First, let me start by saying this is not an "Anti-Keto" post. The benefits of Keto, when done correctly, have astounding physical and physiological results. However, there is more to the Ketogenic Diet than meets the eye. Bringing awareness to the reality of being "Keto" or "fat adapted," is the sole purpose of this post. So let's dig in!
What is Ketosis?
Simply put, Ketosis is your bodies ability to metabolize and use fat for fuel instead of glycogen (also known as carbohydrates). Carbohydrates are our bodies preferred energy source. They are readily available, and stored in your muscles as glycogen for when you need to get a few extra reps in during your WOD! While following a strict Keto diet, which we will discuss later, your body has limited amounts of glycogen to use for energy. So it begins to metabolize fats in the liver, which then turn into ketones that can be used for energy. The level of ketones in your blood determines if you are in a state of ketosis.
"Metabolize and use fat? That's exactly what I want to do! Lose this fat!"
Not so fast... This sounds great on the surface but what you must understand is, this was not the intended purpose of ketosis. Ketosis was originally brought into the spotlight in the medical industry. Children with epilepsy who were resistant to seizure medications were placed in a state of ketosis by fasting them. This allowed their bodies to be more accepting to treatment. This obviously lead researchers to see what other diseases could be treated by placing patients into a state of ketosis. So on with the clinical studies! I won't bore you with the details here, but Ketosis is now being researched as a form of cancer treatment and therapy for other metabolic diseases with some positive side effects being; longer life span, decreased tumors, decreased number of cancer cells, lower blood sugar levels, alsheimers therapy, and much more. The Keto Diet is a current medical marvel. It has shed light on what many scientists, doctors and individuals have been saying for decades. What we are eating, is causing disease.
Keto and weight loss
As you may already know, The Keto Diet is a high fat, low carbohydrate diet. With about 70% of your total caloric intake coming from fats, 20-25% from proteins and 5-10% from carbohydrates. When one of your friends decides to go on a Keto Diet and loses 15lbs, it is primarily due to the massive reduction in carbohydrates. The typical American diet is chalk full of carbohydrates such as; rice, pastas, processed snacks, fast food and many others. An immediate and drastic reduction in these types of foods cause individuals to lose some very quick weight, with some of this being attributed to water loss as well. Reducing your intake of processed carbohydrates is always a good thing. It's the reason we are in this obesity epidemic to begin with. After the initial weight loss period, most individuals report a slowing down, stoppage and even reversal of weight loss. In other words, weight gain! This is typically accompanied by fatigue, low energy levels and brain fog. The restriction in carbohydrates is the primary cause of this fatigue. Your brain primarily functions on glucose, so the transition into using ketones, does not go over well at first with your brain. However it does rebound and adapt quickly. As for the weight gain, fats are easily converted and stored in the body as, you guessed it, FAT! Low energy equals a lack of energy output (exercise/activity), combine that with a high fat intake, and you get weight gain!
"But how is that possible? I've seen the success stories on the internet!"
Yes, it is possible to be a Keto success story! Again, this is not an "Anti-Keto" post. But as I hinted to above, to get the full benefit of Keto, it must be done correctly! This means; fasting, blood testing, measuring, calorie tracking and eating from the right sources. EVERY DAY! The honest truth is, many people cannot handle the daily rigor it takes to be successful with Keto. Testing your blood daily, measuring out each meal to the calorie, and buying expensive fats and good source oils are all challenging on their own, let alone together.
Blood testing, Fasting and Supplementation - What being in a state of ketosis actually means.
Being in a state of ketosis means that your liver is converting stored fat, into ketones for energy. Ketones are present in the blood stream and can be measured to ensure that you are in fact using fats for fuel. The ideal level of ketones in the blood is between 2-5mmol/L. The vast majority of success stories you will see, are from people who were willing to test their blood up to three times per day, to ensure they were in ketosis. The technology is similar to that of testing blood sugar levels. Finger pricking and paying for testing equipment. For a 12 month supply of testing supplies you will pay upwards of $1000. This is really the most crucial step to being on the Keto Diet. Making sure your body stays in a state of ketosis for as long as possible is the goal. This is why the carbs you intake must be 10%, or less, of your total caloric intake. Carbohydrates spike your insulin, which then convert the carbohydrates into fuel for you to use. If you are converting carbohydrates into fuel, then that means you are not converting fat into fuel. In other words, having one too many calories from carbs or proteins, with any meal, could render your diet useless.
