The Ketogenic diet, or Keto, is a diet where the body switches from using carbohydrates as a source of energy to using fats. Although carbohydrates are not the enemy, there are many good reasons to partake in this diet which I will get into a little later. There are different ratios of keto, and one of them definitely can fit into your lifestyle. This diet in recent years has really gained popularity and has been published in several medical journals as a possible solution to metabolic irregularities. There is research out there suggesting that it can reduce symptoms in type 1 diabetes or eliminate the onset of type 2 diabetes.
Let’s go from a 10,000 foot elevation and get down into the weeds of how the ketogenic diet works. Carbohydrates are the bodies most fuel-efficient resource for energy. The body naturally runs off of carbohydrates by turning it into glucose through glycogenesis and then uses the glucose as energy for the body. Excess glucose is used stored as energy for later, or fat. Keto works by forcing the body to run off fat. Well actually the body takes the fat and processes the fat into ketones through ketogenesis. The ketones are then processed by the body as the energy source. Ketogenesis will only take place when deprived of carbohydrates. In a nutshell, keto is depriving the body of carbohydrates and feeding the body unsaturated dietary fats, or good fats, forcing for the body to run off ketones on a permanent basis, also known as ketoacidosis.
Health benefits of the Ketogenic diet
Keto boasts several health benefits, from weight loss to better brain function and other dietary functions. I’d like to go over the ones that have some merit behind them and why. The first is weight loss. Now this only works if you are in a caloric deficit, that’s just facts, no ifs and or buts. Nevertheless, if you are in a caloric deficit, keto encourages fat loss. A+B=C caloric deficit + the body burning fat = losing fat. This means that in times between meals, as long as the ketogenic diet is accurately followed, the body will search for the body for the fats to turn into ketones. Meaning that the body will start turning your body fat into ketones, and the more it burns the less body weight you carry, thus the weight loss.
In addition to this, another claim of the ketogenic diet is better brain function. The body requires fats to create new neurons and neural connections. Fats also help build a stronger myelin sheath on the neural pathways and strengthen their connection and the speed in which they fire. Fats are literally brain food.
Reduction in diabetes symptoms, or elimination of onset of type 2 diabetes: This one is a double-edged sword though. Real quick let’s go over how this works. To do that we need a brief overview of diabetes. This is when the body becomes insulin resistant to a point where the body needs external insulin to break down foods. Insulin is naturally released by the body when carbs are consumed. The more carbs that one eats the more insulin the body releases. The more it releases, the more resistant the body becomes to the insulin, which means it requires more and more insulin to get the job done. Think about it in terms of coffee. The more of a coffee drinker you are, the more coffee you require to get that boost the caffeine requires.
Back to diabetes, Keto helps to reduce insulin resistance because you are consuming a very minimal amount of carbs, which means that the amount of insulin being released is minimal as well. Over the course of time the body adjusts and needs less and less insulin.
Sounds great! but how is this a double-edged sword? Some people, for various reasons, have an excess buildup of ketones in the blood which causes diabetic ketoacidosis. This is can be a complication for those with type 1 diabetes. It is uncommon, but not unheard of for those with type 2 diabetes, and rare for those who do not have diabetes.
Furthermore, to drive home the point of the effectiveness of this diet for weight loss, some bodybuilders use this before a photoshoot or competition to shed excess fat in the body. These guys are taking it to the extreme though, as for competition they are attempting to be in the 3-4% body fat range. This diet, if done right, can definitely lead to getting completely sliced up, but this requires an extreme amount of discipline. I do not recommend aiming for this level of extremity for the average person. A body fat percentage around 10-15% will still have you looking lean, mean, and ready to go, while still maintaining a healthy balance.
