The ketogenic diet is a type of natural dietary regimen that is low in carbohydrate and protein intake while being high in healthy fats. It is beneficial to the body—both in physical and mental aspects. This diet has also been used as a treatment for epilepsy, especially those resistant to other medications. Emerging research suggests that this diet has the potential to treat and cure a wide range of chronic disorders such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes.
As the name suggests, a ketogenic diet strictly pushes the body to achieve the state of ketosis. The state of ketosis occurs when the body has switched from depending on carbohydrates to burning fat as fuel. As you restrict carbohydrate intake and increase dietary fat, more fat is metabolized and a greater volume of ketones are thus created. Most of the cells in your body (including your brain) are able and actually prefer using ketones for energy. Ketones produce energy that the body needs. When properly followed, the ketogenic diet is safe and has several benefits to the normal person in today’s society.
When we eat food that is rich in carbs, the body will produce insulin and glucose.
- Insulin takes the glucose into the body and delivers it into the bloodstream.
- Glucose is a molecule that the body converts into energy in a way that our system chooses it over other energy sources.
Glucose is the primary source of the body’s energy. Hence fats are stored and not burned. On a typical high-carb diet, the body maximizes the use of glucose as the primary energy source. If we deplete the intake of carbohydrates, the body induces into a state of ketosis.
What Is Ketosis?
Ketosis is an organic and natural process where the body helps us survive when the food intake is very low. In this state, ketones, which come from the breakdown of liver fats, are produced.
This does not simply mean that the body is forced to starve itself. The goal here is to force the body into a metabolic state through the ketogenic diet. Now the energy supply can rely on ketone bodies in the blood as opposed to blood glucose (glycolysis).
Our body is designed to adapt to whatever food we take. If we fill it with fats and get rid of carbs, the system will shift to using ketones as the main source of energy. Having optimal level of ketones inside the body is beneficial in terms of both weight loss/body-fat decrease as well as both mental and physical performance.
History of The Ketogenic Diet
This practice began in the 1920s and 1930s and was researched originally as a treatment for epilepsy. As an alternative to fasting, the keto diet was developed so as to use for medical purposes. Fasting to treat diseases has been known for thousands of years, and ancient Greek and Indian physicians have been studying this method over the past several decades. In a Hippocratic Corpus treatise, “On the Sacred Disease,” it was defined as a way of managing epilepsy and recounts the story of how a man abstains from consuming any food which eventually cured his sickness.
The modern study of a keto diet started in 1911 in France. Potassium bromide was first used to cure epilepsy, but the setback brought the patients into a slower mental cognitive state limiting functionality overall. To test out the theory, 20 patients were led to follow a strict low-calorie and vegetarian diet with the help of fasting. Several of the patients resulted in beneficial health improvement and subsiding illness. It also showed progress on the mental capacity of the sick as compared to potassium bromide.
During the 20th century, the idea of fasting was popularized as a means of restoring health. They believed that seizures are caused by toxins secreted in the intestine and fasting will help eliminate the internal and built up wastes. The patients were also put on “water diet,” and the reports showed 90% of the children and 50% of the adults were cured.
In 1921, endocrinologist Rollin Woodyatt stated that acetone, acetoacetate, and B-hydroxybutyrate (together with ketones) are produced by the liver during starvation of carbs. Because of this, the Mayo Clinic called this the “keto diet.”
More studies showed that ketones are generated by medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) and are swiftly transported to the liver through the hepatic portal vein. In 1971, dieticians have devised a keto diet where 60% of the total calorie count comes from the MCT. Because of this discovery, most hospitals adopted the MCT diet in lieu of the original keto diet, although some clinics use both practices.
Types of Ketogenic Diet
There are four versions of this dietary program that practitioners can choose from depending on their preference.
- Standard Keto Diet (SKD): low carb, high fat, and moderate protein, normally contains 75% fats, 20% proteins, and 5% carbs.
- Cyclical Keto Diet (CKD): involves higher carbohydrate intake, follows the 5-day keto diet and 2-day high-carb diet.
- Targeted Keto Diet (TKD): a dietary regimen that allows one to add carbohydrates in between workouts.
