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WHAT IS KETOGENIC DIET?
Before we get into the details of ketogenic diet system, lets get a general overview of the ketogenic diet as well as the history of its development, both of medical conditions as well as for fat loss.
For many proponents of the ketogenic diet proclaim it, as a magical diet while opponents denounce the diet because of misconceptions about the physiology involved and sometimes their secret interest in keeping people fat and unhealthy.
As with so many issues of controversy, the reality is like most dietary approaches, the ketogenic diet has benefits and some drawbacks, all of which are discussed in detail this post.
The goal of this post is not to convince nor dissuade individuals to use a ketogenic diet. Rather the goal is to present the facts behind the ketogenic diet so that you can make a wise decision towards your weight loss efforts.
We will explore the general idea about ketogenic diet, as well as define technical terms that will be helpful to you.
A ketogenic diet is a high-fat, adequate-protein, low-carbohydrate diet that helps the body produce ketones (ketone bodies) and use them as fuel instead of carbohydrates.
In this diet, we restrict the consumption of carbohydrates below a certain level (generally 20-30 grams a day), inducing a series of adaptations to take place. We will mainly consume fat during this diet, still the intake of fat and protein is adjusted depending on the goal of the dieter.
The bottom line is, in a ketogenic diet we need to focus on restricting carbohydrate intake so that our body can switch producing energy from glucose to body fat.
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METABOLIC CHANGES IN KETOGENIC DIET
The ketogenic diet forces the body to burn fats rather than carbohydrates. Normally, the carbohydrates contained in food are converted into glucose, which is then transported around the body and is particularly important in fuelling brain function.
However, if there is very little carbohydrate in the diet, the liver converts fat into fatty acids and ketone bodies – this is how weight loss occurs. The ketone bodies pass into the brain and replace glucose as an energy source.
Our body runs on mix of three macro nutrients, carbohydrates, proteins and fat. When we drastically reduce the intake of carbohydrates from our diet, the body’s small stores are quickly depleted.
Consequently, the body is forced to find an alternative fuel to provide energy.
One of these fuels are free fatty acids (FFA), which can be used by most tissues in body but the brain and nervous system. However they can use ketone bodies.
The classic ketogenic diet contains a 4:1 ratio by weight of fat to combined protein and carbohydrate. This is achieved by excluding high-carbohydrate foods such as starchy fruits and vegetables, bread, pasta, grains and sugar, while increasing the consumption of foods high in fat such as cream and butter.
The simplified ketogenic diet is more forgiving of the fat to protein and carbohydrate ratio; instead, it imposes a rather strict maximum amount of carbohydrates per day, not exceeding 50g but often times significantly lower than that. In it’s most restrictive version, or during the initial week until the body enters the state of nutritional ketosis, the carbohydrate consumption is reduced to maximum 20g per day.
For our purpose, a low-carbohydrate diet is ketogenic if it restricts carbohydrate consumption enough to cause ketosis. In this regard, the induction phase of the Atkins diet is ketogenic. Low-carbohydrate diets (and therefore ketogenic diets) are used to treat or prevent some chronic diseases and conditions including: cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure and diabetes, obesity, epilepsy, chronic fatigue syndrome (see ketosis) and polycystic ovarian syndrome.
KETOSIS AND WEIGHT LOSS
In western diets (and many others), most meals are sufficiently high in nutritive carbohydrates to evoke insulin secretion. The primary control for this insulin secretion is glucose in the blood stream, typically from digested carbohydrate.
Insulin also controls ketosis; in the non-ketotic state, the human body stores dietary fat in fat cells (i.e., adipose tissue) and preferentially uses glucose as cellular fuel. Diets low in nutritive carbohydrates introduce less glucose into the blood stream and thus evoke less insulin secretion, which leads to longer and more frequent episodes of ketosis.
Related » How to Overcome Carb Addiction?
Low-carbohydrate diet advocates in general recommend reducing nutritive carbohydrates (commonly referred to as “net carbs,” i.e., grams of total carbohydrates reduced by the non-nutritive carbohydrates) to very low levels. This means sharply reducing consumption of desserts, breads, pastas, potatoes, rice, and other sweet or starchy foods.
