What is a Ketogenic Diet?
People seem to have the notion that every low carb diet is a ketogenic diet but that's just wrong. Not every low carb diet lets you go into ketosis, but a ketogenic diet is always a low carb diet.
So, what is this thing they call a Ketogenic diet? A ketogenic diet is a high-fat low-carbohydrate diet usually recommended for weight loss, among other functions. Those who promote the diet claim a person can lose weight by avoiding foods high in carbs and supplement them instead with moderate amounts of protein and high amounts of healthy fats.
In fact, studies have shown how low-carb diets are effective for weight loss and can actually lead to a whole roster of health improvements. And no, you don’t need to count the calories.
High Fat Low Carb Diet vs. Ketogenic Diet
Is every high-fat, low-carb diet a ketogenic diet? The short answer is no.
Being on a low-carb diet means to consume carbs at a lower amount compared to the average diet, particularly the Western diet. There is no real measure, but experts say you have to limit carb consumption to 100-150 g to call anything a low-carb diet.
On the other hand, a ketogenic diet is all about ketosis and experts say you need to limit carb intake to not more than 50 g to maintain ketosis. Some even say ketosis only happens when you go as low as 20 g per day which is considered ultra-low.
Again, the difference between a typical high-fat low-carb diet and a ketogenic diet is the end goal. A high-fat low-carb diet's purpose is to simply limit carb intake while a person who is on a ketogenic diet should strive to be in a constant state of ketosis. The range of carbs vary but a ketogenic diet is much more restrictive than your typical high-fat, low-carb diet.
The end goal of a ketogenic diet is for the body to be in a state of ketosis. Ketosis is when the body tells the liver to produce ketones by breaking down fat and burning them for energy. This natural metabolic process cuts down body fat and boosts metabolism at the same time. In fact, being under ketosis is much better than just restricting calories when it comes to weight loss.
Ketones function the same way as glucose does but from a different fuel source. When you're low on glucose but high on fat, the body reacts by telling your liver to metabolize fatty acids and produce ketones. This forces your body to focus on burning fat to meet the body's energy demands.
Is Ketosis Dangerous?
When they say “ketosis is dangerous” they usually refer to Ketoacidosis, a disease that bare similar symptoms to Ketosis.
Ketosis is a controlled and regulated process which leads to a mild release of fatty acids and ketone production in direct response to a ketogenic diet.
Ketoacidosis is when the body suffers from a lack of insulin production. This leads to elevated levels of blood sugar and releases stored fat from fat cells which produces excessive amounts of ketones. This combination of elevated levels of blood sugar and ketones upsets the acid/base balance in the blood.
A change in blood PH causes plenty of side effects including:
- Fruity breath
- Low-blood pressure
If left untreated, ketoacidosis can lead to a coma or even death.
Despite having similar traits and symptoms, the major difference between the two is how you acquire them. Ketosis is a self-triggered physical state brought on by a change in diet while Ketoacidosis is usually caused by an underlying infection such as urinary tract infection, a missed insulin treatment, or previously undiagnosed diabetes.
Symptoms of Ketosis
Short-term adaptation a.k.a. the “Keto Flu”
The body does not like ketones and will get rid of it as much as possible and burning them for energy is just one of them. The other methods are thru breathing ketones out and by flushing the ketones through kidneys and urine. It takes some time before your body is able to use fat as the main source of energy. While becoming ketogenic, you might experience one or more of the symptoms mentioned below. They will disappear as soon as you are fat-adapted. The adaption period varies per person and will take any time from a few days to a few weeks:
- Described as having a fruity odor in the mouth and having a slight burning sensation in the nose and smelling ammonia.
- This is a result of the body needing more water for proper protein digestion. Easily remedied by drinking more water specially with electrolytes.
Frequent urination and fatigue
- Under ketosis, the body rarely has a use for insulin and reduces it. This causes the kidneys to release water and with it are sodium, potassium, and magnesium, important minerals lost due to excessive urinating. This loss of minerals causes fatigue.
- Also a sign of lack of minerals such as sodium.
Once your body gets used to the state of ketosis, the symptoms would begin to subside, and the notable long-term effects of ketosis will then start manifesting itself in the following benefits.
5 Researched Benefits of a Ketogenic Diet
1. More energy
When your body gets used to producing and using ketones as the main source of energy, you would have more energy than ever before. Since you're no longer dependent on carbs, you will no longer experience any form of crashing.
