What is keto diet and how does it work?
The ketogenic diet (or keto diet, for short) is a low-carb, high-fat diet that has many health benefits.
Keto diet is an effective weight loss tool and has been shown to improve several health conditions.
The first medical use for Keto diets was treating epileptic seizures. Since its initial application in 1921, Keto has come a long way, and is now used to treat a variety of medical conditions such as obesity, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and treat risk factors for things like heart disease.
The keto diet allows the body to produce small fuel molecules called “ketones.” This is an alternative fuel source for the body, used when blood sugar (glucose) is in short supply.
When you follow keto diet, your daily macronutrients look something like this
- 60-75% of calories from fat
- 15-30% of calories from protein
- 5-10% of calories from carbs
It's important to follow this ratio because if you go wrong with keto macros you will hardly reach your goal, let it be weight loss, mental clarity or just health benefits.
For example, if you go over your daily recommended fat intake, you can simply put on weight even though you limit the intake of carbs. Same goes for protein, if you're eating more protein than you should, it can be converted to glucose which leads to fat storage instead of fat burn.
So trust a professional dietitian who recommends you macros suitable to your needs and goals. It's really important to know how many marcos should you consume daily.
What is Ketosis?
Ketosis is a metabolic state in which your body uses fat and ketones rather than glucose (sugar) as its main fuel source.
Glucose is stored in your liver and is released for energy. However, after you reduce the carb intake to extreme levels for one to two days, these glucose stores become depleted. Your liver can make some glucose from amino acids in the protein you eat via a process known as gluconeogenesis, but it is not enough to meet the needs of your brain, which requires a constant fuel supply.
That's when ketosis can provide you with an alternative source of energy.
In ketosis, your body produces ketones at an accelerated rate. Ketones are made by your liver from fat that you eat and your own body fat.
To get into nutritional ketosis you have to either fast for a prolonged period of time or eat a low carb ketogenic diet for several days. This depletes liver glycogen and raises blood ketones.
During your periods of ketogenic eating you should eat primarily low carb vegetables, meat, fish, eggs, and a bit of healthy fats like avocados. Avoid fruit, starchy tubers, rice, grains, processed food, trans fats, and vegetable oils.
Although both fasting and a keto diet will allow you to achieve ketosis, only a keto diet is sustainable over long periods of time.
Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern where you cycle between periods of eating and fasting.
There are several different intermittent fasting methods. Most people already fast every day, while they sleep. Intermittent fasting can be as simple as extending that fast a little longer.
You can do this by skipping breakfast, eating your first meal at noon and your last meal at 8 pm.
Then you're technically fasting for 16 hours every day, and restricting your eating to an 8-hour eating window. This is the most popular form of intermittent fasting, known as the 16/8 method.
Intermittent fasting is actually fairly easy to do. Many people report feeling better and having more energy during a fast.
Hunger is usually not that big of an issue, although it can be a problem in the beginning, while your body is getting used to not eating for extended periods of time.
No food is allowed during the fasting period, but you can drink water, coffee, tea and other non-caloric beverages.
When fasted, we get significant reductions in blood sugar and insulin levels, as well as a drastic increase in human growth hormone.
Many people do intermittent fasting in order to lose weight, as it is a very simple and effective way to restrict calories and burn fat.
Others do it for the metabolic health benefits, as it can improve various different risk factors and health markers.
What you shouldn't do when you're on keto diet
- DON’T mix high amounts of carbs and fat together. This will make the sugar and fat molecules attach together and causes fat storage which results you putting on undesired fat. Eat your carbs only with lean protein.
- DON’T eat too much fruit. Most of the fruits contain too much fructose, which can only be metabolised by the liver and doesn’t contribute towards muscle glycogen synthesis. If the liver is already full, then any excess fructose will be stored as body fat. It’s okay to have a few servings of your favourite fruit, but keep it low. The best fruit while being on keto diet are berries.
- DON’T cheat at least first 2-3 weeks. First two weeks should serve for your body to adapt to keto and get into ketosis state. This depletes liver glycogen and raises blood ketones. After two weeks, if you like you can try different keto strategies like targeted ketogenic diet or cyclical ketogenic diet. Or simply not be so strict with keto macros.
