Terms like ‘Keto diet‘, ‘Paleo diet‘ and ‘Atkins diet‘ often pop up in your search results when searching for healthy diets. So what are they? Essentially, they manipulate your food choices in a good way. That is, reducing (or eliminating) the amount of processed food and carbohydrates that you consume. Although they share similarity in terms of being low-carb, ketosis, however, is the science behind the Keto diet while Paleo and Atkins diets might not be ketogenic. Let’s look at keto diet.
Alright. It’s confusing. What’s Ketosis?
A ketogenic diet is not only low in carbs, it is high in (good) fats and moderate amount of protein. Generally, your daily calories should be met by about 50 grams of carbs (or 20-30 grams of net carbs), 0.6-2 grams per kg of body weight; and the rest from fats.
Ketosis, as opposed to glycolysis, is a metabolic state of the body in which it is almost totally fuelled by fat. This occurs during fasting and on strict low-carb diet.
There are benefits and side effects of ketosis. For example, ketosis is dangerous for people with type 1 diabetes. Regardless of medical condition, do consult a professional medical practitioner when adopting a diet that results in ketosis. Lets be truthful, a ketogenic diet might not be suitable for everybody.
What are the benefits of nutritional ketosis?
Ketosis can be a result of starvation but we would be focusing on nutritional ketosis which going into ketosis is through deliberate diet.
As mentioned earlier in this article, ketosis is a state of the body in which body is fuelled by small fuel molecules call ketones or ketone bodies. Ketones are produced by the liver from the breakdown of fats or fatty acids. The body has taps on two sources of cellular fuel – glucose and ketones.
An average human use up about 2000 calories daily and the body stores about 1000 to 1600 calories of glucose in the form of glycogen in the muscles and liver so it runs out if they are not replenished. To avoid the body from running out of fuel, it taps on ketones. It is a natural thing.
The average human body can store hundreds of thousands of calories in the form of fat so fats as a source of fuel is almost unlimited (unless the body is severely malnourished).
Once the body is keto-adapted, that is the body efficiently switches to use ketones for fuel once carbohydrates consumption is reduced. The body taps on fats efficiently for energy production. As a result, excess weight can be lost (i.e. fats from trunk), improve insulin sensitivity, etc. Improved insulin sensitivity, in my online research, has been shown to reverse type 2 diabetes.
What goes into a keto diet?
A keto-diet is not only low in carbs, it is high in (good) fats and moderate amount of protein. Generally, your daily calories should be met by about 50 grams of carbs (or 20-30 grams of net carbs), 0.6-2 grams per kg of body weight; and the rest from fats.
I seriously felt that it is impossible to achieve no carbs so I would leave it as low carbs. How low is low? It has been recommended that starters begin with 50 grams of carbs (or 20 to 30 grams of net carbs) per day. Once you get the feel of being keto-adapted, start playing with the amount of carbs that throws you out of ketosis. Everyone is unique so there isn’t a one size fit all figure here.
Net carbs is essentially the grams of total carbohydrates in a food minus its grams in fiber.
For example, vegetables actually contain sugar or starch and their fiber contents net some carbs off. Like a cup of spinach has got lesser net carbs than a cup of kale; or a cup of bell pepper has got lesser net carbs than a cup of onion.
In general, the sweeter the vegetable is, the more sugar it contains. The above ground vegetables generally has lesser carbs then below ground.
Complex vs Simple carbs
Carbohydrates can further be branched into complex and simple carbs, some term it is unrefined and refine carbs respectively. I have previously written an article on Carbohydrates: Complex vs Simple. Do check it out.
Fats, good fats
Fats are evaluated on their type and quality
Fats have long been thought to be bad for our overall health, they promotes obesity, throws your cholesterol level off and increase your propensity for cardiovascular issues. But hey, recent studies shown that saturated fats do not increase the risk of heart events and neither do they decrease as well. So if we are consuming fats, we might as well consume the right ones.
What constitutes good fats?
Fats are evaluated on their type and quality. That is, the type of fats should be saturated, monounsaturated or natural polyunsaturated while quality should be from organic or grass-fed sources.
Understanding type of fats
|Saturated||Good||Red meats, butter, ghee, lard, eggs, coconut oil|
|Monounsaturated||Good||Extra virgin olive oil, avocados, avocado oil|
|Natural polyunsaturated||Good|| Fish, fish oil, chia seeds.|
Do note that omega-6 tends to promote inflammation. Ratio between omega-3 and omega-6 should be at most 1:1
|Processed polyunsaturated||Bad||Vegetable and seed oils like Canola oil, peanut oil, sesame oil|
|Processed trans fat||Bad||Processed food like fast food, margarine, factory-made baked stuffs like cookies and new year goodies|
Quality of fats
As for quality, the source should not be dubious. In the case of animal/ fish oil, they should be organic and not fed with hormones or toxic laden feeds as such compounds will be retained in their fats.
For vegetable/ plant oils, they should be cold pressed and not heat extracted as the latter oxidizes the oil and creates free radicals.
Why consume good fats?
Good fats improves the concentrations of HDL cholesterol (the ‘good’ cholesterol) while the bad fats increases the concentration of low density LDL (the ‘bad’ cholesterol). So since we are consuming fats in a keto diet, might as well make it worthwhile.
The protein component is to maintain and build muscle mass. More muscles burns more calories and slightly increases the basal metabolic rate. So losing muscle mass would mess up the amount of energy you have. Hence, having sufficient protein is important.
However, excessive protein actually kicks you out of ketosis as they are converted to glycogen which the body will tap on first before ketones.
Source of protein can be the meats, fishes, cheese and nuts that you consume on a keto diet.
How do I check for ketosis?
There is the quantitative way and the qualitative way of finding out. The quantitative way is to use a blood ketone meter or ketone stix for measuring the level of ketones in urine.
- The blood ketone meter strips are expensive at a few bucks per strip and they are pretty accurate.
- The ketone stix is more affordable but they are pretty a hit or miss as the concentration of ketones in the urine depends on how much fluid has been consumed.
The qualitative way is to observe and listen to how your body adapts to ketosis. Some people experience keto flu where they get groggy, lethargic and probably headaches when the body is adapting to burn ketones instead of glucose for energy. Yes, it feels like as though you are having a flu less the runny nose and sneezing part. The keto flu goes away once your body is adapted to use ketones.
How to feel better when having keto flu
Like what you do when you fall sick:
- Drink plenty of water;
- Get sufficient electrolytes like sodium, magnesium and potassium from soups, broths, multi-vitamins or multi-minerals supplements;
- Consume lesser protein;
- Take in more fats to tell your body that it need to take it or leave it.
My keto journey
I do not strictly follow a keto diet but I do follow the science behind it – ketosis. Hence, I try to eat clean and reduce my intake of carbohydrates. Occasionally, I do intermittent fasting (2 to 3 days a week) and that helped in hastening the transition into my (cyclical) ketosis as well.
At the end of the day, listen do your body and tune the diet to fit your needs.
A votre santé.