The first step for a successful keto diet is understanding keto macros. Macros and keto go together. If you don’t understand macros, you’ll simply be following along with a meal plan and never truly understand the “why” of keto.
What is the ketogenic diet?
If you are entirely new to keto and still trying to figure everything out, the easiest way to explain keto is to know that it is a specific way of eating. In this way of eating, you eat foods that are high in fat, low in carbs and moderate in protein.
This is where macros come in. Keto has a specific ratio of macronutrients. Before we jump into understanding keto macros, we first need to look at the different types of nutrients food contain and each macronutrient’s role in the body.
Nutrients And Their Role In The Body
To better understand the food we eat and why we eat in general, we should be aware of the nutritional purpose of the food we eat.
Food contains nutrients that are called macronutrients and micronutrients. Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals, while macronutrients are protein, carbohydrates and fat, and the biggest focus of a keto diet.
Macronutrients are essential for life, and without them, we would have serious health complications. The three macros you’ll need to learn about is:
Due to clever marketing from food manufacturers, we view food as “healthy” or “unhealthy”. Think about a bowl of yoghurt and fruit. If you’re in a restaurant and looking at their menu, the yoghurt and fruit will probably be under the “healthy section” of a breakfast menu. On the opposite side of these generalizations are fatty foods. Many people are still convinced that eating a fatty breakfast consisting of bacon and eggs will cause heart disease. Understanding why we should eat specific macros, and knowing their purpose, can help change our perspective of the foods we eat and greatly determine whether we will be successful on keto.
Fat is one of the three keto macros and the least understood. Fat has also been wrongfully blamed for many health conditions such as high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease. Everywhere in the media, you will see articles claiming coconut oil causes high cholesterol. Even doctors warn us to reduce our fat intake.
Thankfully, recent studies have entirely debunked this old way of thinking. The latest research shows there is no significant link between saturated fats and the risk of heart disease.
Why should we eat fat?
Fat is essential for life and makes up a significant component of every single cell in your body. Fat is critical for proper organ function and protects major organs such as our heart, lungs, and brain (60% of your brain is made of fat). Fat helps regulate our immune system and body temperature. Fat is necessary for building critical hormones in your body that help regulates metabolism, maintain healthy bones and muscle development.
Furthermore, fat is divided into four categories: Saturated fats
- Monounsaturated fats (MUFAs)
- Polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs); and
- Naturally-occurring trans fats.
These fats can include fats and oils we cook with or the fats in dairy products or nuts and seeds.
In the Standard Ketogenic Diet, 75% of your daily caloric intake will comprise fat.
Healthy Fats to Include in Your Diet
Here is a list of healthy fats and suggestions on how and where to use them:
- Olive oil– Adding extra olive oil to your salad is a great way to increase your fat intake.
- Walnuts– Walnuts are full of good, healthy fats, Omega-3 fatty acids, to be precise. You can eat up to 14 halves a day for a total of 18g of fat.
- Avocados– need we say anything more? This gift from nature is a super nutritious fruit. Yes, avocado is a fruit. Be adventurous and add it to your smoothie or even bake some keto-brownies with it. One hundred grams of avo provides about 15g of fat.
- Almond butter– a teaspoon of creamy almond butter can be a great snack. Just check the brand you buy has no added sugar.
- Flax seeds– There is a lot of power in this little seed. Flaxseed is also rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. It is easy to add to your diet. Add a tablespoon over yoghurt or make keto-tortillas with flaxseed flour.
- Chia seeds– loaded with healthy fats and antioxidants, high in protein and fibre. Chia seeds are also considered superfoods.
- Coconut oil– ideal for cooking. It also makes the most delicious fat bombs.
Fats and Oils
Fats and oils contain no carbs or protein. The table below is merely an indication of the good fats you can use to cook with or add to your salads.
Tip: Adding some olive oil to your salad can help get those extra fat macros if you’re struggling to hit your fat macro for the day.