Food You Should Eat
Sitting around and eating bacon and hamburgers while still losing weight sounds great doesn’t it? Unfortunately, what you put into your body still matters. If not more now than ever. Not all fat is good fat, and not all carbs are bad carbs. You want on putting the right kind of carbs and fats into the body. Getting a little deeper into the weeds let’s talk about good fats and bad fats. Previously I went over the fact that unsaturated fats are the good fats, but I would like to go over the difference between the two so that you are armed with the knowledge of why you want to aim for good fats. Both fats have cholesterol, and contrary to popular belief not all cholesterol is bad for you. The cholesterol that the doctor does not want you to have is known as low-density lipoproteins or LDLs. The buildup of LDLs in the body is what causes coronary heart disease, the widow maker being among them, and hypertension, also known high blood pressure. LDLs are typically found in bad fats or saturated fats. Good cholesterol is known as High Density Lipoproteins or HDLs. HDLs absorb the bad cholesterol in the blood stream and carry it back to the liver to be processed and flushed from the body. The difference between a saturated fat and an unsaturated is the structural makeup of the fat. Saturated fats mean that the molecules of the fat are completely saturated with hydrogen molecules and they have a double bond between the molecules.
Continuing our tour on the magic school bus, after all this talk about fats, good fats, bad fats, and cholesterol. Let’s talk a bit about dietary fiber. Doesn’t fiber have to do with carbohydrates which you are aiming to avoid? Correct, but dietary fiber plays an important role here. Dietary fiber may be a carb, but it doesn’t act like your normal carb. It’s basically the black sheep of the carb family. Dietary fiber does not get wholly processed by the digestive system into glucose for energy and helps to scrub the GI track. Thus, creating lumps of waste, AKA poop. So basically, dietary fiber is the carb that doesn’t count.
Keto works by tracking the carbs that turn into glucose against the ones that don’t. Keeping track of this is super simple. The equation is as follows:
Net carbs = Total Carbs – Dietary Fiber
Moving forward you now know that when someone says, “I am staying under 50 grams of carbs” they are talking about staying under 50 net grams of carbs.
Things to Watch Out For With the Ketogenic Diet
In my experience with the ketogenic diet, I mention briefly the keto flu. What is the keto flu? It is when someone starting keto enters into ketosis too quickly and the body has not made the adjustment in fuel sources. The faster the entry the worse the keto flu. The keto flu feels exactly like the flu and shows a lot of the same symptoms. Symptoms include:
- Muscle cramps
- Poor concentration
- Stomach pain
- Muscle soreness
- Difficulty sleeping
- Sugar cravings
Fortunately, this is not a permanent state, and there are two ways out. The first is to continue on, and eventually when the body makes the adjustment you will start feeling better. However, this is different for everyone and can takes days to weeks to get better. If you start feeling crappy, and it doesn’t get better or maybe you just don’t want to deal, then you can supplement out of it. Standard procedure for any illness, sleep and water are part of this regimen, with the added twist of adding salt, for the minerals, into the water. Additionally, you will want to take a steady course of sodium, potassium, and magnesium. Lastly, make sure you are consuming enough good fats. If you need help reaching fat goals there is a supplement called MCT, also known as medium chain triglycerides which is basically the protein powder of fats.
Difficulty and Problems of the Ketogenic Diet
Since this is a restrictive diet, and can cause food stress at times, I’d like to take a second and talk about cheat meals. In the world of cheat meals, this diet is not overly setup for cheat meals. Cheat meals on the ketogenic diet can really cause problems. The first thing you need to know is that a cheat meal on the ketogenic diet will interrupt your ketosis and pull you right out of it. This means that you will have to re-enter ketosis and start completely over. While you may reach a ketonic state within 12-24 hours, your body will not reach a complete switch to full ketosis and fat absorption right away. It can take up to 12 weeks for the body to reach full ketosis and fat absorption again, so this is a costly cheat meal already. Other downsides are that it can really lead to carb cravings, which make sticking to the diet even harder than before. It you pull out too far out of keto and continue on with the diet, you run the risk of getting the keto flu for the first time or maybe the second time. For these reasons, cheating on keto is hotly debated topic online, but one that I discourage.