What is a ketogenic diet and how does it work? The process was initially developed in 1924 by Dr. Russell Wilder as an effective, non-pharmacological treatment for intractable childhood epilepsy.
The process works when the body is put into a metabolic state called Ketosis, where ketones become the main source of energy for the brain and body to function. The ketogenic diet plan is high in fat and low in carbohydrates while supplying adequate protein to the body. This specific combination changes the manner in which your body uses energy. Additionally, while reducing epileptic seizures, this process lowers glucose levels while improving the body’s resistance to insulin.
So, How Does Ketosis Work?
So I know a lot of you are probably wondering “what is Ketosis?” am I right? By definition, it is when your body goes through a metabolic state in which the body transforms ketones created from fat into energy, instead of energy created from converting carbohydrates. What are they exactly did you ask? Biochemically speaking, ketones are organic, carbon-based compounds that contain a central carbon atom double-bonded to an oxygen atom and two carbon-containing substituents, denoted by “R.”
Ketones are considered simple compounds because they do not contain chemical groups that are readily reactive. Fatty acids in the body are oxidized by the liver for energy production. There are 3 different ketone bodies produced in mitochondria of the liver: acetone, acetoacetic acid and beta-hydroxybutyric acid. Some of these fatty acids are oxidized by the liver for energy production while others can be partially oxidized to form the substrate acetoacetate, which is then converted to beta-hydroxybutyric acid; collective. These bodies produced in the liver are referred to as endogenous ketone bodies and are those ingested through nutritional supplements.
How Does It Affect Our Liver?
While our livers produce endogenous ketone bodies, it is these bodies that also provide the user with an instant supply of ketones to utilize, even if your body is not in a state yet. When consuming a low-carb diet, the levels of the hormone insulin are reduced and in turn, fatty acids are released from the fat stores in our body. Glucose levels drop, Lipase releases stored triglycerides and these are the fatty acids transferred to the liver and oxidized into ketones. When they are created, they can then be used by all the tissues containing mitochondria, including the muscles and brain.
Unlike fatty acids, they have the unique ability to cross the blood-brain barrier to provide energy to the brain in the absence of glucose. The process naturally occurs during pregnancy, infancy, fasting and starvation. The benefits are numerous as it not only reduces epileptic seizures but leads to weight loss and lower blood sugar levels.
What Do I Have to Do to Reach a Full State of Ketosis?
In order for the body to go into a state of ketosis, people must follow a very strict diet menu, which involves consuming less than 50 grams of carbs per day and sometimes as little as 20 grams per day. In order to achieve this, certain foods must be eliminated from your diet so that you are following a strict meal plan, removing all sweets, candy, cookies, soft drinks and desserts. Other carbohydrate-rich foods that should be avoided are bread, cereals, rice and potatoes. Stricter forms of this special meal plan should also include pasta on this list. In the classic version of the diet, fats should comprise 60 to 70 percent of your daily caloric intake. Proteins should be around 20 to 30 percent and carbohydrates should not exceed 50 grams per day. Someone consuming a “traditional Western diet” has a blood ketone level that’s typically around 0.1 to 0.2 mmols.
However, when constricting yourself to a true ketogenic diet plan, the menu on this particular diet can look something like 75 percent fats, 20 percent protein and 5 percent carbs—your blood ketones can raise to somewhere between 0.5-5.0 mmols, putting you in a state of “nutritional ketosis.” There are numerous studies that have come to the conclusion in their research that high-fat diets result in obesity, high levels of bad cholesterol can lead to resistance to insulin and cardiovascular disease.
These ketogenic meal plans, however, are not just high-fat diets, they are actually high-fat, low-carb diets and this is an important distinction. A typical person’s diet of high-fat, high carb intake usually leads to many health problems. According to research conducted by Robert R. Wolfe, after conducting a keto blood test, they found that when they injected fat directly into the bloodstream, the fat was used as fuel. When the researchers infused the fat along with carbohydrates, they discovered that the fat was prevented from being converted into fuel and the resistance to insulin began. The conclusion was they discovered that fats rely on an enzyme known as CPT1 to transport them into the mitochondria of cells. When high amounts of insulin are present, they act an inhibitor, preventing the transport and preventing the oxidation of fat.
This is the reason that ketogenic diet works, for it requires a very low level of carbohydrates as not to impede the process of fats being turned into energy.
