The keto diet changes the way your body converts food into energy. Eating a lot of fat and very few carbs puts you in ketosis, a metabolic state where your body burns fat instead of carbs for fuel. When your body is unable to get glucose from carbs, your liver converts fatty acids from your diet into ketones, an alternative source of energy. Burning ketones in place of glucose reduces inflammation and spurs weight loss.
Here’s the Knowledge Stage analogy: Say we are hungry and want to go out to eat. It wouldn’t make much sense to sprint to the nearest restaurant, right? Wouldn’t we be better served to take the few minutes to learn about what’s available, and then make a plan? Yes, we would take the time to Yelp or ask a friend for some knowledge and use that information to decide where we want to go.
The current hypothesis is that the brain functions differently on ketones than on glucose, and this is what causes certain brains to reduce epileptic seizures. I would then also hypothesize that certain people who feel that “brain fog” lifted on ketosis is due to either placebo effect OR their brain actually functioning differently on ketones vs glucose.
When you’re first getting started, it can be helpful to use a blood or breath ketone meter. What these meters do is measure the amount of ketones (the energy source your body is switching to) in your blood or your breath. Knowing those amounts and seeing how they increase or decrease depending on what you’re eating daily can often be a motivating and helpful indicator of the transition occurring in your body.
Instead of thinking about the total carbs you’re eating, assess what those carbs provide to you. Do the majority of your carbs come from fruit and vegetables, with a payload of fiber and disease-fighting antioxidants? Fantastic. Or are you consuming them in the form of added sugars (cookies, candy, soda) or refined flour? If you are, you know what to do.
The end result is staying fueled off of circulating high ketones (which are also sometimes called ketone bodies) — which is what’s responsible for altering your metabolism in a way that some people like to say turns you into a “fat-burning machine.” Both in terms of how it feels physically and mentally, along with the impact it has on the body, being in ketosis is a very different than a “glycolytic state,” where blood glucose (sugar) serves as the body’s energy source.
If this diet is so tough, then why has it been around since the 1920s? For starters, there’s some evidence to suggest that ketogenic diets help regulate epilepsy, according to research in ISRN Pediatrics.Redox Biology reports the diet may benefit cancer patients. While it may be helpful for short-term weight loss, that wasn’t the diet’s original intention, and the jury’s still out on its long-term effects.
Many books could be written on this very subject, and undoubtedly they have been. There are many answers, and they all depend on context. Lots of variables impact how well, and how consistently we lose weight. How much sleep do we get each night, and how restful is that sleep? What micronutrients are we not getting enough of? How much water are we drinking? How much are we exercising?
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The ketogenic diet — a high-fat and very low-carb eating plan — can be tough to start. After all, it’s likely a radical departure from the way you’re eating now (a typical standard American diet is high in carbohydrates and processed foods). But many people are trying the keto diet, which puts your body in a state of ketosis. That's what happens when your body’s carb-burning switch flips to a fat-burning one, a change that can cause weight loss and has even been credited with controlling diabetes. (1)
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