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You’ve probably heard about the low carb, high fat diet that’s so popular among actors and models, and with good reason: low carb diets offer proper nourishment with whole foods, while keeping your body burning fat for fuel. This is a great way to be, as it makes fat loss largely effortless! But where does this “ketogenic” word fit into the picture?
Carbohydrate-restricted ketosis: This type of ketosis mimics the same biological alterations seen during lengthy fasts, but without the complete restriction of food. Carbohydrate-restricted ketosis is achieved primarily through a very low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet. This restriction, in turn, results in reductions of insulin and blood glucose levels similar to that of fasting, which again increases blood ketone levels. For most individuals, nutritional ketosis is much more sustainable than fasting or starvation ketosis. Fasting can still have its place in a keto diet for beginners. Many individuals following a ketogenic diet like to implement a regular fasting protocol such as intermittent fasting (IF) (12–20 hours daily) or every-other-day fasts (EOD), depending on their goals. This practice is not critical for success on a ketogenic diet, but it can enhance the level of ketone production, and thus magnify the benefits.
First reported in 2003, the idea of using a form of the Atkins diet to treat epilepsy came about after parents and patients discovered that the induction phase of the Atkins diet controlled seizures. The ketogenic diet team at Johns Hopkins Hospital modified the Atkins diet by removing the aim of achieving weight loss, extending the induction phase indefinitely, and specifically encouraging fat consumption. Compared with the ketogenic diet, the modified Atkins diet (MAD) places no limit on calories or protein, and the lower overall ketogenic ratio (about 1:1) does not need to be consistently maintained by all meals of the day. The MAD does not begin with a fast or with a stay in hospital and requires less dietitian support than the ketogenic diet. Carbohydrates are initially limited to 10 g per day in children or 20 g per day in adults, and are increased to 20–30 g per day after a month or so, depending on the effect on seizure control or tolerance of the restrictions. Like the ketogenic diet, the MAD requires vitamin and mineral supplements and children are carefully and periodically monitored at outpatient clinics.
“You are literally starving” on an intermittent fasting diet, Keatley says. “Methods such as this are attractive as weight loss can go from one pound a week to four pounds, but this is mostly lean muscle which is essential to healthy functioning as you age and is very hard to get back once it is gone,” he adds. So…it’s not really recommended that you try this unless you hash it out with your doctor or nutritionist to make sure it's a fit for you and your lifestyle.
Note: Because you'll be excluding some major food groups on the keto diet (grains, many fruits) you should definitely think about taking a multivitamin—especially one that contains folic acid, which helps your body make new cells and is often found in enriched breads, cereals, and other grain products, says Julie Upton, R.D., cofounder of nutrition website Appetite for Health.
"It was extremely difficult," he recalls. "You spend your entire life hearing that fat makes you fat and causes heart attacks and strokes. Now, all of a sudden, you're eating 200 grams of fat per day. There is a huge psychological component to conquer before you can become successful with the keto diet. In the beginning, it's like trying to convince people 1,000 years ago that the world is in fact round, not flat."
In terms of weight loss, you may be interested in trying the ketogenic diet because you’ve heard that it can make a big impact right away. And that’s true. “Ketogenic diets will cause you to lose weight within the first week,” says Mattinson. She explains that your body will first use up all of its glycogen stores (the storage form of carbohydrate). With depleted glycogen, you’ll drop water weight. While it can be motivating to see the number on the scale go down (often dramatically), do keep in mind that most of this is water loss initially.
It usually takes three to four days for your body to go into ketosis because you have to use up your body's stores of glucose, i.e., sugar first, Keatley says. Any major diet change can give you some, uh, issues, and Keatley says he often sees patients who complain of IBS-like symptoms and feeling wiped out at the beginning of the diet. (The tiredness happens because you have less access to carbs, which give you quick energy, he explains.)
As for branched-chain amino acids, you'll find smart people who swear that they're keto-friendly, and others who don't. One of the BCAAs, valine, can be glucogenic, meaning that it can lead to glucose production and potentially contribute to leaving ketosis behind. But does that mean it will happen? Not necessarily, particularly if you're just an occasional supplement user.
Advocates for the diet recommend that it be seriously considered after two medications have failed, as the chance of other drugs succeeding is only 10%. The diet can be considered earlier for some epilepsy and genetic syndromes where it has shown particular usefulness. These include Dravet syndrome, infantile spasms, myoclonic-astatic epilepsy, and tuberous sclerosis complex.
Conklin's fasting therapy was adopted by neurologists in mainstream practice. In 1916, a Dr McMurray wrote to the New York Medical Journal claiming to have successfully treated epilepsy patients with a fast, followed by a starch- and sugar-free diet, since 1912. In 1921, prominent endocrinologist Henry Rawle Geyelin reported his experiences to the American Medical Association convention. He had seen Conklin's success first-hand and had attempted to reproduce the results in 36 of his own patients. He achieved similar results despite having studied the patients for only a short time. Further studies in the 1920s indicated that seizures generally returned after the fast. Charles P. Howland, the parent of one of Conklin's successful patients and a wealthy New York corporate lawyer, gave his brother John Elias Howland a gift of $5,000 to study "the ketosis of starvation". As professor of paediatrics at Johns Hopkins Hospital, John E. Howland used the money to fund research undertaken by neurologist Stanley Cobb and his assistant William G. Lennox.
You’re transitioning. Your body is equipped to process a high intake of carbs and a lower intake of fat. Your body needs to create enzymes to be able to do this. In the transitional period, the brain may run low on energy which can lead to grogginess, nausea, and headaches. If you’re having a large problem with this, you can choose to reduce carb intake gradually.
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:
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.