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The keto diet explained

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The ketogenic diet is the latest craze amongst celebrities. It promises significant weight loss without even needing to quit bacon. But, the keto diet is not a new concept. It has existed for years in many variations and forms and is very similar to another popular diet with celebrities; the Atkin’s Diet.

Put simply, a ketogenic diet is a low-carb, high-fat diet which promises to transform the body into a highly effective fat-burning machine. This has increased the popularity of this diet over the years especially amongst people who want to lose weight rapidly. Mant celebrities including Adriana Lima, Halle Berry, and Tim Tebow have touted the benefits of this diet publicly.

What Exactly Is the Keto Diet?

A ketogenic diet is a program which involves eating fat in high amounts, protein in moderate amounts, and few carbs. Depending on the approach taken, the diet can lead to significant loss of lean body mass and fat. Basically, the focus of this diet is on fat. Fat supplies the body with up to 90% of the daily calories. It’s however important to note that this is not a diet which can be tried for experimental purposes.

The primary purpose of this diet was to reduce epileptic seizures’ frequency in children. This was after the realization that the bodies of the patients who adopted a low-carb diet used fat as the fuel source instead of glucose. Once the body has only fat to burn for fuel, it converts it into fatty acids and then into ketones. Ketones are used as the fuel for body cells.

However, though this diet has been used to help individuals lose weight, studies conducted so far have focused on short-term outcomes only. What’s more, people who have tried it have reported mixed results. Thus, whether this diet is effective on a long-term basis as well as its safety remain unclear.

Additionally, few epileptic people depend on this diet following the development of numerous anti-seizures medications. But, research has shown that people who fail to respond to these medications can benefit from this diet.

How it Works

The keto diet changes how the body converts the food you eat into fuel or energy. When you eat few carbs and more fat, your body is forced into a ketosis state. This is a metabolic state in which the body burns fats rather than carbs to produce energy.

Blood sugar or glucose is the primary source of fuel for the body. Much of this sugar comes from carbohydrates which are supplied to the body by foods like potatoes, sweets, fruits and bread. If the level of glucose drops to a very low level, a person can pass out and even die. However, there is not much glucose stored in the body. Essentially, the glucose stored in the body can last for only a few days.

As such, foregoing the consumption of carbs for a few days means the body needs other sources of fuel. So, when you adapt a ketogenic diet, your liver breaks down fat into an energy source known as ketones. Organs which normally depend on glucose as the primary source of fuel start using ketones. Thus, ketones stand in for blood sugar or glucose as the energy source when there is a shortage of glucose.

Once ketogenesis starts and the levels of ketones are elevated, the body goes into a ketosis state. In this state, the body burns stored fat.

Types of Keto Diet

There are four main types of ketogenic diet.

  1. Standard – This entails eating not more than 50 grams of carbs per day. Some people eat as low as 20 grams of carbs per day.
  2. Cyclical – This involves eating low carbs and high fat for 5 to 6 days in a week. On the 7th day, you increase carb intake to about 150 grams. This prevents the negative effects which some people experience when carb intake is restricted for a long time.
  3. Targeted Diet – This entails following the standard diet but eating extra carbs before a high-intensity workout. This provides the necessary glucose for boosting performance as science has linked low amounts of glucose to low performance in weight lifting.
  4. Dirty Diet – This follows the same ratio of carbs, proteins, and fats with a regular diet though it has a twist regardless of the source of those macronutrients.

Health Benefits

The keto diet has the following health benefits:

Fat Burning

When you embrace this diet, the body burns the stored fat, leading to fast weight loss. Research indicates that ketones suppress the hunger hormone called ghrelin while increasing cholecystokinin. This makes a person feel full thereby reducing appetite. Reduced appetite means going without eating for longer and this leads to weight loss as the body uses the stored fat for fuel.

Blood Sugar Reduction

The keto diet has the potential to reverse and cure diabetes. That’s because it lowers the level of blood sugar while stabilising insulin levels to a point where a diabetic person can stop using medication once they switch to this diet. (Note: do not try this diet without first consulting with your clinician.)

Increased Energy

Ketosis compels the body to form more mitochondria which are the power generators in the cells. More mitochondria mean more energy for getting things done.

Fuelling the Brain

Ketones provide the energy required by the brain immediately after carb intake is limited. Fat feeds the brain while keeping it strong. At least 60% of the human brain is fat. Therefore, a good amount of fat is required to keep the brain healthy and running. Generally, the body needs essential fatty acids like Omega 3 to develop and grow. Saturated fat keeps the insulation layer of the brain strong and this ensures effective communication of neurons.

Inflammation Reduction

Research shows that the ketogenic diet is anti-inflammatory which can have all sorts of benefits on the body and brain. It can also provide protection against degenerative diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

The Bottom Line

The basic idea of the keto diet is to ensure that your body gets more calories from fat and protein and fewer from carbs. You can reduce your carb intake by avoiding foods like white bread, pastries, soda, and sugar. This deprives the body of the carbs required for fuel. Consequently, the body breaks down the stored fat and protein for energy thereby leading to weight loss.

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