The ketogenic diet was initially used as a treatment regimen for children with refractory epilepsy. Currently, it is a weight loss diet that has maintained an amazing track record. The diet works by allowing an individual’s body to go into a state of ketosis.
What is Ketosis?
In order to fully understand ketosis, it is important that you know the body’s energy production process. Glucose is the human body’s preferred fuel source. When we consume carbohydrates, they are immediately converted into glucose so that they can be utilized as energy. Excess carbohydrates are stored as glycogen to be used as glucose later. In some cases, a person’s body may lack enough glucose and the body will have to shift to using alternative sources of energy.
The body turns to fat as its new main source of fuel. Fat is broken down in the liver and in the process, elements known as ketones are formed. These ketones are then utilized in the body as fuel. Varieties of ketones include:
• Beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB)
Ketosis is, therefore, a state in which the body is almost entirely dependent on ketones for fuel. This can be observed in people who are fasting and individuals on the ketogenic diet.
Is it good to be in Ketosis?
Some benefits of being in ketosis are;
• Increased mental focus
• Increased physical endurance
• Rapid and effortless weight loss
• Improved acne
• Reduce migraines
• Reduced sugar cravings
• Improved cholesterol levels
• Improved blood sugar
• Less heartburn
• Reduced risk of hypertension
• Reduced risk of cancer
• Reduce the risk of polycystic ovary syndrome
• Improved symptoms of Parkinson’s disease
• Reduced extent of brain damage, for instance in case of a concussion.
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How to Achieve Ketosis?
Achieving ketosis is the main objective of individuals on the ketogenic diet. The steps below are in chronological order of relevance, from the most important to the least.
• Minimize your carbohydrate intake
For ketones to be produced in high numbers, there needs to be very little carbohydrate intake. This is because as discussed earlier, glucose is the body’s primary source of energy. A high carb diet will inhibit production of ketones, therefore restricting ketosis from happening.
Carbohydrate intake needs to be roughly 20 grams per day although it is fairly relative to the individual undergoing ketosis. This is the surest way to getting into ketosis. Diets such as the Atkins diet and ketogenic diet all advocate for 20 grams and below of carbohydrates.
After ketosis has been achieved, one can gradually increase the intake of carbohydrates as long as ketosis is maintained.
Therapeutic diets used in the treatment of epilepsy and cancer normally involve intake of even fewer carbohydrates to further increase the production of ketones.
• Protein restriction
Protein needs to be ingested in moderate amounts. You should only eat the amount that your body needs, and not in excessive amounts. Overindulging in proteins will lead to the excess proteins being converted to glucose and just like that, you’re back to square one. It is advisable to eat only one gram of protein per kg of body weight daily.
The body needs enough proteins to supply the liver with amino acids. Protein intake should also be maintained at a steady level to maintain muscle mass when carb intake is low.
• Eat enough fat
Your body requires enough fat to make ketones. When you’re not taking carbohydrates and fats, your body will automatically go into starvation mode. Incorporating fats in your diet makes you feel more satisfied, less hungry and less tired.
Because fasts make up as a large percentage of the ketogenic diet, it is important to select the most beneficial fats. Fats that promote ketosis include butter, olive oil, tallow, avocado oil and coconut oil. Coconut oil contains fats known as medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). MCTs are quickly absorbed and taken back to their liver to be converted into ketones. Nutritionists and fitness trainers recommend coconut oil to people.
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Studies have revealed that coconut oil also increases ketone levels in people with Alzheimer’s disease.
MCTs have also been used to induce ketosis in epileptic children without restricting as many carbohydrates as recommended for the ketogenic diet. Coconut oil may, however, increase side effects like diarrhea and stomach cramps and therefore should be taken in moderation.
• Avoid snacking
Eating for the sake of it can slow down ketosis. Keto snacks can minimize the damage but it is advisable to avoid snacking in between meals. If you must snack, do not do it daily. Acceptable snacks that do not interfere with ketosis are; nuts, celery sticks, sour cream dip, fresh and frozen berries, heavy whipping cream, very dark chocolate, beef jerky and a spoonful of butter or ghee melted into tea.
Exercising while on the ketogenic diet increases ketone levels. It is, however, important to note that it is not mandatory to exercise in order for your body to go into ketosis. Physical activity just gives you a nudge into improving ketosis.
During exercise, your body’s glycogen stores are depleted. In normal cases, they are replenished by carbohydrates that you eat. In this case, the liver will produce more ketones which are used to fuel your muscles.
One study revealed that exercise increases the rate at which ketones are produced in people with low ketone levels in their blood. However, it does not increase ketone levels in people who already have a high blood ketone level.
• Intermittent Fasting
Many people experience mild ketosis between dinner and breakfast.
Intermittent fasting can boost ketone levels. This type of fasting involves restricting food intake to several hours in a day known as a feeding window. An example is the 16:8 fast that involves people fasting for 16 hours and having an 8-hour feeding window. You can choose the hours according to your schedule.
Fat fasting can also significantly boost ketone production. It involves eating roughly 1000 calories daily, 90% being fats. The combination of high fat and low carb levels can considerably boost ketosis. Fat fasting should not be prolonged to avoid loss of excess muscle mass.
• Get enough sleep
Get around seven hours of sleep per night and try to minimize stress. Lack of sleep and increased stress can lead to a rise in blood sugar levels, thus reducing ketosis.
