What is Keto?
The Keto or Ketogenic Diet is a style of eating that consists of higher fat, moderate protein, and very low-carbohydrate foods. (Before I lose you with the fat in your diet, please read until the end!)
Low-carb diets are becoming more popular because research has begun to show that chronic high carbohydrate consumption could lead to many health impairments and contribute to the progression of several diseases.
While Keto is a low-carb diet, it is also different from a low-carb diet in its purpose of allowing the body to enter ketosis or nutritional ketosis. Nutritional ketosis, not to be confused with diabetic ketoacidosis, is a state where your body is running on fat and ketones, putting the keto in Ketogenic Diet.
What we eat can determine what our bodies use to fuel the various processes it must complete function. When we eat a diet containing carbohydrates, our primary energy source comes from carbohydrates. When we restrict carbohydrates, our bodies must find a completely different source of energy and this source is fat and ketones.
Ketones are little molecules that are produced in the liver during carbohydrate restriction and shuttled into the blood stream to be used for energy throughout the body.
While some degree of ketone production can occur within several hours of carbohydrate restriction, it takes the body a little longer to transition to efficiently and effectively using fat and ketones for fuel in place of carbohydrates. This adjustment period is known as the Keto-Adaptation period, and the duration of this period is different depending on the person and approach taken.
Keto-Adaptation Period- The period where the body transitions from using carbohydrates to fat and ketones for fuel.
Keto Diet Benefits
In the early 1900s, it was discovered that fasting was able to dramatically improve symptoms for children suffering from drug resistant epilepsy. In an attempt to make this treatment method more effective, the Ketogenic Diet was found because of it very closely mimics what occurs in the body during fasting.
Now we have many reported uses of a Ketogenic Diet with more and more research coming out daily.
Weight Loss/Body Composition:
One of the most mainstream uses of a Ketogenic Diet is for weight loss. During Keto, our bodies are forced to burn more fat to provide the fuel alternative for carbohydrates, typically leading to weight loss and improvements in body composition.
Keto can also have profound effects on our inflammation levels which can additionally play a big role in weight loss.
Once adapted to Keto, we typically see not only an increase in fat burning during exercise but also the preserving of our bodies muscle mass in the process!
The Ketogenic Diet is commonly used by endurance athletes, especially ultra-marathon endurance athletes. This is because on Keto, we are able to tap into our stored body fat, which is a much larger source of fuel compared to just using the carbohydrates we eat and store in the body.
The verdict is still not out on Keto for strength and power, some research shows that Keto could impair strength and power while other research shows that it doesn’t. It is likely that we see decrements in this type of athletic performance when first starting the diet but after becoming properly adapted, these decrements can disappear.
Besides its early uses for epilepsy, the Ketogenic Diet is now becoming more commonly used to treat or help manage a variety of conditions including:
- Metabolic Syndrome
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Heart Disease
- Certain Digestive Disorders
In addition, there is more and more research coming out for the diets use in conditions like autism, Multiple Sclerosis, ALS, migraines, anxiety, addiction, PTSD, and many more. While some of these areas of interest have not been studied as in depth, we are hearing a lot of anecdotal evidence that is making a strong case for continued research.
Ketones are actually the preferred fuel source of the brain and when our brain is running on ketones, we typically see a drastic improvement in our cognitive abilities!
In addition to these benefits, it is also common for Ketogenic Dieters to report:
- Increased Energy
- Improved Focus
- Better Endurance
- Enhanced Feelings of Well-Being
- Reductions in Hunger
The Ketogenic Diet has shown its ability to improve many aspects of our overall health and wellness. This is likely due to its ability to lower our insulin levels and combat inflammation which can help manage the symptoms or maybe even prevent many of the conditions listed in the therapeutic section.
How to Eat Keto
It is worth noting that Keto is not necessarily the same thing as low-carb dieting. Typical low-carb diets do not restrict carbohydrates to the degree as Keto does (usually under 20-30 grams for Keto). Additionally, a Keto diet usually consists of a higher dietary fat intake compared to low-carb diets.
Like most diets, Keto does not have a one-size-fits-all approach. While it is common for people to make recommendations on the proper macronutrient approach for Keto, I believe it is better to first look at what foods we should and should not eat.
Carbohydrates: While some people may choose not to eat any carbs on a Ketogenic Diet, others may elect to include vegetables, especially leafy green vegetables. Regardless, this portion of the diet (in most cases) should consist of a very small portion of your total calories, should be primarily fiber, and should not contain things like bread, pasta, fruit, or other sugars. You can replace the need for vegetables by consuming higher quality of meat and organ meat due to its richness in micronutrients. But for now you can save that for the more advanced Keto Dieters.
Fat: Typically, we associate fat with being bad for us but really it is the presence of a high fat diet in conjunction with a high carb diet that is the problem. Independently of carbs, fat can actually improve our health and our energy levels. On Keto, it is good to get a mix of different types of fat including Omega-3 and MCTs.
Protein: Due to the popularity of the Atkin’s Diet, the Keto diet is often mistaken for being high in protein. While some people may elect to consume a higher protein version of the Ketogenic Diet, for most people protein will be controlled or consumed at a “moderate level”. When choosing your protein sources, it is again important to include variety by eating things like red meat, eggs, and fish.
Important to note that some studies with lower amounts of protein on Keto demonstrate a loss of muscle mass. If you are not doing Keto for therapeutics (even then it is yet to be determined what higher protein intake will do) then you may benefit from a slightly higher protein Keto diet.
Again, there is no one-size-fits-all approach for a Ketogenic Diet. If you are familiar with the term macronutrients (proteins, fat, and carbs) then it should be noted that the typical prescription for Keto is 70% Fat, 25% Protein, and 5% Carbs. However, the optimal macronutrient ratio will vary slightly from person to person depending on goals and health parameters, such as insulin sensitivity, current body composition, gender, and activity level.
My personal approach to Keto dieting is to not start by worrying about macronutrients and focusing mostly on eating the right foods and removing the wrong foods. Be sure to check out my downloadable Keto shopping list. Use this list to take your first Keto trip to the grocery store!
Is Keto Safe?
We have been programmed to believe that fat is bad for us. As stated earlier, fat isn’t the problem alone. It is fat in conjunction with carbohydrates where the issues start to arise.
Our bodies love to take the path of least resistance and to put it simply, it is easier for our bodies to burn carbs for fuel because we have trained it to do so. This means when we consume fat with carbs, the fat we eat is more likely to be stored than used for energy. Removing the carbs fixes this problem!
For more information on the War on Fat and how we got to where we are today, be sure to check out the book: The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz.
While the Keto Diet has been shown to be safe for the majority of healthy people, there are certain conditions that the verdict is not out on yet. Additionally, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, we still do not know the full implications of Keto under these circumstances. Finally, if you are taking medication for conditions like heart disease or diabetes, you will want to check with a doctor (one that knows Keto) and do your research to ensure that Keto is a good fit for you and the current medication.
If you are interested in learning more about the safety of Keto, check out my article Is Keto Safe?
The Ketogenic Diet is growing in popularity and for good reason, it has the ability to not only dramatically improve our health but also our quality of life.
It is true that starting Keto can be a big step that can come with its own set of challenges. Check out 7 Steps to Starting a Keto for more on how you can best start Keto and set yourself up for sustained success!