What you should know about the ketogenic diet – its application, benefits and side effects
What is ketogenic diet?
The ketogenic diet is essentially a high fat diet, moderate in protein and very low in carbohydrates.
The aim is to switch the body’s metabolism over to using fat as the primary source of energy instead of carbohydrates.
As a result, the body generates ketones, in a process known as ketosis, which provide energy for the brain and muscle tissues.
Ketones or “ketone bodies” are produced by the breakdown of your body fat – triglycerides. The three types of ketones include:
Reducing the amount of carbohydrates in your diet leads to lower blood glucose levels. Your body then uses stored glucose in the form of glycogen. Once that runs out, however, the breakdown of body fat to free fatty acids (FFA) begins. The FFA are sent to the liver and are broken down to a substance known as acetyl-CoA. This is then further broken down into ketones (acetoacetate and Beta-hydroxybutyrate). Body cells use the ketones for the utilization of energy.
Health Benefits of Ketogenic Diet
Burning of body fat increases, while the levels of insulin drop. This leads to loss of excess weight.
Ketogenic diet provides sustained energy, maintaining the feeling of fullness after a meal and therefore reducing the chance of snacking throughout the day.
Reduced risk Type 2 Diabetes
A ketogenic diet helps to reduce blood glucose levels and insulin fluctuations. It can help in prevention and potentially reversal of insulin resistance – one of the major causes of Type 2 Diabetes.
Sustained energy and blood glucose levels allow for increased focus and improved concentration.
A human study found that a ketogenic diet can improve memory function in older adults.
Improved Physical endurance
A number of studies have shown that ketones in the blood lead to performance improvements in athletes. It has been found that ketogenic diet may lead to better energy utilization, lower oxidative stress and lower lactate production during exercise.
According to research, ketones demonstrate a glucose sparing effect during exercise which increases exercise tolerance and thus an athlete’s ability to perform for longer periods of time.
The ketogenic diet was originally developed in 1921 for children suffering from epilepsy. It proved to be highly effective and continues to be used as treatment therapy today for both children and adults.
Possible protection against cancer
Studies have shown that ketogenic diet may ‘starve’ cancer cells, which use glucose as their primary source for energy production and not fat. Therefore low-carb diet can be an effective way for reducing cancer risk.
Other potential health benefits include:
- Decreased pain & lowered inflammation
- Mood stabilization (Autism & Bipolar)
- Normalise blood pressure
- Protection against heart disease
- Reduced heartburn
- Less acne
- Reverse polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Prevention of Alzheimer’s disease
Some of the most common side effects in the initial stages of transitioning to ketogenic diet include:
- Keto flu : symptoms include headache, nausea, fatigue and cramps. To prevent these, ensure to drink water with salt and lemon. This would ensure you stay hydrated and have adequate amounts of electrolytes.
- Bad breath (keto breath)
- Heart palpitations
- Reduced physical performance. This may occur during the first few weeks of adaptation as the body switches from burning sugar to burning fat for energy production.
What to eat:
- Meat: Any type: Beef, pork, lamb, game, poultry, etc. If possible try to choose organic or grass-fed meats. Recipes
- Fish and seafood: All kinds: Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines or herring are great. Avoid breading. Recipes
- Eggs: All kinds: Boiled, fried, scrambled, omelets, etc. Preferably organic eggs. Recipes
- Natural fat, high-fat sauces: Use butter and cream for cooking. Coconut fat or olive oil are also good options.
- Vegetables that grow above ground: Cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts, kale, collards, bok choy, spinach, asparagus, zucchini, eggplant, olives, spinach, mushrooms, cucumber, lettuce, avocado, onions, peppers, tomatoes etc.
- Dairy products: Always select full-fat options like real butter, cream (40% fat), sour cream, Greek/Turkish yogurt and high-fat cheeses. Be careful with regular milk, reduced fat and skim milk as they contain a lot of milk sugar. Avoid flavored, sugary and low-fat products.
- Nuts: Great for a treat (in moderation) instead of popcorn, candy or chips.
- Berries: Okay in moderation. Great with whipped cream.
What to drink
- Mineral water (optional: with added lemon)
- Sparkling mineral water
- Coconut milk
- Almond milk
- Cashew milk
- Herbal teas
- Sugar : Soft drinks, candy, juice, sports drinks, chocolate, cakes, buns, pastries, ice cream, breakfast cereals. Preferably avoid sweeteners as well.
- Starch: Bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, French fries, potato chips, porridge, muesli and so on. Wholegrain products are just less bad. Legumes, such as beans and lentils, are high in carbs. Moderate amounts of root vegetables may be OK.
- Margarine: Industrially imitated butter with unnaturally high content of omega-6 fat.
- Beer: Liquid bread. Full of rapidly absorbed carbs.
- Fruit: Very sweet, lots of sugar. Eat once in a while. Treat fruit as a natural form of candy.
Is it sustainable long-term?
The ketogenic diet can be followed for up 2 to 3 months. However, excluding all types of carbohydrates from your diet is not advisable. For example, whole foods such as sweet potatoes and other root vegetables, beans/legumes and fruit can be gradually added to your diet following a certain period of ketosis. Eating those in moderation will ensure your diet is varied and provides you with all the necessary vitamins, minerals and fiber for optimal health.
- 24 Benefits of ketogenic diet – https://www.alexfergus.com/blog/24-benefits-of-the-ketogenic-diet
2. A ketogenic diet for beginners – https://www.dietdoctor.com/low-carb/keto
3. Ketogenic diet boosts fat loss and fights disease – https://draxe.com/truth-about-the-controversial-ketogenic-diet/
4. Ketones suppress brain glucose consumption https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2874681/
5. Ketone bodies and exercise performance: the next magic bullet or merel hype? https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5309297/