A keto diet is well-known for being a low carb diet, in which the body produces ketones in the liver to be used as energy. It’s referred to by many different names – ketogenic diet, low carb diet, low carb high fat (LCHF), and so on. Though some of these other “names” have different standards, we’ll stick with the standards of keto.
When you eat something high in carbs, your body will produce glucose and insulin. Glucose is the easiest molecule for your body to convert and use as energy, so it will be chosen over any other energy source.
Insulin is produced to process the glucose in your bloodstream, by taking it around the body. Since the glucose is being used as a primary energy, your fats are not needed and are therefore stored.
Typically on a normal, higher carbohydrate diet, the body will use glucose as the main form of energy.
By lowering the intake of carbs, the body is induced into a state known as ketosis.
What is Ketosis?
Ketosis is an everyday process of the body, regardless of the number of carbs you eat. Your body can adapt very well, processing different types of nutrients into the fuels that it needs. Proteins, fats, and carbs can all be processed for use. Eating a low carb, high fat diet just ramps up this process, which is a normal and safe chemical reaction.
When you eat carbohydrate-based foods or excess amounts of protein, your body will break this down into sugar – known as glucose. Why? Glucose is needed in the creation of ATP (an energy molecule), which is a fuel that is needed for the daily activities and maintenance inside our bodies.
If you’ve ever used a calculator to determine your caloric needs, you will see that your body uses up quite a lot of calories. It’s true, our bodies use up much of the nutrients we intake just to maintain itself on a daily basis. If you eat enough food, there will likely be excess glucose your body doesn’t need.
There are two main things that happen to glucose if your body doesn’t need it:
– Glycogenesis. Excess glucose will be converted to glycogen, and stored in your
liver and muscles. Estimates show that only about half of your daily energy can be
stored as glycogen.
– Lipogenesis. If there’s already enough glycogen in your muscles and liver, any
extra glucose will be converted into fats and stored.
So, what happens to you once your body has no more glucose or glycogen? Ketosis happens. When your body has no access to food, like when you are sleeping, the body will burn fat and create molecules called ketones. This is what happens on a ketogenic diet – we burn fat for energy. We can thank our body’s ability to switch metabolic pathways for that.
These ketones (acetoacetate) are created when the body breaks down fats, creating fatty acids, and burned off in the liver in a process called betaoxidation. The end result of this process is the creation of 2 other ketones (BHB and acetone), which are used as fuel by the muscles and brain.
Although glucose is the main source of fuel for most people, these fatty acids (BHB and acetone) are used by the brain cells when carbohydrate or food intake is low. In simpler terms, since you have no more glucose or glycogen, ketosis kicks in and your body will use your stored/ consumed fat as energy.
Ketosis is pretty amazing, and in fact, gets even better. Studies show that the body and brain actually prefer using ketones, being able to run 70% more efficiently than glucose. From an evolutionary standpoint, this makes perfect sense.
How Does It Work?
When fat is broken down by the liver, glycerol and fatty acid molecules are released. The fatty acid is broken down further, in a process called ketogenesis, and a ketone body called acetoacetate is produced.
Acetoacetate is then converted into 2 other types of ketone bodies:
– Beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) – After being keto-adapted for a while, your muscles
will convert the acetoacetate into BHB as it’s preferred by the brain for fuel.
– Acetone – Can sometimes be metabolized into glucose, but is mostly excreted
as waste. This gives the distinct smelly breath that most ketogenic dieters know.
Over time, your body will expel fewer ketone bodies, and you may think that ketosis is slowing down.
That’s not the case, as your brain is burning the BHB as fuel, and your body is trying to give your brain as much efficient energy as possible.
What Should You Eat?
To start a keto diet, you will want to plan ahead. Normally, anywhere between 20-30g of net carbs is recommended for every day dieting.
You might be asking, “What’s a net carb?” It’s simple, really! The net carbs are your total dietary carbohydrates, minus the total fiber. Let’s say for example you want to eat some broccoli (1 cup).
– There are a total of 6g carbohydrates in 1 cup.
– There’s also 2g of fiber in 1 cup.
– So, we take the 6g (total carbs) and subtract the 2g (dietary fiber).
– This will give us our net carbs of 4g.
What Are the Benefits?
– Weight Loss. As your body is burning fat as the main source of energy, you will
essentially be using your fat stores as an energy source while in a fasting state.
– Energy. By giving your body a better and more reliable energy source, you will
feel more energized during the day. Fats are shown to be the most effective molecule to burn as fuel.
– Cholesterol. A keto diet has shown to improve triglyceride levels and cholesterol
levels most associated with arterial buildup.
– Blood Sugar. Many studies show the decrease of LDL cholesterol over time and
have shown to eliminate ailments such as type 2 diabetes.
– Hunger. Fat is naturally more satisfying and ends up leaving us in a satiated
(“full”) state for longer.
– Skin. Recent studies have shown a drop in acne lesions and skin inflammation
over 12 weeks.
Tips Before Starting
Anyway, I think that’s enough for a brief overview of the ketogenic diet! If you’re interested in reading more, or find out more information about it, please feel free to contact me.
There are, however, a few other notes I want to hit on. Some people don’t believe in counting calories on a ketogenic diet, but I am one of the few that does. For most normal people, the amounts of fats and protein will be enough to naturally keep you satiated and naturally keep you in a calorie deficit. Though, the average Australian is not always normal.
There’s tons of hormone, endocrine, and deficiency problems that we need to take into account. That said, it doesn’t always allow you to lose weight when you are consuming more than your own body is expending. “Macros” is a shortened version of macronutrients. These are the “big 3” – fats, proteins, and carbs.
A lot of people take their macros as a “set in stone” type of thing. You shouldn’t worry about hitting the mark every single day to the dot. If you’re a few calories over some days, a few calories under on others – it’s fine. Everything will even itself out in the end. It’s all about a long term plan that can work for you, and not the other way around.
To increase calories, it’s quite easy – increase the amounts of fat you eat. Olive oil, coconut oil, macadamia nuts, and butter are great ways to increase fats without getting too much of the other stuff in the way. Drizzle it on salads, slather it on vegetables, snack on it, do what you need to do to make it work in your favour!
To decrease calories, you will have to think about what you need. Most likely, you will need less protein as well. So, keep in mind the portions of sizes of meals. Decrease them as you need to, or see fit. Last, but certainly not least, is sticking to the diet! Ketosis is a process that happens in your body. You can’t just have “that one” cheat meal. If you do, it can hamper progress for up to a week before your body is back in ketosis and normally functioning again.
You want to keep your cheats to none. Be prepared, make sure you’re eating what you need to be satiated (“full”), and make sure you’re satisfied with what you’re eating. If you have to force yourself to eat something, it will never work out in the end. This is just a guideline on how you can eat on a ketogenic diet, so you’re very welcome to change up what kind of foods you eat!