What’s a Ketogenic Diet Plan?
Jumping into a ketogenic diet without a rock-solid meal plan is just setting yourself up for failure. By now, you should already know that this process is all about calculating what you are consuming, which is why knowing what a ketogenic diet menu looks like and what the diet foods are, as well as how much of it each day you should be having is crucial to reaching your ketosis goals.
Now I bet you want to know what exactly goes into a keto diet, what the different types of foods you can eat and what you’re diet plan will look like. Well, we’re actually working on a full ketogenic diet plan guide for you guys as we speak, but in the meantime, I’ll just quickly break down the basics for you here.
What Foods are Part of the Ketogenic Diet Plan?
Eating keto is a process and like most significant dietary changes, it can be a bit of a challenge at first. It’s important you take time to understand how ketogenic eating works and to create a diet plan that suits your own dietary needs, as well as your lifestyle.
For instance, cooking three meals per day seven days per week on keto isn’t going to work if you’ve always been the type to “grab and go” because of your busy life. You need to make adjustments that work for you in order to have long-term success eating keto.
What Kind of Carbs Should I Avoid?
Keep in mind the more restrictive you are with carbohydrates the faster you’ll enter ketosis. However, firm restrictions aren’t right for everyone, so be willing to make adjustments depending on how your body responds. Some people can handle decreasing to fewer than 15 grams of carbs per day immediately, while others need to decrease gradually while also gradually increasing fat intake.
No matter how quickly you reduce carbs, you’ll want to turn to only certain sources for your carbohydrate intake. Keto eaters get their carbs from nuts, vegetables, and dairy. You should not eat any grains, including wheat, corn, rice, or sugar, including most fruit. It’s also a good idea to avoid starchy vegetables because they are high in sugar. Cut out potatoes and yams if your goal is to eat keto.
Which Vegetables Should I Eat?
An important part of the keto diet, and should be an important part of all diets, is vegetable consumption. The keto eating plan should include plenty of leafy green veggies that are high in micronutrients, as well as above-ground veggies, like cauliflower and broccoli. Some fruits are OK on the keto diet, including avocado and berries. When considering fruit, look at where it ranks on the glycemic index—lower is better.
You still have plenty of options, despite people thinking a keto diet is restrictive. Meat can be an important component of a keto diet (though it is possible to be vegetarian or even vegan and be on the lifestyle as well).
How Much Protein on Keto Diet is Too Much?
But before we get too deep, let’s break it down first; there is a huge misconception in the world of dieters about protein and low-carb diets. It is true that protein doesn’t make you fat as it is just a nutrient that our body needs to build and repair muscles. But if you’re trying to get into the state of ketosis, you will have to moderate it. Why? Because there is this process called “gluconeogenesis.”
On the keto diet, the primary source of energy is fat. So, if you consume too much protein, your body will start burning the protein to turn it into energy fuel instead of the fat which defeats the whole purpose of the ketogenic diet. Also, once your body starts processing all the protein, it will then turn to your lean muscles for fuel. Yikes!
What this also means is that, even if you take high amounts of healthy fats but do not take the right amounts of protein, you are still not going to achieve ketosis. Your body only needs a moderate amount of protein for it to do its job properly.
What’s the Most Important Thing About it?
Fat is an important part of the keto diet and you should incorporate plenty of it into your eating plan. The good news is it’s convenient to increase your fat intake when making other keto changes in your diet. For instance, oils can be added to fresh or roasted veggies to make a delicious meal and to increase your fat intake.
Another reason it can be easy to make the transition to keto is because so many of the foods pair well. Though mono-meals can be an effective option, you should also try to incorporate different foods into your meals at least once or twice a day. It’s easy to do this while eating keto. For instance, a salad topped with chicken breast, steak, or salmon, drizzled with olive oil and garnished with pecans will feel you up and keep you satisfied and it tastes great.
Don’t forget to season your food, too, when eating keto. Depending on how you ate before you decide to adopt keto eating, the taste of your food can make the transition tough. People who were eating a diet of processed food that was high in salt might find keto eating bland. The good news is it’s easy to spice things up, as long as you check the labels of spice blends. Most people find that it takes just a couple of weeks for their taste buds to adjust to this new way of eating and they crave foods that a few weeks ago they would’ve never wanted.
