The ketogenic diet is a medical nutrition therapy that involves participants from various disciplines. Team members include a registered paediatric dietitian who coordinates the diet programme; a paediatric neurologist who is experienced in offering the ketogenic diet; and a registered nurse who is familiar with childhood epilepsy. Additional help may come from a medical social worker who works with the family and a pharmacist who can advise on the carbohydrate content of medicines. Lastly, the parents and other caregivers must be educated in many aspects of the diet for it to be safely implemented.
A ketogenic diet (also known as the keto diet) is typically lower in carbohydrates and higher in fats than a standard American diet. Once your body adapts to a ketogenic diet, it switches from primarily using carbohydrates and glucose to fat and ketones as fuel. This adaptation within the body increases fat breakdown and oxidation, which can improve body composition, general health, performance, and perhaps even longevity! The amount of fat, carbohydrates, and protein needed to achieve a well-formulated keto diet for beginners differs from person to person and is goal-dependent. Any dietary protocol in which you are lowering carbohydrates sufficiently enough to induce a state of ketosis can be considered a ketogenic diet. However, throughout this guide you will begin to understand how to construct a well-formulated ketogenic diet to meet your goals.
On a ketogenic diet, your entire body switches its fuel supply to run mostly on fat, burning fat 24-7. When insulin levels become very low, fat burning can increase dramatically. It becomes easier to access your fat stores to burn them off. This is great if you’re trying to lose weight, but there can also be other, less obvious benefits, such as less hunger and a steady supply of energy (without the sugar peaks and valleys we can get from high carb meals). This may help keep you alert and focused.
“Combining a super restrictive diet with long periods of non-eating is not good,” says Keatley. “The body will cannibalize its own muscle for energy if intake from food is too low but the body does not differentiate between something like a calf muscle or a heart muscle. Keep in mind all your important organs are made of smooth muscle and going on a diet like this may harm something like your bladder or lungs just as much as provide fat loss.”
In most cases, the macronutrient profile for a keto diet for beginners consists of about 5–10% carbohydrates, 15–25% protein, and the remaining 65–80% from fat. By restricting glucogenic substrates (i.e. nutrients that increase blood glucose levels, like carbohydrates and glucogenic amino acids from proteins), a deeper level of ketosis can be achieved, which may have a plethora of benefits as discussed below. As an example, one study compared diets with 30, 60, and 100 grams of carbohydrates per day and found that restricting carbohydrates to 30 grams led to a greater increase in circulating ketone levels and body fat loss.
In addition to the traditional ketogenic and Atkins diets described above, there are modifications that can be implemented to both of these diets in order to produce greater benefits on an individual basis. One such amendment, called the Modified Atkins Diet (MAD), is structured similarly to the Atkins diet where protein and fat are consumed freely but carbohydrate intake is further restricted, providing an intermediary diet between Atkins and ketogenic diet. This approach is commonly being used with great success among children with epilepsy due to its ability to increase the likelihood of adherence to the diet while still minimizing glucose intake from dietary carbohydrates.
Short-term results for the LGIT indicate that at one month approximately half of the patients experience a greater than 50% reduction in seizure frequency, with overall figures approaching that of the ketogenic diet. The data (coming from one centre's experience with 76 children up to the year 2009) also indicate fewer side effects than the ketogenic diet and that it is better tolerated, with more palatable meals.
Our bodies are incredibly adaptive to what you put into it – when you overload it with fats and take away carbohydrates, it will begin to burn ketones as the primary energy source. Optimal ketone levels offer many health, weight loss, physical and mental performance benefits.1There are scientifically-backed studies that show the advantage of a low-carb, ketogenic diet over a low-fat diet. One meta-analysis of low-carbohydrate diets showed a large advantage in weight loss. The New England Journal of Medicine study resulted in almost double the weight loss in a long-term study on ketone inducing diets.
In 1921, Rollin Turner Woodyatt reviewed the research on diet and diabetes. He reported that three water-soluble compounds, β-hydroxybutyrate, acetoacetate, and acetone (known collectively as ketone bodies), were produced by the liver in otherwise healthy people when they were starved or if they consumed a very low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet. Dr. Russell Morse Wilder, at the Mayo Clinic, built on this research and coined the term "ketogenic diet" to describe a diet that produced a high level of ketone bodies in the blood (ketonemia) through an excess of fat and lack of carbohydrate. Wilder hoped to obtain the benefits of fasting in a dietary therapy that could be maintained indefinitely. His trial on a few epilepsy patients in 1921 was the first use of the ketogenic diet as a treatment for epilepsy.
You can have a completely smooth transition into ketosis, or…not. While your body is adapting to using ketones as your new fuel source, you may experience a range of uncomfortable short-term symptoms. These symptoms are referred to as “the keto flu.” Low-sodium levels are often to blame for symptoms keto flu, since the kidneys secrete more sodium when you’re in ketosis, says Volek. A few side effects: