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Jackie Oken

By: Jackie Oken on January 2nd, 2019

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What Is A Ketogenic Diet?

Lifestyle & Wellness

A ketogenic diet, you’ll also hear people refer to it as “keto”, is a high-protein, usually high fat, and very low-carbohydrate diet plan. You might have heard of the Atkins Diet that was all the rage in the 2000s. Atkins is an example of a ketogenic diet. These diet plans are called “keto” because they are designed to put your body into a state of ketosis. Ketosis means that you are burning stored fat for fuel. It also turns fats into ketones in the liver, which fuel the brain.

Your body stores about three days’ worth of fuel in your system as readily available sugars. This is what your body uses on a daily basis to power the machine that is you. On a keto diet, the sources for these sugars (carbohydrates) is removed, forcing the body to dip into your “fuel reserves”, meaning that you are burning fat instead of sugars.

Why are people eating this way?

Eating a ketogenic diet can be valuable for diabetics and other individuals who are looking to stabilize their glucose and insulin levels. Individuals with epilepsy and other neurological conditions may be prescribed a ketogenic diet by a physician to reduce the incidence of seizures. Additionally, a keto diet regimen can reduce body fat for body builders and those seeking quick results for weight loss.

More studies are necessary to prove definitive benefits, but some initial studies suggest positive impacts of the ketogenic diet with regard to a wide variety of health conditions including, epilepsy, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, brain health, and acne. Again, research at this time is far from conclusive and more studies are necessary. As a reminder, always consult with your doctor before starting a ketogenic diet.

Some people also report feeling increased energy and concentration once the body adjusts to the keto diet. Both sugar and fats release energy, but fats are a more concentrated form (this is why an oil-burning furnace puts out more energy than a wood-burning furnace, for example). So when your body gets more energy from stored fats as fuel and your brain energizes from ketones rather than sugars, you could end up feeling turbo-charged.               

What’s the downside?

You are probably going to feel terrible the first three days. Once you have used up your three-day supply of sugars, your body is going to switch into “keto mode” and start burning fats for fuel. During this adjustment period, you will also be going through something akin to withdrawal. The body and brain react to sugars and carbohydrates in ways that are similar to addictive substances. As you adjust to fat-burning in ketosis, you’ll find that the symptoms fade and you begin to feel energized. Other commonly reported side effects include bad breath, constipation, or trouble sleeping.

Restrictive diets are generally hard to maintain. Removing whole categories of foods can be really challenging, especially in situations where you are not personally preparing your own food, you’re traveling, celebrating or stressed. And to complicate matters, if you’re doing this to lose weight, the weight will come back when you return to normal eating patterns unless you make healthy and permanent changes to your non-keto diet. A balanced, unprocessed diet, rich in very colorful fruits and vegetables, lean meats, fish, whole grains, nuts, seeds, olive oil, and lots of water seems to have the best evidence for a long, healthier, vibrant life. 

On most keto diets you consume too much fat, especially if you are replacing the carbohydrates with animal products rather than low-carb plant-based foods. This can actually lead to increased risk of cardiovascular disease rather than lowering your risk. The lower percentage of and reliance on fats is another reason we choose to partner with Ideal Protein. More about that later.

Going keto on your own requires time and effort. Tracking and planning are key to success with DIY keto diets. Track what you’re eating. Take vitamins to replace vital nutrients that might be missing from a highly restrictive diet. Plan out meals and prep meals and snacks, so you’re not tempted to buy convenience foods that are not on plan. 

You could end up losing protein instead of fats. It’s important to work with your physician and a professional trained in nutrition to ensure that you maintain burning fat safely and do not inadvertently start losing muscle mass instead.

Want to try a ketogenic diet?

Consult your doctor. Always consult with your physician and get screened for any contraindications such as underlying health conditions or medications that would prevent you from following a keto diet. Create a plan with your physician to monitor your overall health during your keto program to ensure you’re receiving the benefits of ketosis without causing harm.

We take patient safety very seriously and only recommend a ketogenic diet with pre-approval from and under the supervision of your physician. Under these conditions, the Keto diet can be done safely to help people lose significant weight and is a gateway for people to learn to eat in a healthy way, such as a whole-food, plant-based diet or a Mediterranean style diet going forward.  

- Jim Mumper, M.D.
PartnerMD Chief Medical Officer

Find help. Once you’ve been cleared to proceed by your physician, there are loads of websites to provide advice, inspiration, and sample menus. A trained nutrition professional can provide advice on integrating a short or long-term ketogenic eating plan into your lifestyle. Most people find it is also helpful to set up a support and accountability system. This can be a health coach, a spouse or friend who is doing the program with you, or an online group.