What is the Ketogenic Diet?
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There are so many diets out in our world today that it is hard to choose one to stick with for weight loss or a healthy lifestyle. While there are certain differences that distinguish one diet from another, most of them are similar in sticking to whole, unprocessed foods. The ketogenic diet is no different. It is actually unique because of its emphasis on high fat, moderate protein and low carbohydrate intake. This diet’s exact breakdowns to try and follow are eating 75% fat, 20% protein, and 5% carbs for each meal.
The ketogenic diet is named after the term “ketosis” which is a metabolic state the body enters when its energy is derived from the blood’s ketone bodies. This is in contrast to many other diets (as in, the way people eat) where your body gets its energy from the glucose (sugar) found in your blood. People may be eating very healthy, but if they consume a large amount of carbs such as those found in fruit and starchy vegetables, their “fuel” will come from the glucose in their blood. That is not a bad thing, simply an explanation of how the ketogenic diet will fuel your body versus other ways of eating may.
Basically, when someone is eating a high fat, low carb diet, where their bodies receive their energy from changes. This is why eating a ketogenic diet can cause people to lose weight very quickly because it forces their bodies to use its fat storage as energy. And, since ketosis is a metabolic state, it can also affect other physical and mental dysfunctions various people have.
Definitely do your research, but if you or someone you know has any of the following, they could greatly benefit from following a ketogenic diet as well as a full, healthy life. People who are pre-diabetics, have type 2 diabetes, have cognitive issues like Alzheimer’s, are at risk for heart disease or cancer, or are obese. This would definitely be an eating style to talk about with your doctor if you have any of these issues, but make sure it will not collide with any medications for these conditions.
A Little History
Even though the ketogenic diet has been around for almost 100 years, recently, it has become a very trendy diet. Everywhere I look, another actress or athlete is eating a ketogenic diet. Now, this isn’t a good enough reason to change your lifestyle, but I always wonder why someone chooses certain things in their lives. A lot of times, with celebrities, the answer is a Google search away. Many have claimed it has help them with their energy levels, keeping a nice figure, and aiding in their fitness or game. This makes me think to research more about why there has been such a great rise in popularity for this particular diet and lifestyle.
It was originally developed in the 1920s to help those with epilepsy because their medications did nothing for their seizures. Because of the intermittent fasting and long periods between meals with the ketogenic diet, epileptics had fewer or less severe seizures. The other part of that is that the body gets fooled into thinking it’s fasting because it’s being starved of the glucose (sugar) found in carbs even though it is still get nutrition, just from fat.
Since this diet was developed by doctors and researchers from Johns Hopkins Medical Center, I would say that lends itself some credence right? No, doctors don’t know everything, but they knew from the science side that the body would benefit from fueling itself from healthy fat, protein, and vegetables low in carbohydrates.
It’s Not a Diet, It’s a Lifestyle
As I say about all eating choices, they really do influence your lifestyle whether you realize it or not. The word diet has a temporary, “quick-fix”, connotation and it usually lives up to its name. Yes, this is called the ketogenic DIET and it can be temporary if you are wanting to lose weight or have some health issues you want to combat. However, it can also become a lifestyle and mindset of getting rid of a sugar addiction, as well as focusing on whole foods to fuel your body.
Sugar is the Enemy
The hardest part people have with this particular diet is its focus on FAT. For years, we have been told that eating fat is why people gain weight, even though this could not be further from the truth. YES, there are quite a few unhealthy fats out there found in the processed and fast food world. However, fat is not the problem, SUGAR is.
When we continuously fuel our bodies with sugar, whether it be processed or from fruit, eventually it doesn’t use all of the sugar and that is what gets stored as fat. There is a reason that heart disease is still the #1 cause of death in America. I’m not saying that people are just sitting around eating spoonfuls of sugar. I am saying that most processed fast foods, pasta, bread, soda, candy, chips, etc. are loaded with unhealthy fats and carbs. Those carbs turn into sugar by your body and get stored as fat.
