Anyone who’s tried the ketogenic diet can attest that starting isn’t as challenging as properly adhering to it. After all, your meals must strike a balance between low-carb, moderate-protein, and high-fat in order to maintain the delicate, fat-incinerating state known as ketosis. However, much like many good things in life, investing effort will reap worthwhile results and help drive success. And in the keto diet sphere, it’s all too easy to fall into common mistakes when you can enjoy cheese, almond butter, and avocados.
To help clear up some of the confusion surrounding this widely popular diet trend, we spoke to Dr. Anthony Gustin, DC, MS, and Founder & CEO of Perfect Keto. Brush up on these eight mistakes below before you embark on the eating plan to ensure you’re getting the most out of your keto experience—i.e. a serious brain boost and a slimmer waistline. And then don’t forget to stock up on the 20 Best Foods for the Keto Diet.
Eating Too Many Inflammatory Foods
The top seven culprits that cause inflammation include sugar, refined grains, vegetable oils, conventionally raised meats, processed meats, artificial food dyes and colors, and excessive alcohol, Dr. Gustin tells us. Maintaining ketosis and overall health requires you to center your diet around whole foods rather than processed foods, a habit that will also help kick junk food cravings to the curb. “Choose healthy, keto-friendly nuts over chips and crackers and make delicious macadamia nut fat bombs to satisfy your sweet tooth,” Gustin suggests. “Choose unsweetened coffee, tea, and water over soda, sports drinks, and cocktails. Add more leafy greens, fatty fish, and other healthy foods to your diet to help fight inflammation.”
Forgetting to Meal Prep
As Benjamin Franklin once said, “Failing to plan is planning to fail,” a cliche that couldn’t be more relevant to the keto diet. One of the essential lessons I learned after going keto was that meal prep is key to staying on track. Prepping your meals in advance ensures that you won’t allow hunger to make any decisions come lunchtime. Since most of us don’t have the time to scavenge our office’s half-mile radius in efforts to find a keto-friendly meal, prepping food in advance will save you time, money, and help you avoid a slip-up.
Not Getting Enough Vitamins & Minerals
“By taking note of which micronutrients are commonly lacking in the ketogenic diet, you can adjust your keto diet plan accordingly to fill in the gaps,” Gustin says. During the first two weeks of going keto, your body flushes out essential electrolyte minerals—sodium, calcium, potassium, and magnesium—due to the diuretic effect that follows eliminating carbs. Since your body sheds water along with essential electrolytes, you’ll need to fill up on micronutrients. “Avoid consuming your calories from foods that contain little to no micronutrient value,” Gustin says. “If you incorporate green leafy vegetables along with grass-fed meats and avoid processed foods, you should have all of the essential nutrients your body will need to thrive.”
Skimping Out on Shut-Eye
Studies show that failing to get seven to nine hours of sleep each night can cause your stress hormone cortisol to spike, increasing cravings and hunger the next day—which can potentially kick you out of ketosis. If you’re not meeting your nightly shut-eye requirements, Gustin recommends scaling back by a half hour every night until you hit your sleep goal. “Sleeping in a relatively chilly room (around 65 degrees) along with keeping a dark room will help you get into a deep, restorative sleep more frequently. If you have trouble sleeping, supplementing with a natural sleep aid like melatonin can also work wonders.”
Opting for Artificial Sweeteners
“Just because diet soda has zero calories doesn’t mean it fits into your ketogenic diet plan,” Gustin reminds us. “Diet sodas use several sugar substitutes that can signal to your body that a large amount of sugar is entering the body. This can lead to increased blood sugar levels. Plus, when you load up on zero-calorie sweeteners, you’re only going to increase your cravings for sweet foods and drinks in the future. Instead of diet soda, sparkling water can be a great alternative without the unnecessary sugar substitutes.”
Ignoring Hidden Sources of Carbs
Probably the most challenging aspect of going keto is ensuring your carbohydrate intake remains low. That’s why Gustin reminds us to be careful of hidden carbohydrates in certain foods that may seem keto-friendly but are actually packed with sugar. “Examples of keto foods that may have hidden carbs include chicken wings loaded with barbecue or buffalo sauce, breaded meats, milk, most fruits (blueberries are fine in small amounts), and low-fat foods such as yogurt. The general rule of thumb is to consume 20 to 30 grams of net carbs daily. If you exercise more frequently, you can get away with the upper threshold and still stay in ketosis. You can also calculate your net carbs on MyFitnessPal.”
Not Eating Enough Vegetables
Avoiding carbs while on keto has one major downside: You’re probably not getting enough gut-friendly fiber. To keep things moving along, Gustin recommends eating nutrient-dense, non-starchy vegetables such as kale, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts. “If you’re the type of person who likes to feel physically full after a meal, it’s important to include plenty of these low-calorie vegetables in your diet so you’re not eating an entire bag of calorie-dense macadamia nuts in one sitting.”
Not Eating Enough Protein
Contrary to popular belief, eating too much protein won’t actually kick you out of ketosis. Gustin reassures that loading up on protein while on keto can’t trigger gluconeogenesis (GNG), a metabolic process that results in a production of glucose from non-carb foods, and put you right back on glucose-burning mode. Gustin shares the three reasons GNG isn’t a real threat to your brain-boosting, fat-burning keto state:
- Protein can’t ‘activate’ GNG because GNG is already happening during ketosis; the thing is, it’s happening at a low rate that keeps ketones as the body’s primary fuel.
- GNG can’t pull you out of ketosis so easily; ketones are your body’s way of keeping GNG under control and preserving homeostasis.
- Protein isn’t even the first choice for GNG, and GNG actually helps to build up muscle. GNG during ketosis is helpful for building muscle glycogen, which protects and heals muscles after exercise.
“Bottom line: Don’t obsess over protein macros on keto—eating a lot of protein is not enough to increase the highly stable rate of gluconeogenesis, and your body prefers to use lactate before amino acids anyway,” Gustin says. “Next time, don’t hesitate to go heavy on the meat if you feel like it. You’ll most likely stay in ketosis without a problem.”