If you’ve faced a health or weight loss plateau, you might have heard about the ketogenic diet. But what is ketosis?
Going into ketosis, or a state of fat burning, isn’t complicated, but it takes motivation. It’s a way to burn stubborn fat and lose weight.
As a bonus: I’ll provide a 1 week ketogenic diet plan plus a complimentary workout plan. Together, they will help you burn stubborn fat.
We all agree that many people need to lose fat to improve their health.
We try so hard to lose a few kilos or pounds, but most of the time we don’t manage to.
Luckily, there is an easy way to turn the body into a fat burning machine: the ketogenic diet.
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Why the ketogenic diet?
It’s commonly believed that consuming fewer calories will lead to weight loss.
It looks something like this:
Calories stored (or lost) = Calories consumed – Calories burned
Following this equation, if we eat less, we’ll create a calorie deficit and in turn, use our stored fat . Assumably, we’ll lose weight.
It seems easy to do. But, things go wrong.
First, as many know from experience, eating less is torturous. Second, we often don’t lose weight with calorie restriction diets.
Worse than that, we sometimes lose the weight and gain it back–and do damage to our metabolism in the process. Losing weight and gaining it back means a slower metabolism.
This is because body fat storage is not just a matter of calories in and calories out.
It is the result of millions of years of evolution.
To understand what happens, we need to review some basic biochemistry.
We know that an adult has:
- A glycogen (carbohydrate) reserve that lasts about 1 to 2 days of survival,
- Fat reserves of about 100,000 KCal, about 50 days of survival.
Interesting, huh, if we’re stranded on a desert island.
Alright, so what happens when you consume carbohydrates or fat? What does this have to do with the ketogenic diet?
To understand what is ketosis and why we’d want to eat a ketogenic diet, we have to look at how our metabolism works under normal conditions.
Our bodies process carbohydrates as its basic molecule: glucose.
Glucose levels in the blood are always around 72-145 mg/dl, or roughly 5g total for an adult. Higher levels are toxic.
When you eat carbohydrates, the body reacts to the rise in blood glucose levels and:
- Burns it immediately
- Releases insulin and stores the excess glucose in cells as fat.
Glucose is metabolized very quickly in the cell cytosol by glycolysis. This process isn’t very energy efficient.
ATP is the energy currency of the cell.
Glycolysis generates 2 net ATPs in the anaerobic metabolism and 3 in the aerobic metabolism.
Conclusion: glucose gives us quick energy in times of need, but not enough is stored for continual use.
What is ketosis? Fat Metabolism
Our bodies can also use the fatty acids (i.e. fat) as an energy source through the beta-oxidation of fats.
So let’s get technical in exploring what is ketosis and how it functions in the body.
Unlike glucose, fatty acids are not degraded in the cytosol of the cell, but in the mitochondria or the peroxisomes.
Mitochondria are the power plants of our cells and are quite interesting, I will tell how they work one day. For now, I’ll leave you with a podcast that explains how humans (and all multicellular organisms) exist.
Beta oxidation can be done only under aerobic conditions and is a slower process than glycolysis. Loa fatty acids are degraded to three basic molecules: the acetyl Co-A which enters the citric acid cycle, the NADH and the FADH2.
This process is so efficient that we get between 14 and 17 ATPs (remember that glycolysis only produces 2 or 3).
Fat burning is activated in two cases:
- In periods of fasting
- When we significantly reduce carbohydrate intake while increasing the consumption of fat.
This puts us in a state commonly referred to as “ketosis.”
One indication that we are in ketosis is peculiar smelling breath called ketosis breath.
So what is ketosis doing to our metabolism when we’re in it? How do we process different types of foods and get energy from them in ketosis?
In short: fats are a slower, but far more efficient energy source. Each gram of carbohydrates gives us 4 KCal of energy while each gram of fat gives us 9 KCal (reference).
Conclusion: Fats are a better energy source carbohydrates for continuous, slow use.
But there is one problem: the brain.
What does ketosis do to the brain?
Our brains consume 20% of the body’s energy.
It has been a long standing belief that fat isn’t a good energy source for the brain because:
- Fat cannot cross the blood brain barrier.
