A diet that has been developed for children with epilepsy in the 1920's has been all the rage the past 2 years. However, it has become popular for a few different reasons. Many claim it is helpful for losing weight, controlling type 2 diabetes, and even to help fuel brain functions. Yes, it is the ketogenic diet (1). In this article, we will take a closer look at all the important facts about the keto diet - from the effects of ketosis to the keto supplements that can be used. To find out more, keep on reading.
What Is The Keto Diet?
The keto diet (2) is based on the idea of eating very high amounts of fat and very low amounts of carbohydrates, with an adequate amount of protein. This means that you will have to eat less than 50 grams of carbs per day - which is equivalent to about 2 large potatoes or 4 slices of bread. This is usually less than 10 percent of the total calorie intake per day. The amount of fat that you should consume is around about 60 to 80 percent of your total calories. What is left goes to protein intake.
Other than the specific amount of fat and carbs that should be eaten, there is another very important factor. Your body needs enter into a state of ketosis. To explain this, let us start at the beginning. Based on the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI), our Acceptable Macro Distribution Range (AMDR) for ages 19 and above should be as follows (3):
- Carbohydrate - 45 to 65 percent
- Protein - 10 to 35 percent
- Fat - 20 to 35 percent
This means that first, your body breaks down carbohydrates to form glucose (4) - which is the main source of energy to fuel the body and the brain. However, when these high amounts of carbs are dropped, the body needs a different fuel source for energy. The alternative fuel source is fat. The body usually breaks down stored fat during fasting and extensive exercising. However, when there is a low intake of carbohydrates and a high intake of fat, the body can use this supply of fat for energy - a process called ketosis.
The body falls into a state of ketosis (5), when the liver converts fat into fatty acids and ketones. These ketone bodies replace glucose and become the main source of energy. This is why people use the keto diet for weight loss. One can test the level of ketones by urinating on a ketone test strip. The ketones can also be found in the bloodstream and therefore can be detected by a blood test, however, the use of a ketone test strip is much easier.
The keto diet follows a high-fat, adequate-protein, and low-carbohydrate plan. One must consume less than 50 grams of carbohydrates within a day, which is less than 10 percent of one's daily calorie intake. 60 to 80 percent of your total calories must come from healthy fats. The idea of this diet is to throw the body into a state of ketosis. Ketosis is when the body breaks down fat as the main source of energy instead of carbohydrates. The liver converts fat into ketone bodies which is used to fuel the body and brain.
The Pros And Cons
The benefits of being in ketosis are not entirely clear. The claims are that being in a state of ketosis is beneficial for protecting the brain and improving brain function (however this is found in children with epilepsy). Research also claims that the diet may help benefit blood sugar control in people who are diabetic or insulin resistant (6). Being in ketosis has also claimed to help people who want to lose weight. This is because glucose (from carbs) increases blood sugar, which increases insulin, and leads to weight gain and ultimately diabetes and heart diseases. Individuals have also stated that it helps them feel fuller for longer (7) and provides them with enough energy throughout the day.
When looking at the side effects of a low carbohydrate diet, one may experience bad breath (due to the higher amount of ketone bodies), headaches, and constipation, just to name a few. Being on a keto diet and in a state of ketosis may also cause you to cut out many healthy foods which may make it difficult to meet all the necessary micronutrients you need in a day - thus leading to nutritional deficiencies (8). With the high fat content, one may also consume too much saturated fat which could be detrimental for your heart.
With this all said, the keto diet is actually very beneficial. However, it may work for some and for others it may not. Also, because of such a strict menu, it may be difficult to stick to resulting in individuals using the keto diet as a short-term diet rather than a long-term lifestyle change. In addition to this, it is best to consult a doctor or healthcare professional if you wish to follow this diet to ensure you receive all the correct carbohydrate alternatives to meet your micronutrients and also to ensure you consume healthy fats.
When looking at the pros, the keto diet can help individuals with epilepsy, diabetes, and those who wish to lose weight. This is because carbohydrates converted into glucose increases insulin production and blood sugar, which ultimate increases weight gain, heart problems, and diabetes. The cons however are the fact that foods are cut from the diet which may lead to certain micronutrient deficiencies. In addition to this, the consumption of too much fat, especially bad fats, may cause heart problems. The keto diet is also very difficult to stick to as there are many restrictions and one has to think of carbohydrate alternatives. Thus, most people use this as a short-term diet.
