For decades medical students studied the fact that ketosis occurs in the case of diabetes, starvation, exercise and when one’s diet consists mainly of fat. It is a consequence of fat metabolism where metabolites, a.k.a. ketone bodies, could be measured in the blood. In the case of diabetes, it happens because of lack of insulin and this is a potentially dangerous situation. Starvation itself is a dangerous condition to be in and ketosis serves as a protection of the glucose stores in the body. These two conditions gave the impression that ketosis is only bad and should be avoided at all cost.
However, in a healthy individual, with a diet high in fat and low in carbs, the body automatically switches to fat as its primary fuel. This is called nutritional ketosis and in this state, organs such as the brain, kidneys and liver can successfully switch from glucose to ketones without any adverse effect on health.
For these reasons, the ketogenic diet (a.k.a. Banting, LCHF, low carb etc.) is becoming more and more popular for a wide variety of conditions and purposes from fuel for endurance athletes to a cure for metabolic diseases.
Research shows many patients with different diseases benefit from this diet:
1. Patients with neurological brain disorders such as epilepsy, autism, narcolepsy etc. are caused by a faulty glucose metabolism causing inflammation in the brain. When fat, and not sugar, is used for fuel, it bypasses this mechanism and many patients have reported some relief of the symptoms of these diseases. In some cases, it even shows to be protective against brain damage as a consequence of metabolic diseases.
2. Because cancer is also caused by inflammation due to sugar excess in the body, much research is being done now to use the diet for prevention and treatment of this disease. The ketogenic diet shows to inhibit the metabolic pathways that energize cancer cells with no negative effect of normal cells. It even protects patients undergoing cancer treatment in the form of radio therapy from loss of muscle mass.
3. This diet could also be used as an intervention in obesity related illnesses such as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and type II diabetes.
4. Patients suffering from COPD could benefit from this diet
What one should know when considering this diet:
1) Initially, while the body is making the switch from glucose to fat for its preferred fuel, one could feel very tired. Many people describe flu like symptoms in the first few days. Make sure it is not any other underlying disease, and push through it, it will be worth the effort. Remember how uncomfortable it was when tempted to eat sugary foods again, as it will be no problem for the body to switch back to sugar mode again. While you are feeling these effects, do not engage in strenuous exercise. There will be plenty of time once your body has adapted, to do as much exercise as you want.
2) A high fat diet is not ketogenic unless carbs are restricted to 5% of total energy intake. The most popular ratio of fats:protein:carbs is 70:25:5. With too much carbs, the body switches back to glucose metabolism. Because protein could be converted to glucose and fuel glucose metabolism, it should not exceed 25% of total energy in the diet. When you do the calculations, remember that 1g fat consists of 9 calories while 1 g sugar and protein are only 4 calories. To do this use the many apps and carb counters available for all smart phones today. Remember not to cut sugars out all together as you need some carbs to fuel the fat metabolism.
3) When this diet is used to lose weight, one should take in consideration the total amount of calories consumed. Too much calories will still result in weight gain, even when the ratio mentioned above is right. Therefore, it is advised that you engage in an exercise program to help consume calories. A ketogenic diet fuels the body well for exercise while it boosts fat burn. Also, beware of baked goods claiming to be ‘ketogenic’. Check the labels for hidden sugars and starches.
4) Using this diet to help with diseases as mentioned above, it is important to work with your healthcare professional and not to quit any medications on your own. Research show that children on this diet for the treatment of epilepsy need extra selenium.
Keep the following rules in mind for any diet to be healthy:
· All fruits and vegetables must be organic, free of pesticides and fertilizers with harmful chemicals
· Meats should be from animals raised on farms with healthy conditions so that there is no need for excess use of antibiotics and hormones. These include wild caught fish, grass fed beef, lamb, free-range chicken etc. This is also important when food comes from these animals e.g. butter, eggs, milk etc.
· Only consume oils made from olives or nuts and coconut oil. If seed oils are consumed (not recommended), it has to be cold pressed and stored in a dark container at room temperature to prevent damage to the structure and your health
For a list of food which will promote ketogenesis go to this quick reference