- Some brain cells don’t have mitochondria.
- The brain easily consumes carbohydrates.
The most common argument is that we need to eat carbohydrates as it serves as the main energy source for the body.
However, this is only half true. We have discovered better brain food: ketone bodies.
There is enough scientific evidence to show that:
- Ketones are very effective in reaching the brain (article and article).
- They have effective antioxidants and reduce free radicals via the regulation of Coenzyme Q (article)
- Increased amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids have a neuroprotective effect article, article, article)
- They increase the amount of the neurotransmitter GABA (article)
Our body doesn’t store ketone bodies, our liver produces them from fat.
The beta-hydroxybutyrate represents up to 70% of the energy used by the brain and occurs only in the liver from fatty acids.
In short: the brain can get energy from fats via ketone bodies and it provides positive effects.
What happens to our body when we constantly consume carbohydrates?
Too many carbohydrates in our diet provokes our bodies to only use glucose as an energy source.
Since glucose reserves are limited and are consumed quickly, the body can only get them when we eat. This is addictive.
You’ve probably heard sugar addiction. This is the same thing.
When the body depends on glucose for energy, it forgets how to use fats.
A serious problem with eating too much sugar is creating high blood insulin levels, which can lead to insulin resistance. This will eventually lead to diabetes.
Houston, we have a problem! What is ketosis going to do about it??
Don’t worry, there is a solution!
What is the ketogenic diet?
Now that we’ve answered the question, “what is ketosis,” let’s explore how to trigger it. It’s about eating.
The ketogenic diet consists reducing the amount carbohydrates (cereals, legumes, fruits, tubers …) we eat while increasing the consumption of good fats (avocado, olive oil, coconut, etc.) in order to “force” the body to use fat as an energy source.
A typical ketogenic diet’s macronutrient proportions are:
- 65% – 75% calories from fat
- 20% calories from protein
- 15% – 5% calories from carbohydrates (or less than 60 grams a day)
There isn’t just one ketogenic diet. Some are more lax with the amount of fruit allowed, others completely exclude carbohydrates.
Ketogenic diets have been used for a long time to keep neurological diseases such as epilepsy under control.
Ketogenic diet foods (Keto foods)
Ketogenic diet foods are characterized by being high in fat and low in Carbs. Here’s a summary of easily available keto foods.
The healthiest sources of fat are:
- Butter (clarified or ghee)
- Coconut oil
- Olive oil (virgin oil)
- Nuts and previously soaked seeds
You can eat low carbohydrate vegetables, especially the green, leafy variety (2 g carbohydrates/ 100 g especially in fiber form):
Also low carbohydrate fruits (up to 2.7 g carbohydrates / 100 g in sugars)
Proteins rich in healthy fats (Omega 3) are recommended::
- Sardines and bluefish in general
Food with high quality proteins are also considered ketogenic diet foods and can be eaten in moderation (rabbit, whitefish …)
The ketogenic diet to lose weight
The ketogenic diet is generally considered a weight loss diet, more like a diet to re-educate your metabolism. In many cases, following a ketogenic diet will lead to weight loss.
Many studies show that the weight loss on a ketogenic diet is equal to or superior to that of other traditional diets.
But, it’s really the metabolic re-education that has lasting benefits. If you missed it, re-read what is ketosis to understand how that works.
A surprising result of a ketogenic diet is how satiated people feel on it. This is due to slower digestion of fats.
Increased ketones in the blood also helps reduce hunger, which aids in reducing anxiety around dieting.
The ketogenic diet and athletic performance
It was commonly thought that elite athletes need to eat 4 or 5 times a day to not lose muscle and to aid in post-training recovery.
With the ketogenic diet and the metabolism in ketosis, this isn’t necessary.
Fat metabolism is more efficient. So, we get more energy from less food.
This means, with only 2 meals a day, we can get all the energy we need. This also allows us to fast, which promotes increased cell regeneration (article).
High concentrations of ketone bodies in the blood promotes a greater compaction of DNA, which protects us from damage by oxidation. This allows us to recover faster from a workout.
