The ketogenic diet is a very low carb, very high-fat diet.
It has recently gained a lot of popularity in the wellness sphere because of some of its health benefits. This diet has been shown to help some people lose weight; yes, even with high fat! It can also help improve certain health conditions, like epilepsy in children.
Read on for some of the lowdown on how it reprograms your metabolism (for “ketosis”), and whether or not it’s something for you to consider.
What is “ketosis”?
Carbs (sugars & starches) are the preferred fuel for your brain and muscles. They use carbs first, whenever they’re available. This is why maintaining stable blood sugar can affect your attention, mood, and energy level.
However, when very low amounts of carbs are available for fuel, your body starts making compounds known as “ketones.” These are your body’s “backup fuel”. And your body makes them from triglycerides, your body’s fat storage. Ketogenic literally means “the generation of ketones”.
After a while being on a diet with very limited sources of carbs, 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 around 72 hours and depleted your supply of carbs as fuel. That's the trigger for turning fat into ketones.
Note: “Ketosis” from a ketogenic diet is not the same thing as the dangerous condition known as “ketoacidosis”. Ketoacidosis is a complication of type 1 diabetes mellitus. It's a life-threatening condition resulting from dangerously high levels of ketones and blood sugar, and can virtually only happen in someone whose production of insulin is impaired, that is in diabetes mellitus.
Ketogenic diet for weight loss
With a high fat intake, it may be surprising to know that studies show that a ketogenic diet is effective for weight loss. But it’s true!
It can also 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? Eating all that fat and protein is filling! It 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.
So, by eating enough fat and protein to be in a state of “ketosis,” you can actually feel fuller and eat less food overall. Of course, this can help with weight loss.
Ketogenic diet for improved health
Some studies show other health benefits of the ketogenic diet. As you can imagine, having very low levels of carbs can help reduce blood sugar and insulin issues. One study showed 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.
Changing your metabolism has widespread health effects. And this can be beneficial for some people.
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. It can have side effects, including the infamous “keto flu”. People dealing with hormonal imbalances, for examples adrenal dysregulation or thyroid issues, should not consider this extreme dieting option at it can exacerbate the condition.
The ketogenic diet involves getting 60-75% of your calories from fat, 20-35% from protein, and just 5% from carbs. The ratio of fats to protein and carbs is very important. Of course, too much carbs will stop the production of ketones as glucose will be available for fuel, but high protein intake can also elevate blood glucose through gluconeogenesis (generation of blood sugar).
The foods to focus on for a ketogenic diet are fatty cuts of meats, fatty fish, eggs, full-fat dairy, 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”. Many people find it quite restrictive and are unable to stay on it for a long time. Cravings for things like bread, pasta, and sweets is common, although most people find that their cravings disappear on the keto diet.
And because of the limits on fruit and starchy vegetables, many people on this nutrition protocol need to take supplements. This is because, in addition to their sugar and starch, fruits and starchy veggies are a great source of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. If you are cutting those foods out or limiting their intake, you still need to give your body those nutrients and supplementation might be necessary. Potassium is one such nutrient that must be carefully replenished as good sources are fruits and vegetables. If you are potassium deficient, you may experience heart palpitations, irregular heartbeats, respiratory distress, and even heart failure (in serious deficiency).
The ketogenic diet is very popular these days. It can be helpful for weight loss, and other health conditions.
I have used it in my practice with many clients suffering from weight loss resistance and it works well to solve this energy balance problem. But I do not suggest it to any patient suffering from adrenal fatigue! It is not for everyone, so make sure you check with a knowledgeable practitioner before you begin.