Foods For An Effective Keto Diet
As mentioned above, the idea of the keto diet is to consume high amount of fat and low amounts of carbohydrates. First we will take a look at what not to eat to stay in a state of ketosis. Foods high in carbohydrates are out. These include starchy fruits and vegetables (like potatoes and corn), pasta, bread, grains, and sugar. It may seem easy to leave these foods off your plate, however, carbs usually accompany every meal and sugar is found in so many foods and beverages. When it comes to sugary products, it is best to read the ingredients list to see what is in the product.
So, what may you eat? It is best to choose carbohydrate alternatives, as mentioned above, as well as healthy fats to keep your keto diet effective. These foods include (9):
- Protein - This macronutrient should be consumed in moderation. Choose grass-fed beef, fish, and dark meat chicken. Choose naturally fatty fish (10) such as mackerel, herring, salmon, sardines, lake trout, and albacore tuna. These are all good sources of omega-3 fatty acids for your keto diet and in addition to this, it will help keep your heart healthy.
- Fruits and vegetables - Avocado is a very good source of healthy fats. It is best to eat a quarter to a half per day. Vegetables that are beneficial include celery, asparagus, and leafy greens such as kale, spinach, and arugula. Eggplant and squash (zucchini) can also be used, however, the carbs of these must just be well monitored.
- Nuts and seeds - Walnuts and almonds are usually the best to eat. When it comes to seeds, choose chia seeds and flaxseeds.
- Milk - As mentioned above almonds are beneficial in a keto diet, thus almond milk is probably the best to use. You can also use heavy cream as a milk alternative.
- Oils and fats (11) - When preparing food, use coconut oil, olive oil, or avocado oil. Butter is also a much better choice, especially over margarine and any other artificial trans fats.
Luckily there are many alternatives on the market such as zucchini spaghetti, cauliflower rice, and almond flour, just to name a few. Another alternative is to rather stick to fresh whole foods and not opt for processed and fast-foods. There are also different snacks available for those who wish to eat something sweet or something salty.
Carbohydrates, especially food high in carbs such as bread, pasta, and sugar must be cut from the diet. Low-carbohydrates, carbohydrate alternatives, nuts, seeds, fatty fish, and butter are should be consumed. It is best to stick to whole foods than eat processed foods as these contain a lot of sugar and carbs. Luckily there are many keto products on the market and still more to come to help one stick to the keto diet.
Keto Supplements And Pills
Due to the craze of the keto diet (12), many keto supplements have been developed to help one stay in a state of ketosis. It is said to be beneficial for those times when you eat foods that are not so keto-friendly. However, this is not a quick fix for every time you eat foods high in carbohydrates or indulge in a sugary product. If you decide to use a keto supplement, be sure to choose ketone salts derived from beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB). These exogenous ketones are usually produced by our bodies.
When looking at ketogenic diet pills, it is evident more research is necessary. There are studies which have seen modest success in helping people achieve and maintain ketosis, but larger studies are definitely needed. Many people have found success using ketogenic diet pills while sticking to the ketogenic diet. It allows people to not have to be so strict and gives them a little leeway to eat more carbs while staying in ketosis.
Due to the popularity of this low-carb diet, many companies have decided to develop keto supplements as well as ketogenic diet pills. However, the facts are as follows. There is scientific evidence that backs the use of BHB ketone salts. Unfortunately for the use of ketogenic diet pills like the Keto plus diet, more evidence is needed to prove 100% efficacy.
The Ultimate Take Home Message About The Keto Diet
Many people believe the keto diet is the best diet to be on and that it provides many benefits. These people are not wrong. The low carbohydrate intake results in less glucose which ultimately means one's insulin and blood sugar levels will be lower. With the high-fat intake, one's body will burn fat as the main source of energy and the body will fall into a state of ketosis. This is why it seems to be beneficial for weight loss and diabetic individuals. To further help one be in a state of ketosis, there are many different keto supplements on the market, however, it is important to first look at the research behind each product before just purchasing the first item you see. In addition to this, by cutting out certain foods, you may not receive all the micronutrients that you need. This is why it is best to consult a healthcare professional before starting this diet.