The ketogenic diet has been used since the 1920s to treat patients with epilepsy which have, in some cases, completely removed the need for medication. With the modern era of anti-epileptic drugs becoming widely used, the ketogenic diet quickly declined.
Within the past 15 years, through the combination of past and present research, the ketogenic diet has become increasingly popular again for the treatment of:
- Insulin resistance
- Increasing mental focus
- Weight loss
- Nervous system protection
- Mitochondrial production
- Muscle mass
- & more
But, more on that later!
What is Ketosis?
Ketosis is a natural, “survival mode” that occurs when the intake of carbohydrates is low. Restricting carbohydrates allows the body to produce and take advantage of ketones in the liver as the primary energy source. This is accomplished because our liver begin to break down fat cells, converting them to glycerol and fatty acid molecules. The fatty acid is then broken down further in a process called ketogenesis. Within 2-3 days of carbohydrate restriction, usually 50g or less, the body is “forced” to find a new energy source.(2)
What are Ketones?
Ketones are comprised of 3 water-soluble ketones known as:
In the Standard American Diet (SAD), our bodies use carbohydrates that turn into glucose, which is used as the primary energy source. Glucose does come with its own set of negative impacts on the body. During the process of utilizing glucose for energy, more reactive oxygen species and free radicals are released into the body. Reactive oxygen species are incredibly harmful compounds that can actually cause cell damage. This results in less energy, compared to using ketones for fuel instead.
How to Become “Keto Adapted”
Keto adaptation is when you’re completely using fat as your energy source. For this to happen, a few things need to be in order first:
- You have to completely remove glucose as an optional fuel source.
- You must produce ketones within the nutritional ketosis range and long enough for your body to switch to fat as the fuel source.
When you begin the ketogenic diet, you’ll first enter ketosis which uses a limited amount of fat as fuel as you don't have as many fat converting enzymes. These enzymes get built up over time. After a few weeks to a month when you’re finally keto adapted the ketones become your preferred fuel. Then, hormone levels change and glycogen are lowered.
How to Know You’ve Reached Ketosis
Once you’ve started eating a low carb you’ll probably want to test your ketones to confirm you’ve reached ketosis. Here are the three most common ways to test.
- Urine Strips (Acetoacetate)
- Blood Meter (Beta-Hydroxybutyrate)
- Breath (Acetone)
Testing for ketones via urine or blood strips can quickly add up in expenses compared to a breath test. Urine test strips are not as accurate because your body produces more ketones before they’re fat adapted. A House of Keto Monitor™ is a one time purchase with no additional costs (plus no need to prick yourself for blood to get a reading).
- Increased Urination
- Dry Mouth
- Bad Breath (Keto Breath)
- Reduced Hunger
- Increased Energy
What is the Keto Flu?
Most people who adopt a low carb, high fat ketogenic diet experience a plethora of irritating or unpleasant symptoms, known as the keto flu.
The two main causes are:
With anything, our body goes through a transition phase. Your body is adapting to what’s being consumed and how it reacts to it. This is completely normal and there’s not much to do about it, but ensure you’re consuming enough water, electrolytes and remain patient.
The ketogenic diet has a diuretic effect which leads us to pee more throughout the day; electrolytes are then excreted through the body, causing a flu-like symptoms.
Signs and Symptoms
The symptoms should disappear within a few days to a week as the body adapts to its new energy source. Sometimes it can take a month, but only in extreme, uncommon cases. In fact, it’s a good sign to be experiencing these signs as you’re closing in on ketosis. You’ll most noticeably feel fatigue, headaches, brain fog and/or an upset stomach.
Below is a whole list of commonly reported symptoms.
- Brain Fog
- Muscle Cramps
- Muscle Twitching
- Heart Palpitations
- Muscular Weakness
- Blurry Vision
- Keto Breath
- Intense Thirst
- Loss of Appetite
- Insatiable Hunger
- Carbohydrate Cravings
- Sleep Disturbances
- Nighttime Urination
- Severe Headaches
- General Achiness
- Hot Flashes
If you experience any of these symptoms, follow the tips ahead. However, if the symptoms don’t subside or even lessen, consult with your doctor or naturopath.
How to Lessen the Effects of the Keto Flu
Although the keto flu isn’t always dangerous it can disrupt your daily routine. It’s necessary to use these tips on a daily basis once you’re in ketosis too but defiant in the beginning.
It’s important to drink enough fluids throughout the day, especially if you have the flu. Staying hydrated is important to boost energy levels and relieving headaches.
How much water do you need to drink? Take your body weight and divide it in two - this is the number of ounces you need per day. Of course, if you exercise more you’ll need more water and electrolytes.
If you find yourself forgetting to drink water, like I do, set an alarm every few hours as a reminder. Adding fresh herbs such as mint or lemon balm and fresh berries can be more enticing than plain water too.
The ketogenic diet cuts many of the natural sources of electrolytes we’d be consuming otherwise, mostly starchy fruits and vegetables.
Below are top ketogenic friendly food sources of the three main electrolytes.
- Dark leafy greens
- Pumpkin Seeds
- Dark Chocolate
- Bone broth/stock
- Dark Leafy Greens
Electrolyte Sports Drinks
Electrolyte sports drinks are incredibly high in processed sugar, such as glucose syrup or corn syrup. To make your own keto-friendly sports drink combine:
1 cup of water
1 tsp or mineral sea salt
1/2 freshly squeezed lemon or lime.
Scientifically Proven Benefits
As mentioned in the beginning, there are numerous, scientifically proven benefits of the ketogenic diet. Below I’ve comprised a list of multiple scientific studies and links showing the positive effects.
Within the first few days of carbohydrate restriction, rapid weight loss usually occurs due to glycogen and water loss. In many studies, it shows the benefits of a long term ketogenic diet as it reduces body weight and body mass index (BMI) in the patients.(2)
Numerous studies show people who have diabetes reduce their need for medication and saw greater improvements in glycemic control, blood sugar control and weight loss.
Since the early 1920’s the ketogenic diet has been famously used and studied as one of the most effective nutritional diet for epilepsy.(3)
Increased Energy & Reduced Cravings
Using ketones for energy provides you to feel more energized throughout the day. The high fat and moderate protein meals are nutrient dense and allow you feel more satiated throughout the day, thus reduced cravings.
1 Paoli, A, et al. “Beyond Weight Loss: a Review of the Therapeutic Uses of Very-Low-Carbohydrate (Ketogenic) Diets.” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Nature Publishing Group, Aug. 2013, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3826507/.
2 Saslow, L. R., Mason, A. E., Kim, S., Goldman, V., Ploutz-Snyder, R., Bayandorian, H., . . . Moskowitz, J. T. (2017, February). An Online Intervention Comparing a Very Low-Carbohydrate Ketogenic Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations Versus a Plate Method Diet in Overweight Individuals With Type 2 Diabetes: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Retrieved September 07, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5329646/
3 The ketogenic diet for the treatment of childhood epilepsy: a randomised controlled trial. (n.d.). Retrieved September 07, 2017, from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1474442208700929