Have we had it all wrong? What is this "Keto" thing all about?
If you haven't recently heard the terms keto/ketogenics/ketosis, you probably will soon. These terms are part of a language that has dominated the most current nutritional dialogue. Is all this hype or just another diet fad that we have seen come and go over the past several decades? Haven’t we seen it all? How could this “keto” thing be any different? Well first let me start by saying, I don’t see the keto movement as a diet, but much more of a lifestyle that has some incredibly powerful health benefits including; weight loss, brain health, longevity emotional health, insulin regulation and that is not all.
So where have we gone wrong up to this point? I would say the number one problem is that our traditional western diet has such a high focus on carbohydrate consumption. By constantly living on a diet filled with carbohydrates, we never allow our bodies to tap into our fat reserves. This has also introduced obvious health and weight control concerns. Our issues in our society with obesity, autoimmune diseases, cancer, and a host of other health concerns are all well documented. Can diets of high carbohydrate consumption be blamed for all of our health issues? Probably not, but at a minimum, there is no doubt in my mind, it is a contributing factor to many of these major health concerns.
Additionally, with our traditional western diets, we rarely if ever allow our bodies to reset and actually get to a point where we are “not” burning sugar. But wait, aren’t we supposed to burn sugar? Given the choice, our body will no doubt use sugar which is stored for in our muscles, blood and liver for energy. However, if this source of fuel is not available, our bodies will move to a second fuel choice, which is fat.
By continually supplying our bodies with calories, especially carbohydrates/sugar, we are actually sabotaging any weight loss efforts. Also it is so important to understand that being a sugar burner comes with a high metabolic cost. To keep it simple, fluctuations in blood sugar and insulin levels with a diet heavy in carbohydrates comes with a price and it is not good! By regulating our blood sugar we can realize some amazing health benefits.
It is interesting to note that traditional nutritional advice has even pointed towards having 6 or 7 smaller meals per day which further complicates this model. We have been told that we need to keep our blood sugar elevated for energy. Again, isn’t that what it is all about? Well, if our goal is to be a sugar burner that would make some sense. But the real the truth is in the details.
This is where ketosis comes into the picture. Ketosis is basically the state where our body begins to use blood ketones for energy rather than burning glucose or sugar. Furthermore, burning fat doesn’t come with near the metabolic cost as burning glucose. Even our energy levels are more consistent and sustained. Cortisol production is also limited which is another positive health benefit.
The next question might be what does it take to get into a state of ketosis? There are really just a couple things that we need to do in order to begin the process. First, limit or restrict calories for approximately 12-18 hours. This will help exhaust our sugar reserves and force our body to begin producing blood ketones which can in turn be used for energy.
Secondly, introducing “healthy fats’ into your diet is a priority. These fats would include monounsaturated fats along with some saturated fats. It should be noted that all fats are not created equally and it highly suggested that we stay away from most vegetable oils with exceptions of virgin olive oil. It is even more important to recognize heated vegetable oils are particularly unhealthy and create free radicals which serve damage to our bodies. Dr. Cate Shanahan details in her book Deep Nutrition, the benefits of good fats and preaches the perils of processed vegetable oils. If you want more details in this area, I would highly recommend you read her research.
I do need to introduce one important thought at this point. There are many “traditional nutritionist” and health advocates who often balk on the keto diet/lifestyle. I have read articles, blogs and posts that are often critical of these basic keto concepts based on nothing more than the fact that fats contain 9 calories per gram and carbohydrates and proteins each contain 4 calories per gram. In this misguided logic train, they will further say that by introducing more fat into the diet we are adding unnecessary calories that will ultimately be stored. This is where old school logic fails us. Bottom line is this, all calories are not equal!
Another long time myth is that weight loss is all about “calorie in and calorie out.” This simply isn’t the case! There are several studies that demonstrate it isn’t all about “calorie regulation or balance.” From a macro-nutrient perspective it makes sense, but it truly is not that simple.
Finally, I believe the hardest concept for many people wrap their heads around is that to burn fat we should eat fat. But that is exactly how ketosis works. We have to be willing to embrace this idea in order for us to fully reach a state of ketosis.
In summary, I would advocate that there are some huge health benefits by implementing a routine of occasionally and periodically limiting calories, particularly carbohydrates and adding good fats into our diet. Even if you chose not to fully endorse a ketogenic diet or lifestyle. These two things alone can have a positive effect on your health.
If you do chose to more fully introduce a ketogenic diet/lifestyle, consider introducing it slowly. There are a number of books now available that allow you to gain additional insight on how to utilize these protocols One of these common protocols is to restrict carbohydrates a couple times per week for the period of time between dinner one evening and lunch the following day. By depleting sugar stores just a couple times per week will actually create changes in the cell's mitochondria and make us more efficient at burning fat as fuel.