Ketogenic Diet: The What, How, and Why
by Firas Azaini
The ketogenic diet, or keto diet, has been proven to work time and time again. This diet is claimed to promote weight loss, reducing risks of diabetes, improving mental focus, and a lot of other health benefits. The Kardashians, Gwyneth Paltrow, Megan Fox, and many more celebrities and athletes follow and endorse this diet to stay in shape. The keto diet isn’t anything new. In fact, it was first started in the 1920’s to treat pediatric epilepsy. Soon after, the use of this treatment declined, limited to a small number of children’s hospitals at the end of the twentieth century.
There has been scientific interest in the keto diet over the past 20 years, with new evidence showing more and more health benefits followers reap. The popularity exploded as soon as Hollywood gave it the hype. If you have no idea what a keto diet is and how it works, this article is for you!
The keto diet is about minimizing your carb intake while increasing your fat and maintaining protein intake. It’s like the complete reverse of our daily diet, and psychologically, this is hard to digest because we’ve been told fats are bad most of our lives.
Now, you’re probably familiar with glucose. It’s our body’s primary source of energy that is derived from the breakdown of carbohydrates we consume such as rice and pasta. This glucose is what keeps us running. However, when we are low on glucose due to a low-carb diet, our body uses an alternative source of fuel: fat. This can only be achieved on a low-carb diet with moderate protein intake. Too much protein and your body will convert the protein into glucose.
What happens to the fat?
Our liver breaks down fat molecules into glycerol and fatty acids. The fatty acids are then broken down further under the process of ketogenesis to form ketones. When your body uses these ketone compounds as the primary source of energy, you’re in the state of ketosis.
The transition between using glucose to ketones as a primary source of energy isn’t instantaneous, though. Your body would attempt to use your protein sources for a few days. Your body can’t keep taking away your protein resources though, as your body needs to maintain muscle mass. Eventually, it’s forced to give in to ketogenesis and the fat burning can begin!
Getting into ketosis
So, what do you need to do to get into ketosis?
Drop the carbs, quick!
You’ll need to significantly drop your carbohydrate intake for a quicker transition into ketosis. This means rice, crackers, potatoes, and so on. If you’re an average person, you should limit your daily carb intake to 30 grams. If you’re an athlete, it should be higher. Depending on your training intensity, 100 grams should suffice.
Increasing the right fats
Most of you are probably familiar or even used to dropping carbs to a very low level, but because most of us were taught that fats were bad and should be kept at a minimum, increasing fat intake is usually the main issue for those starting the keto diet.
You need to realize that there are plenty of good fats which gives plenty of health benefits, and not all are going to clog your arteries and give you heart disease. 60-70% (or more) of your calories should come from fat if you’re serious about getting into ketosis.
Recommended types of saturated fats:
• red meat
• coconut oil
Recommended types of monounsaturated fats (MUFAs)
• extra virgin olive oil
• avocados and avocado oil
• sunflower seeds
Recommended types of polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs):
• fish oils
• chia seeds
This list is very brief, but it does give you a good idea of the variety of healthy fats you can include if you wish to pursue the keto diet. Further research is recommended!
Benefits of the Keto Diet
Getting into ketosis may pose a challenge to a lot of people because of the drastic changes one would take in his or her diet, but the benefits, both short and long-term are plentiful. Here are some examples:
Lose weight quickly!
Carbs, when not converted into glucose, are stored as glycogen in muscles and the liver. This glycogen pulls water in. A gram of glycogen can hold up to 2-4 grams of water, therefore storing a lot of water weight. When we drastically cut down carbs, the water weight follows through.
It’s common to see people lose between 2-10lbs in the first week of their keto diet. However, much of this is water weight. Once the water is gone, so expect to lose 1-2lbs a week in the medium term, and even less in the long term.
Increase healthy cholesterol
High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is what you call “good” cholesterol. This is lipoproteins that transport cholesterol from the body, into the liver. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) does the opposite.
With a higher HDL level, your risks of getting heart diseases are low. The best ways to achieve high HDH levels is to supplement your diet with the healthy, listed fats!
Slows brain aging and improves mental performance
Many people are unaware of this, but ketones are more efficient at energy production than glucose and can reduce the amount of bad free radicals produced. This protects the brain from oxidative stress that affects mental performance and mental aging negatively.
Helps with type 2 diabetes
Since the body uses ketones as fuel, the body can maintain glucose levels at a low, but healthy level. Low carbs in the diet reduce the need for insulin as there aren’t large spikes in blood sugar. However, if you suffer from diabetes, it is recommended that you constantly check your blood sugar levels throughout the day. Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) occurs when you have too many ketones.
For most people, following a ketogenic diet has improved their health in many ways. There are several side effects, such as the “keto flu” which arises as your body adapts to the new diet and initially, many people experience headaches and cramps. Remember, you’re doing this for the long run. Following the keto diet is a lifestyle, not a fad!