-eating plan requires a certain amount of commitment, but keto is next-level—for it to really work, it requires an extremely low consumption of carbs, along with moderate protein and an emphasis on healthy fats. But if you strike that macronutrient balance just right, the discipline is well worth it: With far fewer carbs available to your body to burn for energy, it torches fat instead. The fact that it's rapidly becoming one of the most popular diet plans of the moment speaks to how effective it is.
Still, getting started is a large part of the battle. "Getting into ketosis takes diligence," says nutritionist (and Byrdie contributor) Kelly LeVeque. "It can take anywhere from two to seven days for your body to get into ketosis, and one meal with dense carbohydrates can easily kick you out of it. Your body will always prioritize using glucose for fuel, so this diet really isn't for someone looking for a quick fix." Think you have the patience for it? Read ahead to learn exactly what tools you need to tackle keto like a pro.
Again, getting the macro balance right is crucial. "You need to eat an extremely low-carbohydrate diet—on average, under 50 grams of carbs daily," says LeVeque. But carbs aren't the only part of the equation. "Overdoing it on protein can also create glucose (thus kicking your body out of ketosis) through a process called gluconeogenesis," she adds. "Opting for fatty fish like salmon or cod will always serve you better than low-fat chicken or turkey." Your dietary rule of thumb: "Fat first, and then moderate protein and high-fiber low-carb green veggies." (That means starchier veggies like potatoes and corn are off-limits.)
MCT oil is magical stuff. Medium-chain triglycerides are a special, more "pure" extraction of fat that is digested differently and much more easily than typical culinary oils. Our bodies don't store MCTs as fat, and instead immediately use them for energy—which is what makes it such a great tool for ketosis. LeVeque recommends taking a dose every four to six hours (as well as a couple spoonfuls before bed) in order to maintain ketosis.
"Testing to ensure you are in ketosis and producing ketones is the only way to truly know if this diet is working for you," says LeVeque. "You can purchase urine ketone strips, a blood ketometer, or a breath-testing instrument." Give the diet a few days to work its magic before you start testing.
Still curious about how keto works? Check out LeVeque's foolproof guide for more deets.
This post was originally published on May 18, 2016.