Could this diet be the KEY to your HEALTH?
A ketogenic diet is a high-fat, adequate-protein, low-carbohydrate diet. It has been used for over 80 years for the management of seizure disorders.
From an epigenetic and evolutionary perspective, it is likely how we originally ate and were meant to eat in order to survive and maintain optimum health.
As hunters and gatherers, we ate wild animals (and their organs), which were rich in saturated and essential fats. In addition, we ate wild greens, root vegetables, nuts and seeds. Fruits were a seasonal food that were consumed in warmer seasons.
A number of clinical studies have confirmed that exposure to a ketogenic diet may confer long-lasting, therapeutic benefits for a number of conditions, including:
- Certain cancers
- Heart disease and cardiovascular risk factors
- Parkinson’s and ALS
- Traumatic brain injury and stroke
- Digestive problems, such as inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, gluten intolerance and GERD
- Joint pain
Ketogenic diets have also been shown to be an effective approach for weight loss, and have been proposed as a means to slow the aging process.
Aging involves a gradual degeneration and decrease in function of neurons and neural circuits. It is possible that by altering energy metabolism with a ketogenic diet, degeneration of certain neural structures and functions might be slowed.
The mechanisms behind a ketogenic diet are not yet well defined. However, what we do know is this: eating more fat and protein and fewer carbohydrates causes our internal biochemical pathways to switch to using stored fat for fuel instead of stored sugar (carbohydrate).
This leads to the production of ketone bodies, while at the same time reducing blood glucose levels.
As glucose drops and ketone bodies rise in the bloodstream, the heart, muscles and brain stop burning sugar and instead use the ketones as an alternative fuel. This metabolic switch is known as nutritional ketosis (not to be confused with diabetic ketoacidosis, a life threatening condition).
The classic ketogenic diet is a high-fat diet that essentially mimics the biochemical changes associated with periods of limited food availability. The diet is composed of about 75% fat, 5% carbohydrate and 20% protein. It provides sufficient protein for growth, but insufficient amounts of carbohydrates for the body’s metabolic needs.
Energy is largely derived from the utilization of body fat and by fat delivered in the diet. These fats are converted to the ketone bodies β-hydroxybutyrate, acetoacetate, and acetone, which represent an alternative energy source to glucose.
In comparison to glucose, ketone bodies have a higher inherent energy.
FAQs about Ketogenic Diets
What’s the difference between nutritional ketosis that comes from following a low-carb diet, and ketoacidosis, seen in diabetics?
The level of ketones in ketoacidosis, seen in a person with Type 1 diabetes, often exceeds 10-20 millimolar (level of blood ketones). This is a serious life-threatening condition affecting acid-base balance.
In an individual who is on a low-carb diet, which elicits nutritional ketosis, blood ketone levels are typically far lower, 0.5 to 3.0 millimolar.
Is it safe to maintain a low-carb diet for long periods?
For about 95% of our evolutionary history, we survived on a diet relatively low in carbohydrate-dense foods (i.e. grains and sugar); therefore, in many ways, we are hardwired to respond well to restricting carbs and inducing nutritional ketosis. We have had limited time to adapt to the high amounts of sugars and starches seen in the Standard American Diet (“SAD”).
Should everyone be on this type of diet?
There is no question that a diet high in refined carbohydrates can adversely affect one’s health, but does that mean we should all be on a ketogenic or very low carbohydrate diet?
From my perspective, those who have one of the aforementioned diseases or are at risk for developing one of them, following a KD would be a reasonable and safe way to eat, but this should be initially monitored by a physician.
A KD is safe for children, but probably unrealistic and best reserved for those children with seizure disorders.
Athletes are a unique population and the data is mixed with respect to performance while on a ketogenic diet.
Jeff Volek, Ph.D, has done considerable research on using a KD in athletes. Ben Greenfield, MS, a triathlete, has also had experience using intermittent levels of ketosis.
Some research shows that a KD may be OK for certain types of endurance events, but that as the intensity of the activity increases, performance is adversely affected.
Some advocate training low and racing high.
This strategy is basically a way to teach your body to do without glucose for longer periods of time. By training low on glycogen, your body grows accustomed to running on fat and conserving muscle glycogen. By training low and then racing high by increasing your carbohydrate consumption, you top-off muscle glycogen stores which results in a boost in performance on race day.
How are ketones measured?
Ketones can be measured in the blood, urine or breath.
Here is a link to a breath measurement device
Doesn’t saturated fat cause heart disease?
When you follow a low-carb diet, your body is preferentially oxidizing fat for fuel, so you’re not storing it or accumulating it in cells, arteries, or fat stores.
Dietary saturated fat has little correlation with the level of saturated fat in the body.
Unfortunately, about 40 years of dietary policy has been obsessed with the idea that dietary fat makes you fat and increases your risk for heart disease.
The evidence for this outdated hypothesis continues to get weaker.
Does a Ketogenic Diet mean eating a lot of meat and will eating a lot of meat increase the risk of cancer?
Most of the studies connecting meat to cancer are from epidemiological studies. Epidemiological evidence is one of the weaker forms of evidence when trying to make direct cause and effect connections between a nutrient and a disease process.
One of the real limitations of epidemiological research is that it’s impossible to account or adjust for all the confounders in an experiment.
That said, I believe eating meat from unhealthy sources (grain-fed, feed-lot, antibiotic-injected animals) is unhealthy for a lot of reasons (inflammation in our bodies, antibiotic resistance, the environment), and eating meat that has been charred is linked to cancer.
Ketogenic diets are not meant to be extremely high in meat. They are meant to be high in healthy fats (e.g. Saturated, Monounsaturated, Polyunsaturated Omega 3’s).
Meat should preferably be from local/seasonal/organic/Pasture raised or wild animals