Keto: What You Need to Know Before Starting

Keto: What You Need to Know Before Starting

What You Need to Understand Before Starting a Keto Diet

With the start of every new year, we are inundated with messages promoting the idea that a new diet or gym membership can lead to a transformed version of ourselves. As we turn the page on the calendar, our mindset often shifts as well, and many of us are eager to shed the extra weight gained during the holiday season by trying out a quick and effective diet. One increasingly popular diet for this purpose is the ketogenic diet, which has gained significant attention in the last decade. According to the 2022 IFIC Food and Health Survey, seven percent of participants reported having followed the ketogenic diet in the previous year.

The ketogenic diet, also known as "keto," may have been brought to your attention, but it's possible that you don't have much knowledge about it. This piece will outline the fundamentals of the ketogenic diet, along with some important precautions to keep in mind if you're considering trying it.

What does the ketogenic diet involve?

The ketogenic diet may appear to be a new concept, but it has actually been in existence for quite some time. In the 1920s, it was initially implemented as a treatment for epilepsy after studies showed that fasting could decrease seizure activity. While medical professionals still use this diet for therapeutic purposes, it is also gaining popularity outside of its clinical uses.

The ketogenic diet is a type of eating style that focuses on consuming a high percentage of fat, a moderate amount of protein, and a very low amount of carbohydrates. This diet is usually abundant in foods such as butter, cheese, eggs, meat, nuts, oils, seafood, and seeds, while limiting or excluding fruits, vegetables, grains, potatoes, sweets, and other foods high in carbohydrates.

The main goal of different variations of the ketogenic diet is to limit the consumption of carbohydrates. A standard ketogenic meal plan aims for approximately 5% of calories from carbohydrates, 20% from protein, and 75% from dietary fats. For a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet, this translates to about 100 calories (25 grams) of carbohydrates, 400 calories (100 grams) of protein, and 1,500 calories (167 grams) of dietary fat. While some ketogenic diets may allow up to 70 grams of carbohydrates per day, the usual maximum intake goal is 50 grams or less, depending on the phase of the diet and the individual's calorie needs.

With the limitation of carbohydrates and careful observation of protein consumption, a ketogenic diet strives to induce a state of nutritional ketosis in the body. This metabolic process promotes the production of ketones, which are created by the liver and can serve as the main source of energy for the body. In the absence of ketosis, the body relies on glucose, obtained from the intake of carbohydrates, as its main source of energy.

What are ketones, exactly?

Ketones are a type of byproduct that is soluble in water and is created when fat is broken down in the liver. This is a natural process that happens regularly, even during periods of sleep. Our liver is constantly generating a certain number of ketones; however, if our intake of carbohydrates and proteins is high, the production of ketones will be comparatively low.

What is the role of dietary carbohydrates in providing energy?

There are two types of carbohydrates - those that can be digested and dietary fiber, which cannot be digested. When we eat digestible carbohydrates, our bodies break them down into their simplest forms known as monosaccharides, such as fructose, galactose, and glucose. Majority of the carbohydrates we consume are eventually converted into glucose because it is the most abundant monosaccharide found in nature, and our bodies have the ability to convert fructose and galactose into glucose.

The continuous presence of glucose is essential for our survival as it is transported in our bloodstream and aided by insulin to provide readily available energy. Additionally, glycogen stores in the liver and muscles act as a reserve for glucose. It is common for us to have approximately one day's worth of glucose stored as glycogen. In times of low blood glucose, the liver breaks down glycogen to increase blood glucose levels. Similarly, when we require energy for muscle contraction but have low blood glucose, our muscles utilize their glycogen reserves.

What is the source of energy if we don't consume dietary carbohydrates?

Our bodies are constantly working to maintain our energy levels, whether we are engaged in activities such as eating, exercising, sitting, or sleeping. In times of need, our bodies can produce energy from sources other than carbohydrates.

One of the ways our bodies produce glucose is through gluconeogenesis, which involves the conversion of non-carbohydrate substances into glucose. Additionally, we can obtain energy from protein and fat. For instance, the amino acids found in the proteins we consume can be utilized in gluconeogenesis to create glucose. Furthermore, triglycerides stored in adipose tissue can be broken down through lipolysis to initiate a chain of reactions that result in the production of ketones, especially when our glycogen reserves are depleted.

In brief, reducing the dependence on carbohydrates for energy boosts the production of ketones. While the liver constantly produces ketones from fat for energy, a greater shift towards fat as a fuel source increases the body's ketone production. However, consuming excessive protein can decrease ketone production, making it challenging to achieve and sustain ketosis. This is why a genuine ketogenic diet sets limits on both protein and carbohydrate intake.

Essential Facts to Understand About the Keto Diet

Having a deeper comprehension of the concept and mechanism behind a ketogenic diet, let us now examine some of its advantages and disadvantages.

The keto diet has the potential to initiate weight loss.