Finally, if you find you need to sweeten foods and beverages, turn to natural, low-carb sweeteners, such as stevia, monk fruit, and erythritol. These can also be great sweeteners for anyone who is diabetic but not ready for full-fledged keto eating.
Here’s a quick summary of what we just discussed:
- Fats and Oils – Try to get your fat from natural sources like meats and nuts. Exogenous supplements with saturated and monounsaturated fats like coconut oil, butter and olive oil.
- Protein – Try to stick with organic, grass-fed meat where possible. It is important to remember that too much protein on a keto diet isn’t a good thing.
- Vegetables – Try to stick with above ground vegetables, leafy and green is always best. Fresh or frozen it doesn’t matter.
- Dairy – Full fat people
- Nuts and seeds – Only in moderation.
- Beverages – Keep simple, and try to stick to mostly water. You can flavor water with lemon or limes.
What are the Macros?
Ok, so here is a simplified list of the foods you can eat, but how much of each should you be having? That’s why counting your macronutrients is apart of the game, when you’re delving into this world. If you don’t like counting macros, then this isn’t for you.
When it comes to consumption, here’s how the macros end up looking like for most people:
- Carbohydrates: 5-10%
- Fats: 70-75%
- Protein: 15-20%
Obviously, there is a lot to discuss when it comes to this subject, which is why we thought we would create a complete guide dedicated to explaining the keto diet plan and what it involves exactly. But in a nutshell, this is what your nutritional lifestyle might look like if you choose to proceed.
What are the Benefits of a Ketogenic Diet Plan?
There are so many benefits to adopting a ketogenic diet into your lifestyle, the main one being the body’s ability to utilize fats for fuel. Studies in the field of nutrition have led many to believe that a high carb diet is essential for maintaining energy levels and endurance. However, in a study conducted in 2004 by Stephen D Phinney, the conclusions presented seemed to clarify the difference between a ketogenic diet vs. a high carb diet on test subjects both athletically training and on patients that did not train.
His conclusions stated: “Both observational and prospectively designed studies support the conclusion that submaximal endurance performance can be sustained despite the virtual exclusion of carbohydrate from the human diet.” Clearly, this result does not automatically follow the casual implementation of nutritional carbohydrate restriction, however, as careful attention to time for keto-adaptation, mineral nutrition and constraint of the daily protein dose is required. Contradictory results in the scientific literature can be explained by the lack of attention to these lessons learned (and for the most part now forgotten) by the cultures that traditionally lived by hunting.
Therapeutic use of this diet should not require constraint of most forms of physical labor or recreational activity, with the one caveat that anaerobic (i.e., weight lifting or sprints) performance is limited by the low muscle glycogen levels induced by a ketogenic diet and this would strongly discourage its use under most conditions of competitive athletics. “ When a person is on a high carb diet, the body expects energy to keep entering the system whereas, with a ketogenic diet plan, the body becomes efficient transforming fats into energy.
How Ketones Help Reduce The Rate at Which Cancer Tumors Grow
Studies show that constricting yourself to these certain foods also increases the efficiency of all your other cells. Cancer cells behave differently than other cells as something in the regulatory mechanism breaks down and they start growing and dividing rapidly. The cancerous cells then start hoarding energy from the blood while manipulating their surroundings in order to grow and support that rapid growth. These cells produce and multiply with fermentation which requires glucose, so by limiting this; you are taking away that fuel they need to grow and survive.
Although it doesn’t prevent the cells from sapping energy from gluconeogenesis, it will aid in cutting off a source of fuel for them to grow faster. Any type of low carb regime like this diet lowers blood levels of the hormone insulin and IGF-1. This reduction results in theses cancer cells receiving less signals to grow and divide. Ketone bodies have been shown to inhibit the growth of cancer cells in cultures. Certain instances of patients with tumors, when put on a ketogenic diet plan and limiting their carb intake, had positive effects on their treatment and cure. The tumors stopped growing or became indolent which made the cells vulnerable to treatments and therapeutic drugs. A study in 2012 on 10 advanced Cancer patients yielded some promising results. The patients took part in a low-carb ketogenic meal plan for approximately 28 days. After the trial ended, 4 out of the 10 patients still continued to have the disease progress, while 5 remained stable and 1 had a partial remission.
