What is the Keto Diet?
A keto diet is a kind of diet where one consumes low amounts of carbohydrates, moderate proteins and high amounts of fat. This forces the body to burn fat for energy instead of carbs.
The recommended proportions for these nutrients are 5% carbohydrates, 20-25% proteins, and 75% fats.
Benefits of the keto diet
The ketogenic diet has many health benefits. Below are some of them:
- Promotes weight loss
One of the obvious reasons why a keto diet is able to help in weight loss is that fats, as opposed to carbs, are broken down for energy. A diet with low amounts of carbs encourages the excretion of excess water from the body. This happens when insulin levels are reduced, and the kidney removes excess sodium from the body leading to rapid weight loss. The intake of moderate proteins in a keto diet also eliminates the possibility of frequent hunger that is common with foods that discourage protein consumption. This ensures that you don’t eat a lot, which helps you not to gain weight.
- Reduces acne
One of the leading causes of acne is a fluctuation in blood sugar. This fluctuation is brought about when you consume high amounts of processed or refined carbohydrates which interferes with gut bacteria. The effect of this alteration is usually manifested on the skin. By reducing the number of carbs consumed, the body could potentially prevent some cases of acne.
- Improves heart health
Some studies have indicated that people on keto diet have had their heart health boosted significantly as compared to those who don’t subscribe to it. A possible explanation for this is that cholesterol levels are significantly reduced on a keto diet. For instance, on a keto diet, the good cholesterol (HDL) has been shown to increase while the bad ones (LDL) are significantly reduced.
- May reduce seizures
Although not officially confirmed, there is a possibility that ketosis could reduce seizures in epileptic people.
- Potentially reduces the risk of cancer
Some studies have already suggested that the keto diet could complement chemotherapy and radiation in the treatment of cancer. This is made possible by the fact that during a keto diet, the body would induce more oxidative stress in the cancer cells as compared to healthy cells. Alternatively, the keto diet can also reduce cancer risks by lowering insulin complications which are affiliated to some types of cancer. This is achieved by the reduction in high blood sugar. According to a study by the International Journal of Biochemistry and Cell Biology, cancer cells have a lot of insulin receptors which makes it possible for them to thrive when there is an increased blood sugar and insulin levels. On the other hand, ketones provide energy for the body without feeding cancer cells.
- Reverse type 2 diabetes- Carbohydrates are usually broken down into glucose in the digestive tract. When this glucose enters the bloodstream, it raises the blood sugar level and triggers the production of insulin which metabolizes the glucose. For people with insulin resistance, the sugar may not be metabolized. This increases the blood sugar level, leading to the development of type 2 diabetes. However, with a keto diet, only a low intake of carbohydrates is encouraged. This eliminates the need for insulin and blood sugar level is significantly reduced lowering the risks of type 2 diabetes.
Why Keto Diet faced resistance in the beginning
The keto diet has not always been popular. There were many studies whose primary intention was to discourage people from consuming high amounts of fat because of its purported health risk. One famous diet researcher named Ancel Keys was particularly instrumental in pushing for people to avoid fats at all costs. According to him, saturated fats caused cardiovascular heart disease.
Ancel Keys was successful in convincing a lot of people about his findings. It even led to the modification of the Standard American Diet to frown upon high-fat diets and recommended high carb diets to replace fats.
As a result, many people, including those who were initially on keto, shifted to carbohydrates and abandoned fats for fear of developing coronary heart diseases.
Ironically, about the same time that Ancel’s ideologies were being promoted by the federal government, media, physicians and the food industry in general, the number of Americans with obesity and heart diseases rose tremendously leading to an obesity epidemic.
But since the low-fat gospel was already deep-rooted in the American population, those skeptical about it were quickly dismissed.
How the Keto Diet Works
Usually, when you consume a meal that is rich in carbohydrates, the carbs are converted into glucose which is the primary source of energy. However, with a Keto diet, since you consume very low amounts of carbs, the body has to look for a more reliable source of energy.
