What is the Ketogenic Diet and How does it work?
I’m sure you have all heard a lot recently about the Keto diet and you may have thought about giving it a try. But what exactly is a Keto diet? And is it just a fad diet or a realistic lifestyle change. There is so much conflicting information on this way of eating that I thought I would clear things up a bit and make it simple for you.
A Keto diet is a low carb, moderate protein and high fat way of eating. In fact it is counter intuitive to the way we have been told to eat in the past. Most “healthy” diets are comprised of low fat, whole grains, plenty of fruits and vegetables and limited amounts of animal products due to saturated fat and cholesterol. Because it lacks carbohydrates, a ketogenic diet is naturally rich in proteins and healthy fats.
History of the Ketogenic Diet
The Ketogenic diet was popularized in the 1920’s by physicians as a treatment for epilepsy. Nutritional ketosis mimics the metabolism of fasting, which has been used to treat disease since ancient times. For two decades this therapy was widely used, but with the modern era of anti-epileptic drug treatment its use declined dramatically.. Over the past 15 years, there has been an explosion in the use, and scientific interest in the ketogenic diet.
What is Ketosis?
Most people use glucose as the first source of fuel for the body, but it is not as efficient or sustainable as using fat for our body’s primary energy source. The Ketogenic diet limits your intake of carbohydrates and will cause a metabolic shift in your body. It takes your body approximately 48 hours to deplete it’s stores of glycogen in the liver and with limited incoming carbohydrates, the Ketogenic diet forces your body to find another source of of fuel other than glucose. The new source of energy for your body is FAT! These fats are converted to ketone bodies which are a more efficient and effective source of energy for the body. The shift, from using circulating glucose to breaking down stored fat as a source of energy, usually happens over two to four days of eating fewer than 20 to 50 grams of carbohydrates per day. Keep in mind that this is a highly individualized process, and some people need a more restricted diet to start producing enough ketones.
But What Exactly is Keto – I’m Confused
Now here is where it can get confusing. If you do some research on the internet you will find all kinds of information on how best to do this diet. While the concept of the Keto way of life is defined as low carb, moderate protein and high fat, there are many approaches. As individuals, there is no one size fits all diet. You as an individual must approach any diet with the mindset of how well it works into your lifestyle and with your particular bio individual DNA.
Here are a few of the common misconceptions, regarding the keto diet:
- Because this is a high fat diet, I need to eat as much fat as possible no matter what type.
Contrary to popular belief, the quality of the fat you eat does matter. Highly processed trans fats are very inflammatory and should be avoided as much as possible. Surprisingly, many “healthy” vegetable oils such as corn, safflower, sunflower, peanut, soybean and canola oils are often extracted with solvents such as hexane which is found in gasoline. These polyunsaturated fatty acids are prone to oxidation and can promote oxidative stress in your body.
- Eat meat and cheese and plenty of it.
I do not follow this train of thought because I believe it is important to moderate your consumption of protein. I focus mostly on pastured organic eggs, wild caught salmon, sardines, and mackerel. I also eat organic chicken, pastured pork and grass fed beef in moderation. Get the best sources of protein whenever possible. Dairy should also be consumed in moderation because it can cause inflammation and GI issues in many people.
- Stay away from fruits and vegetables.
Not only is this misleading but it is a completely False statement. Fruits and vegetables contain very important micro-nutrients for our daily functions. On a Keto diet they are limited in quantity and restricted to low carb, non – starchy types. I eat plenty of healthy vegetables everyday as a part of my keto way of life.
- Processed foods are ok as long as they are low carb.
Most processed foods are full of fillers and contain many trans fats which are inflammatory. They also can contain toxins and chemical preservatives that could adversely affect your overall health. If you do choose to consume processed foods on occasion, check the ingredients. Many sugars can be lurking under different names. I found this article by Dr. Axe to be very informative.
- Eating keto is so expensive
A popular misconception is that the keto way of eating is cost prohibitive. Yes, initially you will spend more on good quality meats and organic produce, but you will spend less overall by cooking at home. Processed ready made foods are much more expensive than preparing healthy nutrient dense meals. Also once you are in nutritional ketosis you will not be as hungry and will eat less. Here is a link to an article that shows you how to do keto on a budget.
- Cheating is OK, as long as it fits into your macros.
Unfortunately, “cheating” especially if you are eating sugar or grains is generally not ok. You might think that as long as it fits into your macros, “ Does it really matter?” It might not throw you out of nutritional ketosis, but it may cause inflammation, cravings and insulin resistance which would all set you back in your quest for health and wellness.
- But I heard ketosis is dangerous.
Nutritional ketosis is not dangerous but ketoacidosis is. This article from Perfect Keto explains the differences between the two.
Why is Insulin so Important
What is Insulin? Insulin is a very powerful hormone that is produced by your pancreas to regulate blood sugar. Understanding what insulin does and how it affects your body is essential to metabolic health. The release of insulin is triggered by the presence of carbohydrates. Insulin signals the body’s cells to uptake glucose from our bloodstream which causes you to feel hungry. Insulin also signals the body not to burn fat and to store it! ( In my case, it was stored all over ,especially around my belly.) When we limit our carbohydrate consumption and deplete our stored glycogen, our insulin levels will lower so that we can start breaking down those triglycerides into ketone bodies for fuel. By eating a low carbohydrate diet, you can avoid those carb induced hunger spikes and keep your blood glucose levels steady.
Check out this video by Dr. Eric Berg as he explains what insulin resistance is and what you can do about it.
Health Benefits of the Ketogenic Diet
- Stabilizes Blood glucose levels
- Reduces Insulin resistance
- Increased Energy
- Lack of Hunger
- Weight loss and fat burning
- Improves Memory
- Anti – Inflammatory
Recipes to Get you Started
- Easy Keto Salmon Patties
- Egg Muffin Cups
- Chocolate Avocado Pudding
- Baked Buffalo Wings
- Chopped Broccoli Salad
- Keto Slider Buns
- Italian Sub Salad