The Down and Dirty on the Keto Diet
By Tiffani Guinn
I recently had the opportunity to attend a seminar on the Ketogenic Diet. This seminar covered what the diet was, how it worked, and what people might benefit most from ‘going keto’, as well as supplements to help support a ketogenic lifestyle.
Keto has become quite the fad diet lately, so I wanted to set the record straight and present you with some basic facts you need to know before considering whether or not Keto is right for you.
Q. What is Keto?
A. To sum it up very simply: When your body is in ketosis, it is burning fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates/sugars.
Q. How does Ketosis work?
A. To understand how Ketosis works, you need to understand how your body works normally. Our bodies burn carbohydrates/sugars as a primary fuel source. Interestingly, sugars are one of the few molecules that can cross the blood brain barrier due to their shape (think all the way back to middle school when you had to draw a molecule with lines and letters), so our brain tends to use those for fuel first and foremost. Fats have long chain structures and so they can’t cross the blood brain barrier. In addition, red blood cells, which are pretty important to staying alive since they carry oxygen to all parts of our body, can only run on sugar. (I.E. short chain molecules).
However, our bodies are designed to function in all kinds of conditions, so as a back-up, in case carbohydrates are not available (say in a time of famine) our body will start producing ketones from fat. A ketone has a similar structure to a sugar in that it’s a short chain. This allows it to cross the blood brain barrier, fuel red blood cells, and keep us alive even when we don’t have access to carbohydrates.
The way the Ketogenic diet works is that you cut down on the amount of carbs you are eating (except for fiber, which is very important for digestion) and eat primarily healthy fats. Your body is forced to switch over to making ketones from your body’s fat stores to provide energy for you to work, play, and live. Most ketogenic protocols recommend at least 70% fat, 20% protein, and 10% carbs. Why so low on the protein you ask? Well, our bodies really prefer to use sugar as fuel because it is much less work than producing ketones, so your body can more or less treat protein like a sugar if enough of it is available.
Q. What is the benefit of going keto?
A. Here are some of the benefits of a ketogenic lifestyle:
Q. Should I go keto?
A. The Ketogenic diet has been shown to have many benefits, but it is not appropriate for every person! In addition, the ketogenic lifestyle can be very difficult to maintain without proper planning and dedication. To really reap the benefits of keto you need to be very dedicated to eating the right kinds of fats and not just grabbing anything off the shelf that has zero carbs on the label. Going keto does not mean you get to eat a pound of bacon every day.
Here are some conditions/diagnoses that keto will be beneficial for which have strong scientific research behind them:
Here are some conditions that have emerging evidence for responding well to a ketogenic diet:
Here are some conditions that should stay away from the ketogenic lifestyle, or approach with great caution:
Be aware that once you decide you no longer want to follow a ketogenic lifestyle, you need to transition out of ketosis slowly to prevent the yo-yo dieting effect and rapid re-gain of weight or metabolic damage. You will want to gradually reverse diet by slowly incorporating more carbs into your daily diet over a period of several weeks, and ideally incorporating a high intensity interval training like a Tabata a few days a week. The doctors who presented at my seminar recommended transitioning into something like the Mediterranean or primal/paleo diet with a macro break down of either 40carbs/30fat/30protein (AKA the Zone Diet) or 33/33/33.
Finally, I am not a doctor or a dietician and cannot make any personal lifestyle or health recommendations. I was not paid by anyone, I don’t get any kickbacks. I’m just sharing information that was presented to me. If you are interested in learning more about the ketogenic diet, I encourage you to do your own research from reputable sources. Please talk to your health care professional before taking on any new dietary lifestyle changes. Any diet should just be one aspect of a healthy lifestyle including exercise and good sleep hygiene.
A few resources for further reading
Mark’s Daily Apple is great resource for all kinds of nutrition questions. I would consider anything from Mark Sisson to be reputable information.
Grain Brain The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar, Your Brain's Silent Killers
A book by David Perlmutter exploring the effects sugars have on our brain. Great for anyone interested in the brain health and neurological benefits of keto.
Christopher Keroack, MD, one of the doctors who presented at the seminar I attended. His book Changing Directions doesn’t focus on keto specifically, but it has great information on setting foundational habits for a healthy lifestyle, presented in a way that is super easy to understand.
Dr. Robert G Silverman also presented at the seminar. His approach was a little more supplement heavy, which isn’t totally my style, but he still had loads of knowledge that I found to be helpful and interesting.
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