By now you’ve surely heard of the ketogenic diet. But if you haven’t, it’s the reason people are smushing up avocados and putting it on everything. People have also taken to putting coconut oil on just about everything, including in their coffee to make bulletproof coffee. But I think what has attracted people the most, is the chance to consume a lot of bacon without the feelings of remorse that usually accompany devouring inordinate amounts of bacon.
What exactly is the ketogenic diet, and why its rise in popularity? Well, I think we just answered the latter question – bacon. But there’s more to it than that. I want to keep this as easy to understand as possible, but we will have to delve into a bit of biochemistry in order to sort things out. In an effort to make this post short enough to hold anyone’s attention, lets focus today on what it is, and save the benefits for another post.
Simply put, the ketogenic diet is designed to condition our bodies to use ketone bodies, instead of glucose as a fuel source for energy production. Ketone bodies come from the metabolism of fats, whereas glucose comes from the breakdown of carbohydrates (or straight-up from our Coke and candy). If you recall from basic nutrition, our bodies need 3 main types macronutrients to survive – proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.
Proteins are the building blocks of the body – we use the products of protein metabolism to build new cells, enzymes, hormones, and neurotransmitters. We can also use proteins as a fuel source, but only as a last resort.
Carbohydrates are akin to jet fuel – they’re absorbed quickly and provide a lot of energy quickly, but we often crash after the hit wears off.
Lastly, fats are more like a time-released energy source. They contain a lot of energy, but it’s released slowly.
When you consume carbohydrates, your blood sugar quickly spikes. Your body releases a bunch of the hormone insulin to help bring this glucose into the cells. If we have more glucose hanging around than we have a need for, our body converts it to fat. Once we’ve successfully adapted to ketosis (ketone body metabolism) we’re able to use energy dense, but slow releasing fats as a primary fuel source. This allows fat to support periods of low caloric intake more seamlessly than glucose and therefore we don’t feel as hungry. One of the most often cited benefits of the ketogenic diet is weight loss, and it’s because we tend to consume fewer calories as a result of the slow breakdown of fats. It may seem logical that eating fats would make you fat. In fact we store excess energy as fat. However, when we are in a ketogenic state, we are also able to easily break it down using the enzyme lipase and use it as fuel. But when we are using carbohydrates as a primary fuel source, the insulin that is released to help escort the glucose into the cells, impairs our ability to use stored fats as fuel.
How long does it take to reach keto-adaptation? After about 2 days of living with low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) your body will begin to break down stored fats to produce acetyl-coa that the liver then converts this into ketones like acetoacetate. This process gets more efficient over the following few days. It can take up to 3 months for true keto-adaptation however, which is defined as a blood concentration of between 1.5 and 3 mmol of Ketones per litre of blood.
I’m going to do an entire post on the benefits of the ketogenic diet (including it’s use in treating epilepsy, increasing performance, protecting the nervous system, and the aforementioned weight loss), but what are the downsides (if any) to the ketogenic diet? Well, the big one is how limiting many people find it. You need to avoid grains, oats, root vegetables, alcohol, and obviously anything high in sugar like pop, candy, and fruit juices. So what can you eat? Butter, bacon, nuts, seeds, legume, non-root vegetables, coconut oil, vegetable oils, avocadoes, fish, chicken, beef, high-fat cream, eggs, hard cheese, and bone broths.
So there you have it - a fairly concise and simple explanation of the ketogenic diet. Is it for you? I’m not sure, but it certainly does have its benefits. If you’re not ready to give up your bread, consider at the very least, removing candy and processed foods from your diet, and go from there! Oh, and we never answered that question in the title. If you cut out ice cream, pop, and chips, from your diet then go ahead and reward yourself. Butter that bacon!
Thanks for reading!
Dr. Lee Brotherston
Partner and Chiropractor at
Oak Ridges Health Group
58 Brock Street W, Suite 201
Uxbridge ON, L9P 1P3
468 Main Street E
Beaverton ON, L0K 1A0