The Ketogenic Diet is one which promotes ketosis: a state where the body uses fat as the main energy source instead of carbs, essentially by converting fat (dietary or stored) into ketone bodies.The state of ketosis can be achieved in several ways:
- Diet (nutritional ketosis)
- Fasting (fasting ketosis)
- The consumption of exogenous ketones
- Vigorous exercise.
From everything I’ve read and listened to, I think this explanation from Dr Peter Attia is one of the best:
There are some absolute, bona fide experts out there who are staunch advocates of The Ketogenic Diet and it is work by a number of highly respected scientists which has convinced me to persevere with it, despite having personally experienced some of the negative impacts, specifically on my cholesterol levels (more on this later). Unsurprisingly, in this ambiguous world we find ourselves in, there are some equally strong opponents. I don't intend to go into details in this article but if you're interested a quick Google search will throw up a bunch of articles. There's also lots info out there on the history of the ketogenic diet so I won't spend any time duplicating content here but if you're interested the glorious Wikipedia is a good place to start.
The top benefits of ketosis?Interestingly, the diet was first developed as treatment for epilepsy, however, this is is not an avenue I'd like to persue here as I’d like to stay focused on longevity. There are lots of articles out there sharing details on the benefits of ketosis so I don't intend on explaining each in detail. For further reading, there's an extremely nice article from Authority Nutrition outlining the basics of the diet and one focusing on the top 10 benefits. There's also another on Livestrong which may be worth a read. For those of you who like things in bite sized chunks, here are what I believe to be the top longevity and lifestyle related benefits ketosis and the ketogenic diet:
- Better control over appetite and hunger
- Increased cognitive ability
- Weight loss
- Improved lipid profile: Triglycerides and HDL cholesterol
- Optimisation of blood sugar and insulin
- Potential treatment and cure for type 1&2 diabetes
- Potential cancer prevention and treatment
The key immediate benefits which have encouraged me to persevere are the first two. When I’m in ketosis I have much greater control over my appetite and I feel like my brain is super charged. The effect the diet has had on me from a cognitive perspective is simply astounding. Obviously this is a sample size of one, but there is solid research out there to back up adding cognitive enhancement to the long list of potential benefits. In addition, my interest in ketosis is maintained due to the potential long-term benefits, specifically the potential for it to fight cancer: I've seen first hand what cancer can do and I definitely don't want it!! Despite what we have been lead to believe, the chances are that cancer is not a purely genetic disease but something which develops through external factors with glucose playing a major role (potentially). Knowing that the ketogenic diet has the potential to prevent cancer has really caught my attention and hopefully it will catch yours too.
In summary, The Ketogenic Diet can offer some immediate benefits such as satiety management, enhanced brain function and glucose optimisation, and it can lay a strong foundation in terms of preventing nasty diseases such cancer.
How to achieve nutritional ketosis
Similar to my 40-20-20 approach outlined in my last article, nutritional ketosis is achieved by getting the balance between the three macronutrients right. The perfect balance varies from individual to individual but broadly we’re talking about keeping carbs very low, consuming a moderate amount of protein and getting the remainder of your calories from fat. The traditional ratio is 4:1, meaning 4 parts fat, 1 part coming from a combination of carbs and protein which normally results in 80-85% of calories coming from dietary fat. Take a moment to let that sink in. 85% fat! In addition, it is normally also necessary to target less than 50g of carbohydrates per day, and to limit the amount of protein as too much can cause something called gluconeogenesis which essentially converts protein into glucose and can keep you out of ketosis.
Achieving these ratios will pretty much guarantee that you enter ketosis within a few days and as your body starts to adapt over time - referred to as keto adaptation - you can easily reach moderate levels of ketosis within a day or two. To add some complexity, the sources of each macro are also important. For example, the fibre content within the carbs you choose is very important for a number of reasons and the type of fat is a factor too. I’ll come back to these points in a later article but to close off on this section listen to how an expert explains different approaches and some of the nuances, this time Dr. Dom A’Gostino on Rhonda Patrick’s podcast.
For me, getting carbs below 50g is the key trigger but this varies from person to person so there's no hard and fast rules. Also, as Dr. Dom intimates in that excerpt, the good news is that nutritional ketosis can also be achieved by following a somewhat less strict diet than the 85% fat approach outlined above essentially by using what has been coined a modified Atkins diet (or modified ketogenic diet) where the carbs are slightly higher, fat lower.
What the ketogenic diet is not
I was sold the concept of the diet by a close friend who has been an advocate of a low carb approach for some time on the grounds that if your diet comprises mostly fat then your body metabolises calories in a different way, thus enabling you to consume more calories than normal and still lose weight. Although this defied all logic, this was a very attractive concept. Second, it was sold that a low carb diet can also help reduce cholesterol and have major benefits in relation to insulin sensitivity, the former of which really appealed to me as my lipid profile was something I was slightly concerned about.
Whilst both of these things may be true for a percentage of people, it's certainly not true for all and in my humble opinion the diet should definitely be approached with caution. I’m testament to this as after 3 months of following a strict ketogenic diet, I ended up gaining weight and my LDL Cholesterol levels sky rocketed to what is considered dangerous levels in the medical community. Given that heart disease runs in my family, this freaked me out beyond belief and took me on a completely new journey of discovery. Fear not, it turned out quite well and I plan on sharing everything I have learned. In summary, in my experience:
- The ketogenic diet will not allow you to defy the laws of thermodynamics (you may be able to consume slightly more calories but the calories in/out model still applies)
- There's a good chance that you will experience elevated cholesterol - according to some experts this may affect up to around 33% of people who try the diet and it should be something to be concerned about.
With all that being said, I still believe that the positives of the diet outweigh the negatives. I'm still experimenting but the benefits I have experienced have been pretty astounding and I haven't given up on it yet.
Related articles and further reading
- Beyond Weight Loss and into Longevity
- Why Low Carb Diet's Don't Suck
- Super High Cholesterol on Keto (A Personal Journey)
- The Ketogenic Diet and High Cholesterol (The Hyper-responder's Ultimate Guide)
- Check out our keto recipes for a bit of inspiration.
Image courtesy of meandmydiabetes