Fasting, is another common practice with the Keto diet. Going without food for a specific period of time can help speed up the process and increase your blood ketone levels. Many individuals combine the Keto diet, with Intermittent Fasting to get the best results. The frequency in which one might fast throughout the week, varies by the preference of the individual. Personally, I believe in fasting, I do intermittent fasting on and off using many different time variations. Most recently I completed a 72 hour fast for religious reasons, and felt fantastic afterwards. We even recommend that some of our clients begin to apply intermittent fasting to their lifestyle. The benefits of fasting are both physical and physiological. It is no surprise that fasting is a quick (if not the quickest) way to get your body into ketosis.
Here is where things get a little shady. While in a fasted state, it is common to see the use of exogenous ketones and MCT oils to again help push the blood ketone levels to the desired level. Again, the vast majority of success stories you will see, are supplementing with these items. They have been shown to push individuals into ketosis, when combined with proper eating and fasting. You may have noticed an increase in advertisements, sales reps, and nutrition stores selling theses supplements as a quick fix. While they do have a place in the Keto Diet, you CANNOT solely drink exogenous ketones and place your body in a state of ketosis. That is not how it works. Yet, this is what many of these supplements and sales people claim that they do. While the labels may not be necessarily lying, there is a large amount of information omitted. Just ask yourself this...If you could drink a magic drink, that was readily available to the public to lose weight, then why do we have an obesity crisis? It isn't that easy! There are no magic pills, that will make you lose weight, burn fat, gain muscle or anything else for that matter. Just like everything else in your life, Keto takes hard work and dedication to your goal. Please don't drink the Kool-Aid. Or the exogenous ketones for that matter.
I'm going to let you in on a little secret that most people miss...
You must eat carbs on the Keto diet.
**Shocked Gasp** "But you just said in your last section, that you only eat 10% of your calories from carbohydrates!"
Yes, you eat a large amount of carbohydrates! While Keto requires 70% of your calories to come from fats and only 10% carbohydrates, the Keto plate is overflowing with carbohydrates! How is this possible? Consider the source!
When I say the word, "Carbohydrate," you tend to think about these foods; rice, pasta, breads, packaged snacks, etc. . Here is what you don't think about; Broccoli, brussel sprouts, spinach, asparagus, cabbage, kale, tomatoes, bell peppers, and other types of vegetables.
Here is what a typical Keto dinner plate looks like.
Dr. Dom D'agustino, widely considered the foremost expert on ketosis, calls vegetables "fat transportation vessels." Choosing your carbohydrates from the right sources means that you can have a hearty portion of food without feeling guilty. An example of this would be broccoli. 2 cups of broccoli is roughly 9g of carbohydrates and equates to roughly 40 calories. If you were to plug this into the numbers we mentioned above, using a 2000 calorie diet, this would account for only 2% of your total calories. Have you ever had 2 cups of broccoli? The challenge there is finishing the entire 2 cups! Of course, I'm not saying eat only broccoli. Variety is important. Most importantly however, are the micro nutrients you get from eating whole foods. We can save this topic for another day, but micro-nutrients are vital to your biological processes. Like your energy levels for example. Making sure to intake your carbohydrates from the correct sources will mean that you wont feel restricted on a low carbohydrate diet.
Here is another secret... (I'm feeling generous)
You cannot eat bacon, cheese and sour cream all the time and be successful on Keto. Nor can you indulge on all of the almonds or cashews your heart desires.
The majority of your fats should come from nuts, seeds, avocados, and healthy oils (olive, avocado, algae, ghee, grass fed butter, coconut oil, etc). While there will be room from some indulgences such as bacon and dairy. Too much of saturated fat still has its own risks involved and can bring inflamation to the body. You can also indulge having too many nuts and seeds. Your favorite nuts, like almonds and cashews, have carbohydrates in them as well. Too many carbohydrates will kick you out of ketosis. Having one too many cashews can make the fact you're doing Keto, pointless. Remember if you aren't in ketosis, then your fats arent being used for fuel. They're being stored. The key to your fat intake is precision! You must be exact, every time.