- High-Protein Keto Diet (HPKD): similar to SKD but involves more protein intake; the ratio is 60% fat, 35% proteins, and 5% carbs.
Benefits of Ketogenic Diet
There are several benefits you can experience when you regularly practice ketogenic diet—from the evident increase in energy levels, therapeutic medical use, and weight control—most of which are safe effects of eating low-carbohydrate diet and high-fat intake.
- Weight Loss
This dietary plan mainly uses body fats to convert energy. Apparently, this causes your body to burn fats and leads to gradual weight loss. When you are in a state of ketosis, your insulin levels drop massively, making your body function as a fat-burning mechanism.
Scientific research has shown that a ketogenic diet produced better results in comparison to normal high-carb and low-fat dietary plans.
Some ketogenic diet practitioners add exogenous ketones in the form of medium-chain triglyceride or MCT Oil in their diet plan. This type of healthy oil increases the production of ketone and loss of fat. There are several supplements on the market to increase ketone levels (like beta-Hydroxybutyrate).
- Blood Sugar Control
Ketosis lowers blood sugar levels because of the variety of food our body takes in. Studies proved that ketogenic diet is more effective in preventing and managing diabetes as compared to diet plans that involve low-calorie food.
A person with Type 2 diabetes or just entering the pre-diabetes stage is strongly advised to follow the ketogenic diet.
- Mental Focus and Performance
Many people who have embraced the ketogenic diet claim that they have increased mental cognitive power and focus, especially in their work performance.
Ketones provide a great source of energy needed by the brain. The more you lower your carbohydrate intake, the more you avoid high-level spikes of blood sugar. This greatly results to improved mental clarity/focus and boosted concentration. Increase in fatty acid intake has also shown immense benefits for the brain to function well.
- Increase in Energy
Providing your body a more reliable source of power leaves you feeling more energized and fueled for the day. Body fats are the most efficient molecule to convert into energy.
Consequently, burning fats naturally is more satisfying and makes your body feel more satiated for a longer period. It is the same feeling as working out and sweating out all the toxins your body has accumulated. Many ketogenic dieters report boosted levels of endorphins that make them feel lighter and happier with a greater sense of well-being overall without the cravings normally associated with a diet higher in processed carbohydrates.
- Treatment of Epilepsy and Cancer
In the early 20th century, the main purpose of the ketogenic diet was to imitate safely the effects of a drug that suppresses seizures. The conventional keto diet has four times more fat than combined proteins and carbohydrates.
Several researchers gained interest in this type of dietary program and began studying its effects on treating other conditions. A promising result showed that it has the capability of slowing the progression of cancer. Despite this, the ketogenic diet alone is not enough to cure the disease. However, they have found out that in conjunction with existing medical treatments for cancer, the keto diet can impede the growth of cancer including those that are already metastasized ones.
Although it is still uncertain as to why ketogenic diet can prevent the advancement of tumor growth, part of it helps in regulating metabolic ailments such as metabolic syndrome, Type 2 diabetes, and obesity. The minimal blood sugar levels that keto diet produces are essential in enabling patients in reducing their diabetes drug intake.
- Blood Pressure and Cholesterol Control
A Ketogenic diet improves triglyceride and cholesterol levels associated with the arteries. Low-carb and high-fat diet plan generate a drastic increase in high-density lipoprotein or HDL and gradual increase in low-density lipoprotein or LDL particles.
Blood pressure problems are commonly associated with obesity or excessive weight. Ketogenic diet simply targets these two health issues since this diet regimen leads to weight loss.
- Insulin Resistance
Resistance to insulin, if not managed, can lead to Type 2 diabetes. Many studies proved that the ketogenic diet helped patients decrease their insulin levels and regained their health back to normal levels after adhering to the diet for 6+ months.
For athletes, insulin optimization can largely benefit them by having a diet plan high in omega-3 fatty acids.
- Acne and Other Skin Diseases
The most common and immediate benefit of a keto diet is improved skin and complexion. A study showed that regular practice of this program helps heal skin inflammation and lesions. Keto diet also helps clear up your face from acne and other facial skin problems.
