Have you heard of the Keto Diet? Do you have friends who swear by it? Does it seem too good to be true? Although it may seem like the newest fad diet, the ketogenic diet (or keto diet) is not new and has a fascinating history as a therapeutic diet in medicine. In the early part of the 20th century it was the standard recommendation by physicians for the treatment of epilepsy and was extremely successful. You read that right. Physicians used to actually prescribe a diet to treat a disease. Whoa! Imagine that! Unfortunately, with the development of anti-seizure medications, its use declined dramatically. If you're interested in a more detailed history, check out this article.
All of our cells need fuel in order produce the energy they need to do their job and we have evolved to use two main sources of fuel; glucose and ketones. Which fuel the cells use directly depends on what fuel is available and what fuel is available, directly depends on what we eat. Simply put, eating carbohydrates and proteins will provide you with glucose, while consuming fats will provide ketones. Take a minute to consider how humans evolved. For quite a long time we lived in a very close relationship to the cycles of nature. There were times when food was abundant and times when food was not. During times of abundance (summer and harvest times) we would use glucose for fuel and store any excess as fat. In leaner times we would shift into using those fat stores to provide our cells fuel through ketones. In the modern world of grocery stores, fast food, and processed foods, we have a never ending supply of carbohydrates and proteins so our cells only really use glucose and we rarely (if ever) use ketones for fuel. We all have stores of fuel in our fat tissue but we never tap into it! So how can we shift our body into burning that fat for fuel? There are two broad ways that we can shift our body in to using more ketones for fuel; 1) increasing fat consumption in our diet and 2) fasting.
The ketogenic diet is a diet that gets most of its calories from consuming fats. Generally this would look like 75% Fats, 20% Protein, and 5% Carbs. By significantly reducing carbs in the diet and increasing fats, we allow the body to switch fuel sources. When we've successfully switched away from using glucose and into burning fat, we start producing ketones. This is called ketosis and our cells are now using the ketones for fuel. It can often take up to 4 weeks before measurable ketones are produced. Ketones can easily be measured using blood ketone meters.
We can also promote the switch to using fats for fuel by fasting. When you fast, you will first use your glucose stores and then tap into your fat stores. There is a extensive data on the health benefits of intermittent fasting throughout the day. This looks like taking in no food or only fats for 12 - 16 hours of the day and condensing the time you eat food into an 8-12 hour window. Obviously this can take some time to adjust to, but if you can do it, it is extremely beneficial.
It's impossible to discuss ketosis without also addressing the hormone insulin. Insulin is released from the pancreas in response to glucose. After eating carbohydrates (and proteins), the levels of glucose in our blood will go up. Insulin levels will rise too. Insulin communicates with the cells that there is glucose present and it triggers the cells to take in the glucose to use for fuel. This results in blood glucose levels dropping since the cells take it in. If there is excess glucose after the cells take in what they need, it will be stored first as glycogen and then it will be converted to fat. The signal to build fat from the extra glucose is also triggered by insulin. High blood glucose levels and high blood insulin levels are a big problem in our world today. They are seen in metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease and fatty liver disease, all of which are on the rise.
So what are the benefits of being in ketosis (burning fats for fuel)?
Increased fat burning metabolism which can lead to improved body composition.
Lowering in blood glucose levels and blood insulin levels, reducing risks of developing insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and dementia.
Decrease in fat deposition.
Increased mental clarity and focus. The brain LOVES ketones (remember, this process helps with epilepsy) and so having them around for fuel really heightens its function.
Stable energy. Glucose is a quick source of cellular energy which constantly needs to be resupplied. This leads to ups and downs in energy and the need to constantly eat. (Every been hangry?) When you're in ketosis, energy levels remain balanced and consistent.
Turning on genetic signals to increase autophagy. Autophagy is the body’s process of breaking down and recycling old and damaged cells and their organelles like mitochondria. This allows new cells and organelles to be created. Autophagy only happens in times where insulin levels are low.
Following the ketogenic diet can be extremely helpful for a myriad of health concerns. Without a doubt, as a culture, we eat too much, eat too often, and our food provides us with way to many carbohydrates/sugar. We never switch into burning our fat for fuel. If you're interested in learning more about how to do this diet safely and effectively, please call and set up an appointment. It may be just what you're looking for.