When it comes to fad diets, the Keto Diet has been taking America by storm, so we decided to break it down for you.
What is the Keto Diet?
First of all the “Keto” diet is not just a trademark name. What it really talks about is a situation inside your body called ketosis, which is where the term “Keto” comes from. Ketosis is basically the state when your body is using ketones instead of sugar as its primary energy source. So how does this work?
Here’s one way. If you fast more than 18 hours, you’ve already gone a long period of time without eating anything at all, while your body is still operating and doing everyday activities. During that period with no food you’re burning off your primary source of energy – sugar, or glucose. So as you’re going through that time of fasting, you’re burning those sugars off and using it. As your sugar levels get lower, your body will be looking for another energy source to function properly. The body then makes ketone bodies.
Another way – the more popular way – is the so-called Keto diet. This diet involves having a diet with a very high percent of fat. The foods that you eat in a given day will then be mostly fats.
When this first came out it was actually about 90%+ dietary fat, which is just untenable. It will be like eating butter and drinking canola oil all the time which is not a good idea in general.
Now if you average out all the different versions of the Keto diet out there, it will show that about 75% of your diet will come from fat. Now this is still a huge amount, considering that only about 20-25% will be for protein and less than 5% from carbohydrates, which is such a miniscule trace amount – you get that much stuck in your teeth right now.
All plant matter is carbohydrate. So, if you consume any plants of any kind, you’re probably not in that technical ketosis place because you’re still getting a lot of carbohydrates.
So, when we have mostly dietary fats and no carbohydrates going in, our body uses up all the sugars. Once these sugars get depleted, the fats inside the liver get turned into ketone bodies. These ketone bodies can then replace glucose as energy sources which is needed by our body’s cells to function.
Our bodies have adapted to over hundreds of thousands of years of interacting with the planet. Now most of what’s on the planet are plants, which are carbohydrates. So we’ve adapted to using glucose as our primary energy source. And in the event we don’t get it because we starve ourselves – purposely or incidentally – or we’ve been eating way more fat than normal, our body will find a way and this is where ketosis comes in.
Our Body Still Needs Sugar
An interesting and important topic to understand is that our primary energy source is glucose. Since your brain is the #1 consumer of sugar, sugar is what your brain prefers. Your brain almost demands it. This manifests when you get low blood sugar especially when you exercise right after you fasted for a long period of time. The fasting alone drops your blood sugar levels, so if you do high intensity exercise when you have little to no blood sugar, you will be lightheaded and most likely pass out.
So the brain prefers sugar. There’s also a couple types of cells in your body that only need sugar. One is the red blood cells. They don’t have mitochondria which generate energy by breaking down sugars. Since RBCs don’t have those, they have to have sugar as an energy source. Another is the liver. Although it turns fats into ketone bodies, it can’t use ketone bodies as sources of energy – it has to have sugar also.
Other cells and parts of our body can adapt by using ketones in exchange for glucose, and eventually our body will adapt to this process of ketosis. However, the red blood cells and the liver absolutely have to have glucose in this case, and also the brain prefers it. This is why our body has the capability to produce sugar on its own everyday – it makes its own glucose whether we consume it or not, so that the red blood cells and the liver can be fueled, and the brain can still get some of what it prefers to have as an energy source.
High-Protein Diets Help Create Glucose
So our body uses this big chemical process called gluconeogenesis, which is creating new glucose. It turns proteins into glucose. Every day our body makes approximately 120 grams of glucose by itself, with the amount differing depending on body sizes.
Now it’s important to know that proteins can be turned into glucose to better understand the components of a Keto diet. An average, standardized “Keto diet” is about 75% fat, 20% protein and 5% carbohydrate (sometimes less if you’re really crazy). So it’s a high-fat, high-protein diet with really little carbs.
Some people even up their protein intake to about 30-40%. Now that is not a Keto diet. That elevated amount of protein in your diet will just be turned into glucose through gluconeogenesis. Therefore you’re not as much into ketosis – your body is not put in a state of need to create ketone bodies. Your body’s just taking and converting that probably expensive protein into glucose already, so technically you’re not on a Keto diet if it’s relatively high in protein. It has to be 20% or less.
