Ketogenic diets have gotten a lot of attention lately, and many people are completely sold on their benefits. They are believed to facilitate greater fat loss, give people more energy and even prevent certain diseases. For those that don’t know, a ketogenic diet mainly consists of fattier foods like red meat, turkey, certain cheeses, fatty fish like salmon, nuts and eggs.
There is room for vegetables, but many contain carbohydrates, which are usually forbidden in large amounts on ketogenic diets. In fact, most ketogenic diets limit carbohydrate intake to about 50 to 75 grams per day to prevent spikes in insulin. Originally, keto-diets were used as a way of treating epilepsy in children and some studies even show that eating this way can be effective in combating things like cancer, metabolic syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease. That being said, many bodybuilders have turned to these higher-fat, moderate-protein eating regimens as a way of getting leaner and building more muscle.
How Do Keto Diets Work?
When the body ingests carbohydrates, they get broken down into a simple sugar called glucose. Glucose helps fuel the brain, and also gets stored as glycogen in the muscle. Ever wonder why runners load up on pasta the night before a marathon, or bodybuilders take in a lot of sugar the night before a competition? It’s because carbohydrates fill muscles up—almost like gas in the tank of a car.
Carbohydrates, whether you’re on a ketogenic diet or not, are the cells preferred energy source, because, at only 4 calories per gram, they are easy to break down. In a ketogenic diet, carbohydrate intake is restricted, which forces the body to turn to another fuel source as energy. While protein can yield some energy, the body will mostly look to healthy fats to convert into the energy it needs for exercise and daily functioning.
At 9 calories per gram, fat is a much denser nutrient source, and requires more energy to convert into the fuel. The process by which the body converts fat to energy is called “gluconeogenesis.” It involves the liver converting dietary fat into ketone bodies, which then enter the brain and the muscles to take the place of glucose. If you’re a big fan of pork, red meat and fatty fish, it sounds like a dream come true.
Are Keto Diets Safe?
The safety of ketogenic diets has been hotly debated since they first became a trendy way to eat for fitness enthusiasts. They work for some people, while others may experience adverse effects. First and foremost, you may feel more tired in the first few days of a ketogenic diet. You’ll experience brain fog, and noticeably reduced performance in the gym. This will usually pass after a few days, as it is a result of your body learning to convert fat into fuel.
Another thing to keep in mind is that you’ll be eating a large amount of saturated fat on this diet. Saturated fat is found both in red meat but also in things like coconut oil and nut butters. A little bit in the diet is actually good for you; it helps regulate the production of things like testosterone and other hormones. However, it has been proven that too much saturated fat can put people at a greater risk for heart disease, atherosclerosis and high cholesterol. Many people assume that a ketogenic diet gives them free-reign to eat all of the fatty foods they want, but some have more saturated fat than others and should be avoided.
It can also be incredibly difficult to get enough fiber on a ketogenic diet, because you won’t be able to eat things like brown rice, oatmeal or large amounts of fruit. Fruit may have a high sugar content that comes in the form of fructose, but this is nature’s way of enticing us to get more fiber. Getting adequate doses of fiber in the diet lower cholesterol, help the body maintain regular bowel movements and also raise testosterone. When your diet mainly consists of meats, seeds, fish and eggs, getting enough of this crucial substance can be tricky if you aren’t careful.
Last but not least there is a serious risk of something called “ketoacidosis.” Ketoacidosis is a condition that refers to uncontrolled ketosis—the state that the body enters when carbohydrates are restricted. It can happen if the body produces too many ketone bodies. The pH of the blood drops, and in severe cases, it can be fatal. It can be caused by insulin deficiency, which can occur when there isn’t enough glucose in the blood. If you are considering a ketogenic diet, it will do you a world of good to consult with your doctor first to see if your body is right for this style of eating.
A Word On Carbohydrates
Not all carbohydrates are created equal. Sometimes the tendency to want to restrict them all together fails to take into account the fact that some carbs are actually good for us. Carbs that have a lower glycemic index like oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa and multi-grain breads are slow-burning and give us sustained energy when combined with high-protein foods.
However, carbohydrate sources like orange juice, cakes, muffins and sweets have a very high glycemic index, which means they give us a burst of energy in the form of insulin, but then cause us to crash shortly after. Restricting high-glycemic carbs alone may improve your health and overall body composition and you won’t necessarily have to switch to a ketogenic diet to achieve your goals.
Supplementation For Ketogenic Diets
If you are set on trying out the high-fat, low-carb approach to dieting you’ll want to supplement accordingly. The first thing you’ll need to do is take a multivitamin, since you’ll be missing some key nutrients found in fruits and vegetables. Search for one that specifically has real fruit or veggies in each chewable or capsule.
You’ll also want to take a fiber supplement, since you won’t be getting the right amount of fiber either. Psyllium husk is a great choice, but there are also a number of other choices in the form of capsules or tablets that will provide adequate fiber intake.
A low-carb meal replacement shake can also stave off cravings for sweets. Check the label next time your buy a container of protein powder. Some meal-replacement shakes are actually loaded with carbohydrates and sugar, and using them will likely foil your goals for keeping insulin levels low. Isopure is an excellent choice since it contains zero carbohydrates.
Last but not least, MCT oil should be a staple in your diet as well. MCT stands for medium-chain triglycerides. They are digested easily and sent directly to your liver to be converted into fuel. The body has to do a lot less to break these kinds of fats down, making the transition from carbohydrates to fats much easier. This will help with the process of gluconeogenesis, and will also have a thermogenic effect on the body that will facilitate greater levels of fat loss.
Be Smart About Going Ketogenic
Any diet strategy taken to the extreme or not practiced properly can be problematic. Ketogenic diets may have their benefits but are no exception. They are not an excuse to load up saturated fats, or eat anything as long as it’s “no-carb.”
The occasional bunless cheeseburger is fine, but generally, you’ll want to stick to healthier protein and fat sources to get the most out this diet and maintain overall health. In the same way that eating sugary carbs can wreak havoc on your body, eating a diet with too many saturated fats can be just as disastrous. If you’re going ketogenic, be smart, be safe, choose the right foods, and never take things to the extreme.