Since there is a high intake of fats, the body will then naturally turn to metabolize fat in order to produce energy.
Here is what happens
Without enough carbohydrates to provide a reliable source of energy, the fatty acids in the liver are converted into ketone bodies, a process known as ketosis. The ketone bodies or ketones are then utilized as a source of energy by the body.
When the liver converts break down fatty acids, three types of ketone bodies are produced. These are:
a) Acetoacetate which is the first ketone that is created during ketosis
b) Beta-hydroxybutyric acid that results from the breakdown of acetoacetate.
c) Acetone, which is created spontaneously as a bi-product of acetoacetate
The relationship between Keto, Paleo and Atkins Diet
Although there are some noticeable differences, the three types of diets have a common goal, which is the intake of low carbs. The paleo diet, also popularly known as the caveman diet, advocates for the consumption of food that were used by early humans for optimal health. This diet is based on the theory that modern food has been greatly interfered with and is hardly safe for consumption. As an alternative, it recommends a diet that is based on the eating habits of the Paleolithic humans who were majorly hunters and caterers. The diet discourages the consumption of legumes, grains, processed sugar and most dairy products.
Instead, it advocates for the consumption of seafood, wild meat, nuts, and seeds, fruits, and vegetables.
The Atkins diet also encourages the consumption of low carb food and just like the keto, it is recommended for weight loss. A brainchild of physician Dr. Robert C. Atkins, the diet originally faced opposition from mainstream health authorities but later grew in popularity.
There is one major difference between the keto and Atkins diet- the amount of recommended proteins. While the Keto diet limits protein intake to about 20% of daily calories, the Atkins diet does not. Additionally, the Atkins diet is not entirely powered by ketosis since carbs are eventually reintroduced, unlike in keto where they are constrained.
How many carbs should you take on Keto?
A lot of people who are just beginning on keto wonder how much carbohydrates is little enough. To understand this, you need to know just how much carbs your body needs. Contrary to popular belief, the body is not entirely dependent on carbs for energy. When you switch to keto, even the brain will adapt to using ketones instead of glucose for energy.
However, the body still needs a small amount of glucose, especially for thyroid, health and other functions. That is why it is not entirely eliminated on a keto diet.
Total Carbs Vs. Net Carbs
Some keto enthusiasts wonder whether fiber should be included when counting carbs. There is very little soluble fiber that can be absorbed by the body since there are no enzymes to digest most of them. They, therefore, don’t have any significant effect on ketosis and blood sugar.
Net carbs is the amount of carbohydrates without the fiber, while total carbs is the carbohydrates with the fiber. Various dietitians recommend that you aim for less than 50g of total carbs and 20 to 25 grams of net carbs.
Common Concerns regarding keto
Just like any other diet system, the keto diet is not entirely perfect. There are some concerns that have been raised regarding its use, some of which are true and some ridiculous. Below are some of the common concerns that have been associated with the keto diet and an explanation of whether they are justified or not:
Increases Cholesterol and Triglyceride levels
Since the keto diet is based on the policy of high-fats and low-carbs, some people would assume that it triggers a rise in cholesterol levels. On the contrary, credible studies have found that the keto diet actually optimizes the cholesterol level and promotes the general health of the body.
One of those studies, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, looked at the effects of keto diets on major metrics of cardiovascular health such as HDL cholesterol. The results from this study indicated that subjects who were put under a keto diet had an increase of 0.12 mmol/L in the HDL (good) cholesterol. On the other hand, those who were on a low-fat diet only increased their HDL levels by 0.06 mmol/L. These findings showed that keto diets, as opposed to low-fat ones, offer cardiovascular benefits as they boost the levels of HDL in the body.
Ideally, for people with high blood pressure, foods that are high in fats are rarely recommended because they are purported to raise cholesterol levels. For this reason, people have raised concerns about whether the keto diet is really ideal for people with hypertension.