Some recommend levels less than 20 grams of “net carbs” per day, at least in the early stages of dieting (for comparison, a single slice of white bread typically contains 15 grams of carbohydrate, almost entirely starch). By contrast, the U.S. Institute of Medicine recommends a minimum intake of 130 grams of carbohydrate per day (the FAO and WHO similarly recommend that the majority of dietary energy come from carbohydrates).
If the diet is changed from one that is high in carbohydrates to one that does not provide sufficient carbohydrate to replenish glycogen stores, the body goes through a set of stages to enter ketosis. During the initial stages of this process, blood glucose levels are maintained through gluconeogenesis, and the adult brain does not burn ketones.
However, the brain makes immediate use of ketones for lipid synthesis in the brain. After about 48 hours of this process, the brain starts burning ketones in order to more directly use the energy from the fat stores that are being depended upon, and to reserve the glucose only for its absolute needs, thus avoiding the depletion of the body’s protein store in the muscles.
If you intend to do high Intensity exercise during ketogenic diet, then you must incorporate carbohydrates without disrupting the effects of ketosis. Exercise will improve the the fat loss success of ketogenic diet, but limit it to low intensity unless you are doing modified ketogenic diet which includes carbohydrates. The Cyclical Ketogenic Diet: Keto For Athletes and Weightlifters
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:
Ø 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.
Ø 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.
HOW TO DO KETO
A keto diet can take on many forms, but it typically involves the restriction of carbohydrates to no more than 50g per day. Sources should typically come from whole foods like vegetables, nuts, dairy, and so on. Refined carbohydrates, like bagels, pasta, and cereals, should be avoided, as should refined sugars (including high-sugar fruits and fruit juices).
Meals, therefore, should mostly be comprised of protein and some healthy fats (like olive oil, coconut oil, and avocados). A good rule of thumb is to follow the 60/35/5 rule in which 60% of calories come from fat, 35% from protein, and 5% from carbs. Protein should be set at about 1.5 to 1.75g of protein for every kilogram of your ideal body weight.
Today, there are reasonably-priced gadgets available for measuring ketone levels at home. One needle prick of the finger, and in just a few seconds you’ll know your blood ketone level.
Blood ketones are best measured on a fasted stomach in the morning (before breakfast, that is). Here are a few pointers on how to interpret the result:
Ø Below 0.5 mmol/L is not considered “ketosis”. At this level, you’re far away from maximum fat-burning.
Ø Between 0.5-1.5 mmol/L is light nutritional ketosis. You’ll be getting a good effect on your weight, but not optimal.
Ø Around 1.5 – 3 mmol/L is what’s called optimal ketosis and is recommended for maximum weight loss.
Ø Values of over 3 mmol/L aren’t necessary. That is, they will achieve neither better nor worse results than being at the 1.5-3 level. Higher values can also sometimes mean that you’re not getting enough food.
Ketone levels can also be measured in a more old-fashioned way, with urine test sticks (sold prescription-free in pharmacies or on Amazon). Ketone sticks give less reliable results for several reasons, and the above recommendations can’t be straightforwardly applied to them. They are, however, much cheaper.
KETOGENIC DIET FOODS
Being on a diet isn’t the easiest thing in the world, especially when you don’t know what you should eat. I’ve put together this ketogenic diet food list to help people out there make decisions on what they are eating and shopping for.
FATS AND OILS
Since the majority of calories on a ketogenic diet will come from dietary fats, choices should be made with digestive tolerance in mind. Most people cannot tolerate eating a large amount of vegetable oil, mayonnaise or even olive oil over time. And this is a good thing, since vegetable oils are high in polyunsaturated Omega-6 fatty acids.
The Omega-6 fatty acids (found in nut oils, margarines, soybean oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, corn oil, and canola oil) should be limited due to the inflammatory effect they trigger within the body. Most nuts (with the exceptions of macadamias and walnuts) are high in Omega 6 fatty acids as well, so go easy on them). Your intake of polyunsaturated fats should be balanced between Omega 6 and Omega 3 types. Eating wild salmon, tuna and shellfish will provide balancing Omega 3 fatty acids and are important part of a low carb food list. If you don’t like seafood, then consider taking small amounts of a fish or krill oil supplement.
