How Do Ketogenic Diets Work?

May 01, 2018

How Do Ketogenic Diets Work?

You’ve probably been on a diet at some point in your life, and it’s likely that someday you’ll be on another. One of the today’s most prominent diets is the ketogenic diet. Diets can be as trendy as fashion, but the ketogenic diet can yield the desired results with true staying power. Originally developed in the 1920s as a therapy for epilepsy, the ketogenic diet has re-emerged in various forms over the last couple of decades as a fast, effective and sustainable method of weight loss. This diet is compelling, because you can lose weight while still indulging in the beloved high-fat foods long regarded as the arch enemy of weight loss. The idea that you can lose fat by adhering to a diet centered around consuming a high proportion of fat seems counter-intuitive, if you don’t understand the science behind it.

What are ketogenic diets and how do they work?

The food that you eat consists of three macro-nutrients in varying compositions: fats, proteins and carbohydrates. The ketogenic diet is a high fat, moderate protein and low carbohydrate diet. Although there are several variants of the ketogenic diet, it can generally be defined by a strict limitation on your carbohydrate intake of 50 grams per day or less. If you consume more than 50 grams of carbs per day, it’s very unlikely that you’ll achieve a state of ketosis. To induce ketosis, which is the purpose of this diet, it’s recommended that you stick to 20 grams of carbs or less for at least the first 2-4 weeks. You may then, gradually and cautiously, increase your carbohydrate intake but never surpass 50 grams per day. In conjunction with the restricted carbohydrate intake, your diet should be made up of approximately 60-80% fats and 15-30% proteins. That means that carbs should only make up about 5-10% of your daily intake. There are several apps that can help you track your daily intakes and percentages.

The human body has two sources of energy: glucose and fat. Glucose is the body’s primary source of fuel. The goal of a ketogenic diet is to create a metabolic shift by inducing your body into burning fat stores for fuel instead of glucose.

Carbohydrates are converted by the body into glucose. This diet restricts your carbohydrate intake which, in turn, deprives the body of its primary fuel source, glucose. When you stop providing your body with glucose via carbohydrates, it starts to burn its glucose stores (glycogen) until they are completely depleted. This usually takes 2-3 days. Your body has developed a way to function when there are no carbs available in order to avoid going into hypoglycemia. There are two main ways for your body to deal with this lack of glucose. One of those ways is through a metabolic state called ketosis. Through a process called lipolysis, your liver converts fats into fatty acids, whereby it makes ketone bodies to burn for fuel. This is precisely what makes the diet work. This metabolic process allows you to swap these ketone bodies (from fat) for glucose as your body’s primary source of energy. Subsequently, weight loss occurs and often at a more rapid pace and absent the deprivation of more traditional dieting methods heavily restrictive of fat, the most satiating macronutrient.

To better understand how a ketogenic diet works, it’s also important to understand the role that insulin plays in the body. Insulin is a metabolism-regulating hormone secreted by the pancreas. Its primary function is regulating the presence of glucose in your blood. When you eat carbohydrates, they are converted to glucose which, in turn, raise your blood glucose (blood sugar) level. If not kept in check, a high blood glucose level can be very dangerous. In a healthy functioning body, the pancreas makes insulin to remove that glucose out of the bloodstream and store it elsewhere in the body (your fat cells) for use later. Thus, when you eat fewer carbohydrates, less insulin is needed to patrol your bloodstream and regulate blood sugar levels, therefore you store less fat on your body.

A main objective of a ketogenic diet is insulin manipulation. Insulin suppresses ketone production, so If you can control your insulin levels, then you can control what fuel your body burns for energy. Thus, if you want to enter into ketosis and stay there, you must minimize the presence of the insulin hormone as much as possible. Changing what you eat is the easiest way to achieve this, and that is the underlying principal of a ketogenic diet. Fat has a very minimal effect on insulin levels, so a high-fat, moderate-protein, low-carb diet reduces insulin production adequately enough that your body isn’t prevented from producing ketone bodies.

Various factors, such a metabolic diseases and hormonal imbalances, can play a hand in how one’s metabolism functions. No diet is a one-size-fits-all solution, and you should always consult your physician before embarking on any new diet regimen. How much weight you lose and how fast you lose it depends on individualized factors. It may take you longer than you expect to get results, or the weight may seemingly melt away. The best approach is to keep an open mind when it comes to your health, even if that means exploring ideas that, on the surface, may seem implausible .

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