In the last few weeks, a lot of people have asked me about the ketogenic diet. I mentioned it briefly in a previous article and I thought I would go into more detail here.

The ketogenic diet has been getting increasingly popular over the last few years. It’s not a new concept per se but to the general public, keto seems novel. So much so, in fact, that it’s quickly turning into a fad diet. And there are a lot of misconceptions surrounding it so let’s try to clear a few up!

What Does A Ketogenic Diet Look Like?

Diet usually implies cutting out some foods and/or swapping them with others. With the keto diet, however, it is just about the macronutrients.

These can be broken down into:

  • Carbohydrates
  • Fats
  • Proteins

Usually, dieticians and nutritionists will have you eat 40-50% carbs, 30-40% protein, and 20% fat. Your calorie needs are something very individual but the carb: protein: fat ratio for these calories remains the same. If your calorie budget is 2000, you would get 800 – 1000 of them from carbs.

On the ketogenic diet, the amount of fats you consume goes up to 60 or even 70%. This is to the expense of the calories in carbs. So in practice, the ketogenic diet would have you cut out foods like pasta and bread and eat more nuts, avocados, and fatty fish. It is definitely not just about eating more fat.

How Does It Help You Lose Weight?

There is a quick science lesson before you can understand it.

The reason why such a large portion of your daily calories should normally come from carbs is because your body just loves glucose. Carbohydrates contain glucose in different forms. Some are easier to digest and the glucose is more readily available, others not so much. This is where we distinguish simple (e.g. Fruit juice) from complex carbs (e.g. Vegetables).

Glucose gives your cells energy. They could also use fats to produce energy but the process takes a lot longer and is more complicated. Hence why your body prefers glucose.

When you consume less carbs, your body has to search for them, first off it uses up the glucose in your bloodstream. Then you move on to the glycogen (which is just glucose stored in our muscle tissue). These are quickly depleted, though, typically in the first 20 minutes of exercise or after just a couple of hours without carbs.

Then your body moves on to a substance called oxaloacetate.

The State Of Ketosis (And Why It’s Good For Slimming Down)

Oxaloacetate is found in your liver. When your glucose and glycogen stores get depleted, your body’s plan A is to produce more glucose. Oxaloacetate can be turned into glucose and that is exactly what your liver cells begin to do.

At the same time, your adipose cells start sending over fats and the oxaloacetate turns the fats into ketone bodies. The ketone bodies move with your blood and carry energy just like glucose does.

Once this happens you’re in the state of ketosis which basically encourages your body to use up fat stores instead of craving the carbs it is not getting. Therefore your body will burn more fat than you would on the same calories but with a different macronutrient ratio.

The Fine Print On Ketosis

Here is a little something people don’t tell you about the ketogenic diet. Ketone bodies are not your primary energy source for a reason. They are acidic, meaning that they also turn your blood acidic. Changes to the pH inside your body can be detrimental to a lot of the processes that are essential to survival. On a biochemical level, that might mean blocking enzymes or getting unwanted side products from reactions.

Overall, the state of your body being more acid than normal is known as (surprise-surprise) acidosis. Some common symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Shallow breathing (your lungs trying to normalise the pH)
  • Increased heart rate
  • Strong headache

In diabetics, acidosis can be life-threatening. It happens to them because they can’t use the glucose and their bodies produce ketones instead. When you are on the ketogenic diet, you are essentially forcing your system into the same state.

That is not to say that you would suffer all of these negative consequences. It is just a warning that the ketogenic diet can’t be used on the long term, as beneficial as it may be for short term fat shredding. As I say with all of my articles, I’m just here to inform and not prescribe. Nothing is ever one size fits all, the Keto diet may work amazingly well for one reader and have negative effects for another. Just be aware of the potential dangers before you jump on the Keto bandwaggon.

More Safety Issues With The Ketogenic Diet

The acidosis is not the only possible negative effect of eating keto.

Glucose is essential to building new protein. When you are trying to gain muscle mass, building new protein is the name of the game. With less glucose in your system, though, there will be very little gains. That is why this isn’t a long-term diet plan and you should switch between keto and a higher carb diet if you want to get slimmer AND stronger at the same time.

The kind of fats you choose also matters. In my experience, when clients first start the ketogenic diet, their performance drops. That is the acidosis plus the drop in glucose but it’s also the fats they consume. Often it is saturated fat, which is unhealthy both in the short and long run. You should be careful to choose the right fats. Focus on high-quality, polyunsaturated, non-processed fats for best results. Try to get this from nuts, avocados and oily fish.

Practical Tips (And My Favourite Ketogenic Diet Recipe)

In practice, the ketogenic diet is best applied for a couple of weeks at a time. Plan ahead and use a calorie/nutrient tracking application to make sure you are lowering the carbs along with the increased fats. Meal prepping is a tedious but probably essential, especially for beginners. That way, you don’t fall into the trap of consuming unhealthy fats.

An easy, keto-friendly recipe I swear by is my keto green smoothie. It is packed full of healthy fats and the greens add some extra antioxidant goodness. The basic ingredient list is:

  • A cup of baby spinach (organic)
  • Half a cup of full-fat coconut milk
  • 5-6 almonds
  • A couple of brazil nuts
  • One tablespoon chia seeds
  • Half a cup of water (or kombucha for some probiotics)

I like to add protein powder, too, especially in the morning. My favourite is hemp protein powder and I even did an article about it if you want to learn more. You could also throw on some berries for extra antioxidants.

As a bottom line, the ketogenic diet could be a great way for you to lose some weight. It is much more than a fad diet and, if done correctly, is safe and healthy. Be smart and maintain some common sense and you should be fine!

If you have any questions you would like me to answer, or any article ideas, I would love to hear from you in the comments below.

Cheers,

David