And that’s why the true Keto diet is kinda silly – it’s just a monstrous amount of fat which is really not tenable. This is also why almost nobody sticks to that high percent and why we see all these variations out there.
How Can We Know If We’re in Ketosis?
Now there is a measurement stick you can use where you pee on it and it changes into different colors. The color shows how many ketones you have, and the darker it gets, that means you’re supposedly full of ketones, and possibly in full ketosis.
So my business partner Justin has been trying to do this Keto-friendly diet type of thing, and he’s always trying to eat the right things. But he’s always having the problem of being low in ketones, and not really getting to the full ketosis part.
So now I know how fasting can contribute to ketosis. Since I’ve been fasting 3-4 times a week I thought I might try one of these peeing sticks. And what do you know, I had the most amount of ketones based on the strip, and I don’t even try to keep up with a Keto diet! It was just because of the fasting.
It’s funny because even though poor Justin’s trying as hard as he can to be in ketosis, some of the things he eats may have contributed to not achieving his goal of being in full ketosis. Meanwhile I simply used fasting to get to the same goal.
So it’s important to understand that to create ketone bodies, we just have to have a really low amount of sugar in the body. It can be done multiple ways: 1) you can only eat things that aren’t sugar – fats and proteins, preferably fats; or 2) you can just not eat – in other words, fast. Either way you get to that same place where the body has to create ketones – energy from the fats it already has inside of it.
Is the Keto Diet the Best Diet for Fat Loss?
Now there is a large amount of research out there on ketosis and the variations of ketogenic diets that say positive things, so there is value to it. However, the specific statement of the best diet for fat loss being the Keto diet is absolutely not true.
The research states that the Keto diet is not better from a metabolic fat loss standpoint than other calorie and protein equated diets. A higher carbohydrate diet was compared to a higher fat diet – the Keto diet.
So a standard American diet is very high in carbohydrates, about 75%, with a moderate amount of protein and a tiny amount of fat. This is apparently because fat is considered the bad guy in America, and since the ‘80s almost everything became non-fat and low-fat.
The studies compared the standard American diet to a Keto diet, which is high-fat and low-carbohydrate, with protein and total calories kept the same. The only change is the amount of carbohydrates versus the amount of fat. All those studies have shown that there is no metabolic advantage for the Keto diet over a higher carbohydrate diet.
The problem here is that there are also a lot of studies which don’t do the same comparison – either the diets compared are not equal in total calories or not equal in total protein. So if the standard American diet used as the “control” has 2,000 calories, and it is compared to a 1,500-calorie Keto diet, then obviously it would make a difference. It’s the same thing when the amount of protein is different – it’s gonna mess up the comparison.
So the problem is that a lot of people don’t understand how to read or understand a study to really be able to see this information and make sure that the conclusions they come to are realistically viable.
It’s unfortunate to have people face the reality that the Keto diet is not the best for fat loss. It all comes down to the amount of calories going in versus the amount of calories going out.
Fad Diets are Usually Hard to Sustain
The thing about fad diets is, it can get you to control and reduce your calorie intake, and even lose a lot of weight. But what happens when you can no longer sustain it? The weight will just bounce right back when you go back to your normal diet.
Now this is what happens with most people on a Keto diet. It is just difficult to sustain such high levels of fat and eliminate almost all carbohydrates in your diet. It’s virtually impossible when most of the foods around us are carbohydrates.
A dietary change has to be sustainable and realistic. It’s something you can choose to do and it should work for you. If it doesn’t work for you and if you can’t sustain it, you’re not gonna stick to it and then you won’t be getting the long term results that you want. You will just bounce back to your previous diet and weight.
Adjustments to your food intake should fit with your lifestyle.
Replacing Carbs with Fats Still Have Some Benefits
Let me share with you how I adjusted my food intake to lose 35 pounds in 3 months. I had some more fat in my diet, moving a little towards the Keto diet, to replace this large amount of carbohydrates in the form of rice and beans that I love to have as a Cuban-American. Now even when I had a high percentage of carbohydrates in my diet I would still be hungry all the time. So replacing some of those excessive carbohydrates with some more fats helped keep me feel full and satisfied.