Not all fats are unhealthy because some of the most wholesome foods out there are considered fat (Avocados and Salmon anyone?). However, so many of the processed foods that dominate our world today are ridden with unhealthy fats, chemicals, and sugar (found in simple AND complex carbs). When the majority of one person’s diet is made up of these foods, it’s little wonder that is so hard for people to lose weight, and diseases like heart disease and diabetes are at an all time high.
So, if nothing else, we must break our addiction or need for sugar in the way we eat. By sticking to a ketogenic diet, you will be filled with healthy fats, protein, and nutritious vegetables that will keep you full longer and diminish your desire to snack on unhealthy foods. I would still advise clearing out your kitchen and pantry of all processed foods, sugary treats, and other items that tempt you to binge. Then, you will be able to be less dependent on these foods and more on your fats, proteins and veggies.
Possible Side Effects
If you have looked into the ketogenic diet at all, you will know that it can come with some side effects because of the changes your body will go through. The notorious “keto flu” can affect many who decide to embrace the ketogenic diet, but it can also not affect others. Symptoms could last for a few days up to a week or two. People can experience drowsiness, have trouble sleeping, become nauseated, muscle weakness, headaches, and constipation.
The reason the influx of symptoms can affect so many who change their diets to low carb is because of a diminished amount of salt. You can alleviate these symptoms by upping your fluid and electrolyte intake during the first few weeks as your body gets used to looking to your ketones for energy. People have found that it helps to drink lemon water with salt or a cup of bouillon during the day can help symptoms go away. Adding more salt to your food can also help, but you also don’t want to consume too much as salt cause most people to feel bloated.
These could be avoided if you decide to gradually work your way towards eating a low amount of carbohydrates. When slowly eliminating carbs from your diet, you may skip the keto flu entirely.
You may already be cutting junk out of your diet, if you are just starting to eat healthier. If this has been going well, then you may be ready to take it a step farther and jump into to a ketogenic lifestyle.
While the keto flu can last a few days or weeks, the benefits of a ketogenic lifestyle can last for much longer. Weight loss is why many people start the ketogenic diet because it is so efficient at keeping the body full and satisfied. Once our bodies are used to getting their energy from ketones instead of glucose, they become fat-burning machines.
If someone is doing this for weight loss and has reached their goal, there is no reason to stop eating this way. There are modified versions of this diet which basically include, a few times a week, upping your carb intake. However, you still need to eat healthy carbs but they will look more like a starchy vegetable or fruit as a treat.
INCREASED MENTAL FOCUS
After the initial couple of weeks, your body will have made the switch to sourcing all its energy from your ketones. This will result in increased mental focus and physical output. The constant ketosis your body will go through forces all those ketones to cycle through the brain, and many times, this results in an increase of focus and concentration.
And, because the body is using ketones instead of glucose for energy, the swings that go along with the latter do not happen. There have been so many days in the past when I have crazy physical and mood swings, but I have noticed a difference when I started eating with this diet. Our blood sugar levels stay so much more level when we aren’t relying solely on carbs to fuel our bodies.
Once the the keto flu subsides or you have dedicated yourself to eating this way, your moods can stable and mental acuity can increase! Pretty cool side affect!
INCREASED PHYSICAL ENDURANCE
I was an athlete in junior high and high school. Any team I was on was told that carbs were the fuel we need before and after an event. While that may be true to some extent, higher fat intake works better than a higher carb one. Access to the bodies ketones can allow you to have much more endurance for a longer time than if it was running on a high amount of carbs.
Glycogen is the body’s storage supply of carbohydrates, and it constantly has to be refilled because carbs can “burn off” so quickly. If you are sitting around, the energy from the carbs may last 2-3 hours, but if you had an intense session at the gym, they will last even less. This is why fat storage is so much more potent because the energy we get from our fat store could potentially last for weeks!
Whether you workout everyday, are training for a marathon, or just have a busy day wrangling your kids, the ketogenic diet allows you to fuel your body using the fat you consumed. This will result in much more energy because the fat energy lasts so long, and there will be little to no need for snacking in between meals. You will have fueled morning, midday and evening to last you the entire day.