There is also a sense of euphoria that happens when the high energy kicks in and eliminates what we call "brain fog” that makes you think clearer.
2. Burn fat as fuel
Ketosis normally happens during emergencies where the body's glucose stores are down to almost zero. When you induce ketosis, you're helping your body get rid of excess fat by letting it directly convert fat to energy.
3. Preserves muscles
The best way to lose weight is to burn fat and fat alone. But sometimes people who try to lose weight end up losing muscle. This happens when they only cut out calories without supplying the body with a replacement source of energy, and this could lead to a process called gluconeogenesis.
Gluconeogenesis is when the body turns to non-carbohydrate sources as fuel, and if you're not in a state of ketosis, the natural choice would be to burn the protein in your muscle. Being on a ketogenic diet tells your body to prioritize ketones over glucose when it comes to energy source and that's much better since ketones come from fat.
4. Appetite suppressant
A ketogenic diet will keep you feeling full longer since it promotes satiation or having a "full" feeling for longer periods of time while a high-carb diet does the exact opposite. When you eat less, the more likely are you to lose weight.
5. Helps to treat Type 2 Diabetes
When we have too much sugar, it's stored in cells with the aid of insulin, a hormone created by the pancreas. Insulin's sole purpose is to make sure our blood is not saturated with blood sugar. Suffice to say, if your body is not able to produce enough insulin or if you're consuming more sugar than the amount of insulin you're producing, your risk of acquiring diabetes is significantly higher.
In a ketogenic diet, you only consume the right amount of carbs which prevents spikes in blood sugar and insulin resistance, two symptoms that act as prerequisites to Type 2 Diabetes.
Inducing and Deactivating Ketosis
To induce ketosis, you have to be in an ultra-low-carb diet while consuming moderate amounts of protein and high amounts of fat. This will trigger your body's "emergency fuel" mode. Think of it as flipping an internal switch in your body to optimize its functions for pure fat-burning-for-energy mode.
You can test your levels of ketones in blood, breath, or urine.
- In blood you measure Beta-Hydroxybutyrate (a ketone body). Beta-Hydroxybutyrate tells you how much ketone reserve you have.
- Having acetone breath is a symptom of ketosis. You can measure the breath-acetone concentration thru a special breathalyzer. Ketonix is an example of a reusable breath analyzer.
- You can measure excess ketone bodies in the urine via tools such as Ketostix or Uriscan. These urine strips indicate the excess concentration of Acetoacetate in the urine.
Naturally, deactivating ketosis can be as simple as going way above the carb limit, usually at around 50 - 75 g. This carb spike increases insulin production as the body once again recognizes glucose to be the primary source of energy.
Cyclical Ketogenic Diet
Studies show a ketogenic diet can be a long-term healthy diet with benefits to weight management and overall health. As healthy as it is, staying in ketosis is difficult as it requires a daily carb intake of not more than 30-50 g. With the abundance of food built on carbs - like cakes, pastries, and pasta – most keto dieters end up going back to the initial phase all over again especially if it’s making it hard for them to get a good workout. Other possible side effects of a strict ketogenic diet are thyroid fatigue, dry eyes, poor sleep quality, and diminishing willpower to maintain the diet.
This is where cyclical ketogenic diet comes in. A cyclical ketogenic diet is where you follow a standard ketogenic diet several days in a row and replenish carbs during one day while you rest/recover. For men, a replenishment once a week will do, for women twice a week is advised. This kind of diet allows the body to store some carbohydrate energy for the week ahead and helps you keep a good amount of strength and energy.
A cyclical ketogenic diet prevents your body from going into “starvation mode”, where your weight loss slows down, while also getting a good break from cutting out most carbs every week. These “breaks” can help improve willpower especially if loading up on carbohydrates is taken as more of a reward than part of a plan.
Bulletproof Diet versus a ketogenic diet
A good example of a cyclical ketogenic diet is the Bulletproof diet. The Bulletproof diet is a combination of Paleo and a standard Ketogenic diet. It tries to avoid kryptonite food sources. This diet focuses on what is healthy first, as proven by research, even if the ingredient was made inside a lab.
This diet plan revolves around the quality and quantity of fat, meat, and carbohydrates while considering proper timing as well as how to cook your food while promoting intermittent fasting.
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