One of the main reasons people are drawn to the ketogenic diet is because they believe it will help them lose weight. While it is true that many individuals experience quick initial weight loss when following this diet, this is primarily due to a decrease in calorie intake. This can be attributed to factors such as feeling fuller and having a reduced appetite as a result of consuming fewer carbohydrates. Additionally, the body may also lose water and burn more calories, contributing to the weight loss. However, once the ketogenic diet is discontinued, there may be some immediate weight regain as the body replenishes its glycogen stores, which can lead to water retention and an increase in weight.

There are various types of diets that can assist individuals in losing weight in the short term. However, the real challenge is maintaining the weight loss. According to studies on weight loss and other health benefits associated with specialized diets, these effects tend to diminish after one year. Nevertheless, research has suggested that reaching the two-year mark may be a crucial step towards achieving long-term weight maintenance. These unfortunate facts apply to all types of diets, whether it is a low-carb/high-fat diet like keto or any other diet that is lower in fat and higher in carbs.

It can be challenging to stick to any diet for an extended period, including the keto diet.

Maintaining weight loss is a difficult task, regardless of the type of diet one follows. This is mainly due to the challenges of sticking to a specialized diet for an extended period of time. Recent research has revealed that adherence to a well-designed ketogenic diet is comparable to that of the Mediterranean diet in a 12-week crossover study. However, during the 12 weeks that followed the 24-week intervention, adherence to the keto diet was lower. A separate study conducted over a span of two years, comparing adherence to low-carb, low-fat, and Mediterranean diets, showed a higher adherence to the low-carb diet in the first six months. However, by the end of the study, there was a lower overall compliance and more drop-outs among the low-carb group.

Keto reduces the number of food groups.

The ketogenic diet greatly restricts the consumption of carbohydrates, which means that certain food groups like dairy, fruits, grains, and vegetables must be limited or potentially eliminated altogether. While reducing carb intake is the key to reaching and maintaining ketosis, foods high in carbs like dairy, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are essential components of various eating plans that have been proven to have positive effects on health. However, a well-designed ketogenic diet may allow for small portions of specific fruits, such as berries, and non-starchy vegetables like broccoli.

The Keto diet focuses on simplicity.

To achieve and sustain ketosis, limit carbohydrate intake. The straightforward suggestion of the keto diet to eliminate carbs may entice individuals to give it a shot. However, things are not always as uncomplicated as they appear. For a more well-rounded approach to keto, consider consulting a registered dietitian (or your doctor) and following a properly designed ketogenic diet.

The "keto flu" can leave you feeling down.

It is true that the rumors you may have heard are true. When starting a ketogenic diet, many people often experience different sensations than they are used to - and not necessarily in a positive way. Commonly reported issues include constipation, fatigue, headaches, dizziness, and stomach discomfort. This initial phase of starting a ketogenic diet has been referred to as the "keto flu." Increasing water intake and adding a bit more salt to meals can help alleviate these symptoms. The positive aspect is that this phase is temporary and once you have adjusted, these symptoms should go away.

Be cautious of unpleasant breath.

Similar to the "keto flu," this unfortunate aspect of a keto diet can also occur. Known as "keto breath," it is caused by the body producing and exhaling acetone, a type of ketone that is not essential for energy during ketosis. Contrary to regular bad breath, improving dental hygiene, although always beneficial, will not eliminate this side effect of ketosis. However, do not worry as this condition is only temporary and its severity may vary from individual to individual. Additionally, as your body becomes accustomed to its new primary source of energy, you will likely notice an improvement in your breath.

Our food habits can be impacted by dietary limitations.

Transitioning to a ketogenic diet can be a significant adjustment for the majority of individuals. Adopting drastic changes in our diet can impact our perception and connection with food. While limiting our food choices may seem like a simple solution, it may not be suitable for everyone. Therefore, it is crucial to be mindful of how our relationship with food transforms as we modify our eating habits. It is vital to recognize that when we view food solely as a means to an end, we may overlook the potential for joy, satisfaction, and cultural customs that food can provide. Those with a history of disordered eating should take extra precautions when adhering to a restrictive diet.

The Conclusion of Keto

The ketogenic diet can serve as a simpler and healthier eating option for some individuals, but not for others. While it originated as a therapeutic approach, it may prove to be too restrictive and challenging for the average person to adopt and sustain. Additionally, the potential benefits of this diet may not be applicable to everyone. It is worth noting that the ketogenic diet does not align with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, particularly in terms of recommended carbohydrate and saturated fat intake. However, there has been extensive research on this diet and many studies are currently being conducted, with more to come in the future. As more people consider trying the keto diet, it is essential for researchers to gain a deeper understanding of both its positive and negative aspects beyond its use in clinical settings.

This article does not aim to cover all aspects and provide dietary recommendations for very low-calorie ketogenic diets or specific disorders related to carbohydrate, fat, or protein metabolism. If you have a metabolic condition like diabetes, glycogen storage disease, or phenylketonuria, or if you are seeking guidance on using very low-calorie diets for a health issue, it is advised to consult a medical professional before beginning a ketogenic diet.