What is the Ketogenic diet?
Before signing up for keto, hold the fat bomb and read this! You should fully understand the process of ketosis and how the body burns fat to see if you can do this safely. Switching from glucose to fat for energy is not an easy task for the body and does have its risks. Therefore, I’m here to help you understand the process of ketosis and the ketogenic diet.
The keto diet became popular for weight loss, but does it really work?
Weight loss benefits of the ketogenic diet are based on a low-carb diet that causes your body to switch from burning carbohydrates to burning fat. Glucose, primarily from carbohydrates, is the primary source of energy for the body. However, in absence of carbs, the body is able to run on dietary fat and fat reserves for energy. During a low-carb diet, usually less than 50g/carbs a day, metabolic changes cause the body to transition into a catabolic state initiating gluconeogenesis and ketogenesis.
Gluconeogenesis is the process of making your own glucose supply, which is done by the liver. However, the liver usually can not keep up with increasing glucose demands while carbs are being severely restricted and the body will transition into ketosis. Ketosis is the process of using ketones in place of glucose for energy. The body begins to break down fat for fatty acids to be used for energy, known as ketogenesis.
I know that’s a lot of medical lingo, so to put it more simply, your body normally runs on glucose (sugar), but when sugar is not widely available, it taps into fat reserves and uses dietary fat to create energy, known as ketosis.
Fat for Fuel
Limiting your intake of carbohydrates over a period of time, usually, only a few days, causes the body to look for other sources of energy. Your liver and skeletal muscles store their own glucose supply. Therefore, it takes a few days of a very low-carb diet to burn through the glucose reserves before your body switches into ketosis mode.
How do you know if you are in ketosis? Ketones will be present in the blood and urine, which can be measured and monitored with at-home urine tests.
Ketones are fatty acids produced by the liver in the absence of glucose. Ketones are able to cross into the brain to provide energy. Being in a state of ketosis can promote weight loss since the body will start breaking down stored fat cells for energy. Ketones, if too high in the blood, can cause health complications from too much acidity, known as ketoacidosis.
The Keto diet is known for its high intake of dietary fats. Dietary fats don’t contribute to obesity in the same way that carbohydrates do. However, there are some fats that aren’t good to consume in excess. Therefore it’s important to understand the types of fats when considering keto.
Saturated and trans fats, like fatty meats and hydrogenated oils, are linked to elevated cholesterol levels and therefore may increase the risk for heart disease. However, recent studies show that there isn’t a direct link and that everyone is different when it comes to the health effects of saturated fats. Yet, trans fats have proven they are not healthy for us to consume and artificial trans fats have recently been banned in the U.S. for this reason. Instead, focus on consuming heart-healthy fats like mono- and polyunsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats help to increase HDL, your good cholesterol levels, and reduce the risk for heart disease among their many health benefits.
An easy way to identify the type of fat is most saturated fats are solid at room temperature whereas unsaturated fats are liquid.
With Keto, there’s no limit on dietary fats. You can consume heart-healthy fats like nuts and avocado, or high saturated fats like butter and cream. Saturated fats cause the liver to produce more cholesterol, which can increase the risk for heart disease.
Benefits & Side Effects
Keto was originally promoted for the treatment of epilepsy, and then showed results with Alzheimer’s patients as well since it helps to reduce inflammation in the brain.
Severely restricting carbohydrates causes a cascade of metabolic events that can provide benefits, but also some unpleasant side effects.
Studies show that the keto diet can help with weight loss, and may improve blood pressure, cholesterol, and insulin levels. Having high insulin levels over time can lead to insulin resistance and eventually Type 2 Diabetes. Insulin resistance is when your cells no longer respond to insulin and blood sugar remains elevated, which can significantly affect your overall weight.
Common side effects when starting the keto diet are collectively known as the keto flu. Symptoms may include fatigue, nausea, dry mouth, increased thirst, dizziness, constipation, sleeping problems, body odor, and rash. Usually, these are short-term, but it’s the long-term side effects that you must be aware of before diving into keto.