TYPE 2 DIABETES REVERSAL
Definitely check with your doctor if you do have type 2 diabetes before beginning this diet. And hey, they may have already suggested this diet to you!
Because of the high fat and low carb nature of this diet, it results in blood sugar levels staying level with little to no spikes after a meal. If diabetics are steady with this diet, they could reverse the need to take insulin (or as much) everyday as well as constantly having to check their blood sugar.
That is worth it right?
Whew! That was a lot on what the ketogenic diet is, how ketosis works, and its side effects and benefits. But you need to know what goodies you get to enjoy with your new lifestyle. This is the fun part because you get to eat new foods, and find out how tasty this lifestyle can really be!
Remember, all fats are not unhealthy! We are surrounded by nutritious, healthy fats, many of which are probably already in the kitchen.
When it comes to oil or fat for cooking or dressings, stick with organic extra-virgin olive oil, coconut oil and avocado oil. You can read my more in depth post about these oils here. 🙂 Butter (no margarine) is very acceptable on the keto diet, but it should be unsalted grass-feed butter or ghee which is clarified butter.
AVOCADOS! Even though the avocado is technically a fruit, it has manymore qualities as a fat (mono-saturated fatty acids/oleic acid) They also contain an array of vitamins including potassium, a few B vitamins, vitamins E, C and K. AND, even though there are carbs found in an avocado, they are from a large amount of fiber, not sugar. Fiber is known to be very good for digestion, as well as very filling which can curb hunger.
The dairy you can consume must be full-fat and when possible, should be from organic, grass-fed cows. On the keto diet, you can eat full-fat cheese, sour cream, unsweetened yogurt and heavy cream. If avoiding dairy, unsweetened almond and/or coconut milk can be substituted as they are also high in fat.
Almost every kind of meat protein is allowed on the ketogenic diet including beef, chicken, pork, lamb and a variety of fish. When possible (as I know it can be spendy), eat only organic and/or grass-fed meet and fish that are wild-caught, not farmed. This simply helps the body to not have to fight against chemicals, fillers or antibiotics that are unfortunately in most standard farmed animal meat. You are what you eat right?
The almighty egg is another invaluable protein on the ketogenic diet. They contain a high amount of very healthy protein, fat, vitamins and minerals. Again, if you can, stick with organic, free-range eggs because they are less likely to have salmonella, the chickens are fed with non-gmo feed, and they are not given antibiotics.
This is where you will be getting the small amount of carbs allowed on the ketogenic diet. And, a lot of necessary nutrients and vitamins our bodies need to thrive. Stick with non-starchy vegetables like:
- Leafy greens
- Brussel sprouts
- Spaghetti squash
- Eat occasionally – some cruciferous vegetables, nightshades & some root vegetables
Fruits and other carbs are allowed sparingly on the ketogenic diet because they are so high in carbs. Although the carbs found in fruit are good for you, this diet is specially used to switch your metabolic process from using carbs for energy to fat. I already mentioned above that the most acceptable keto fruit is the avocado–eat them up! Other fruits you can eat, but in very limited moderation are:
- Berries – strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, etc.
- Citrus – lemons & limes
FOOD TO AVOID
Get rid of and avoid all of these foods is you are wanting to stick with a proper ketogenic diet:
- Grains, starches (pasta), and refined flours
- Refined sugars and sweeteners
- Low or non-fat dairy products
- Soda and juice
- Most beans, legumes and soy products
- Refined oils: vegetable oil, canola oil, peanut oil, etc.
MOST FRUIT and STARCHY VEGETABLES
As fruit is very high in sugar and carbs, it is best to avoid all fruits when on the ketogenic diet besides berries, lemons, limes and green apples.
Avoid starchy vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, etc.
I hope all this information makes sense to you. I am still learning a lot about this diet myself and am constantly excited seeing and feeling the result of eating this way! It can be a bit overwhelming learning all of this new information but when there are less options of what you can eat, it can actually be simpler to eat a high fat, moderate protein, and low carb diet. 😀