The truth is, a high-fat diet in itself is not good if you have high blood pressure, especially if the amounts of carbohydrates taken are not limited. In this case, the carbs will be metabolized while fats accumulate. But with a keto diet, there are limited carbs so the body will turn to fats for energy. This way, the amount of cholesterol is reduced.
One condition that is majorly associated with hypertension is obesity or weight gain. The ability of the keto diet to promote weight loss means that it subsequently improves blood pressure.
This, therefore, means that the ketogenic diet indirectly reduces blood pressure through weight loss.
Causes muscle loss
Some people believe that you cannot build muscles without carbohydrates. The truth is, carbs are important in muscle formation since they trigger the release of insulin and helps the body to restore glycogen in the muscles. But they are not necessary. Glycogen stores in the muscles and can still be refilled by adhering to a ketogenic diet. Since the protein intake is still relatively high, it’s not likely that you will lose muscle mass.
Additionally, in the event that protein intake is low, you can still maintain your muscles on keto. This is because, according to a study published by the American society of clinical investigation (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC303494 ), beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB), which is one of the ketones produced during ketosis, decreases leucine oxidation and promotes the synthesis of proteins.
Comparison between Sugar and Fat Metabolism
Most people, especially those not on a keto diet, depend on sugar metabolism as a source of energy. Both of these processes go through what is known as the Krebs cycle, but the end results are entirely different.
There has been a lot of debate as to which of the two is a better source of energy: Sugar or fats?
Various studies show that fatty acids produce 40% more energy as compared to blood sugar. It is reported that a 6-carbon fat acid stores more energy than glucose with the same number of carbons. People who have been on a keto diet admit that they have more stable energy and an increased sense of well-being.
For instance, one study published in the Science Daily ( www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/07/160727140039.htm ) reported that cyclists who depended on fats as opposed to sugars for energy had their performance boosted by 2%. The keto diet has become hugely popular with long distance endurance athletes because it provides a more stable source of energy than glucose.
Ketone bodies have also been proved to protect the brain from degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. The diet was even originally used to manage epilepsy in children during the early 1900s due to its effect on brain performance.
How to Boost Ketosis
Although the body on its own is capable of entering the state of ketosis, there a few things that can be done, apart from minimizing carbs intake, to get into ketosis quickly. Below are some tips on how to get into ketosis easily:
- Increased physical activity – During exercise, glycogen stores are depleted. Since the glycogen cannot be replenished by breaking down carbs in a keto diet, the liver will increase the production of ketones to be used as alternative sources of energy.
- Fasting – When you go without eating carbs for some time the body will start burning stored fats to produce energy.
- Use of supplements-These involves the consumption of exogenous ketones. Exogenous ketones are generated outside the body and introduced into the bloodstream to help enter into ketosis fast. Beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) ketone is usually used during the production of exogenous ketones.
How a ketogenic diet affects your lifestyle
A change in diet brings a drastic change in one’s lifestyle. This is because you will be abandoning some eating habits that you have gotten used to and introducing completely new ones. One of the main concerns that people have is whether they can still take alcohol when they are on a keto diet. The short answer is, you may.
Drinking while on keto does not have a major effect but may slow down your progress. If you have to drink, you would have to go with drinks that have been highly filtered and distilled with low levels of toxins.
The fact that alcohol increases ketosis is only half truth. When you drink alcohol on keto, glycogen becomes depleted, subsequently changing the liver metabolism. Although this may result in an active production of ketones, the liver will ultimately turn to use alcohol for energy instead of fats. This will slow down the weight loss process.
Potential side effects of Keto Diet
Just like other diets, keto is not perfect. There are some few side effects that are associated with it, including the following:
- Keto flu
The keto flu usually develops in response to your body shifting from metabolizing sugar to fats for energy requirements. Although the process of ketosis is relatively healthy, the brain and other essential organs take some time before getting used to the new energy source. The rapid loss of water that comes as a result of reduced insulin is also responsible for most of the symptoms associated with keto flu. People respond differently to the transition to Keto. Some might suffer adverse effects while others only develop mild symptoms.