Being in ketosis puts you at risk for acidosis, which means too much acid in the blood, caused by an excessive concentration of ketones. Metabolic acidosis requires immediate medical attention. Other serious complications from keto can include kidney stones, fatty liver disease, electrolyte imbalances, low blood sugar, dehydration, and nutritional deficiencies. Due to the severity of these side effects, close monitoring by your healthcare provider is recommended before and during the keto diet, especially if you have diabetes or any other underlying health conditions.
Keto is not recommended for those with liver or pancreatic disorders including pancreatitis, gallbladder problems, and thyroid disorders. Ketones can be used by the heart, muscles, kidneys, and brain, but not by the liver and RBCs. If there is a limited nutrient variety it can lead to deficiencies and possibly anemia.
Does Keto Work?
Keto is similar to the popular Atkins Diet as they both promote a low carb diet, but there’s one major difference. The Atkins diet has no limit on protein, but Keto limits protein intake to a moderate amount. This is because protein, in abundance, can also be converted into glucose for energy. Too much glucose will throw you out of ketosis/fat-burning mode. Understanding these macronutrients and how they are metabolized in the body will ultimately help with weight loss, regardless if you’re doing Keto or not.
The typical weight loss approach is hyper-focused on calories, but counting calories may not be the best method. Instead, focusing on reaching your macronutrient goals and building muscle is the key to increasing metabolic rate. Macronutrients, or macros, are the essential nutrients for the body, which consist of protein, carbs, and fats. How much of each macronutrient each day will depend on your individual health goals.
The keto diet has been shown to promote rapid weight loss. However, studies show that when losing weight too quickly, you’re likely to regain it back even faster. Metabolic rate (BMR), or metabolism, slows with food and calorie restrictions, especially with diets like keto and Atkins. Keto has a diuretic effect, so most of the initial weight loss is fluids, then fat.
Living on a very low-carb diet isn’t sustainable. The problem is that as soon as you start increasing your carb intake, you stop the fat-burning process and no longer stay in ketosis.
- May Help with:
- Weight loss
- Lower Insulin levels
- Lower blood glucose
- Lower blood pressure
- May cause:
- Low blood sugar
- Nutrient Deficiencies
- Metabolic Acidosis
- Other unpleasant symptoms
- Things to Consider:
- Challenging to adhere to
- Not sustainable
- May gain the weight back
- Can be life-threatening
Numerous reports show that the keto diet increases the risk for complications requiring medical attention. It’s not uncommon to end up in the ER for dehydration, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), or electrolyte imbalances.
Personally, I’m not a fan of any trendy diet. Studies show that diets don’t work for sustainable weight loss, especially ones that are restrictive. Your nutrition shouldn’t be restrictive. Food should be used for fuel or fun. The 80/20 rule is a good one to use as a guideline, 80% fuel with nutrient-dense whole foods, and 20% fun with cake and ice cream because we still need to enjoy the finer things in life.
That being said, studies have shown that the ketogenic diet can have remarkable results if done correctly and safely. Keto isn’t meant to be long-term, but if you need to be on a strict low-carb diet, like some diabetics, it may be helpful for blood sugar regulation and restoring your insulin sensitivity.
However, You can still get the benefits of a low-carb diet without being too restrictive. Focus on reducing simple/refined carbs by avoiding added sugars. Consuming complex carbs like whole grains can provide sustained energy, but still allow you to consume an adequate amount of calories so your metabolism doesn’t slow down. These carbs are lower on the glycemic index, meaning they will not spike your blood sugar as high as sweets and soda will. Less circulating insulin will help to restore insulin sensitivity, improve metabolic function, and promote weight loss.
If you’re considering keto or any other drastic diet changes it’s best to talk to your healthcare provider due to the risks associated with nutritional changes.
Disclaimer: The information in this article is designed for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. This information should not be used to diagnose or treat any health conditions without consulting your healthcare provider. Information used is based on experience and opinion, not 100% evidence. Always consult with a health care practitioner before relying on any information in this article or on this website. Some links in this article may contain affiliate links.