When you consume fats in your stomach, your body releases a hormone called cholecystokinin which makes you feel satiated. And if you’re not feeling hungry, you’ll most likely eat less total calories, and you’re less likely to binge later in the evening. So that’s one good reason to move towards the Keto diet.
Another great reason for somebody to be on a Keto diet is if you are an ultra-marathoner or an endurance athlete. Endurance athletes usually do very low intensity activities – maintaining a slow pace – but they sustain it for long periods of time and long distances. Typically when you’d see ultra-marathoners, they’re a lot thinner and they don’t have much fat in their bodies. Their bodies have adapted to using fat as a preferred energy source for their activities. Fats plus oxygen create a process called aerobic respiration, and this is good for low intensity activities that carry on for a long period of time. So these people would probably want to fuel their bodies with higher amounts of fats, even pushing towards ketosis, because that’s what their energy systems are using already.
However, for Olympic sprinters, CrossFitters, weightlifters, and high intensity trainers – the Keto diet is not a good idea. They’re on the other end of the spectrum. These high intensity activities use anaerobic metabolism or anaerobic respiration – and these processes use sugar. You’ll need to have sugar present in your system since a great amount of energy is demanded for that activity. This means that you gotta have some carbs in your diet so the Keto diet is just not optimal for these people.
For endurance athletes, Keto is the way to go. But for almost everybody else, it might not be your best option.
Match Your Diet to Your Lifestyle
Whatever exercise you choose to do to burn your extra calories is neither good nor bad. Just make sure to match your fuel to your activity. If you do high intensity activities, you need some carbohydrates in your diet. If you do lower intensity activities, you might want to have more fats in your diet.
So it’s really about understanding your body’s needs exercise-wise. There’s no one right way for everybody. Look at your lifestyle and what you want to do in terms of exercise, and eat accordingly.
The Keto Diet Can be Beneficial for Some Diseases
Among all the studies of research done on the Keto diet, perhaps the most profoundly important are regarding some diseases that we suffer through in our lives as humans, which can be mitigated or made better in some capacity with the ketogenic diet.
First, epilepsy. Some people have seizures when they have some issues with extreme pressure changes and gas exchange of the body. Epilepsy can be mitigated extremely highly through the Keto diet. It decreases the intensity and number of seizures.
Second, cancer. Cancer cells need sugar to grow – they are very similar to the red blood cells and the liver in that they need to have glucose for fuel. So if you deprive these cancer cells of sugar by putting your body into ketosis, you can slow down a lot of the cancer’s growth, especially the more aggressive ones.
Third, Alzheimer’s. This one is probably the most profound and newest burgeoning field out there when it comes to using the Keto diet. Now there’s still a lot of ongoing research trying to really figure out what’s causing Alzheimer’s but the belief currently is that it’s a degradation of how our brain works, moving towards no cognitive disability. It is based on the brain cells’ inability to properly use sugar. Basically you get insulin resistant. Insulin is a little hormone that lets sugar go from your bloodstream into your brain cells. If you can’t use the sugar because insulin is not doing its job, your brain cells can’t get the sugar and the brain kinda starves. But when you go into a ketogenic diet and you start creating those ketone bodies, your brain can use those also. And you don’t need to have insulin for those ketone bodies to get through so that allows your brain to start getting an alternative fuel source.
Now this is not medical advice and I’m not making medical recommendations so consult your doctor first before getting into this.
- The Keto Diet is NOT the best diet when it comes to fat loss. Again, it all comes down to calories in versus calories out.
- Match your diet to your activity and lifestyle. If you do high intensity activities, you need some carbohydrates in your diet. If you do lower intensity activities, you might want to have more fats in your diet.
- There’s still some value to the Keto Diet – it is optimal for endurance athletes and people with epilepsy, cancer, or Alzheimer’s. Fats can also be used to replace excess carbohydrates to control total calorie intake. Just make sure to keep any dietary change sustainable and realistic.