As for your protein sources, lean red meats, chicken and fish are going to be your best bet here. Organic and grass fed if your budget permits. A common theme continues with protein. It must be exact. Eating too much protein in one sitting, will spike your insulin and kick you out of ketosis. The Keto diet does restrict proteins, but this restriction really only brings us down to a moderate level of protein consumption, which is where we should be to begin with. 20-25% of your total calories will come from protein. Based on your daily calorie allotment, you should be able to enjoy 3-5oz. of protein with each meal. Protein is naturally more satisfying and filling. Combining clean meats with all those veggies you should be eating, you should feel pretty dang full!
Is Keto Right For Me?
Okay... There is a lot of information to swallow here, and it gets worse the more research you do. Believe me when I tell you, that this post only scratches the surface of Ketosis. Even with all of this information, there is still a vital point that we have yet to mention, that you will not read in all of the "Pro-Keto," marketing and blogs on the internet. Even if you do all of the above steps correctly, your genetics may not ever allow you to be "fat adapted" (Your ability to achieve ketosis). A very well done study out of the Weizmann Institute in Israel, followed 800 individuals that were placed on glucose monitors, that measured their blood glucose levels about every 5 minutes. Some individuals were placed on High Fat diets and others on High Carbohydrate diets. What they discovered, was based on the genetics and gut health of the individual, some people had a high spike in blood glucose levels after eating dietary fat. This did not happen in all participants, but what it did bring to light is that for some people, a high fat diet is not recommended based on there genetics or in a fancier term, "nutrigenomics." We are all truly unique as individuals. Imagine putting in all of this effort in testing, fasting, measuring and eating to actually have the opposite result of what you are trying to achieve. Unfortunately, for about 30% of the population, this may be the case. For all of the uber-success stories you will find about Keto, you will find a story of an individual who just gained fat and felt sluggish.
As for the title of this post, The Truth About Keto, here it goes. I'll narrow it down to the top 4 in each area.
1) The main benefit to Keto is that it restricts carbohydrates that are refined, processed, and quite honestly killing us slowly. This is always a good thing.
2) When done correctly, you will be eating from better sources. Meats, vegetabes, nuts and seeds. You will fell more satisfied due to the increase in nutrient dense food
3) Keto has a proven track record in eliminating metabolic diseases and has some very positive studies being conducted as a form of cancer thereapy and other metabolic disease.
4) You could potentially lose a lot of weight. Potential is the key word here.
1) It is difficult to do correctly and sustain. The world around you is not Keto friendly. Staying in ketosis is a challenge that you must be mentally prepared for. You need will power.
2) You may not be able to fat adapt. Which means you could potentially gain weight and waste precious time.
3) You will feel tired, foggy, and lack energy during your first 30 days. This is crucial because you are forming new habits and trying to stay excited, while your body is doing the opposite. Most people fail in this stage.
4) If you are not currently eating whole foods, then Keto is not for you. The human body is not able to handle too many changes at one time. With Keto, you are changing EVERYTHING all at once.
Ultimately, you have to make your own decision. As always when experimenting with a new diet, consult your physician, talk to your trainer, talk to your significant other, and make the best decision for you. I'm not a doctor and I don't pretend to be one on the internet, but I am an experienced trainer, coach and gym owner. With our clients we take small steps first. Step one, introduce our clients to whole foods. Meats, vegetables, nuts, seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. This is a good place to start. Eliminating the processed and refined carbohydrates and seeing how your body handles the withdraws of sugar is challenging. Typically those changes alone will produce results equal to your first 30 days on Keto. Once our clients are able to show they can be successful in making these healthy choices, we can then progress them into steps 2 and 3. The Keto Diet, in my opinion, is a step 6 or 7 kind of diet. When you factor in all that have to do to be successful on Keto, it can be overwhelming. We would never recommend someone who is struggling with their weight to start on such a difficult path.
So there you have it! To Keto or not To Keto? Only you can decide. To get a little more in depth with the Ketogenic Diet. Here is a good place to start: www.ketonutrition.org