Saturated and monounsaturated fats such as butter, macadamia nuts, coconut oil, avocado and egg yolks are tolerated more easily by most people, and since they are chemically stable, they are less inflammatory. Fats and oils can be combined in sauces, dressings, and other additions to basic meals. Over time, it will become a habit to add a source of fat to each meal.
Avoid hydrogenated fats such as margarine to minimize trans fats intake. If you use vegetable oils (olive, canola, sunflower, safflower, soybean, flaxseed and sesame oils) choose “cold pressed.” Keep cold pressed oils like almond and flaxseed refrigerated to avoid rancidity. Avoid heating vegetable oils. Use clean non-hydrogenated lard, beef tallow, coconut oil, ghee and olive oil for frying, since they have high smoke points.
- Avocado (very high in fat)
- Avocado oil
- Almond oil
- Beef tallow, preferably from grass fed cattle
- Butter: try to find organic sources
- Chicken fat, organic
- Duck fat, organic
- Ghee (butter with milk solids removed)
- Lard such as organic leaf lard (make sure it is NOT hydrogenated)
- Macadamia Nuts
- Macadamia oil
- Mayonnaise (most have carbs, so count them. Duke’s brand is sugar free.)
- Olive oil, organic
- Organic coconut oil, coconut butter and coconut cream concentrate
- Organic Red Palm oil
- Peanut Butter: make sure to use unsweetened products
- Seed and most nut oils: Sesame oil, Flaxseed oil, etc
Your best bet when it comes to protein is choosing anything organic or grass fed, and using free- range eggs. This will minimize your bacteria and steroid hormone intake.
- Meat: beef, lamb, veal, goat and wild game. Grass fed meat is preferred, as it has a better fatty acid profile.
- Pork: pork loin, Boston butt, pork chops, ham. Look out for added sugar in hams.
- Poultry: chicken, turkey, quail, Cornish hen, duck, goose, pheasant. Free range is better if it’s available.
- Fish or seafood of any kind, preferably wild caught: anchovies, calamari, catfish, cod, flounder, halibut, herring, mackerel, mahi-mahi, salmon, sardines, scrod, sole, snapper, trout, and tuna.
- Canned tuna and salmon are acceptable, but check the labels for added sugars or fillers. (Exception: Avoid breaded and fried seafood.)
- Shellfish: clams, crab, lobster, scallops, shrimp, squid, mussels, and oysters. (Exception: imitation crab meat. It contains sugar, gluten and other additives.)
- Whole eggs: These can be prepared in various ways: deviled, fried, hard-boiled, omelets, poached, scrambled, and soft-boiled.
- Bacon and sausage: check labels and avoid those cured with sugar or the one containing fillers such as soy or wheat. Specialty health food stores carry most brands of sugar-free bacon.
- Peanut butter and soy products such as tempeh, tofu and edamame are good sources of protein, but they are higher in carbohydrate, so track them carefully.
- Whey protein powders, plus rice, pea, hemp or other vegetable protein powders. Be aware that whey protein is insulinogenic (meaning it causes an insulin spike) in the body, so if you are having trouble losing weight or getting into ketosis, limit amounts or avoid whey.
On a ketogenic diet, try to go after vegetables that are grown above the ground and are leafy greens. If you can, opt for organic as there’s less pesticide residues, but if you can’t then don’t worry. Studies show that organic and non-organic vegetables still have the same nutritional qualities.
Vegetables are an extremely important part of a healthy diet, but sometimes we’re stuck with decisions we might regret later. Some vegetables are high in sugar and don’t cut it nutritionally – so we need to wean them out. The best types of vegetables for a ketogenic diet are high in nutrients and low in carbohydrates. These, as most of you can guess, are dark and leafy. Anything that resembles spinach or kale will fall into this category.
Raw milk products are preferable; choose organic if raw products are not available. Be aware that dairy proteins (whey and casein) are insulinogenic (meaning they cause an insulin spike) in the body, so if you are having trouble losing weight or getting into ketosis, limit amounts or avoid.
- Heavy whipping cream
- Full fat sour cream (check labels for additives and fillers. Look for brands such as Daisy which are pure cream with no added milk; carbs and protein will be low.)