The patients on this diet plan that had the highest ketone levels and the lowest insulin levels improved the most. A study conducted in 2014 by Bryan G. Allen and other researches yielded some interesting results and theories as to future treatments. In their findings, they state that “ keto foods have been studied as an adjuvant to cancer therapy in both animal models and human case reports. As early as 1987, Tisdale et al. saw decreased tumor weight and improved cachexia in mice with colon adenocarcinoma xenografts after eating the foods allowed on this diet.
Additional studies have shown that this diet has reduced tumor growth and improve survival in animal models of malignant glioma and colon cancer, gastric cancer and prostate cancer. Furthermore, it has been hypothesized, with some supporting evidence, to potentiate the effects of radiation in malignant glioma models as well as in non-small cell lung cancer models.
Fasting, which also induces a full state of ketosis and has been shown to enhance responsiveness to chemotherapy in pre-clinical cancer therapy models as well as possibly ameliorating some of the normal tissue side-effects seen with chemotherapy. Fasting cycles are also reported to retard the growth of tumors and sensitize a range of cancer cell types to chemotherapy.”
During this same study, the researchers noted that in a case study with two female pediatric patients with advanced staged malignant astrocytoma, demonstrated a 21.8% decrease in tumor SUV when put on this ketogenic diet plan. It was also noted that there were no long-term severely adverse effects on the diet and it actually reduced insomnia in the patients and improved their emotions. In their conclusions of this study, they note that the current treatments for cancer via chemo-radiation lead to serious adverse effects on the body. This outlines a need for less toxic treatments with adverse effects that enhance the response to cancerous cells vs. normal tissues.
Another study was conducted in a 12 week period on 16 advanced-stage cancer patients and it was found in the research that a ketogenic diet vastly improved the quality of life and actually stopped the progression of cancer for the 5 patients who completed the study.
In 2010, a study conducted by Robert Krikorian and other researchers revealed that nutritional ketogenic meal plans improved the memory in patients with mild cognitive impairment. The research was conducted on 23 older adults afflicted with mild cognitive impairment. They were given either a high-carb diet or a very low-carb ketogenic diet. Over a 6 week span, they observed an improvement of verbal memory performance from the subjects on the low-carb diet. This as well as a reduction in weight, fasting glucose and fasting insulin. They discovered that ketone levels were directly correlated with memory. Low carb consumption, even in short term periods, can improve memory function in elderly adults with increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Some More Benefits of Ketogenic Diets:
Another great benefit of the ketogenic diet is portion control. When the body has adapted, you then begin to see benefits such as suppressed appetite, which of course leads to increased weight loss. A contrast to this would be a diet high in carbohydrates which increase the hunger levels. It is it’s weightloss effects that attract people to try this diet the most.
The most exciting benefit of this diet is the number of illnesses and ailments this meal plan aids. It is thought to reduce risk of heart disease by cutting down blood triglycerides, cholesterol and HDL cholesterol. For people with type 2 diabetes, ketosis boosts their sensitivity to insulin up to 75% and in some cases, some diabetics are able to stop using their insulin treatment altogether.
- Reduced Appetite
- Faster Metabolism
- Weight Loss Effects
- Enhanced Cognitive Function
- Sharper Memory
- Increased Energy
- Better Nights Sleep
- Reduced Risk to Certain Diseases
- Enhanced Athletic Performance
- Reduces Kidney Stone Risk
This process also reduces triglycerides, excess stomach fat and high blood pressure, all symptoms of metabolic syndrome and a study conducted on patients with Parkinson’s disease showed the symptoms improving after a month of a sustaining this diet.
How Long Should a Person Be On a Ketogenic Diet?
A lot of people ask me this question all the time, but to find the answer, you must ask yourself another question (sorry for getting all Yoda on you) “how long does it take to get into ketosis?”. Most treatments suggest a period of up to 3 years if treating seizures. If no improvement is seen within the first few months, you should stop your diet immediately. A study was recently conducted with obese patients who were put through the process. There were 83 patients, 39 men and 44 women with a body mass index greater than 35 kg with high cholesterol, high glucose and blood glucose. The study was conducted and monitored over a 6 month period.
