What is a Ketogenic Diet?

As a Nutritional Therapist I hear about a lot of different ways of eating. One way that has always intrigued me was the ketogenic diet. I heard so many people talking about its amazing benefits, but to tell you the truth, I was a little scared to take the leap. However, I finally did with the help of Shawn Mynar’s Fat Burning Female Project (link) and I have to say I am thrilled with the results. Now, this doesn’t mean that every single health issue I have was magically solved overnight. Like most health changes, time is one of the greatest healers. And if you keep up a ketogenic diet for a substantial period of time, you reap the most benefits.

What is the Ketogenic Diet?

There is a lot of confusion around there about what a ketogenic diet is (I used to just picture people eating butter on sticks) and so I want to give some background about keto and who might benefit from this way of eating!

To start out with some history, the ketogenic diet first came about in the 1920’s as a way to treat epilepsy. Since then, it has also been a powerful tool for those with cancer, diabetes, and other conditions like (http://www.ketogenic-diet-resource.com/):

  • Insulin resistance
  • Heart disease
  • Autism
  • Neurological disorders
  • Acid Reflux/ GERD

So how does it work?

In a normal American diet, people eat roughly 40-60% of their calories from carbohydrates and generally limit fat intake. In a ketogenic diet, fat intake is high, protein intake is moderate, and carbohydrate intake is very low. Now, one of the biggest myths about keto is that all you eat is meat and cheese- not so. Vegetables are still a very important part of a keto diet as you want to make sure you are still consuming these important nutrients. Also, I still consider myself as doing “Paleo Keto” since I am still focusing on the elimination of gluten, dairy (mostly), soy, etc. The difference in my diet now is the elimination of a lot of the starchy carbohydrates I used to eat like plantains, sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, rice, quinoa, bread, etc.

Why would you do a ketogenic diet?

When you eat carbohydrates, they are broken down into glucose molecules and thus raise blood sugar in your body. This glucose triggers insulin to be released in order to shuttle the glucose into your cells to be used for energy. When you eat too many carbs your body releases too much insulin and over time your cells can become insulin resistant. This can eventually lead to diabetes if it is not properly managed, but before that your symptoms are usually shakiness, irritability, fatigue, weight loss resistance, feeling “hangry”, etc.

But the amazing thing about our bodies is that glucose isn’t the only way our bodies can produce energy! If we reduce our carbohydrate intake and increase our fat intake substantially, our bodies are forced to make a switch from using glucose as its primary fuel source to using ketones! Ketones are fatty acids that your body uses when carbohydrates are not available for energy. The incredible part about using ketones for energy is that they are always available- in the form of body fat. Therefore, our bodies don’t have to constantly ask for outside sources of food (aka quick carbs) when you are low on energy and instead your body always knows it has fuel immediately available in your body!

Making this switch has some incredibly powerful benefits. The thing I have most noticed over these past few months has been incredibly stable blood sugar. Now that my body isn’t constantly searching for glucose as fuel (aka needing a snack every 2 hours) I can go 5, 6 or even 7 hours without food and not be hungry. This benefit is absolutely incredible to me as I used to be thinking about food constantly and needed something every few hours at least.

Some other important benefits seen in keto are:

  • Hormone balance– your body uses fat to make hormones. If you are limiting your dietary fat intake (ladies- I’m especially talking to you!) you will probably have some signs of hormonal imbalance. Keto is also very powerful for other hormones like your thyroid hormones, leptin (hormone indicating that you are full), and ghrelin (hormone regulating your appetite) as well.
  • Balanced blood sugar- like I said above, this is a huge benefit. Most of us live on this blood sugar rollercoaster all day long as we ebb and flow from too much to too little glucose causing us to be irritable, shaky, fatigued, etc. when meals are delayed.
  • Better sleep- sleep issues are often related to blood sugar imbalances (see above).
  • More stable moods– do you get “hangry”? I definitely know I did, even on a Paleo diet! This is still caused by a blood sugar imbalance.
  • Weight loss– when you are fully satiated from your meals, you do not feel the need to “overeat”. Also, you are removing a lot of those foods that it’s incredibly easy to overindulge in like chips, pretzels, lots of fruit, and even sweet potato fries.
  • Reduced inflammation – getting into ketosis is a healing Your body can finally relax and inflammation can settle down when you aren’t experiencing blood sugar swings. Also, good dietary fat helps manage the inflammatory process (source).
  • Reduced cravings– this goes back to my last post! When your body is truly full (as in- it has all the nutrients it needs)- you aren’t craving food and you aren’t constantly thinking about food. You can just start to naturally eat when you’re hungry, and stop when you’re full!

Does this mean you can never eat carbs again?

No! This is also a myth about the ketogenic diet. Once your body is in ketosis, it knows it has access to this energy source and this will now be the body’s preferred source of fuel. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t burn glucose for energy. Also, each one of us has an individual carb tolerance. Once you get into ketosis, you can test out foods to see how they affect your tolerance! For example, I have found I don’t do well with ice cream (haha surprise, surprise) but I do fine with some sweet potatoes. And even though, for example, ice cream kicks me out of ketosis, I still will have it from time to time and just know the next day I’ll get right back to my usual keto way of eating!

The ketogenic diet is an incredibly therapeutic and powerful diet. It is not a “fad” diet and has been used for a very long time with powerful results. If you wish to engage in a keto diet, I would recommend doing so with a professional because it can be a huge transition period for your body and unless you do this slowly, you could actually end up stressing your body out more (especially for women).

In my next post I’ll show you exactly what a typical day looks like on a ketogenic diet!

 

Question: Have you ever tried a keto diet? What did you think?

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