What is a ketogenic diet? Plainly stated, it is a high-fat and very-low-carb diet that causes your body to generate ketones, hence the name – a ketogenic diet.
Ketones are byproducts of fat burning, so if your body is producing ketones, you are burning fat.
That sounds great, and it is! A ketogenic diet is a great way for even the most weight loss resistant person to lose weight, but is it right for you?
What is a Ketogenic Diet? The Pros and Cons
In this video, I provide the pros and cons of a ketogenic diet and explain why my husband follows one, but I don’t.
Ketones – Your Body’s Alternative Fuel Source
Your body has two fuels that it can run on. The main one is sugar or glucose that you get from eating carbohydrates.
The second is ketones, which are energy-rich molecules that are produced when glucose is not present.
Although you may not have heard of ketones before the ketogenic diet craze began, they are not some strange phenomenon that only appears when you’re following a keto diet.
They are produced anytime that your body is low on sugar.
This fact helps explains why a low-carb diet and intermittent fasting work so well. These weight loss strategies reduce the amount of glucose in your system, which causes your liver to take fatty acids from your fat stores and use them to make ketones.
So a very simplistic way of answering the question, What is a ketogenic diet? is to think of it as a low-carb diet taken to the extreme.
A low-carb diet is generally defined as 125 grams of carbs or less. To move your diet into ketosis, you need to drop your daily carb intake to below 50 grams per day.
When you do this, you are limiting your carbs to a point at which your body has no choice but to burn fat and make ketones.
A Ketogenic Diet Can Get Your Body to Burn Fat
Ketogenic diets have a lot of things going for them regardless of whether you are a man or woman.
First of all, they are a way for even the most fat-loss resistant body to get onboard and burn fat.
Many of you know my husband, Keith, and have watched his amazing transformation on our YouTube Channel, 2 Fit Docs.
Keith lost 80 pounds on a ketogenic diet. (If you’d like to watch his transformation from start to finish, you can do so here: Keith’s Progress. It’s very inspiring)
The keto diet worked for him because he was highly insulin resistant as are many people who have trouble losing weight.
The diet works despite insulin resistance because it keeps your carbs extremely low. And, because there are so few carbs, your body is not taxed to make a lot of insulin, so essentially you bypass insulin resistance, which is immensely helpful for fat loss.
Ketones are Great Brain Food
Another perk of a ketogenic diet is that ketones are great brain food.
In fact, the ketogenic diet got its start in the 1920s as a treatment for epilepsy, which is a neurological disorder involving the brain.
Many people report feeling a heightened level of mental clarity when they are on a keto diet. And, a ketogenic diet, when done right is an anti-inflammatory diet.
A Ketogenic Diet Reduces Inflammation
My husband’s blood work showed a drastic reduction in inflammation. His inflammatory marker (C-Reactive Protein) moved from dangerously high to ideal in just a matter of months.
This reduction is significant because inflammation is the ticking time bomb of the body.
It is inflammation, more than anything else, that heightens your risk of heart disease and stroke.
I will say that I credit the ketogenic diet my husband followed with adding years to his life which is absolutely priceless, so if it sounds like I am a proponent of a keto diet, then that’s an accurate assessment.
Important Considerations Before Starting a Ketogenic Diet
So, with everything I’ve commented on, you’d think that I would have jumped on the keto train and followed my husband into the keto way of life. And, that keto would be the only eating strategy that I recommend for you.
Well, I did not go keto. While I do eat low carb, I do not push my diet to a keto level and I’ll explain why, and explain why you might not want to jump into a keto diet with both feet just yet.
1) a ketogenic diet takes work
2) a keto diet limits your food choices
3) a keto diet causes bad breath
Let me start this discussion on the drawbacks of a ketogenic diet by talking about the bad breath issue. Some of the ketones your body produces are expelled through the breath.
Those ketones have a distinct and unpleasant odor that is so prominent that it has been nicknamed “keto breath.”
A Keto Diet Requires Monitoring and Tracking
To be sure that you’re in ketosis, you need to monitor your urine or blood for the presence of ketones. (There are some breath testers being developed as well.)
You’ll also find that you do best on a keto diet if you track your food intake to be certain that you’re taking in the right ratio of nutrients to put your body in ketosis.
For most people, the macronutrient breakdown needed to put the body into ketosis is as follows:
To reach ketosis, consume…
- At least 70% of your daily calories from fat
- About 20% from protein
- Less than 10% from carbs
A Keto Diet Limits Your Food Choices
Keeping carbs below 10% of your daily caloric intake means that you have FEWER foods to pick from.
On a keto diet, you will not have room for fruit, beans, sweet potatoes, grains, bread or cereals.
With those foods gone and a need to keep dietary fats high, you do best on a keto diet if you are a meat eater and dairy eater.
Individuals with special diets (i.e. vegetarian, vegan, or lactose intolerant diets) will find it more challenging to get into and stay in ketosis.
What Is The Keto Flu?
I will also mention that switching from a standard high-carb diet to a ketogenic diet can throw you into a few days to a few weeks of what they call the keto flu.
This ill-feeling happens because of the adjustment period in which your body is fighting to figure out which fuel to use – it still wants to rely on the easy source, which is glucose, but you’re not eating any carbs or sugar.
To adjust to the new, alternative fuel (a.k.a. ketones), your body requires time to transform.
In other words, it has to make the enzymes and refine processes it needs to become an efficient fat burner.
The Best Approach: Go Low-Carb Before Going Keto
To avoid these keto flu symptoms, my husband started on a low-carb diet before going keto, and that is what we recommend that you do before diving into a keto diet.
On a low-carb diet, your body will still burn fat, but glucose isn’t completely depleted, so fatigue, brain fog, and cravings aren’t as pronounced.
About the Author
Dr. Becky Gillaspy, DC graduated Summa Cum Laude with research honors from Palmer College of Chiropractic in 1991.