If you have picked up a health magazine or scrolled through facebook recently chances are you’ve heard the term Keto or Ketogenic Diet being thrown around. There is a lot buzz surrounding this diet recently because of its benefits such as weight loss, reducing type 2 diabetes and tons of mental clarity throughout the day. You might be wondering what does this style of eating entail and is this sustainable for your lifestyle. Let’s dive into what the ketogenic diet is, the pros, the cons and if this is the right health move for you.
What Is the Ketogenic Diet?
Let’s start with the basics.
Your body loves two sources of fuel to run on: glucose and ketones (made by burning stored body fat). Both give the body energy and help to it keep running all day long. However, both forms of fuel are not created equally. Glucose is made from eating sugar and carbohydrates while ketones are made when the body burns fat.
Glucose is your bodies favorite food because it gives it the quickest source of energy and is metabolized first in the body. Glucose gives you a short burst of energy but that energy is not sustainable long term. When glucose is present in the bloodstream the hormone insulin is released to bring down your blood sugar levels which is necessary but excess insulin also results in fat storage and a higher risk for Type 2 Diabetes. When your blood sugar begins to drop back down you experience cravings for more glucose (energy), fatigue, hunger and irritability. As you can see glucose may not be the best source of energy for your body.
The alternative? Ketones.
When your body has used up it’s stored glucose (glycogen) the body must burn fat, producing ketones which gives us energy. Fat intake elongates your blood sugar curve throughout the day and gives a steady energy flow without the ups and downs like glucose. Ketones are a cleaner fuel source for the body allowing you to have mental clarity and more stable emotions because you are not hindered by hunger and irritability aka “hanger.” (I think we have all been there!) This “fuel” comes from burning fat which is why it is such an effective form of weight loss. Your brain uses a lot of energy to keep running all day long and ketones give it a clean source of fuel.
So how do you get the body to switch from burning glucose to burning fat?
You must get rid of all stored glucose in the body and only intake a very small amount throughout the day. To burn through all stored glucose and for your body to tap into it’s stored fat to use as fuel, this can take anywhere from two days to two weeks as long as you are not replacing it by eating higher levels of carbohydrates. Once your body has used up its glucose it will then switch over to burn fat as energy. When fat is being burned Ketones are released into the bloodstream, these ketones are what give you the clean, stable energy source with mental clarity throughout the day. These ketones are where the name “Ketogenic Diet” comes from.
Unlike many fad diets that lack sustainability and limited success this style of eating has been around since the the 1920’s and is based upon nutritional science and physiology. It was first designed to help patients with epilepsy and researchers found a lot of beneficial information from those studies such as how the body reacts to diets involving low carb and windows of fasting. (Both are becoming popular again today!) The ketogenic diet may have been around for a century but the benefits have only just begun to get popular in recent years.
5 Benefits of the Ketogenic Diet
- Weight Loss
For most people weight loss is the driving factor and biggest motivator to start a diet. With the ketogenic diet your body essentially turns itself into a fat burning machine that goes beyond a fad diet. It can take a few days even a couple weeks to get into true ketosis but once this happens weight loss will happen at a steady pace and often times without the feeling of being hungry due do the high fat intake. Reaching a healthy weight will help balance hormones, improve joint pain and reduce the risk for the most common diseases.
Ketones also suppress ghrelin, which is your hunger hormone making it easier to go for longer periods without eating or simply eating less throughout the day. This will help you get from meal to meal without feeling like you are starving or being deprived.
One thing to keep in mind is that no matter what style of eating you are partaking in you have to remember the basic “weight loss” equation: calories in (eating) < calories out (burning) = weight loss. You can be eating a ketogenic diet (or paleo, or whole 30, etc.) but if you are still consuming more calories than you’re burning the scale will slowly be moving up. The ketogenic diet bio-hacks the body and creates a new route for weight loss using our own physiology only if we are giving it the proper nutrition.
This is an effective form of weight loss because it targets the underlying cause of why you gained weight in the first place. When your body releases ketones and is no longer using sugar as its main source of fuel you are able to tap into hormone imbalances like insulin resistance and bring balance back to your body.
While shedding pounds can be a big motivator, the ketogenic diet has a number of other benefits that could far outweigh the weight loss.
- Diabetes Management
When you reduce your intake of carbohydrates it balances your blood sugar spike reducing the amount of insulin in the blood stream. Insulin is a hormone released when glucose (sugar & carbohydrates) are present. Insulin is a “storage” hormone causing the body to hold on to unwanted fat and plays a big role in systemic inflammation and Type 2 diabetes. When you restrict carbs your body is able to reduce your blood sugar and balance insulin which is imperative for anyone who has insulin resistance or with type 2 diabetes. This is why eating too much sugar and carbohydrates can be harmful to your health and be hindering your wellness goals.
The ketogenic diet is beneficial for people who have both Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes because the need for insulin is much lower if you are not eating excess carbohydrates and sugar resulting in balanced hormones and normal blood sugar levels.
- Protect against Cancer
There are recent studies done to show that a ketogenic diet “starves” cancer cells. Cancer feeds on sugar and an inflammatory diet but when there is no sugar in the body the cancer cells don’t have anything to “eat.” When you are feeding your body excess processed foods, fast foods, and sugar you are creating a feeding frenzy for cancer cells. Regular healthy cells in the body are able to use fat for energy but the research is showing that cancer cells can’t use fat cells the same way. Cancer cells preferred choice of energy is from glucose, which is why the ketogenic diet can be beneficial here. This is becoming a popular topic of research in the wellness community and something that can easily be implemented into one’s lifestyle as a preventative measure for future disease.
- Improve health markers such as heart disease
Studies have shown that eating a low carb diet improves your cholesterol profile, blood pressure levels and all markers for heart disease. When following a keto food plan you are likely to lower your triglycerides, blood glucose and insulin thus improving your overall heart health. From the ketogenic diet you are likely to lose weight which improves overall heart health by reducing the stress and strain on it. You are likely to have more energy throughout the day that can be used to increase your physical activity levels resulting in improved heart health as well.
- Brain health & longevity
During the last century ketogenic diets have been used to treat and even reverse signs of neurological disorders such as epilepsy and alzheimer’s disease. When you cut off glucose and produce ketones this helps heal and protect the brain. There is more and more research coming out to show how beneficial a ketogenic diet could be on patients with other neurological disorders such as headaches, Parkinson’s Disease, sleep disorders, autism and brain damage.
Theres is even evidence to show that a low carb, high fat diet helps you live longer than those who ate a low fat diet. In a study done with more than 135,000 adults spanning 18 countries results showed that those who ate a high carbohydrate diet were at higher risk for mortality. A high fat diet improves brain function and reduces your risk for neurological decline, pair that with the reduction of mortality, you are looking at a longer, healthier life. There is still a long way to go with this research but it looks