There is a growing awareness of the ketogenic way of eating, or ‘keto’, as evidenced by this recent article in the Seattle Times. http://www.seattletimes.com/pacific-nw-magazine/eat-fat-and-lose-fat-with-a-ketogenic-diet/
I’ve been studying keto and applying it to myself intermittently in the past few months and I am very excited about it, and determined to see what benefits it might have. I am refocusing my efforts to stay committed to a keto lifestyle for a longer duration and I am developing a keto class so that I can share a condensed version of everything you would need to get started. Stay tuned for more info on that and make sure you are on my newsletter list if you are interested in finding out more!
But what is ‘keto’?
What is Keto?
Keto is short for ketogenic. A ketogenic diet is a very low carb diet that retrains the body to burn fat for fuel. Ketones are fat bodies produced by the liver and are great fuel for the body, including the brain. With keto, we swap glucose (blood ‘sugar’) for ketones (a type of fat body) as our main fuel.
Keto is a high fat, moderate protein, very low carb way of eating. Healthful whole food keto includes plentiful low carb non-starchy vegetables like kale, cabbage, spinach, broccoli, and mushrooms (and so many more) for fiber and micro nutrients. It also requires a lot more dietary fat than many of us are used to.
Keto-adaptation is the process of retraining your body to use fat as fuel, which we are all born knowing how to do (think nursing babies- human milk is high fat, low carb!). Keto-adaptation allows us to burn fat very efficiently and to not need sources of glucose, or blood sugars, that are made from dietary carbohydrates. Once we are fully keto-adapted, we have regained our birthright of metabolic flexibility and can reintroduce whole food carbs to an amount tailored to our biochemical individuality.
What is it not?
Nutritional ketosis is NOT the same as ketoacidosis, a very dangerous state that insulin dependent diabetics can be susceptible to and must avoid. See below for a list of who should avoid keto-adaptation, including insulin dependent diabetics.
Keto is not a high protein diet; In fact, excess protein in the diet cannot be stored and will turn into glucose in the blood. Keto is a high fat, moderate protein, very low carb way of eating. (it's worth repeating.)
Once you are keto-adapted, it is actually a protein sparing diet, meaning you will need less protein. This is due to not needing to turn muscle protein into glucose via gluconeogenesis to address blood sugar dips. This is better for your body and the environment!
Keto is not necessarily Atkins, although Atkins is a form of keto.
Why do we want to do it?
Once we are keto-adapted we are no longer subject to the brief supply of glucose in our blood to feel good. We can use our own fat stores as well as fat from our diet to stay satiated and fueled for much longer. Our energy is steady and plentiful. We need less mass of food so it is very useful when traveling or hiking, or engaging in any endurance sports. We have ready access to the many thousands of calories in our stored fat versus just the 2000 or so available from glycogen (stored glucose) supplies.
BENEFITS (including but not limited to)
-Satiated for much longer without needing to refuel
-Weight loss without hunger or tracking calories
-Able to engage in endurance athletics with greater performance and lower event nutrition needs
-Able to better access own body’s fat for fuel
-Eliminate hypoglycemic energy patterns
-Improve chronic inflammatory conditions, insulin resistance, obesity, and diabetes
-Reduce metabolic disease factors
-Improve triglycerides and HDL cholesterol levels
-Very beneficial for Alzheimer’s and dementia as it provides an alternate fuel for the brain
Keto adaptation, metabolic flexibility, and ketosis maintenance
There are many schools of thought on keto maintenance; some prefer long term keto, and others use an approach that reclaims metabolic flexibility by reintroducing whole food carbohydrates and then finding tolerance by measuring speed of return to ketosis. Intermittent fasting can also be used to maintain flexibility while still incorporating whole food carbs. Being able to monitor your blood ketone levels will help you find your ideal keto way. Women especially often benefit hormonally by re-incorporating some whole food carbohydrate intermittently after full keto-adaptation.
How long does it take?
Keto adaptation is not for the faint of heart or the flighty; it takes 4-8 weeks to fully keto-adapt. Once adapted, athletic performance is equal or better than prior. However, during adaptation, athletic performance as well as general energy levels may be worse for a period of weeks. The body needs time to shift over and cross the bridge to keto-adaptation. Remember, this is regaining a capability that we all had at birth but many of us have lost due to our carbogenic food environment.
Caution list- who shouldn’t do keto?
It is advisable for everyone to get a basic checkup and blood work from your medical provider prior to embarking on keto. Once you are keto adapted it is beneficial to many body systems, but the bridge to getting there can be hard work for the body. There are some people who should not do keto. If you have any of the following conditions, you are advised to not do keto, or to explore further with your medical provider if you wish.
-issues with obsessive or disordered eating patterns
-advanced liver disease
-pregnant or nursing (ok to already be keto for these situations, but tougher to keto-adapt at this time, due to detoxing. Great if you are already keto-adapted.)
-insulin dependent diabetic
-kidney disease or dysfunction
-symptomatic cardiovascular disease
-history of gout with high uric acid
-severe adrenal fatigue and hypothyroid issues can be barrier to adaptation
Interested in finding out more about keto?
There are so many exciting things to learn and discuss about the ketogenic approach. If you are interested in learning more there are a lot of places to look, but one resource I’ve really appreciated is the book ‘The Art and Science of Low Carb Performance’ by Volek and Phinney.
As I stated in the beginning of this post (if you are still reading you get a gold star!) I am also developing a keto starter class so if you are interested in that or in speaking more with me one on one about keto, let me know! There are a lot of tips, resources, and supportive techniques to assist in smoothly transitioning to keto-adaption and I am looking forward to sharing more of them soon!