- Full fat cottage cheese
- All hard and soft cheeses: (count each 1 ounce portion as 1 carb)
- Cream cheese (count each 1 ounce portion as 1 carb)
- Unsweetened whole milk yogurt (limit amounts as it is a little higher in carbs)
- Mascarpone cheese
NUTS AND SEEDS
Nuts and seeds are best soaked and roasted to remove anti-nutrients. They are also very high in calories and higher in carbs per serving. It’s very easy to eat a handful of nuts and not realize how many carbs are included. If you are having trouble getting into ketosis or losing weight, reduce or avoid nuts.
- Nuts like macadamias, pecans, almonds and walnuts are the lowest in net carbs and can be eaten in small amounts. Cashews, pistachios and chestnuts are higher in carbs, so track carefully to avoid going over carb limits.
- Nut flours, such as almond flour. Almond flour is a great flour substitute.
- Peanuts are actually legumes and are higher in protein and are also high in Omega 6 fats, so limit amounts and include protein grams in daily totals.
- Seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, etc.) are also very high in Omega 6 fats, so limit the amount.
- Most nuts are high in Omega 6 fats, which increase inflammation in the body, so don’t rely on nuts as your main protein source.
The ketogenic diet has a natural diuretic effect, so dehydration is common for most people starting out. If you’re prone to urinary tract infections or bladder pain, you have to be prepared.
- Drinking water is an essential part of your diet, and everyone should drink about 8 glasses per day. Water plays a substantial role in our body (considering it’s made up of 2/3 water), and it’s extremely important to keep hydrated.
- Drink liquids day and night, drink it like it’s going out of fashion.
- Water, water, water. Drink plenty.
- Tea (Herbal and non)
- If needed, you can get flavor packets such as crystal lite, but be careful with these as they do use sweeteners and can contain carbs
Staying away from anything sweet is generally the best bet – it will help curb your cravings to a minimal level, which essentially promotes success on the ketogenic diet. If you have to have something sweet, though, choose an artificial sweetener.
Try to go after liquid sweeteners as they don’t have added binders, such as maltodextrin and dextrose which have carbs.
- Stevia, liquid form is preferred
- Sucralose, liquid form is preferred
- Monk Fruit
- Agave Nectar (this can get high in carbs, so use with caution)
Spices are a tricky part of the ketogenic diet. They have carbs in them, so make sure you are adding them into your counts.
Most pre-made spice mixes will have sugars added in them, so read the nutrition label beforehand to make sure you know what’s inside. Sea salt is preferred over table salt as it is usually mixed with powdered dextrose.
- Sea salt
- Black Pepper
- Cayenne Pepper
- Chili Powder
- Food rich in carbohydrates, factory-farmed meat and processed foods
- All grains, even whole meal (wheat, rye, oats, corn, barley, millet, bulgur, sorghum, rice,amaranth, buckwheat, sprouted grains), quinoa and white potatoes. This includes all products made from grains (pasta, bread, pizza, cookies, crackers, etc.) sugar and sweets (table sugar, HFCS, agave syrup, ice creams, cakes, sweet puddings and sugary soft- drinks).
- Factory-farmed pork and fish are high in inflammatory omega 6 fatty acids and farmed fish may contain PCBs. Avoid fish high in mercury.
- Processed foods containing carrageenan (e.g. almond milk products), MSG (e.g. in some whey protein products), sulphites (e.g. in dried fruits, gelatin), BPAs (they don’t have to be labeled!), wheat gluten.
- Artificial sweeteners (Splenda, Equal, sweeteners containing Aspartame, Acesulfame, Sucralose, Saccharin, etc.).
- Refined fats / oils (e.g. sunflower, safflower, cottonseed, canola, soybean, grapeseed, corn oil), trans fats such as margarine.
- “Low-fat”, “low-carb” and “zero-carb” products (Atkins products, diet soda and drinks, chewing gums and mints may be high in carbs or contain artificial additives, gluten, etc.)
- Milk (only small amounts of raw, full-fat milk is allowed). Milk is not recommended forseveral reasons. Firstly, from all the dairy products, milk is difficult to digest, as it lacks the “good” bacteria (eliminated through pasteurization) and may even contain hormones. Secondly, it is quite high in carbs (4-5 grams of carbs per 100 ml). For coffee and tea, replace milk with cream in reasonable amounts. You may have a small amount of raw milk, but be aware of the extra carbs.
