The ketogenic diet is a very low-carbohydrate (plant food), very high-fat diet. It has gained a lot of popularity in the wellness sphere because of some of its health benefits.
Why do most people gravitate towards Keto? It has been shown to help some people lose weight (yes, even with high fat). It can also help improve symptoms associated with neurological conditions, like epilepsy in children (Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto has been using it for years). It also has recognized benefits for concussions, MS and Parkinson’s (again, all brain-focused, neurological conditions).
Read on to learn how Keto can reprogram your metabolism (for “ketosis”), and whether or not it’s something for you to consider.
What is “ketosis?”
Carbohydrates include all plant foods – fruit, vegetables, grains and legumes. These foods break down into sugars (glucose, fructose, maltose, etc.) are the preferred fuel or energy source for your brain and muscles. They use carbohydrates first, whenever they’re available.
This is why maintaining stable blood sugar can affect your attention, mood, and energy level.
When very low amounts of carbohydrates are available for fuel, your body taps into other sources of energy.
It turns to fat stores first and foremost. It calls on your fat burning hormone glucagon to free stored fatty acids in your liver and elsewhere in your body so your body can leverage fat as fuel. When carbohydrates are in short supply, your body makes compounds known as "ketones" - these are formed by the liver (typically overnight and during short fasts).
Ketogenic literally means “the generation of ketones.”
After a while of following a low carbohydrate diet, your blood level of ketones increases. This is the metabolic state known as "ketosis." It's the same process that your body goes through if you've fasted for 72 hours and depleted your supply of carbs as fuel. That's the trigger for turning fat into ketones.
Ketosis from a ketogenic diet is not the same thing as the dangerous condition known as “ketoacidosis.” Ketoacidosis is a complication of Type 1 or 2 diabetes when blood ketones are too high and not enough insulin is produced. High amounts of ketones makes your blood acidic and can damage the functioning of your organs. Ketoacidosis can happen quite quickly.
Ketogenic diet for weight loss
It really is bizarre to think that a high fat intake is effective for fat loss. We have been taught the opposite throughout our lives. But it’s true!
It can have better results than low-fat diets. At least one study showed that people lost 2.2 times more weight on a ketogenic diet than those on low-fat or calorie-controlled diets.
How is this possible?
First, eating all that fat and protein is filling! It takes the body much longer to break down proteins and fats because they are longer, more complicated molecules than carbohydrates. A refined bagel can hit your blood stream in 45 minutes. A keto muffin with some organic sausage takes hours.
A higher fat diet also helps release satiety hormones that tell us that we're full and satisfied, and we don't need to eat anymore. Many people don't need to count calories or track food intake, as they do with low-fat or calorie-controlled diets because they are simply NOT hungry.
When you eat a higher fat, lower carbohydrate diet, your insulin levels remain low as your body releases a SLOW AND STEADY supply of energy into your bloodstream. And while insulin is low, glucagon (insulin’s counterpart) can jump into action. Glucagon harnesses fat cells for energy.
So, by eating enough fat and protein at breakfast, lunch and dinner, you can actually feel fuller and eat less food overall.
State of mind and portion control are KEY for weight loss.
Ketogenic diet for improved health
A ketogenic (or Keto-inspired) diet can have lots of health benefits:
One study showed a Keto diet improved blood triglycerides (fat) and cholesterol numbers.
Others show lower blood sugar levels, and even up to 75% improvement in insulin sensitivity.
Several studies show reduced seizures in children who follow a ketogenic diet.
At recent health conferences, Keto is being recommended for brain trauma and concussion protocol.
Keto can help reduce fatty liver for some individuals.
How to do the ketogenic diet
Not everyone should go on a ketogenic diet. Make sure you speak with a trained healthcare practitioner before you try it.
As you withdraw from carbohydrates, you can experience side effects, including the infamous “keto flu” (fatigue, headache, irritability, brain fog, dizziness, sugar cravings, nausea). This typically happens within the 24 – 72 hour mark (depending on how dependent you were for carbohydrates) and can last a couple of weeks. Working with a trained practitioner will help ease the transition.
The ketogenic diet involves getting 60 - 75% of your calories from fat, 20 - 35% from protein, and just 5% from carbs. Many people find it quite restrictive and are unable to stay on it for a long time.
Keto friendly foods include meat, fatty fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, healthy oils, avocados, and low-carb vegetables (cucumber, celery, peppers, zucchini, leafy greens, etc.).
The main thing to avoid are foods that are high in carbs. These include sugary foods and desserts, grains, fruit, legumes, starchy vegetables, alcohol and “diet foods.”
Because of the limits on fruit and starchy vegetables, many people on the ketogenic diet need to take supplements. Fruit and starchy veggies are a great source of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. If you're cutting those foods out, you still need to give your body those nutrients.
So where do I stand on Keto? I’m not a fan of pure Keto unless there is a very good medical reason or benefit for a major shit or reset (as in the case of a concussion, epilepsy or even a neurological disease that is progressing quickly). I don’t believe it’s sustainable for the long term.
I prefer a combined approach of Keto / Paleo – fruits and vegetables are vital to our overall health and when eaten in the right amounts, at the right time, they should form the bulk of your diet! Limiting fruits and veggies doesn’t sound very smart to me. And truly, who can live without chocolate?! That's just cruel.
So yes, the ketogenic diet is very popular these days. It can be helpful for weight loss, and other health conditions. It’s not for everyone, so make sure you check with a knowledgeable practitioner before you begin.