To understand what the keto diet is, we should understand what happens to the food after we swallow it. After we swallow food, it is broken down both mechanically and chemically into small molecules of glucose that are utilised for our energy needs. And this is mainly gained from the carbohydrates that we eat.
Now, what the ketogenic diet aims to do is shift your main source of energy from glucose to ketone bodies (hence the name “ketogenic”). And where do we get these ketone bodies from? From burning fat. Basically a diet that is high in fat and low in carbs is called a keto diet.
In history, a keto diet was used to treat children with epilepsy. The ketone bodies produced produce more GABA, a neurotransmitter that helps to reduce excitability. This in turn reduced the number of seizures that a patient has. History tells us that keto diets were used even as far back as 500 BC.
The liver produces glucose by breaking down the glycogen stored in it in a normal diet rich in carbohydrates. But in a keto diet, since there is a scarcity of carbohydrates, it acts on the fat instead and converts it into ketone bodies. These ketone bodies produce the required energy necessary for the functioning of the body. The state of the body where it produces ketone bodies instead of glucose is called “ketosis”.
Once the body is in the state of ketosis, it becomes easy to burn the fat. And since the necessary requirements of carbs are not met, the body gets its energy requirement from the fat that is being consumed as well as the fat in the body. But to get to this state of ketosis is difficult and it takes a few days to get there.
Now, you must be wondering if this actually works. Many studies have been conducted to test the short term results of a ketogenic diet. And in the short term, it works. You lose a sizable quantity of your weight. But there are obvious pitfalls too. But we’ll come to that later.
The efficiency of the keto diet depends on these main factors.
- Any medical disorders
Having any hormonal issues like hypothyroidism or insulin resistance may give fewer results than expected. And if you are already obese or have a low metabolic rate, then it might hamper your results. Being on certain medication like antidepressants might also slow down the rate at which you lose your weight.
- Your body
Do you have a low metabolic rate? A high BMI? Low muscle mass? High fat content? All these conditions vary how you lose weight. The more fat you have to lose, the more quantifiable results that you will see in the beginning. There’s also the fact that your body needs time to attain and stay in the state of ketosis. This time period varies for everybody.
- Day-to-day routine
Just starting a diet isn’t enough. What also matters is if you follow that diet strictly, and if you keep off the sugary items like soda, etc. Also junk food with a high fat content does not count as a diet. No amount of smart-assery will help you lose weight. You need to be sincere. And a regular workout cycle is a must to work out the excess fat that you’re ingesting. In fact, you should workout more than usual to burn the fat that you’re eating.
What are the types of keto diets? There are four main types.
- Standard ketogenic diet – Here, you consume 75% fat, 20% protein and 5% carbs
- Cyclical ketogenic diet – Here, you are on a SKD for 5 days, and a normal diet for two days
- Targeted ketogenic diet – Here, carbs are added before workouts
- High-protein ketogenic diet – Here, you consume 60% fat, 35% protein and 5% carbs
So let’s get started on what you should know and do before starting your keto diet:
- Use a keto calculator (there are about a billion of them on the internet) to find out how much of proteins, fats and carbs you need to eat on a daily basis to reduce or gain weight. Finding this out will help you to determine your daily calorie requirements and also help you to plan your meals accordingly so that you’re set for your goal of reducing weight.
- Be patient. Your body will not start losing weight on the first day of the diet itself. Your body needs to first go to a state of ketosis and then it will start running on ketone bodies. Only then your body will start utilising and burning fat. Only then will you start losing weight.
- What you eat also matters. Eating junk food that is high in processed fats will keep you in a state of ketosis. But is it good for you in the long run? Absolutely not! It’s bad for your heart and your general well-being.
- I cannot stress this enough, but you need to burn more calories than you usually do. It’s to burn the extra fat ingested and is absolutely essential. Now, this extra exercise can come from the small things that you do. Take the stairs instead of the lift or the escalator. Walk to the nearby grocery stores instead of taking your car or bike. Don’t get food home delivered, walk to restaurants nearby and eat there itself. The small things count.
How to know if you have reached ketosis? There are a few indicators.
- Ketone meters – there are a few tests you can do at the convenience of your home to see if you have reached ketosis or not. Urine sticks, blood sticks, breathalysers and blood ketone meters are a few.
