The widespread belief that calories are the be-all and end-all when it comes to weight management and overall health is a misconception, especially for individuals following a ketogenic diet.

This oversimplified “calories in, calories out” model fails to account for the complex metabolic processes that govern how our bodies respond to different macronutrients.

In this in-depth article, we will explore why the notion of calories is largely irrelevant for keto dieters and how it can actually lead to poorer dietary choices.

We will make the case that followers of a ketogenic lifestyle should prioritise keto-friendly foods with a proportionally higher calorie content, as these are more likely to contain a greater amount of blood sugar-stabilising fats rather than sugar-spiking carbs.

The Problem with Low-Calorie, High-Carb Keto Snacks

The calorie-counting approach often leads people to gravitate towards low-calorie, high-carb foods under the mistaken belief that they are the key to weight loss.

These types of keto snacks, which include things like low-fat crackers and sugar-free candies, may be lower in calories, but they are also typically much higher in carbohydrates and devoid of beneficial fats.

For individuals following a ketogenic diet, consuming these carb-heavy, calorie-light keto treats can be detrimental to their health and metabolic goals.

Let’s look at a practical example to illustrate this point further.

The Case of the Yogurt: A Tale of Two Nutritional Profiles

Imagine you have a 100-gram serving of plain, full-fat yogurt.

This yogurt has the following macronutrient profile:

  • Fat: 4 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 5 grams
  • Protein: 6 grams
  • Water: 85 grams
  • Calories: 100

Now, let’s say you decide to “healthify” this yogurt by removing 4 grams of the fat and replacing it with 4 grams of sugar.

The new macronutrient profile would look like this:

  • Fat: 0 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 9 grams
  • Protein: 6 grams
  • Water: 85 grams
  • Calories: 100

On the surface, the second yogurt appears to be the “healthier” choice, as it’s the same number of calories. However, the reality is quite the opposite.

The first yogurt, with its higher fat content and lower carbohydrates, is the far superior option for someone following a ketogenic diet.

The fats in this yogurt will help keep your blood sugar stable and your insulin levels in check, supporting fat burning and overall metabolic health.

In contrast, the second yogurt, with its higher carbohydrate content and lack of beneficial fats, will cause a rapid spike in blood glucose and insulin. This can disrupt your body’s ability to remain in ketosis, leading to cravings, energy crashes, and potentially even weight gain.

Moreover, the lower-calorie second yogurt is less likely to keep you feeling full and satisfied, increasing the likelihood of overeating and derailing your keto efforts.

Similar examples hold true for all other keto snacks and cookies, which may and probably have a higher calorie content than their traditional versions, but are indeed much healthier than them and much more keto-friendly because they contain a much lower net carb count.


The Science Behind Why Calories Don’t Matter on Keto

Numerous studies have demonstrated that the macronutrient composition of the foods you consume, not the raw calorie count, is the primary driver of weight loss and metabolic health for individuals following a ketogenic diet.

1. Metabolic Advantage of Ketosis

Several studies have shown that keto dieters can achieve greater fat loss and improvements in body composition while consuming the same number of calories as those on a higher-carb diet. This “metabolic advantage” is attributed to the stabilising effect of ketosis on blood sugar and insulin levels, which allows the body to more efficiently utilise fat as a fuel source.

2. Insulin Regulation and Fat Storage

Insulin is the primary hormone responsible for regulating blood sugar levels and facilitating the storage of excess energy as fat. When insulin levels are chronically elevated, as is the case with a high-carb diet, it becomes increasingly difficult to access and burn stored body fat for fuel.

3. Satiety and Appetite Regulation

High-fat, moderate-protein keto snacks and treats are more satiating than their carb-heavy counterparts, helping keto dieters maintain a calorie deficit without feeling constantly hungry or deprived.

4. Preservation of Lean Muscle Mass

Keto diets have been shown to better preserve lean muscle mass compared to calorie-restricted, higher-carb diets, which is crucial for maintaining a healthy metabolism.

5. Improved Gut Health and Microbiome

The high-fat, low-carb nature of the keto diet has been linked to positive changes in gut health and the composition of the gut microbiome, which can further support metabolic function and weight management.

Embrace High-Fat, Low-Carb Keto Treats

By focusing on maintaining stable blood sugar and insulin levels, you can achieve superior fat loss and metabolic health outcomes on a ketogenic diet, regardless of the total number of calories consumed. When it comes to keto, the quality and composition of your food choices matter far more than the raw calorie count.

So, embrace high-fat, low-carb keto treats as the foundation of your ketogenic lifestyle and experience the transformative benefits of this way of eating for yourself.

Scientific Studies

Hall, K. D., & Guo, J. (2017). Obesity energetics: body weight regulation and the effects of diet composition. Gastroenterology, 152(7), 1718-1727.

Ebbeling, C. B., Feldman, H. A., Klein, G. L., Wong, J. M., Bielak, L., Steltz, S. K., … & Ludwig, D. S. (2018). Effects of a low carbohydrate diet on energy expenditure during weight loss maintenance: randomized trial. bmj, 363.

Gershuni, V. M., Yan, S. L., & Medici, V. (2018). Nutritional ketosis for weight management and reversal of metabolic syndrome. Current nutrition reports, 7(3), 97-106.

Paoli, A., Rubini, A., Volek, J. S., & Grimaldi, K. A. (2013). Beyond weight loss: a review of the therapeutic uses of very-low-carbohydrate (ketogenic) diets. European journal of clinical nutrition, 67(8), 789-796.

Gibson, A. A., Seimon, R. V., Lee, C. M., Ayre, J., Franklin, J., Markovic, T. P., … & Sainsbury, A. (2015). Do ketogenic diets really suppress appetite? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Obesity reviews, 16(1), 64-76.

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