A ketogenic diet is one that has three major aspects:
- It is very high fat
- It is very low carb
- It is moderate protein
So, in essence, a ketogenic diet consists of mostly good fats, some protein, and a few carbs (if any). These categories (fat, protein, carbs) are macronutrients, and these three are the building blocks of all nutrition. The reason it’s called “ketogenic” is because the diet allows the body to shift its fuel source from carbs (bad) to fat (good) and, in so doing, creates ketone bodies (which form in three ways: beta-Hydroxybutyrate, acetoacetate, and acetone). These ketones develop as a result of fat oxidation, and they supply the body with the required fuel.
There is a transitionary period for the body when it shifts from burning carbs to burning fat (known as ketoadaptation). That transition period can be as short as a couple of days to as long as four weeks, depending on the person. Ketoadaptation can also be difficult for some people as they experience headaches, diarrhea, weakness, and fatigue. But these symptoms will only last for a short period of time, and once adapted, everything feels better.
Once fat is the primary fuel source, the vast majority of health markers increase: cholesterol levels improve, cholesterol densities increase, blood triglycerides drop, body fat levels drop, insulin resistance drops, type 2 diabetes vanishes, etc. In addition, mental acuity and focus increases as the brain is using a better fuel source. And, since body fat decreases, especially around the belly, joint health increases. The reason for this is because belly fat cells churn out molecules called cytokines. Cytokines have one real job, inflammation. So removing belly fat will have far reaching benefits to knees, ankles, elbows, and shoulders.
There are additional aspects that may not be considered “major”, but they are significant aspects that allow for long-term and continued success:
- No calorie counting
- No food measuring
Because calories have virtually nothing to do with fat loss, there’s no point in counting them. There’s also no point in measuring foods, because as long as meals are seriously high in fat and contain a moderate amount of protein, just eat until you feel full (which will happen quickly when you eat high fat meals). Also…bacon.
One final note, to clear up any possible confusion. Ketosis is NOT the same as ketoacidosis. Many people confuse the terms and automatically dismiss the wealth of health benefits that come from a ketogenic lifestyle. Ketosis is the state of using fat as fuel, typically producing ketones (beta-hydroxybutyrate) at a rate of .5 to 5 mM. Ketoacidosis is the state of uncontrolled ketone production (in the presence of high blood sugar levels), resulting in ketone levels in the neighborhood of 15 to 25 mM. This is a dangerous situation. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the only people affected by ketoacidosis are those with type 1 diabetes (and some severe alcoholics). That’s because their bodies do not produce insulin. Since there’s no insulin to break down any blood sugar. High levels of blood sugar and high levels of ketones is a bad combination. It forces the kidneys to work overtime, often causing kidney damage or failure. But, as I said, it is a rare condition, and, unless you have type 1 diabetes, you will not have to worry about ketoacidosis. If you do have type 1 diabetes, a ketogenic lifestyle is still not unavailable to you, you just have to be diligent about your care and treatment.
So, to recap, a ketogenic diet is HIGH FAT, LOW CARB, and moderate protein. And don’t forget, bacon.