We usually pay attention to calories when we want to lose weight or gain weight. In most cases, people who follow the keto regimen aim to lose a few pounds. But what is the role of calories in keto nutrition and can they affect weight loss?
The main risk here lies in the consumption of high-calorie foods. Therefore, to answer the question of whether keto diet is low in calories, we need to clarify what are the calories, which foods are high in calories and how exactly the calories affect this particular regime.
What are calories?
We have told you about calories in detail in other articles, but we will briefly explain their significance for the purposes of this topic. Simply put, a calorie is a unit of energy that the body uses to perform hundreds of tasks.
These processes include voluntary movements such as walking, running and jumping, as well as involuntary movements such as breathing, circulating blood throughout the system and maintaining a normal body temperature.
The human body needs a certain number of calories just to support involuntary processes. This is called basal metabolic rate or BMR. It is influenced by many factors, including age, gender and genetics.
We need extra calories for every physical activity, including walking. In general, the more active you are, the more calories you need and you will not accumulate excess, which will turn into pounds. Therefore, it will not matter to you whether the keto diet is low in calories or not.
How many calories do macronutrients contain – proteins, carbohydrates and fats?
On average, each macronutrient provides a certain amount of calories, as follows:
- Protein – 4 calories per gram
- Carbohydrates – 4 calories per gram
- Fat – 9 calories per gram
Although fats provide more than twice as many calories as carbohydrates, you may have noticed that they are much more filling. Therefore, you will not be hungry for a long time.
The keto regime also relies heavily on this. But remember that if you exceed a certain number of calories, it will inevitably affect your weight! This is the basis of the answer to the question whether the keto diet is low in calories – it may or may not be.
Protein is generally considered to be the most complete macronutrient, but it is mostly used to repair cells and maintain muscle. It is not very efficient as an energy source because it must first be converted to glucose in the liver to be used as fuel.
Calories and keto nutrition
With a keto diet you will be satiated with useful vegetables and proteins, you will not feel hungry for a long time because of the fat and you will maintain higher levels of thermogenesis, thanks to unprocessed foods.
But what does all this mean? In short – that you will eat less and therefore consume fewer calories. Your body will take in fat, as you naturally limit calories, and you will lose weight.
This is the ideal plan for a keto regime, but unfortunately this is not always the case. The main reason is that people usually assume that they can eat the permitted foods in unlimited quantities.
Imagine what would happen if you overeat fat every day? Not only will you not lose weight, but you may also gain weight, plus you may have a health problem. Needless to say whether keto nutrition is low in calories in this case.
Keep in mind that not all calories are the same. Imagine that you have two meals with the same thermal effect, as well as oxidative priority (the order in which the body processes and stores fuel substances – those with a higher priority must be processed before those with a lower one), but one is full of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and the rest is not.
Therefore, your body does not absorb them in the same way and you may not get full, get hungry very quickly, which leads to overeating and a vicious circle, which is not only due to whether your diet is low in calories or not.
Thermogenesis also affects calories in the keto diet and in any diet. Simply put, this is the amount of energy needed to consume and digest various macronutrients.
Some nutrients, such as protein, require much more energy to absorb than others, such as carbohydrates and fats. This means that the total calories consumed will lead to different amounts of effective calories depending on what nutrients have been consumed.
The thermal effect of protein is 25%, which means that 25% of the calories you eat from a protein source actually go into the breakdown of food, but for carbohydrates this percentage is only 8.
So if you eat 100 calories of protein, 75 calories remain after digestion. If you eat 100 calories of carbohydrates, 92 calories remain after food processing.
It makes sense to prioritize protein when trying to lose weight, as your body will use more energy to digest it, thus consuming 25% fewer calories.
Is calorie counting effective in a keto diet?
So let’s repeat: if you eat more calories than your body needs, the excess calories will be stored as fat. Similarly, if you eat fewer calories than you need, your body will release its fat stores and lose weight.
Because of all this, some researchers claim that calories are everything that matters in the keto diet, and in any other diet. Therefore, what you need to do to lose weight is to reduce calories.
It sounds simple, but the human body is much more complex. Weight management through diet requires much more than just tracking calories consumed and expended.
In fact, people have successfully regulated their weight for millennia before anyone even knew what a calorie was. However, the focus on calorie counting is growing, but, at least for now, it is an imperfect tool for weight control.
Hormones play a huge role in affecting appetite, satiety and fat storage. Studies show that low-carb meals can cause hormones that lead to a natural reduction in calorie intake, especially in those who are overweight or insulin resistant.
In addition, insulin levels (and how sensitive the body is to it) can affect whether you store or burn calories. In people who have lost weight, increased postprandial insulin levels and a slower metabolism can lead to weight recovery or the so-called yo-yo effect of weight gain.
Although calories are obviously important for weight regulation, they must be considered in the context of hormones and human behavior.
Is the keto diet low in calories or vice versa?
From all that has been said so far, we can finally answer the question of whether a low-calorie keto diet. The fact is that the keto diet is not the lowest calorie diet, but this is not a problem.
What’s more, low-carb diets like keto are thought to be superior to low-calorie weight loss diets, even in studies where calories are not counted or intentionally limited during meals.
There is no point in trying to control your calorie intake by strictly counting it. And you can never be 100% sure how many calories you have eaten and expended.
It is much more important to choose foods that promote the release of hunger suppressing hormones that help you be full and make it easier to achieve a healthy weight.
Focus on minimally processed foods that contain high-quality protein, natural fats and low-nutrient carbohydrates, especially leafy vegetables.
And if your main goal is to lose weight, stay away from high-calorie foods, although allowed, which are easy to overdo. Classic examples of such keto foods are cheese and nuts.