- Alcoholic, sweet drinks (beer, sweet wine, cocktails, etc.)
- Tropical fruit (pineapple, mango, banana, papaya, etc.) and some high-carb fruit (tangerine,grapes, etc.) Also avoid fruit juices (yes, even 100% fresh juices!) – better to drink smoothies if any, but either way very limited. Juices are just like sugary water, but smoothies have fiber, which is at least more sating. This also includes dried fruit (dates, raisins, etc.) if eaten in large quantities.
Ketogenic diet has beneficial effects on a broad range of neurological disorders, particularly those involving the death of neurons. Scientists think it may have something to do with the effects of cellular energetics. Ketones may also increase the number of brain mitochondria — the power packs inside of cells.
It’s possible that the boosted energy production capacity created by these effects is what gives our neurons an enhanced ability to resist metabolic challenges. Other biochemical changes — namely ketosis, high fat levels, and low glucose levels — may contribute to neuronal protection through a number of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions.
The keto diet is being increasingly considered for the treatment of many neurological diseases and injuries, a list that includes Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, stroke, and even traumatic brain injuries. It can also improve the memory function in older adults with increased risk for Alzheimer’s.
Neuroscientists attribute the keto diet’s brain-protective qualities to a number of things:
- Ketone bodies serve as an alternative source of energy during metabolic stress
- Ketosis diminishes the toxicity produced by glutamate acid, a problem when a brain injury happens
- It enhances GABA levels (γ-Aminobutyric acid) — an important inhibitory neurotransmitter
- It has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities
- The diet protects against various forms of cell death
- Restricting carbs protects against oxidative-and glutamate-stress, among other things
As noted, the ketogenic diet was originally meant for the treatment of epilepsy — and it works startlingly well. Research has shown that, for children will refractory epilepsy, a keto treatment lasting for 6 to 24 months can result in a 90% decrease or elimination of seizures.
Strangely, the link between ketone bodies and the anticonvulsant effectiveness of the keto diet isn’t clear. Scientists theorize that it has something to do with acetoacetate and acetone, as they’ve been shown to have anticonvulsant properties in animal models.
The keto diet may also help in fighting off certain types of cancer and various tumors. It seems to do a good job treating brain tumors, likely a consequence of its neuroprotective qualities.
In one case, it seems to have helped an elderly woman manage her brain tumor. It can also work well in conjunction with radiation therapy to treat brain tumor cells — at least in mice. Some scientists believe that a restricted keto diet is “a viable alternative to the standard care for managing malignant brain cancer.”
A 2001 pilot study indicated that the ketogenic diet is suitable for even advanced cancer patients, claiming that “It has no severe side effects and might improve aspects of quality of life and blood parameters in some patients with advanced metastatic tumors.”
The ketogenic diet is also being considered as a way to help people lose weight. A 2006 study comparing ketogenic and non-keto diets concluded that both diets are useful for weight loss.
Another study indicated that keto diets work great for the first three to six months compared to other dietary routines, but that the difference is no longer apparent after a year. The researchers found that keto is associated with favorable changes in triglyceride and HDL cholesterol levels (that’s the good kind).
The keto diet has also been used in conjunction with exercise and athletics. And in fact, a growing number of athletes and bodybuilders swear by it, including many CrossFitters and other strength-and-conditioning types.
Formal studies are far-and-few on the subject, but a 2011 Italian study suggested that keto could be used as a way to lose weight in conjunction with exercise.
Because it’s a low-carb diet, ketosis works very well for people with diabetes. It’s effectiveat improving glycemic control in diabetic patients, and it “has a significant beneficial effect in ameliorating the diabetic state and helping to stabilize hyperglycemia.”
The Ketogenic diet is becoming more popular, and for a variety of reasons. It encourages your body to rely less on sugar-based fuels and rather to turn to fat and ketones (produced in the liver by metabolizing fat) for fuel.
The benefits of a consistent ketogenic diet are primarily recognized in the sphere of neurological problems, where there has been evidence of benefit in treating obesity, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease.
It has been linked with benefits such as improved mood, sleep, mental focus, blood sugar regulation and reduction of general inflammation. Staying in ketosis makes it easier for many people to maintain weight loss, and therefore, this diet has it all.