What Is The Keto Diet?
Is the Ketogenic Diet (or “Keto Diet” for short) just another fad diet? Well, it’s actually been around for a while now, and people get some pretty great results from it. But what makes it different from every other fad diet that surrounds us on a daily basis?
Well, most of these “fad diets” simply tell you to eat certain types of foods while avoiding other types of foods, promising that you’ll be on your way to burning hundreds of pounds and living happily ever after. Of course, a lot of them don’t really work…and make very little sense for that matter.
What’s special about the keto diet is that it changes how your body feels and, most importantly, how your body uses energy by putting it into a place known as “ketosis.” This is where all the magic happens. In ketosis, your body starts utilizing substances known as “ketone bodies,” which are produced by the breakdown of your body fat triglycerides.
Some quick science:
First, you need to understand that your body loves glucose. If it has glucose on hand, it will naturally start using glucose first as its primary source of energy. In the keto diet, the amount of carbohydrates you consume goes down, making your glucose levels go down as well. In order to combat this, your body uses store glucose in the form of “glycogen,” but that’s going to run down as well.
The next step is to convert a substance known as “oxaloacetate” in the liver into glucose! While this is happening, your body is breaking down your fat into free fatty acids and sending it to your liver to metabolize another important substance called “Acetyl-Coa.” Acetyl-Coa is then placed into the krebs cycle in the liver cells to produce energy…but it won’t be able to do that right away.
Remember the oxaloacetate that was being broken down to form glucose? Well, oxaloacetate is also needed for the krebs cycle to function. Now your liver has all this Acetyl-Coa lying around and decides to break it down into two different substances instead, known as Acetoacetate and Beta-Hydroxybuterate, which are known as “ketone bodies.” It sends them to the blood stream where other body cells pick them up, convert the ketone bodies back into acetyl-coa into the krebs cycle, and energy is produced. This is also really good news for your brain, since even though your brain loves glucose too, it can function on ketone bodies as well! In fact, ketone bodies provide more energy per gram for your brain versus glucose, so win-win for your mental capacity!
Now so far everything sounds good. Your body no longer relies heavily on carbohydrates, you’re burning a lot of fat, and your brain is functioning pretty well! But, as always, there’s a bit of a catch…a number of catches in this case.
Studies show that power output decreases in cases where maximum intensity is required. This makes sense because the breakdown of glucose via glycolysis plays a crucial role in providing immediate energy for your body. With no glucose and glycogen in your body, intense workouts become a bit harder. The lack of glycogen can also affect muscle growth, since there’s a strong positive connection between glycogen availability and protein synthesis. Take the glycogen away and the process slows down.
There’s also something called a “keto flu” that one can potentially experience. This happens when your body starts to transition from relying off of carbohydrates and more heavily on ketone bodies. It’s not an actual flu, but it can cause some side effects such as headaches, fatigue, coughing, nausea, and/or an upset stomach. The positive note, though, is that it passes quite quickly (around five days to be exact) and won’t come back again unless you come out of ketosis.
The keto diet is also relatively food-restrictive. A conventional diet will have you consuming 20% fat, 30% protein, and 50% carbs. Meanwhile, the keto diet, on the other hand, will shift you to an astounding 70% of fat, 25% of protein, and 5% of carbohydrates (or >30g.) For some, this is a huge change that individuals are simply not willing to do. Cutting out carbs is easier said than done, but the reward is astonishing. However, those who are able to overcome the challenge have nothing but great thins to say.
Even though there are a couple of drawbacks, people still advocate for it. It was shown in a 2004 medicinal study that a low-carbohydrate diet (like the keto diet) had better participant retention than those on a low-fat diet. In spite of all these potential side effects, individuals on the keto diet found it much easier to stick with their diet more so than a typical conventional diet. This is because there is so much more fat and protein-dense foods that satiety levels (how full you feel) increase at a faster rate. A 200-calorie chicken breast or 200-calorie meal of leafy greens will make you feel much more full than a 200-calorie bowl of pasta. More feelings of satiety = decreased hunger = weight loss!
So, is the keto diet worth it? Well, the answer really comes down to “it depends.” If you’re someone that struggles a lot with feeling full whenever you go on a weight-loss diet, then yes, the keto diet can definitely benefit you. Just remember those drawbacks that may occur. And, at the end of the day, it still comes down to calories in vs. calories out.