What is a Ketogenic Diet?
Without glucose from carbs (and here I don’t just mean sugars and grains but also beans, legumes, fruits and vegetables) your body burns the fat you eat and the stored fat on your body as its main fuel source. The fat breaks down into ketones that are an alternative to glucose to fuel your brain and suppress hunger. The exact details of what you might eat vary somewhat from program to program but broadly speaking you eat the majority of your calories as fat, restricting protein to moderate levels (15-20%) and carbohydrates to 5-10%.
Potential Benefits of Burning Ketones
- Less Inflammation – Burning ketones causes less inflammation than burning glucose.
- More Brain Power – The brain on ketones produces more mitochondria – the energy source for your cells.
- Neuroprotective – A great way to benefit brain conditions like epilepsy and Parkinson’s.
- Less Hunger – When your body is good at burning fat for fuel it can always turn to your fat stores for energy and you don’t feel as hungry.
- Rapid Weight loss – Where burning carbs for fuel increases insulin and puts you into fat storage mode, burning fats means that you can utilize stored fat on your body.
- Blood sugar balance and improved insulin sensitivity.
- Cardiovascular benefits.
Is Keto Beneficial Long Term?
Staying on a ketogenic diet long term can be stressful on the body. There isn’t a human population in history that has existed in long-term ketosis. Even the Inuits, who had a very high fat diet, were not in ketosis because they had genetic mutations that stopped them overproducing ketones. For this reason, I don’t recommend staying on a keto diet for a long period and think it suitable for only 3-6 months as a therapeutic diet helpful to deal with certain situations only.
Downsides of the Ketogenic Diet
Also bear in mind that not everyone will respond the same way to a ketogenic diet. Everyone has different genetics and lifestyles. Consider if a ketogenic diet is really the right direction for you and beware of these potential downsides before you embark on a keto program.
- Damage to the Gut Microbiome - Restricting carbohydrates means restricting vegetables and other sources of dietary fiber. This results in less fermentation and therefore less food for the gut microbes. It also means a more acidic environment in the colon, which can encourage less desirable bacteria to thrive.
- Constipation – The lack of fiber can slow down things in the GI tract and that means you are not eliminating waste and toxins. As toxins are stored in fat tissue this a concern if you are burning body fat.
- Keto Flu – It takes time for your body to adapt to be able to burn fat for fuel. It can take a couple of days or a couple of weeks. The transition period, known as the keto flu, is often accompanied by fatigue, lightheadedness, dizziness and electrolyte imbalances that can be severe.
- Hormonal imbalances – Women, in particular, seem to respond less well to a ketogenic diet. Ketosis is like starvation and so the body can shut down reproductive functions via the thyroid. Especially if you have low thyroid function, the risks of keto may be too great. Keto is also not a good idea if you have low cortisol and adrenal fatigue. Fiber is important for removal of excess hormones from the body and without it they will stay in your system and create imbalances.
- Stress on the liver, kidneys and gallbladder – Some people don’t do well digesting and metabolizing fats. It is better to monitor how you are doing with regular blood tests. If you aren’t doing well, keto is probably not for you.
- People living in Blue Zones, the world’s longest living cultures, eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables that are packed with phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals.
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