What is the Keto Diet?
If you have been keenly hunting for ways of cutting weight or improving your fitness, the chances are that you have stumbled on the ketogenic diet, otherwise known as the keto or ketogenic diet. If so, you are in good company because the keto diet has fascinated thousands of health and weight conscious people for many years.
In fact, the keto diet has been hailed by many as the holy grail for battling overweight or obesity. But it is also shrouded in a lot of mystery and controversy. Even many of those who believe in its benefits don’t know how to start or go about it. So what is the ketogenic diet and is it really of any good to you as a fitness buff, a bodybuilder or just an average person?
By the end of this article, I am going to do my best and make you a keto pro who knows exactly how to hack this diet and make it work excellently for your weight problem and body fitness needs.
The Ketogenic diet and its history
The ketogenic diet happens to have an interesting history behind it. It was first suggested as a way of treating epilepsy. The original method for treating epilepsy was rather harsh because you had to virtually starve yourself or fast for some time between taking starch free foods afterward. Strangely it worked because many epileptics got fewer seizures than before. This sparked the idea of a ketogenic diet.
It was Dr. Russell Morse Wilder, attached to the famous Mayo Clinic, who first came up with the term ketogenic diet to describe this diet in 1923. He also came up with the first ketogenic diet, often called the classic ketogenic diet.
This classic ketogenic diet is the strictest in terms
of its carb, protein, and fat content. Since then, many other many forms that
are less strict have been designed.
Once drugs for treating epilepsy were discovered from the 1940s, the ketogenic diet fell out of favor in the medical world.
It returned to the limelight again in the 1990s when Jims Abrahams, a Hollywood film director, promoted it through his foundation i.e., Charlie Foundation.
Abrahams was thrilled because his epileptic son got cured by a ketogenic diet. So he wanted to bring awareness to the public about its benefits since then tongues have been wagging ceaselessly about this diet and excitement surrounding it has never waned.
How does the ketogenic diet works?
A ketogenic diet simply means food, which is high in fat content with medium protein content and low or no carbohydrates (high-fat, low-carb or HFLC and medium protein). But why opt for such a strange diet which is outside the norm of what our bodies are typically used to?
Our bodies—just like cars which carry loads around— need the energy to do practically every kind of work, including thinking, for which the brain actually needs surprisingly large energy amounts.
Cars use gasoline for their energy source, but our bodies prefer glucose, a kind of sugar that is usually obtained from carbohydrates. So that’s where all that pasta, bread, cake you devour go!
Because the ketogenic diet has low carbohydrates, it changes the rules drastically for the body (even the body knows because it will scream at first in the form of side effects, but more of that later)
So where does the body gets its energy if there are no more of those lovely carbs and glucose to tap into?
Simple. It goes hunting for fat as an
alternative. The high-fat content in
your ketogenic diet naturally comes handy.
Unlike carbohydrates which yield glucose, fats give you ketones (so
that’s where we get ketogenic diet from). Ketones essentially become the new
glucose to power all the work in the body, including, yes, your brain work.
This process, which switches to using ketones instead
of glucose to drive body processes, is called ketosis.
What are the benefits of the Keto Diet?
A Keto diet can give you many benefits, such as:
Weight loss and physical performance enhancement.
More than fifty studies back the presence of these
benefits. We also have compelling
testimonials from actual performers. For example, Chris Froome, a three-time
winner of the Tour de France, proved you could excel at a competitive endurance
sport on a keto diet (and that shared belief that carbs are needed are not
always accurate) Froome also lost 20 pounds on a low-carb diet with an
increased fatty protein intake of salmon and eggs.
Powerlifters and have also seen benefits despite being low on carbs.
We have seen that the keto diet can help you cut down
on fat for those with excess weight. But what if you are underweight (have no fat)
and want to build up lean muscle that is essential for the bodybuilders? Can a low-carb diet like the keto diet help
you or only get you to shrink more?
Studies show otherwise. For example, a 2014 study
showed men on a keta diet had more lean muscle gains (as well as more fat loss)
than those who were on a traditional diet that was high on carbs.
Can make you alert and highly focused mentally
Studies have linked the keto diet to improved cognition and alertness. Others show that it can prevent Alzheimers’s syndrome and Parkinson’s disease, both of which are brain disorders.
Can be done for an indefinite time:
Getting ketones in your system can be done in two ways, fasting or the keto diet. But you can’t fast indefinitely so naturally you will be forced to give up your ketone hunt at some point. In contrast, a keto diet can go on for as long as you want
Has been shown to reverse diabetes
The ketosis triggered by the keto diet can be a good
treatment for diabetes, especially diabetes type 1. Although you will still
need insulin injections, under the keto diet, this will be reduced.
Can prevent cancer risk
The role played by the keto diet in reducing blood sugar is believed to lead to less cancer occurrence. Cancer cells need glucose to grow and multiply. However, a keto diet reduces glucose in the body. This may make it difficult for cancer to grow and provide a chance for the immune system or anti-cancer drugs to respond properly to cancer.
Benefits your heart
The keto diet also shows evidence for increasing the good cholesterol and lowering the bad cholesterol. This is especially the case if fats that are considered to be healthier are included e.g., avocado fat vs. pork. The reduction of bad cholesterol has benefits for your heart.
Switching the body from its more familiar mode of burning carbs to using fat and ketones, will, of course, be a bit rough and bumpy for the body at first creating some side effects. These include:
- Heart palpitations
- Fatigue in muscle
- Muscle cramps
Usually called the keto flu, these conditions will usually go away for most people in a matter of days.
Some myth busting
Because the keto diet has been mired in some controversy, it has also attracted a healthy dose of myth so let me devote a section busting some of the more familiar ones
Can stop your brain because of a carb deficiency in the body: In fact, users have seen an enhanced mental focus while on a keto diet. The brain, just like other parts of the body, is just as functional on fat as it is on carbohydrates. Therefore, a carbohydrate deficiency cannot stop it if fat is available.
Ketosis is ketoacidosis
The latter is a serious medical situation (actually a diabetic type 1 complication) requiring treatment. In both ketosis and ketoacidosis, there is an increase in ketones in the body, and this is why people can confuse the two and think it is the same condition.
Will destroy your kidneys: this comes from the idea that high protein intake can be harmful to the kidneys. However, a keto diet is high on carb content rather on the protein content, which is present in moderate amounts.
Not for everybody though
Despite its great appeal, the keto diet is ill-suited for some people. Better not get started on the keto diet if you
- Are taking medicine for diabetes
- If you are breastfeeding
- High blood pressure
- Is recommended by many doctors
- Ketosis kicks in relatively fast, anywhere between a day to one week. Younger people get to ketosis even faster.
- Is okay for vegans
- Can be expensive
- Gives users a keto breath, which is not pleasant
- Some people get hair loss or thinning, but
this reverses after a few weeks
For people wanting to reduce weight, the ketogenic diet provides an excellent option. It is also an excellent choice for those looking to bulk up, particularly those who are underweight. The keto diet, which is also nutrient-heavy is inherently safe for most people with minimal side effects. However, it is advised that no one should start a keto diet before consulting a professional medical expert.