- DON’T eat refined grains or legumes. Even if other types of diets will tell you that these are super healthy, they might be suitable for that certain diet. But not in keto! Basically, you have to avoid most sugars and starches. Whole grains like oatmeal don't even make the cut!
The importance of not mixing high amounts of fat and carbs cannot be stressed enough. A high fat diet jointly orchestrated will make the insulin response even greater than it would normally be. Because fat slows down digestion, your blood sugar levels will be elevated for a lot longer. The pancreas has to keep pumping out insulin but it won’t be able to lower it back down as quickly.
Who shouldn't be on keto diet
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women
- Anyone with a current or previous eating disorder
- People with digestive disorders
- Anyone with decreased kidney function
- All type 1 diabetics (recommended for type 2 diabetics without kidney damage and under doctor supervision)
Common misconceptions about keto diet
Keto is a high protein diet
while it’s true that keto is a low-carb diet, keto is not a high-protein diet. Protein needs to be eaten in moderation, otherwise excess protein can be converted into glucose, spiking your blood sugar, taking your body out of ketosis
Keto is the same as low-carb
Keto means eating less than 50 g of net carbs per day. That's because you have to stop feeding your body carbs to get into ketosis. Basically, low-carb is keto but with slightly higher intake of carbs, maybe 75-150 g of carbs per day.
Keto diet causes performance issues in athletes
Keto can be harmful if your sport activity relies on short bursts of energy like sprinting, powerlifting, etc. due to carbs and glucose burning faster, allowing for that quick stream of energy. However, for people like runners, cyclists, and endurance athletes, it’s shown to have no negative impact.
Keto diet should only be done for short period of time
Another misconception about keto diet is that it is a short term fix for weight loss but shouldn’t be done for longer periods of time.
Most of this relates to the perceived health risks like cholesterol leads to heart disease, you don’t get enough nutrients, etc. Inflammation is part of most diseases.
People who lead ketogenic lifestyle have very low (if not the lowest) inflammation in body. So why wouldn’t a lifestyle that greatly lowers inflammation not be applicable to a long, healthy life?
The Brain Needs Sugar (glucose)
Many people say that the brain needs sugar to function properly. This is true if the body is in sugar burning mode. If on a keto-adapted diet, the brain primarily runs on ketones.
There is some glucose still required, but this can easily be supplied from protein (through gluconeogenesis and from the 20-50g or so of carbs you are getting). Not only is this a preferred fuel source for the brain but you will see improvements in cognition, mental clarity, focus, moods and much more.
Benefits of keto diet
Great for weight loss
The keto diet puts your body into a state of ketosis, which ultimately allows you to use fat for energy, instead of sugar. Fat burning is just one of the many benefits of ketosis that improves overall health and makes it an effective tool for weight loss.
Cutting carbs is one of the simplest and most effective ways to lose weight.
Studies illustrate that people on low-carb diets lose more weight, faster, than those on low-fat diets — even when the latter are actively restricting calories.
May help reduce risk of cancer
The keto diet may help prevent or even treat certain cancers. One study found that the keto diet may be a suitable complementary treatment to chemotherapy and radiation in people with cancer. This is due to the fact that it would cause more oxidative stress in cancer cells than in normal cells.
A bigger proportion of fat loss comes from your abdominal area
There are two main types are subcutaneous fat, which is under your skin, and visceral fat, which accumulates in your abdominal cavity.
Low-carb diets are very effective at reducing this harmful abdominal fat. In fact, a greater proportion of the fat people lose on low-carb diets seems to come from the abdominal cavity.
Improves heart health
When the keto diet is followed properly, there is some evidence that the diet can improve heart health by reducing cholesterol. One study found that good cholesterol levels (HDL) significantly increased in those following the keto diet. The bad cholesterol (LDL) went down significantly.
Better brain function
Some studies suggest that the keto diet offers neuroprotective benefits. These may help treat or prevent conditions like Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and even some sleep disorders.
These studies has shown that keto diet enhances brain health and reduces the symptoms of mental illness.
Far from being a magic tool, the ketogenic diet takes accurate and diligent tracking and adjustment to work. You need a balance of the right macros, realistic goal setting and tracking to take you closer to achieving your weight loss goals.