Ketogenic diets have been becoming more popular as of lately. There is information out there to support why they may be beneficial for certain individuals who are seeking to lose body fat. The information outlined in Part I of this article will include:
✓ A background history on the ketogenic diet
✓ Who may benefit from it?
✓ What are the proposed benefits associated with it?
The Ketogenic Diet & Epilepsy
The ketogenic diet was initially used in modern medicine as a potential way to control seizures with people who had epilepsy and is one of the oldest treatments for this condition. The ketogenic diet deals with how the body breaks down foods into usable forms of energy for the body and the brain. For children suffering with epilepsy, this meant limiting the amount food during periods of starvation, as this was shown to often lessen the onset of seizures.
These seizures are often onset due to children having a glucose receptor abnormality, which makes it difficult for glucose to travel across the blood brain barrier. This treatment incorporated a higher fat/lower carbohydrate diet for the children. The higher fat intake was intended to maintain the starvation or fasting metabolism over an extended period of time due to fats slower digestion rate and inability to raise blood glucose. This higher fat intake also forced the body to produce ketones derived from fatty acids to be used as an energy source instead. The newly formed ketone bodies have no trouble crossing the blood brain barrier to be used as energy.
What is the Ketogenic Diet?
The ketogenic diet, or variations of the diet, has made its way into the fitness community as a recommended way to lose body fat and weight. If you scroll through magazines and social media, you will see that there is a lot of talk about the ketogenic diet or ‘being in ketosis’ as of late, but what actually is the ketogenic diet and what does this mean?
In the fitness community, a ketogenic diet is most simply defined as an extremely high fat, moderate protein, and low carb diet composed of approximately:
☐ 75% fat
☐ 20% protein
☐ 5% carbohydrates
To put this into perspective, the common nutrition guidelines recommend a diet of:
☐ 20-35% fat
☐ 10-15% protein
☐ 45-65% carbohydrates
The low carbohydrate and high fat demands of the ketogenic diet will eventually place the body into a state of ketosis. This term, ketosis, will be explained in detail shortly. This article will provide insight into how to properly structure a ketogenic diet to provide the maximum benefit. This is because just like any way of eating, if it is structured poorly it will most likely have negative effects on the your body.
How Do You Implement the Ketogenic Diet?
Firstly, lets look at how energy is produced from the traditional standard (high carb) diet that is popularly seen in today’s society. When blood glucose levels drop, an individual will ingest carbohydrates causing their blood sugar level to rise. This will cause the pancreas to secrete insulin in response, which is the catalyst for driving glucose into the cells. This glucose is then used as energy for the body during a time of need and once depleted or when carbs are ingested again, the cycle will begin again.
However, in the ketogenic (high fat) diet, when glucose levels fall lipase is activated and instructed to release stored triglycerides (fats). These fatty acids are then transferred to the liver, where they are then metabolized and broken down. The end product will result in the production of ketones. When ketone levels in the blood are higher than normal levels, the body is said to be in a state of ketosis.
What exactly are ketones?
Ketone bodies are molecules that are produced in the liver from fatty acids during periods (in this case) of low carbohydrate consumption, and are readily picked up by hepatic (liver) tissues and converted to acetyl-CoA, a key molecule that aids in metabolism. This acetyl-CoA enters the citric acid cycle and is then oxidized and converted into usable energy by the mitochondria. All tissues, including the muscles and brain, can use this energy.
There is some variance in these numbers per each individual as specific and different nutrition needs, but the end result should be a diet high in fat, moderate in protein, and low in carbs. This type of set up is due to this energy conversion talked about a few sentences ago. The body will break non-carbohydrate nutrients (except fatty acids) down into glucose (energy) through a process called gluconeogenesis. This includes amino acids and triglycerides.
Now, protein is great for building muscle and preserving mass, but it does not need to be in such a high consumption that the body starts to rely on amino acids as a fuel source. If this were to occur, then when blood sugar levels drop, the body will begin to metabolize these amino acids into fuel and you may end up losing all of the muscle you worked so hard to build. We want the body to use ketones (fats) as the primary fuel source for exercise and everyday function, so this is why healthy fats are in a larger consumption. Our bodies can only hold a certain amount of glucose (carbohydrate) at any given time, usually about 2000 kcal for males, and 1500 kcal for females. This equates to 500 grams for males and 375 grams for females. This is a lot of stored carbohydrates for our bodies to use.
Using Fat as an Energy Source
Our bodies can hold an unlimited amount of fat, so why not tap into some of this stored fat as an energy source if we can? Like I explained earlier, we want our body to become able to use ketones (stored triglycerides) as the primary form of energy. Increasing the amount of healthy fats in the diet is how this is going to be achieved (along with lower carb and lower protein intake).
The best sources of fats are going to come in the form of medium chain triglycerides, such as coconut and palm kernel oil; mono and polyunsaturated fats, such as nuts and seeds (macadamia, sunflower, pumpkin, etc.), avocado, olive oil, and wild caught cold water fish (salmon, etc.).
One of the main benefits of medium chain triglycerides is there ability to bypass the digestive process and rapidly be absorbed in the liver to be then metabolized and used as energy. They rarely get stored as body-fat. Saturated fat has often been eliminated in a traditional diet, due to concerns of negative health effects. Saturated fat is extremely beneficial in the body when it comes to brain, nerve, and immune function, and the ability to produce hormones like testosterone. With this being said, foods like Omega-3 rich whole eggs, grass fed beef, coconut oil, uncured bacon in moderation, natural peanut butter, and some grass fed butters, can all have positive benefits for our bodies. Having a balance of fat sources while on the ketogenic diet will not only help an individual hit their target intake, but it will greatly enhance satiety and also provide the necessary saturated to unsaturated fatty acid ratio that our bodies deem optimal.
Take Home Message
After reading this you should have begun to grasp a understanding of the ketogenic diet. Look out for Part II being released on the Zone tomorrow to understand: How should you properly implement the ketogenic diet to get the best benefit?
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