What is the ketogenic diet? Chances are that you’ve at least heard the term. Nonetheless, there are many misconceptions about what the diet is and is not. Here, I’d like to set the record straight by explaining the diet and how it can potentially help you reach your fitness goals.
What is the ketogenic diet?
The hallmarks of the ketogenic diet are as follows: high fat, moderate protein, and extremely low levels of carbohydrates.
So what do you actually eat on the diet? Overall, you’ll see a lot of fat, both animal and vegetable based, along with high quality protein sources and low carbohydrate vegetables.
A typical keto diet might include grass-fed butter, high quality fats and oils, meat, fatty fish, eggs, avocados, and low glycemic vegetables. What you won’t see is many starchy vegetables, fruits, or grains. Forget about cookies and cupcakes!
How does the ketogenic diet work?
The idea behind the diet is that by eliminating certain foods, you can change the way in which the body converts food into energy.
For example, on a typical carb-rich diet, your body uses sugar for its key source of energy. When carbohydrates are essentially removed from the diet, the body begins to seek out other sources of energy. Primarily, this will be your fat stores. Without carbs, the liver takes these fat stores and breaks them down to create glucose.
During this process, ketones are formed. If you want to get technical, the key components are acetate, acetoacetate, and beta-hydroxybutryate (BHB). You don’t necessarily need to memorize these terms, but you do need to know that they can be used as a sort of alternate fuel source for the body.
Basically, this is the phenomenon responsible for making the body a “fat burning machine,” which you’ll frequently hear as a selling point of the diet. Once your body has adapted to this new way of using fuel, it’s called a state of “ketosis”. This is where the diet gets its name.
Where does the ketogenic diet come from?
The ketogenic diet is not a new thing. Believe it or not, it’s been around since the 1920s. Originally, it was developed as part of a treatment plan for epilepsy. While the diet proved quite effective, the advancement of anti-seizure medications eventually pushed the diet out of vogue.
In the 1990s, the diet enjoyed a resurgence when an influential Hollywood producer, whose son controlled epilepsy symptoms with ketogenic eating, established a foundation to promote it. This led to renewed interest in the diet. It began to gain popularity for its other health benefits, including weight loss and overall improved health.
Why is the ketogenic diet so popular?
As you can easily see by the proliferance of keto discussion and recipes on internet and on social media, this diet is massively popular. Here are some of the reasons why:
- Breaks down body fat. A low-carb diet, which is used to facilitate ketosis, is often preferred for weight loss because it can encourage the body to start burning its own fat stores directly for energy. This means less belly bloat and a slimmer physique.
- Less hunger. Not only can the keto diet help you burn fat: it can also help you feel less hungry. The high fat quotient makes the diet highly satiating, so you won’t feel the need to eat as often. As a bonus, many people on the keto diet report that they gain a better ability to listen to their body’s true hunger signals.
- Fewer insulin spikes. Each time you eat carbs and/or sugar, your insulin spikes. This triggers biological systems like your endocrine system and thyroid. Over time, this can overstimulate these systems, which can leave you feeling drained and craving carbs or caffeine for a pick me up. A state of ketosis can assist in regulating the blood sugar and won’t leave you feeling starving.
- Improved athletic performance. If you eat carbs then work out, the body uses up this energy first before switching gears and turning to fat for fuel. This is usually not efficient for the body. However, if you are in a ketogenic state, your body is accustomed to fueling in this way and goes right to burning fat. When fat is burned more quickly, you may see greater benefits from each and every workout! This can also hasten weight loss, improve metabolism, and boost overall health.
What are some concerns about the ketogenic diet?
Now that we’ve gone over the pros, what are the cons? Here are some common concerns about the ketogenic diet.
- Getting into ketosis takes time. Various factors, such as your diet, lifestyle, and level of metabolic damage, will have an effect on how long it will take you to get into ketosis. It can take anywhere from days to weeks.
- The keto flu. As your body adjusts to a new way of eating and fueling, you may experience some temporary symptoms of discomfort. Among them: feeling drained/tired, headaches, sugar cravings, sleeping issues, and digestive issues. Usually these symptoms are mild and will go away after a short period of time.
- Changing your diet habits. Changing your diet can be difficult, both emotionally and socially. Being part of The New You Challenge can provide invaluable support in a group setting where your team and coach will help you stay accountable!
- Counting carbs. On the keto diet, you will have to be vigilant about counting carbs so that you can drop into and stay in the ketogenic state. This can be tedious at first, but once you begin to get a handle on it, many say that it becomes like second nature.
- Cheating hurts. Your body will always choose sugar over fat. So if you do feel the need to “cheat,” be sure to do it before you work out; this will help you burn off the glycogen so that your body can bounce back into ketosis. And when I say “cheat” I mean a small indulgence, I’m not talking a whole pizza or cake.
How is the ketogenic diet different from other low carb diets?
Since the ketogenic diet is low in carbohydrates, many people understandably confuse it with other low carbohydrate diets such as the Atkins Diet or the South Beach Diet. However, there are some important differences between these diets.
The Atkins Diet, for instance, focuses on protein, and is characterized by far less fat; in the ketogenic diet, you’re eating a 3:1 ratio of fat by calories to protein. The beginning stage of Atkins is similar to the ketogenic diet, with a very low carbohydrate level, but the succeeding stages increase the proportion of carbohydrates. This makes it quite different from the keto diet, which always maintains a very low level of carbohydrates.
Similarly, the South Beach Diet works in phases. While it initially starts out quite low-carb, carbohydrate sources such as brown rice or whole grain breads are introduced during the succeeding phases. When looked at in the big picture, the South Beach Diet is really not a low carb diet. It’s even cited in the book: “It is my purpose to teach neither low-fat nor low-carb. I want you to learn to choose the right fats and the right carbs.”
Moreover, the ketogenic diet can be part of helping you attain your fitness goals. Now that you have a better understanding of the diet and what it entails, hopefully you can better discern whether or not it’s the right step for you on your wellness journey!
Have you tried the ketogenic diet?