The results were significantly positive. It reduced the body weight and body mass index of all the patients while decreasing the level of triglycerides, LDL cholesterol and blood glucose in their systems all while increasing the level of HDL cholesterol. Some studies suggest that following a period of about 2 weeks, blood ketone levels rise and that is when people on this diet regain their mental alertness, focus and drive back. Once this happens, the body is in a state known as keto-adaptation which is the fat-converting metabolic state. The average amount that an overweight person use during exercise is about 30 grams per one hour. According to Dr. Phinney’s research, after six weeks of keto-adaptation, these individuals used about 90 grams of fat each hour during their exercise.
It is absolutely essential that people allow a long enough adaption period to go into keto-adaption because a lot of people will give up on this diet before their bodies ever fully adapt. Although in the beginning, things like cognitive quickness and performance during exercise drops, it quickly recovers once the body adapts and an individual in this state can gain as much mass and strength as they would on a high carb diet. Overall the results are promising, to say the least.
As for how long one can safely stay in ketosis, refer to this article.
Are there Supplements that Help You Stay in the Diet?
There are numerous exogenous ketogenic supplements out there to choose from today, which come in the form of capsules, oils, ketogenic protein powders and even special made keto drinks. Some are good and some not so much, but just to make life easy, here are the best ketogenic or BHB supplements in the market. Making a decision on which will benefit you most varies greatly on your goals with your lifestyle and current nutrition habits. While many brands boast specialty ingredients that make their product special, there are basically 4 main types of exogenous supplements that you can utilize depending on your needs.
An example would be if you are consuming a reasonable amount of protein already, you don’t need a high protein ketogenic supplement to add to that daily intake. I’ve tested each exogenous supplement to compare my health before and after taking each one and every single seemed to have a positive effect on my body.
BHB is normally found in most natural foods like milk and eggs. The salts are like acids and its bases are bound by a lot of ionic bonds. So, when your body absorbs it, it goes into your blood where all the chemicals that were bonded are released into separate chemicals because of it being a water-based solution.
These fats are easily absorbed by the body and will be on its way to your liver right away, when they get there it will create a thermogenic effect that can your metabolism in a positive way. This way these MCT’s will be burned by the body and used as energy fuel instead of being kept where it will become stored fat.
These reduce high levels of triglycerides in your blood cells. This is important because high levels of triglycerides have been linked to a number of cardiovascular diseases.
Sodium and Potassium
Your body upon starting a ketogenic diet will shed any additional water along with sodium. This occurs when insulin levels drop. Most people already consume a higher amount of sodium in their daily intake, so a reduction is healthy but should be continuously monitored as you proceed.
Magnesium is stored in the bones and is a most vital nutrient in our body. When on a low carb ketogenic diet, the body excretes more ions. Patients can start to feel fatigue and a loss of energy along with things like muscle cramps. Magnesium plays a vital role in ketogenic diet and a blood test can determine whether or not you have optimal magnesium levels.
Vitamin D is a fat soluble nutrient. A small amount acts as a hormone in the body, optimizing ketosis. Our bodies only produce this vitamin when exposed to sunlight and it is not found in many of the foods used in the ketogenic diet plan, so it is necessary to supplement that. This probably one of the most important supplements as well for it helps your body absorb calcium during ketosis and helps to strengthen our immune systems.
Are There Any Side-Effects to the Diet?
Yes, as with most nutritional supplements and therapies, there are always side-effects and the first thing most people want to know is, is it dangerous or safe to do? Of course there can be some keto diet dangers, however, the ketosis symptoms from these BHB supplements are rather mild and with prolonged usage will most likely improve. The list of side-effects and keto flu symptoms that can occur after taking these supplements include quite a list of things including: electrolyte imbalance, Halitosis, GI distress (flatulence) and hypoglycemia, just to name a few. The electrolyte imbalance stems from the lack of water retention during ketosis and frequent urination, which you can test with ketosis sticks.
Taking these supplements will likely increase the frequency of urination, but will do so without depleting glycogen stores. A solution would be to consume beverages with electrolytes before and after taking the supplement.
Whether your liver is converting fat to energy, or you are ingesting exogenous ketones via supplementation, halitosis or bad breath is also another common side-effect. This effect does not seem to last very long and there are various mints, washes and gums that can solve this problem. When your body is adjusting to ingesting these supplements, some results yielded a higher amount of GI distress such as flatulence. This condition will start to improve as your body adapts to taking these supplements.