But a body on ketones is not for everybody. And what is ketosis doing for us when we train?
When we enter anaerobic metabolism (sprints, HIIT training, etc) not enough oxygen gets to the cells. Glucose is created for anaerobic metabolism.
Don’t worry about this change in metabolism, the reverse is very healthy and the body adapts to the different energy needs.
In short: Training in ketosis gives us more energy, we recover faster, we can eat less, the body regenerates better, but always within the aerobic metabolism. We use glucose for sprints to escape the lions and hunt the mammoths.
Benefits of the ketogenic diet
Studies have shown that levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines such as interlukin 1 beta, TNF alfa, and inerleukin-6 are reduced when we enter ketosis (article).
The ketogenic diet and cancer
Many tumors degrade mitochondria and rely solely on gluconeogenesis to grow. This is called the Warburg effect. If we reduce glucose levels, we can literally kill cancer’s hunger (article).
Several studies have shown that ketogenic diets have a minor effect on the loss of muscles mass compared to other diets, but they keep this mass with a lower protein intake. These cases can be anecdotal and the mechanisms are still unknown.
Although little is known about the effect of ketosis on longevity, there’s been a clear association between improving energy efficiency and a reduction in food consumption. Also, it’s easier to start intermittent fasting while in a state of ketosis.
Ketogenic diet risks
If you don’t make sure to consume vegetables or other foods rich in micronutrients, you can become deficient of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. This is easily avoidable you consume a varied diet and vegetable fat is obtained through foods such as avocados, nuts, and leafy greens.
It’s common to confuse the low consumption of carbohydrates with a high protein intake. Too much active protein causes gluconeogenesis. This transforms the amino acids of the protein to glucose and therefore you won’t be in a state of ketosis.
The ketogenic diet is not advisable for people with liver or heart problems, and in some cases it led to the development of arrhythmias.
Diabetics also have to make sure they don’t enter ketoacidosis, a condition where very low insulin levels cause an accumulation of ketone bodies which lower the pH of the blood. This is easily solved with good insulin management and isn’t a problem for nondiabetics.
The biggest problem is the social pressure to eat carbohydrates. Many of those who already follow the Paleo Diet have experienced bouts of social rejection when not eating pasta with everyone else. Imagine if you also restrict nearly all carbohydrates!
I hope that I’ve convinced you of the benefits of the ketogenic diet in this article.
This doesn’t mean that we should throw out all the carbs and only eat fat.
One of our great evolutionary advantages as humans is our adaptability. This includes our metabolism (see again: what is ketosis!).
Being metabolically flexible gives us the ability to quickly adapt to different situations, both in consumption and in energy expenditure.
Glucose is a good source of energy, it’s one of the reasons we like sweets. In the case of anaerobic requirements, glucose is essential. Along the same lines, it isn’t good to lose the ability to use fat for energy.
My proposal is that we should do a period of metabolic rehabilitation. Two or three weeks in ketosis to start burning fat effectively.
Then you can switch it up by changing your macronutrient intake.
Sample Ketogenic diet plan
As I promised at the beginning of this article, here is a 1 week ketogenic diet plan. But I’ll cheat a little and take one that I proposed a couple of months ago in the article a plan to attack the stubborn fat.
To maximize the benefit of the ketogenic diet plan, we recommend to:
- Drink plenty of water or vegetable/bone broth.
- Combine diet with workouts that maximize fat burning, such as HIITs.
- Don’t increase your protein intake (1.2-2 g / kg body weight).
- Try to train on an empty stomach. Here’s an article on the benefits of training on an empty stomach.
- Eat a maximum of 3 meals/day. If you can, reduce to 2.
- When doing HIIT workouts, give it everything. Only by increasing your intensity will you benefit from the afterburn effect.
- If you like coffee, you can drink a cup per day. You can add coconut oil to your coffee.
- Relax and give yourself time to recover between sessions. If not, cortisol can play tricks on us.
What’s your ketogenic diet?
In this article we offered various ketogenic recipes along with a list of keto foods, but I left many out.
Do you have your own recipes? What ingredients do you use?
Share it with the rest of us!