Seeds, Nuts & Nut Flours
Tip: Nuts and seeds are great options to eat on the go, but watch the quantities. I know that if I am not cautious, I will easily devour 100g of macadamias.
One hundred grams of macadamia nuts is 900 calories for the day. That is a huge chunk of my overall daily calories for a snack.
Eggs And Dairy
Dairy is a staple for many keto dieters and can add greatly to your daily fat intake. Generally, dairy products such as cream, yoghurt, cheeses, butter and eggs are acceptable on keto.
While most people can eat dairy and still lose weight, dairy is the culprit to weight loss stalls for others.
Here are two of the main reasons dairy could be the reason why you are not losing weight on keto:
Over consuming dairy products: Dairy is high in fat, and fat is the most calorie-dense macronutrient. It contains nine calories per gram compared to carbs and protein, which only have four calories. With any diet, overconsumption of calories can cause weight gain.
Lactose Intolerance: Dairy consists of lactose, casein, whey and fatty acids. Lactose is the sugar in dairy, and some people with lactose intolerance may be sensitive to some dairy products that contain lactose.
Tips: Eggs are an excellent source of nutrients, rich in fat and protein.
Our entire body consists of protein. Protein is a critical nutrient for tissue repair and helps build hair, nails, and healthy skin. Proteins are also part of several signal reactions in the body, including releasing hormones such as glucagon and insulin and the stimulation of muscle-building.
The Standard Ketogenic Diet’s recommendation is a moderate protein intake. In the pie-cart, it makes up about 20-25% of your total caloric intake.
Many online calculators can help you determine your ideal protein macronutrient intake. I usually work this out for my clients, and in my online course, I have an entire video explaining how to calculate your protein macro correctly.
In an ideal world, grass-fed, organic protein sources are best, but this depends on your budget, so try and buy the highest quality protein that you can reasonably afford.
- Beef, preferably fattier cuts like steak, veal, roast, ground beef and stews.
- Poultry, including chicken, duck and wild game.
- Pork, including pork loin, tenderloin, chops, ham, bacon and ground.
- Fish, including mackerel, tuna, salmon, trout, kingklip, cod.
- Shellfish, including oysters, clams, crab, mussels and lobster.
- Organ meats, including heart, liver, tongue, kidney and offal.
- Eggs, including deviled, fried, scrambled and boiled — use the whole egg.
- Lamb meat, chops, ground etc.
Meat and Seafood
Tip: Remember, fat is your friend. When choosing meat, go for the fattier cuts, e.g. Ribeye Steak is fattier than Fillet. No more “extra-lean beef mince”.
Carbs! Oh, the love-hate relationship we have with carbs!
For the last few decades, our nutritional guidelines promoted a diet rich in carbohydrates. We’ve been told that carbs are essential for life.
The truth is, you can cut out carbs today and never eat it again, and you would not die. Simply ask anyone following the carnivore diet. If you, however, cut out protein and fat, it could eventually lead to death.
The thing is, not all carbohydrates are bad. Carbohydrates found in vegetables such as leafy greens, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower and most other vegetables that grow above the ground are good sources of carbs. Also, most carbs in these types of veggies are rich in fibre, which makes it perfectly fine to add to your keto diet.
The rest of your carbohydrate intake in your diet should come from the carbs found in nuts and seeds, the small amount in dairy and, on occasion, from fruits like berries.
Side note: the issue with carbs is the types of carbs we resort to eating. Usually, these carbs are highly manufactured, processed and refined.
Fruit and Vegetables
Tip: Berries and most above-ground vegetables are low in carbs. They contain negligible amounts of carbs, and the carbs in these foods are mainly fibre.
Adding some strawberries to a smoothie, or having double cream yoghurt and granola with a few blueberries is perfectly keto-friendly.
Check out this delicious smoothie recipe here.
This post covered the basics of what macros are with some examples of foods. If you keep a food diary, which I recommend in any way, it is much easier to learn which foods contain which macros.
To learn more about macros, read this post about the foods to avoid on keto or check out my online course, where I’ll teach you everything you need to know about macros and how to customize your macros for your goals.