Reaching the Ketosis State
It may sound a bit daunting and complicated but achieving ketosis state is completely viable. There are some important fundamentals to know when considering this diet:
- Carbohydrate Restriction.
Some people tend to make the mistake of focusing only on net carbs. To achieve better results, you should limit both. Stay below 20 g of net carbs and 35 g of total carbs for the whole day.
- Protein Restriction.
Practitioners usually choose a keto diet from Atkins but do not limit their protein intake nearly enough. High level of protein leads to lower levels of ketones. If you want to lose weight, you have to eat around 0.6 g to 0.8 g of protein depending on your body mass. This is where many ketogenic dieters fall short so it is important to take note.
- Getting Enough Fat.
As the body’s main source of energy, fat is easily burned if you are in ketosis. Make sure your body has enough levels of fat. Remember that you do not lose weight by starving yourself. This is generally the hardest fundamental to get most dieters around. Use a ketogenic diet calculator to figure out your macronutrients and exactly how much fat you should be getting each day.
- Regular Water Intake.
It is advised to drink a gallon of water per day. Stay hydrated and be consistent with the amount of water you take. It regulates vital body functions and controls hunger.
- Limit Eating Snacks.
Weight loss can be immediately achieved if your body has fewer insulin hits during the day. Avoid unnecessary snacking as this may lead to slower progress in weight loss.
- Practice Fasting.
This is a great way to boost your body’s ketone levels during the day. This sends the message to your body to divert its energy source from stored fats instead of generating it from other sources of energy. Intermittent fasting is a huge trend these days with a lot of great scientific research to back this up.
- Exercise Regularly.
Exercising for 30 minutes to 1 hour a day is healthy. To get the most out of your ketogenic diet, stick to a workout regimen every day. Walking helps in weight loss and regulates blood sugar levels.
- Ketogenic Supplements.
This is not necessarily needed under the keto dietary plan, but it can increase your energy and helps in boosting appetite. The added vitamins and minerals will support your system and lift your stamina. Keto supplements mainly include MCT Oil and derivatives of beta-hydroxybutyrate (exogenous ketones).
Food Guide: What to Eat and Not to Eat
If you are willing to start a ketogenic diet, you have to plan ahead. This means having a feasible diet plan you can adhere to. The food you are going to eat depends on how immediate you want to reach the ketosis state. If you are more restrictive on your carb intake, the faster you will achieve ketosis.
Here is a comprehensive keto diet food list of what you should and should not eat.
Do Not Eat:
- Grains – rice, corn, cereal, wheat, pasta, etc.
- Sugar – agave, honey, maple syrup, etc.
- Sugary food – fruit juice, soda, cake, ice cream, smoothies, etc.
- Fruits – bananas, apples, oranges, etc.
- Tubers – yams, potatoes, parsnips, etc.
- Beans and Legumes – kidney beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas, etc.
- Unhealthy Fats – mayonnaise, vegetable oils, etc.
- Meats – beef, fish, poultry, lamb, eggs, steak, turkey, ham, etc.
- Fatty Fishes – tuna, salmon, mackerel, trout, etc.
- Leafy Greens – kale, spinach, etc.
- Low-Carb Veggies – onions, peppers, green veggies, etc.
- Above the Ground Vegetables – cauliflower, broccoli, etc.
- High-Fat Dairy – high-fat cream, butter, cheese, etc.
- Seeds and Nuts – walnuts, macadamias, sunflower seeds, almonds, etc.
- Berries and Avocados – blackberries, raspberries, glycemic berries, etc.
- Sweeteners – monk fruit, erythritol, stevia, etc.
- Healthy Fats – saturated fats, high-fat salad dressing, coconut oil, etc.
To help you plan your keto diet menu, you can interchange the mentioned food list above for variety. If you are planning on cooking your own meal, there are keto diet recipes you can find online.
The ketogenic diet has long been a dietary practice for almost 90 years. There are many claims that it has greatly improved health upon discovering this diet program. The Charlie Foundation, a global pioneer in promoting the ketogenic diet program, gathered a pool of neurologists and expert dieticians to create a consensus testimony to support the medical applications of the keto diet and its many benefits to the human body.