- Decreased appetite
- A metallic taste in your mouth is often an indicator of ketosis
- Weight loss – an obvious indicator that you’ve reached ketosis
- Flu-like symptoms – in the beginning, you may experience symptoms like headaches, chills and dizziness, but don’t be alarmed. It’s a normal aspect of your body trying to get used to the change in the diet.
Keto diets have an all-round change on your body and benefit you in many ways.
- Weight loss
This is probably the most obvious advantage. But how does it happen? Ketone bodies suppress ghrelin, the hormone responsible for hunger and increase the levels of cholecystokinin, which controls your satiety. This helps you to go longer periods without eating, causing your body to dip into its fat reserves for energy, thus burning fat.
Ketone bodies reduce inflammation in your body, so it is good for conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, etc. It also has some effect in reducing the risk factors of degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
- Brain food
Ketone bodies are extremely nutritious to your brain and provide an instant hit if energy. Your brain is also 60% fat, and needs fat to keep it running smoothly. Omega-3 fatty acids and other essential saturated fats keep the brain healthy.
- The power house of the cell
Mitochondria are the power houses of the cells. Ketone bodies help to increase the number of mitochondria in your cells, thereby giving you more energy to do work.
- Reduced risk of diabetes
A keto diet reduces the blood sugar level and stabilizes insulin levels, thereby preventing the harmful effects of high blood sugar. This diet may help some patients stop medication altogether by just being on the diet.
What are the foods to be avoided? Anything that is high in carbs. Highly sugary foods like sports drinks, soda, smoothies, fruit juices, cake, ice cream, chocolates are just a few of the foods with a high carb content. Wheat based products, rice, pasta, cereal and other grains are a strict no-no. Fruits, due to their high glycaemic index, are also banned from this diet. Only a few berries like strawberries, and that too in a small quantity are allowed. Beans and tubers (potatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, etc.) are also not allowed as they have a high carb content. Processed vegetables oils, cheeses, syrups, spreads, sauces and other similar foods are also to be avoided at all costs as they contain low fats and are high in carbs. And last, but not the least, alcohol must be avoided at all costs as they have a high carb content.
What food can you eat? Meat, and red meat is preferred, is allowed to be eaten. Fatty fish like salmon, trout, tuna and mackerel are also to be taken. This also provides you with essential omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for the brain. Pasteurized eggs, butter and cream are all necessary parts if this diet. Unprocessed cheese (cheddar, goat, blue, etc.) are also consumed as they do not have any preservatives and are low in carb content. Nuts like almonds and walnuts and seeds like sunflower seeds and chia seeds can be taken as snacks as they have a high polyunsaturated fat content and are good for the body. Vegetables like avocados, green vegetables, onions, tomatoes, chillies, capsicum, etc. are all allowed as they have a low carb content. Unprocessed oils like olive oil, coconut oil and avocado oil are all rich in fats, and so are allowed to be consumed.
Now that I’ve told you all about the good parts about the keto diet, let’s come to the bad parts.
- Ketosis is actually a mild form of ketoacidosis, a dangerous condition seen mainly in type 1 diabetes people. Reaching ketosis for these people is actually dangerous, as it might lead to ketoacidosis.
- The weight that you lose in the initial stages is more water weight. Glucose is combined with water and stored, and since the reserves of glucose are depleted, the water is all removed. This water weight will be regained once you stop the diet.
- Since the liver is the main organ responsible for the production of ketone bodies, it puts a lot of strain on the liver. The conversion is not an easy process, and any pre-existing liver conditions could be worsened by a keto diet.
- Since the diet also calls for low proteins, the kidneys are affected and may worsen any previous conditions.
- Constipation is also another problem as the diet is deficient in fibre, mainly gained from vegetables, fruits, grains and legumes.
- Irritability and a feeling of haziness and confusion is there for the first few days of the onset of the diet as the brain needs glucose to function normally.
So, keeping all this into account, it’s you who needs to decide if this diet is worth it or not. I mean, the cost of just the food is going to be ginormous! And add to that the feeling of irritability and confusion, the first few weeks are going to suck for you. And studies have shown that the most weight lost is in the first 3 months, and your weight stabilizes to some extent after that. And if you stop the diet, all that weight is probably going to come back. Wouldn’t it just be easier to follow a normal diet and a normal workout plan? Food for thought, literally.