The ketogenic diet is all the rage these days. In this post, I will try and simplify (hence the name, “Keto for Dummies”) the ins and outs of why this way of eating is beneficial, the risk factors, and how it can be modified to make it user-friendly. The ultimate goal of a keto diet is to induce ketosis, a metabolic state in which the liver breaks down fat to produce ketones.
When the body breaks down fat for energy, due to carbohydrate restriction, ketone bodies are made. The body makes ketones in response to low insulin levels in the blood. Instead of using glucose, the body’s main energy source for fuel, it breaks down fat instead.
The Ketogenic Diet
The keto diet was originally designed in the 1920s, by the Mayo Clinic, for patients with epilepsy. Also called the long-chain triglyceride diet, approximately 90 percent of daily caloric intake comes form fat, which results in changes in the neurotransmitters glutamate and GABA in the brain. The goal, in epilepsy, is to increase GABA in the central nervous system as it is a calming neurotransmitter, while glutamate is excitatory.
Also, called the new Atkins diet, The keto diet is similar to Atkins, but more effective. This is due to the fact that it emphasizes food quality, vegetable intake, and limiting protein. Limiting protein is important because amino acids can be converted into glucose, via a process in the liver, called gluconeogenesis.
Today, the focus of this diet, seems to be primarily on weight loss, better insulin control, and mental clarity. It’s helpful for many other conditions as well. Weight loss is achieved through the production of ketones, increased fat burning, and reduced insulin levels.
Today we are a society of sugar burners. The goal is to become a fat burner. Fat is more efficient as an energy source than is glucose.
In order for fat burning to occur, glycogen stores in the liver must first be depleted. Glycogen is a storage form of glucose. Humans typically have about 400 calories of stored glycogen in the liver.
The keto diet produces effects similar to fasting which, of course, is not sustainable.
This diet consists of moderate protein, high fat, and low carb. Carbohydrate restriction is key. Keeping carbs in check lowers insulin levels which allow for fat burning.
Protein rich foods such as meat, fish and poultry.
Dairy foods such as butter, cream, eggs and cheese.
Healthy fats like nuts, seeds, oils and avocados.
Low-carb vegetables with the restriction of grains and starches.
Benefits Of The Ketogenic Diet
- Weight loss – low carb equals low insulin levels which allows for fat burning
- Epilepsy – as discussed above
- Endurance and stamina – by utilizing fat for energy
- Diabetes prevention – through the regulation of glucose and insulin
- Reduced cancer risk – depriving cancer cells of their primary fuel source or glucose
- Increased mental function – due to the brain’s ability to use ketones for energy
- Longevity – by lowering inflammation and improved mitochondrial function
- Reduced cravings and less hunger – by utilizing fat for fuel
- May reduce symptoms of PCOS – due to lowered insulin levels and better hormone balance
- Lowered blood pressure and cholesterol levels – again, thank you insulin
It can be easy to overeat protein on this plan. Keep in mind that amino acids can be converted into glucose via gluconeogenesis. Also, excess protein consumption can feed systemic infections.
Magnesium stores can become depleted as keto foods have a high-calcium content. This is very problematic as most people’s magnesium levels are already low. Magnesium is a critical mineral that is involved in many functions in the body.
Increase magnesium supplementation while on this diet as it is essential in keeping calcium out of soft tissues and into the bones and teeth. Calcification (think hardening) is a marker of aging so this is not a small issue.
The symptoms below may be temporary:
- Mental fog
- Poor sleep
- Muscle weakness and cramping
- Irregular menstrual cycle
- Bad breath
The Science Behind It Explained
Thyroid function may be affected. This is counter intuitive as optimal thyroid function is necessary to maintain weight loss.
Restricted food choices can make this diet unsustainable. There are those that think just because a food is low carb it’s free game even though it may not be a healthy choice. Coffee would be an example. Coffee in moderation is fine, but an excess can affect the adrenals, blood sugar balance, and can deplete minerals as it’s a diuretic.
The human factor needs to be taken into account. Lifestyle modification requires self control and will power. Restricting comfort foods such as grains, starches and baked goods requires a paradigm shift. Keeping carbs under 50 grams is not easy, and some people may quit in sheer desperation.
Stress hormones, like cortisol, may become elevated, and this has a whole range of negative repercussions.
There are three ways to check ketone levels.
Urine testing is the most convenient and least expensive, however, the results may not be reliable.
Breath testing is another method and is more accurate than urine testing. A Ketonix device, although more expensive than urine strips, is a one-time purchase, and you can test as often as you’d like without the hassle of buying and using strips.
Blood testing is the most accurate, but also the most expensive. You can check out this blood meter Keto-Mojo Blood Ketone Kit.
Modified Keto Diet
As you can see the keto diet has many benefits. In my opinion, however, a modified keto diet is the way to go. I find that I feel best on a diet that consists of moderate protein, moderate fat, and moderate carb intake with an emphasis on food quality and blood sugar control. You can become a fat burner by tuning into the macro nutrients that best support ideal blood-sugar balance, and by how you feel about an hour after eating.
The macro nutrient ratio of protein carbs and fat intake at meals is the mechanism through which we create ATP in our mitochondria. This is the energy currency of the body. So experiment with these levels at each meal to see how low you can keep your carbs and still feel well.
If you want to become a fat burner, space your meals every four to five hours. None of this “eating every two hours” nonsense! Effectively spacing your meals allows your body fat to be burned for fuel. Do this and you’ll never have a weight problem. Eating this way also balances your cellular oxidation rate.
You can effectively cycle on and off the keto diet. Use if for a few weeks in order to achieve the weight loss you desire. You can then increase your carb intake to a moderate level for a few weeks. It it also effective when used in conjunction with intermittent fasting. I find the easiest way to incorporate this into your daily schedule is to not eat for a period of 12 hours. This is best done at night. Most of us already do this naturally.
We all vary biochemically and all have different metabolic types so use your body as a laboratory, and let it tell you what it needs!
Are you or someone you know on a ketogenic diet? Did you achieve the results you wanted? Let me know in the comments:)
Disclaimer: This article is strictly for informational purposes only and is not intended to be medical advice.