Signs and symptoms of the flu:
• Lack of motivation
• Sugar cravings
• Muscle cramps
• Difficulty focusing
- The solution for Keto Flu
As the body gets used to the new diet, the symptoms of the keto flu will naturally fade away. If they persist for longer than it is necessary, it is recommended to do the following:
Increase salt and water intake
The majority of keto flu symptoms are as a result of massive loss of water and sodium. To counter this effect, you can increase the uptake of both water and salt. This will likely do away with most of the symptoms and make your transition more bearable. Symptoms associated with loss of water include dizziness, headache, lethargy, and nausea. Whenever you experience these symptoms, take half a spoonful of salt and stir in a glass of water and drink it. The symptoms will be alleviated within 15 to 30 minutes.
Increase fat intake
Although salt and water will deal with most of the symptoms, some may be persistent. If you still don’t feel fine after following the first recommendation, you should try consuming more fat. One possible reason behind persistent keto flu symptoms is fatphobia. Due to the controversy and misinformation that surrounds high consumption of fat, you may be hesitant to eat more fat while at the same time lowering your carb intake significantly. This will put your body in a starvation mode, making you feel hungry and tired.
Make sure that you eat more fat when you start the keto program until your body gets used to utilizing ketones for its energy needs.
Sometimes, with most people, the body might overreact in response to a rapid change from your regular diet to the keto diet. If you keep experiencing the symptoms of keto flu even after increasing salt, water, and fat intake, it would probably be best to slow down. You can occasionally switch between the keto diet and your usual eating habits until the body adapts. You can start with moderate carbs and reduce steadily until the body gets used to the food.
Reduce physical activity
Although a keto diet will usually bring with it a surge of energy and stamina, overdoing physical activity early into the diet may trigger worse symptoms. Remember that the body is already stressed from transitioning to a new fuel system. Hard exercise will only increase the burden and quickly wear you out. Light exercises like walking, stretching and gentle yoga are recommended. By the fourth week, the body should be able to take on more strenuous exercises without making you feel fatigued.
- Keto Rash
There is little explanation as to why the keto rash develops as a result of embracing the keto diet. The rash usually appears when you switch from one diet to another and scientists have not been able to explain why this happens coherently. However, there are a few possible explanations:
• Since the rash usually develops on areas that sweating occurs, it is possible that the skin is irritated by ketones released through sweat. The ketones are acidic and would, therefore, cause irritation.
• The rash may also be due to an allergic reaction to some of the food in the new diet. If you start eating food that you were not used to, you may experience allergic reactions that are manifested in the skin.
• Nutrient deficiencies due to unbalanced diet may also be manifested on the skin that is sensitive to slight deficiency.
• Most of the toxins that cannot be eliminated by the liver are stored in fats. When the fat is broken down in response to a keto diet, the toxins are released into the bloodstream and end up irritating the skin.
- Symptoms of Keto Rash
The keto rash is usually presented in the form of itchy and red skin lesions on the back, chest, neck, torso and the armpits. The rash usually tends to form a reticulate pattern and develops symmetrically on both sides of the body.
- The solution for Keto Rash
Antibiotics are usually prescribed for the treatment of severe cases of keto rash. However, if the rush is only mild, try the following natural solutions:
i) Discontinue the keto diet for some time. When the rash goes away, retry the diet until it is completely gone.
ii) Eliminate food that you are allergic to. If there is any food that you think might be causing allergies, do away with them and find safer alternatives.
iii) Avoid situations that may trigger sweating until your body gets used to the diet. These include hot weather and strenuous physical activities.
iv) Introduce supplements that are good for the health of the skin such as Zinc, Vitamin B, and C.
v) Enter the ketogenic state slowly. Reduce carb intake gradually until the body adapts.
The keto rash is not lethal and should not raise any worries. It usually goes away after a few days, and it is quite rare with most people.