If you’ve been anywhere online lately, then you’ve probably seen all sorts of articles out there describing the Keto diet. Or maybe you’ve seen the articles condemning the Keto diet? Keto is short for Ketogenic: forming or able to stimulate the production of ketone bodies. And if you remember your anatomy, physiology, or biology classes from high school, your liver produces ketones to be used as a source of energy when glucose — or sugar — is not available. Essentially, the keto diet is a diet that helps stimulate your body’s ability to produce ketones, which in turn burn through fat as energy.
So why don’t all diets help you produce these ketones? The average person eats a diet high in carbohydrates: grains, bread, cereal, pasta. These carbohydrates break down into glucose which is much easier to burn through as an energy source. And because there are so many resources that provide us with glucose, we have a near-endless energy supply. Grains, pasta, and breads are relatively inexpensive to buy or make, so they are a staple in most households.
The body doesn’t produce ketones until the glucose is gone. Which means you have to burn a significant amount of the glucose in your system before your body will start pumping out ketones that allow you to start burning more fat as an energy source. To make things even more difficult, glucose that doesn’t get burned as energy gets converted into fat and stored for later. And, just as an added kicker, when you’ve burned up enough glucose, your body immediately sends a signal to your brain that you’re running low and need to refuel, which your brain takes to mean “time to grab more glucose.” And with glucose so abundant and easy to get, this can mean a neverending battle against the energy monster when you need to lower the amount of glucose in your blood.
Not to mention, while that glucose is in your body, your liver is producing insulin to help process everything. This insulin blocks the fat cells from entering the bloodstream — so they can’t be carried around the body or burned as energy. Hence, while glucose is anywhere in your system, your body will continue to store the fat because it has no way of expelling or consuming it efficiently.
All that just to tell you: your body is way better at storing fat than it is at burning it.
Why does the body burn carbohydrates before it burns fat?
Let’s clear up a common myth before we go much further. Your body burns both carbohydrates and fat for energy all the time. It just does so at different ratios. And those ratios depend on several factors, including how many calories you’re burning, how intense the workout is, how long you’ve been working out, your overall metabolism, the type of fuel that’s available, how hydrated you are, your total weight…
I think you get the idea here. There are at least half a dozen factors that affect how much fat you’re burning compared to how many carbohydrates you’re burning. Rather than your body simply switching fuel types in the middle of the day, it’s actually running through several calculations and deciding which fuel source to lean on and when.
So, what is Keto?
Keto is a way of eating that promotes the production of ketones in your body, making it easier for your body to start burning the fat it’s stored up. Notice, I said “way of eating” and not “diet.” I want to be clear on this point because the Keto diet is more than simply changing around the type of food you eat, decreasing calories, or counting out points. The keto diet requires a change in mindset just as much as a change in the foods you consume: you’re retraining your body to rely on fat for energy, and you have to relearn everything you thought you knew about diet and nutrition before.
Yea, the food pyramid? No longer relevant. You have to build a new one.
How does the Keto diet work?
It seems pretty obvious, right? Lack of carbohydrates plus decreased insulin levels and increased ketone levels mean your body will use fat as an energy source at a higher ratio. To do this, you start by not consuming as much glucose: no more sugars. It also means consuming fewer foods that can be broken down into glucose, such as pasta and bread.
The foundation of the Keto diet is to consume a high amount of fat, adequate or moderate amount of protein, and very little carbohydrates. By lowering the amount of carbohydrates you consume, you make it easier for your body to burn through them faster while simultaneously producing less insulin. This will lower your blood sugar levels enough to allow the fat cells in your body to first release the water their holding (known to you as water weight) before entering the bloodstream to be carted off and burned for energy.
What is Keto good for?
The keto diet has a myriad of benefits associated with it. One of the major benefits drawing the most attention to this way of eating right now is weight loss, as you may have deduced by all the fat-burning talk earlier. Right now, millions of Americans are struggling to lose weight. And for many of them, Keto is the way to do it.
Keto also, naturally, lowers your blood sugar. This is great news for any of the millions of people living with or trying to prevent Type II Diabetes. And because the blood sugar levels can be controlled through diet, this means less money being spent on medications such as insulin to help control it medically. And let me tell you, as someone who had gestational diabetes during both pregnancies, I really, really, do not want to develop Type II diabetes and have to deal with those needles ever again. In fact, it was the increased risk of developing Type II Diabetes from Gestational Diabetes that ultimately led me down the Keto path.
Most people on Keto report feeling increased energy, better mental focus, clearer skin, and better-controlled hunger levels. And there’s more. The American Academy of Pediatrics released a study in which they found that 56% of children with epilepsy eating a ketogenic diet saw a decrease in seizure activity of at least 50%, with 16% of children experiencing a complete stop in seizure activity altogether.
Are there any side effects?
As with any other drastic changes to your diet, switching to the Keto diet can have some unpleasant side effects at first. The most notable side effect is known as Keto Flu. And let me tell you, it is not fun. Keto flu gets its name, funny enough, from the flu-like symptoms that accompany it: sluggishness, inability to focus, headaches, and digestive issues. Most people report having these symptoms for a couple days and being able to power through them with the help of Keto Gatorade, pickle juice, or bone broth.
I lived with the Keto flu a little longer than the average person — it stuck around for a little over a week. This was because of my own stubbornness and refusal to increase my salt intake. Looking back, I definitely should have just consumed more salt and gotten rid of it faster. But, you know what they say about hindsight.
How do you start on Keto?
I suggest doing a bit of preparation before jumping headlong into the Keto diet. Start by collecting several Keto recipes and replacing one meal a day with a Keto meal. And there are a few reasons for easing your way into this.
For one thing, jumping into Keto often means out with the old and in with the new. If you happen to have a lot of foods stockpiled in your pantry or cupboard, tossing it all out and replacing it with Keto foods and ingredients all at once can be expensive and – let’s face it – scary. Easing your way into Keto is a good way to help yourself time to get rid of some of the old while bringing in the new, without having to do it all at once.
Second, remember earlier I talked about Keto Flu? Any drastic change in your diet is going to lead to digestive issues as your body gets adjusted to it. And since it’s impossible to tell exactly how your body will adjust to the Keto diet until you’re on the Keto diet, easing into it so you can stop at the first sign of trouble just makes sense. Millions of people live and love the Ketogenic diet and have very few (if any) issues or negative side effects. But there is still a chance for a bad reaction, and until you know for sure, you want to take it easy.
And, as with most changes in lifestyle, you will likely want to speak to your doctor or a nutritionist before going all-in to Keto, especially if you have any other health concerns going on at the moment. Again, this is more of a “better safe than sorry” alert rather than an actual need.
Keto recipes and more.
There is no shortage of Keto recipes around the Internet. They seem to be everywhere, and so far most of the ones that I’ve tried have been pretty good. And like most people, I’ve started saving some of the better ones to my Pinterest board so I can find them again easily. I highly recommend you save any recipes you try as well, if not on Pinterest then somewhere else, and build a solid collection as quickly as you can. Until you have a really good collection of Keto recipes, it can sometimes feel like you’re eating the same thing over and over again. And the only people who like eating the same thing over and over again are toddlers.