April 28, 2018

By Layla, MISSION’s Health, Wellness and Nutrition Intern

It seems like everyone is talking about the Keto Diet recently, but what even is it? Where does “keto” come from? Is it worth it? Maybe you have heard about the idea behind eating fat to burn fat, this is where that comes into play.

Most diets have some controversy behind them because they add restrictions to a balanced diet – whether it is total calories, one category of food, or multiple categories of food such as the Whole 30 diet, etc. What the keto diet (also known as the ketogenic diet) limits is carbohydrates. There is also controversy behind the amount of fat consumed while doing a ketogenic diet, and whether it is healthy beyond just weight loss.

The idea of low carb diets have circulated for many years. There is often a negative connotation around consuming carbohydrates because most people think of things like bread and pasta right off the bat. This association between carbohydrates being “bad” or causing weight gain is where the push for the ketogenic diet comes from.

The difference between what most people think of as a low carb diet and the ketogenic diet is that the keto diet has a very heavy focus on replacing carbohydrates with healthy fats, not on calorie restriction. The idea here is that your body will utilize fat stores for energy, a role that typically is played by metabolized carbohydrates, which is also known as sugar, or specifically glucose. This diet requires that only about 5-10% of calories come from carbohydrates, 15-30% from protein, and 60-75% come from fat. This usually is not too difficult because high fat foods are typically calorie-dense.

When your body does not have glucose to burn for energy, it starts to try to adapt to a new process of keeping you functioning and focused. If no carbohydrates are present, it heads to fat. This is similar in the function of intermittent fasting. You can read more on that here.

The difference in the mechanism of fasting versus the keto diet is that the keto diet requires your body to make a complete shift from using glucose for energy to using the by-products of fat breakdown. Fasting is only temporary.

Fat itself is not what the body is using for energy. It must be broken down and metabolized by the liver to become available to enter the process of energy production. The break down of fat results in the production of compounds called ketones, hence the term “ketogenic diet”. These ketones become the new fuel for energy, leaving glucose as a thing of the past. As the body produces more and more of these ketones, your body will shift to a state of ketosis.

Ketosis does not occur right away, but once it occurs, your body fully adjusted and prepared to burn fat as energy. This does not mean you can now have your average intake of carbohydrates again because your body will just revert back to its ways. This does mean that your body has adapted to its new way of functioning.

This fat-burning mechanism is where most of the hype behind the ketogenic diet resides. Beyond weight loss, people have reported high energy levels and improved brain function. This is because of the specific ways ketones function within the body.

From a weight loss perspective, the idea of your body burning fat all the time sounds pretty appealing. There are draw backs to this diet, as there are with every diet. All diets have the ability to backfire mostly due to the act of restricting a large variety of food. It is important that if you are considering the ketogenic diet to do supplemental research and understand what changes are going to occur in your body.

Keto flu is a common side effect, which happens during the process of switching from utilizing glucose to ketones. This is when fatigue, dehydration, dizziness, nausea or other stomach issues occur as a result. Being in ketosis is not normal for our bodies and there are risks associated. It changes the acid-base balance of your body and if the diet is not done safely, ketones can build up and result in something called ketoacidosis. This diet is also typically very high in animal products, which makes it more difficult for a vegetarian or vegan. These are just a few of the concerns with the ketogenic diet.

As with every diet, keto works for some people, and not for others. There is scientific evidence behind the ketogenic diet, but requires becoming an expert on the way it works and a diet plan to make sure it is done in the safest fashion.

For any follow-up questions or resources on the Ketogenic diet, feel free to e-mail ljsaad15@gmail.com

Content of the blog is opinion and not to be considered scientific fact. All readers should consult a medical professional for questions concerning individual medical and dietary needs.