Foods to Eat to Achieve Ketosis
• Meat; chicken, beef, mutton, turkey, and bacon
• Fatty fish; salmon and tuna
• Unprocessed cheese
• Nuts and seeds; almonds, walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds.
• Healthy oils; extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil.
• Low carb vegetables; green leafy vegetables, onions, and peppers.
Foods to Avoid in Order to Achieve Ketosis
• Unhealthy fats; processed vegetable oils
• Sugary foods; soda, fruit juice, ice cream
• Legumes; beans, peas, lentils.
• Vegetables that grow below the ground; carrots and potatoes.
How Do You Know When your Body is in Ketosis?
People who are on the ketogenic diet are the ones who experience ketosis. This diet is a low carb high-fat diet that allows for up to 50 grams of carbs per day. Even carbs as healthy as potatoes and avocados are highly avoided during this diet. You can know whether or not your body is in ketosis by measuring the presence and amount of ketones in your blood, urine, and saliva.
Even without testing, there are symptoms you might experience that will indicate that your body is going through ketosis. They include:
• Short-term fatigue
Fatigue usually occurs at the beginning of ketosis. It goes away within a few days or weeks.
• Temporarily decreased mental focus
People under ketosis may experience brain fog because their bodies are still adjusting to utilizing ketones for energy.
This is due to the other uncomfortable side effects and it will subside in due time.
• Keto flu
Keto flu involves a number of characteristics and is usually a sign that ketosis is taking place. It is temporary and there are several ways you can reduce its effects.
• Digestive problems
Digestive problems such as diarrhea and constipation are very common, especially during the onset of ketosis.
• Bad breath (keto breath)
Bad breath is caused by the release of acetone through the breath.
• Increased urination
Increased ketone count can lead to increased urination in people.
• Increased energy
People going through ketosis have increased endurance and energy levels.
• Increased thirst
This is caused by the increased loss of water and electrolytes by your body through urination.
• Reduced appetite
Many people have reported a great reduction in their hunger levels while in ketosis. Most people are fine with just a few meals a day and may even end up intermittent fasting.
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Measuring Ketones in Urine
Measurement of ketones in the urine is done by use of urine strips. These strips can be purchased over the counter and also in some retail shops at affordable prices. After dipping the strip in urine, wait for 45-60 seconds to be able to get the results. The color should change to indicate the absence or presence of ketones. A darker color indicates higher ketone levels. If you get a dark purple color as opposed to pink, you will know that you have a lot of ketones in your body.
The downside of these strips is they do not always produce accurate results. Their results are affected by different variables; the level of hydration and amount of electrolytes in the body. The strips may show a higher level of ketones than there exists. As you progress into ketosis, your body will utilize all available ketones meaning that the urine tests won’t be reliable in measuring ketones. This is, therefore, a great method for people who are just starting to undergo ketosis.
Measuring ketones in the blood
This is done through the use of a blood glucose meter and is meant to test for levels of Beta-hydroxybutyrate. It produces more accurate results than the urine strips but is also much more expensive than the urine strips. They show the exact level of ketones in your blood and are therefore the best device to use when measuring ketones.
Measuring ketones in breath
You can measure ketones in breath using a breath meter. A kertonix meter is used to detect the presence of acetone in saliva. They are pricier than urine strips but cheaper than blood-ketone meters.
Kertonix meters do not provide ketone levels but rather just check for the presence of ketones. They are mostly used hand in hand with blood-meters or urine strips to compare results for a more accurate conclusion.
A major advantage is that the device is reusable and simple to use. They can in some cases show inaccurate results and misleading values making it hard to track your progress.
Is Ketosis Life Threatening?
Skeptics have raised concerns over the safety of ketosis and whether or not it can be life-threatening. These people may be confusing ketoacidosis with ketoacidosis.
Ketoacidosis is a serious condition caused by uncontrolled diabetes. It is a result of insufficient amounts of insulin in the body and therefore the body cannot utilize the sugar present in the blood. Its symptoms include:
• Extreme thirst
• Stomach pain
• Fatigue accompanied by confusion
• Shortness of breath
• Fruity breath.
Ketoacidosis is a life-threatening condition. It is the leading cause of death in people under the age of 24 who have diabetes. Its overall death rate is 2 to 5%. If you are experiencing such symptoms, it is advisable to see a doctor for proper diagnosis.
Symptoms like vomiting, nausea, and thirst are shared between ketosis and ketoacidosis but the two conditions are completely different.
Ketosis is a very natural and beneficial process. It is not triggered by lack of insulin but rather a reduction in glucose levels.
It is a common misconception that the brain can only be fuelled by glucose. In reality, the brain can work to its full potential while utilizing ketones for energy. This means that ketosis has no negative effects on the health of your brain.
Ketosis has been seen as effective in the treatment of epilepsy and type 2 diabetes. It is not a harmful process.
While it is essentially safe, some people may need medical evaluations before deciding to go through ketosis. These people include lactating mothers, pregnant women, teenagers, children, people with kidney and liver diseases and individuals receiving treatment for diabetes and hypertension.
Ketosis is a very safe biological process that has numerous advantages. It is important to consult a medical professional if you want to start a ketogenic diet. This is just to ensure that you are ideally not at any risk of developing complications due to existing conditions you may have. Ketosis is beneficial for maintaining a healthy lifestyle.