You probably know about the ketogenic diet. However, the benefits of ketosis, the best measurement methods, and the ideal dietary components of keto may be something you don’t know. The keto diet has existed since 1921, when it was developed as a therapeutic diet for certain conditions. In the last five years, however, interest in the initial therapeutic nature has grown.
What is ketosis?
The body is always looking for glucose (and its stored form, glycogen) for fuel. Limiting carbohydrates means limiting the body’s favorite fuel – and therefore it must adapt.
The alternative is to burn the accumulated fat instead. The metabolic change from burning glucose to fat produces ketones. Ketones are important because while the body burns fat for energy, the brain does not have the ability to do so. Instead, the brain will instead charge with ketones produced by the liver. Once the body is fed fat and the brain is fed ketones, you are in ketosis.
What is a ketogenic diet?
The keto diet is one in which you drain your liver of glycogen and force the body to find this alternative fuel. In addition to limiting carbohydrates to reduce this, it may be necessary to reduce the protein content. This is because the protein actually has a small insulin-stimulating effect that inhibits the production of ketones.
What can you eat on a keto diet?
Achieving ketosis requires a significant reduction in carbohydrate consumption (ketosis can also be achieved through various forms of fasting). This does not mean that the diet is entirely bacon all the time. Healthy fats, such as avocados and olives, can be central components of the diet in addition to non-starchy vegetables, nuts and seeds, and sources of protein such as fatty wild fish, eggs and chicken.
Coconut oil and whole milk products such as hard cheese may also be included. Recent studies have also found that a more flexible approach (20-50g carbohydrates) can still lead to ketosis and weight loss and may involve more plant-based fiber derived from previously eliminated nuts and starch-free vegetables. This makes the diet less restrictive and more stable over time.
Why is the keto diet bad for you?
While Al Roker is a big fan of the keto diet today, the diet plan has a fair share of critics. The reality is that any diet can be unhealthy. The benefits or harms of the keto diet will depend on the diet you choose.
Very low-carb diets that lack enough vegetables and other important phytonutrients can be detrimental to health in the long run, but a keto plan that includes fiber-rich plants, healthy fats and moderate protein can be beneficial for weight management and to reduce and manage chronic diseases.
Constipation can occur, but can be avoided by eating foods high in fiber. In addition, many people will experience what is known as “keto flu”, which is an unpleasant symptom that can occur when the body switches from a carbohydrate burning regime to burning fat. They are short-lived and subside when the body enters ketosis.
Who is the keto diet good for?
Many benefits are associated with a ketogenic diet. A 2021 study comparing a low-fat diet with a ketogenic diet found that keto participants had more stable blood sugar and insulin levels, even though they ate more calories. This is crucial, as recent data show that unstable blood glucose levels can increase appetite and lead to weight gain.
Another study published in 2020, which evaluates low-carbohydrate diets in adults, found improvements in body composition, fat distribution and metabolic health. Diet can also play a role in reducing inflammation, managing type 2 diabetes and may even help improve cancer treatment.
How do you know when your body is in ketosis?
As a nutritionist, I often tell my patients that you don’t know what you can’t measure. Increased ketone production is a sure sign of ketosis and can be observed through respiration, blood and urine, but the accuracy of these methods and the frequency of testing vary considerably.
Because ketones change a lot, like blood sugar, it is important to check ketosis levels, as they are affected by diet and exercise, ideally three to five times a day. Urine strips are the cheapest, but the least accurate. For greater accuracy, they are often the best blood ketone meter or clinically supported breathing device.
Is the keto diet safe?
Studies show that low-carb diets can be a safe and effective way for people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes or prediabetes to normalize hemoglobin levels, reduce the risk of hypoglycemia, and support weight loss.
However, ketogenic diets are not for everyone and should be avoided by children and teenagers, people with type 1 diabetes, pregnant people and people with kidney, gallbladder, pancreas and liver disorders. Before starting a ketogenic diet, it is recommended that you first talk to your doctor and work with a registered nutritionist to reduce the risks and improve the short-term and long-term success of weight loss and overall health.
Christine Kirkpatrick advises on various food and diet brands.