- Frequent Need to Urinate
- Bad Breath
- Keto Flu Symptoms
- Leg cramps
The last side-effect we’re going to mention is hypoglycemia. When ingesting exogenous ketones, your blood glucose levels can get pretty low, but you will not experience the symptoms of hypoglycemia, where you can feel a cold sweat. This is on account of your ketone levels, once high enough, will take over as fuel for the brain and you will operate normally despite the low blood glucose in your system. But in hindsight, there are no major side-effects to taking these supplements, that aren’t easily managed and a temporary phase. This whole process has actually shown very minimal side-effects, in comparison to pharmaceutical medicines seems much safer.
There are also many symptoms of ketosis that a person will probably experience, especially in the initial stages, where people can feel a lack of energy or even nausea caused by a sudden change in a persons diet. These symptoms are very manageable and temporary and once your body adapts to your new nutritional intake, you can experience great benefits from it.
Keto Diet Before and After Results…
If done right a ketogenic diet can have a significant impact on your weight loss results and once your body has trained itself to burn the fat intake, you are eating each day and use it as a ketogenic resource of energy you probably won’t even recognize yourself. Do yourself a favor and document your journey by measuring and weighing yourself throughout the whole process. Better yet you should take before and after keto diet picture so you can see the proof for yourself.
After starting this website, I have had hundreds of people send me their before and after keto diet pictures after deciding to take the plunge and the weight loss effects were astounding. It’s certainly a wonderful feeling knowing other people have seen the same results as me, which I’m sure has changed their lives forever.
I’ve collected so many of these before and after photos that I now have a giant collage of all the people hanging on the wall of my living room. Almost every morning during breakfast, I stare at the hundreds of faces in that collage. It’s a great feeling that somehow I may have played a part in helping them, which is why I continue to test the best supplements on the market. I’ve become addicted to finding and sharing information, and if I’m helping my community by doing this, then that’s even more awesome.
Some Tips That Can Help You Manage Your Diet
Eating keto can seem overwhelming at first. It’s a drastic dietary change and can bring on stress and panic. The good news is there are some tips that can help to make things easier.
#1 Keep it simple
You’ll eventually gather a collection of delicious (and possibly complicated) keto-friendly recipes, but you don’t need to be a gourmand right out of the gate. Simple mono- or poly-meals are a great option if you are new to keto. Trying to overcomplicate things just sets you up for failure and this diet is too effective to give up on within a few days because of frustration.
#2 Meal prep in advance
A great way to save time and frustration is to prepare food in bulk. Set aside a few hours on a day or evening during the week to prepare a big batch of keto-friendly foods you can grab in a pinch. Some people like to cook up a batch of chicken breast and roasted veggies for lunch for the entire week.
Some people find that even if they do not have time to meal prep an entire week, they can save time by making a little extra at each meal. Make just one extra serving of each meal you cook for dinner and you can heat up the leftovers the next day for lunch.
If meal prep doesn’t work for you, at least set aside some time for meal planning. Your food might not be ready in advance, but if you have assigned certain foods to certain meals, it’ll be easier to avoid the temptations you’ll encounter along the way. It also helps you avoid that late afternoon panic feeling you get when you have no idea what to make for dinner.
If you’re the type of person who has found convenience foods such as meal replacement smoothies or bars help, you can find keto versions of these foods. There are plenty of options for smoothies and juices on the keto-approved produce list and you can even add keto-friendly protein powders to your smoothies if you are lacking enough protein or calories. And the key to choosing premade bars and juices that are keto-friendly is to read the ingredient list. They’re out there, but you’ll need to take a few minutes to read your labels.
So, Does it Work?
There you have it, everything you need to know about ketosis and how to execute a ketogenic diet plan. As you can see the evidence suggests there aren’t any serious negative effects from living this type of lifestyle. Also, you might have noticed the positive effects, which I listed in this review. Just remember that in most cases the side-effects of ketosis are usually minor compared to the potential benefits.
Worst case scenario and you don’t see any benefits from this ketogenic diet plan, you can just cease the experiment altogether.
If you are considering doing this, you might also want to check out some of the ketogenic supplements that we have reviewed on this site. I guarantee that you will see the benefits in the first few weeks and you will most certainly enjoy having more energy, weight loss and enhanced cognitive function throughout the day.