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Ketogenic Diet - What is it?

A new diet trend that has gained popularity both in the medical community and among everyday health seekers is the ketogenic diet.  The ketogenic diet is based on the body’s ability to switch into a state known as “ketosis,” in which its primary fuel source changes from glucose, converted from carbohydrates, to ketones, which are converted from fat.  While this diet is effective for people looking to lose a few extra pounds, it is also becoming a leading method in the treatment of several chronic diseases, including epilepsy, cancer, and diabetes. 

Individuals following the ketogenic diet will strive to get the majority of their calories per day from healthy fat sources.  Most recommendations say somewhere in the neighborhood of 70% of daily calories should be from fats, about 25% from protein, and minimal calories from carbohydrates.  The key here is the fats must come from healthy sources, not those commonly found in the standard American diet, such as processed fats and vegetable oils used for fried meals and other unhealthy recipes.  Some common forms of healthy fats that are foundational for the ketogenic diet include plant sources such as seeds, nuts, avocados, olives, and coconut oil, and animal-based sources like egg yolks, fish, organic butter, and fatty cuts of red meat. 

The changes that happen when the body shifts into nutritional ketosis are fascinating.  The cells in our bodies typically use sugar (glucose) from carbohydrates to provide energy.  However, if we restrict the intake of dietary carbohydrates for long enough, the body will be forced to find fuel from another source.  This new source of energy becomes ketones, which the body gets from breaking down fats.  Staying in a state of nutritional ketosis will turn the body into a fat-burning machine, and as the body’s cells become more efficient at utilizing ketones, the body will begin to consume stored fat to create ketones.  This is what makes the ketogenic diet so effective for weight loss, in that the body will become dependent on burning body fat for its primary source of energy. 

As I mentioned, the ketogenic diet is also effective at treating people with several different diseases.  A lot of the research being done on the ketogenic diet is for its effectiveness in preventing seizures for individuals with epilepsy.  The exact biochemical connection is still being unveiled, but it has something to do with the way the brain functions when the neurons feed on ketones instead of glucose.  Unlike normal body cells, cancer cells do not have the ability to burn either ketones or glucose for energy, they rely solely on glucose.  On a strict ketogenic diet, the cancer cells will be starved of their primary fuel source, and could eventually die off.  The ketogenic diet also lowers blood glucose levels, which effectively will lower insulin levels.  This shift will reduce the likelihood of developing insulin resistance, which is the leading cause for the development of Type 2 diabetes.

While the ketogenic diet is highly effective for most people, some don’t respond as well as others.  Negative side effects such as fatigue, digestive problems, and sleep issues have been reported.  It is always important to consult your health care professional before adopting any radical changes in diet.  There are a lot of additional questions and circumstances that come with the ketogenic diet. We are here to answer any of your questions!

Yours in Health, Dr. Alex

Project Wellness Company Madison, WI