Anyone considering the Keto Diet for weight loss should consider its effects on blood sugar levels. It may sound counter-intuitive but diets high in fat, and low in carbs, can do more harm than good. The ketogenic diet is a low-carb, high-fat diet that is high in nutrients, while still maintaining a relatively low caloric content. This is engaging to both the brain and body, which have grown accustomed to high-calorie snacks and meals. Since it helps break some bad eating habits, this can be a good way to get started on an overall healthier diet.
Ketosis is a completely normal metabolic function. Essentially, when your body doesn’t have enough glucose for energy, it will burn stored fat instead. Glucose is created when carbohydrates are broken down inside your body. Cutting carbs from your diet means less glucose for your body to burn up.
Replacing carbs with fats will cause acids called ketones to build up in your body. The goal is to force the body to derive its fuel from fat, rather than carbs.Test Kit Now
While your body is in ketosis, it becomes extremely efficient at burning fat. Ketogenic diets can trigger major reductions in your blood sugar and insulin levels, which has additional health benefits.
Keto for Weight Loss
Ketogenic diets are effective for losing weight and lowering risk factors for certain diseases. While low-fat diets are traditionally recommended for those looking to shed pounds, research shows that keto is, in fact, a superior approach to weight loss.
Unlike many diets, keto will not leave you feeling hungry after eating a pre-set number of calories for the day. Keto is a satisfying and filling method of dieting. In fact, you can lose weight without tracking calories—something that deters many people from adhering to other diets.
There are several reasons why keto is more efficient than a low-fat diet, including increased protein intake. Higher protein intake is advantageous for weight reduction and metabolic health.
Quick Keto Facts
- Ketosis occurs when the body is denied access to glucose, its main fuel source.
- In ketosis, stored fat is broken down for energy, producing ketones.
- Some people use a ketogenic diet to lose weight by forcing their body to burn surplus fat stores.
- The ketogenic diet was originally developed in the 1920’s to treat epilepsy but was inadvertently discovered to offer many other health benefits.
- There are multiple variations of the ketogenic diet.
Types of Ketogenic Diets
- Classic Keto: The strictest form of keto, classic keto requires a 4:1 ratio of fats to carbs or protein. This is a structured, individualized plan in which your diet will consist of 90% fat. Foods are usually weighed when following this regimen.
- Modified Keto: The modified version of the diet is intended to be less restrictive. It might be a good place to start if you’re new to keto, or if you’ve done classic keto for a long time and you’re trying to taper down to a more sustainable, long-term eating regimen.
- MCT: This version allows for a higher protein and carb intake than classic keto. MCT is short for Medium Chain Triglycerides, or highly ketogenic man-made fats.
- Modified Atkins: Carbs are limited in modified Atkins, while fat is encouraged. Protein is not limited at all. When you do consume carbs on this diet, fats should accompany them.
- Intermittent Fasting: This dietary intervention launches the body into ketosis by shortening the window of time that you eat during the day. For instance, you may only eat during an 8-hour window of the day, and fast for the other 16 hours. This forces the body to burn energy from fat.
Only the classic and high-protein ketogenic diets have been researched and studied extensively by professionals. Other, more advanced, versions of keto are primarily used by bodybuilders and elite athletes. Since the classic method is the most researched, it is often the most recommended.
Three reasons why keto isn’t all it claims to be
First, if one is trying to lose weight, they should be striving to lose fat weight. The scale does not tell us what kind of weight we are losing. Our body is about 60% water by weight. Carbohydrate is stored in our body as a substance called glycogen, which is found mostly in muscle and liver cells. Each gram of glycogen we store is accompanied by two grams of water. When we restrict carbohydrate intake, glycogen levels are depleted, and we rapidly lose a lot of water weight via increased urination. This does not make us healthier, but it does make us somewhat dehydrated.
Second, following the Ketogenic Diet means carefully tracking your macronutrients (protein, fats, carbs, and water), in addition to some micronutrients like vitamins and minerals. It can be an arduous task that makes simple calorie counting seem like a breeze. While most proponents of keto tout that calorie counting isn’t the main focus, the fact is that most people on this plan are also restricting calories. Any diet that creates a calorie deficit is likely to induce weight loss. While this makes it somewhat difficult to determine if the weight loss is the result of calorie restriction or from being in ketosis, The Cooper Institute’s position is that it is the former, not the latter.
Third, there is a lack of long-term scientific data to support this diet. Most diet studies (as well as testimonials) are short-term, lasting only weeks or months. The short-term studies on Ketogenic diets have shown short-term weight loss as well as temporary improvements in important risk factors like HDL and LDL cholesterol levels, blood glucose, inflammatory markers, and waist circumference. However, any dietary approach that leads to weight loss will tend to show these same types of improvements. To date, there are no significant studies to show that the Ketogenic diet leads to long-term weight control or improved health. In fact, some of the latest research suggests that it may be harmful in the long run.
For most people, the perceived ‘pros’ of the Ketogenic Diet are outweighed by the following ‘cons.’
- Lack of variety. So many foods are limited with this approach that you will likely soon tire of eating the same things over and over again.
- Lack of fiber. Complex carbohydrates are the only source of dietary fiber! Since carbohydrate intake is very limited with the Ketogenic diet, you will be consuming a very low fiber diet by default. Low fiber diets are strongly associated with an increased risk of constipation, hemorrhoids, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and digestive cancers. Think about that for a moment (or two).
- Lack of essential nutrients. Ketogenic diets are notoriously low in several essential nutrients including vitamins C and D, as well as some of the B vitamins. Calcium is also lacking. Most Ketogenic diet enthusiasts remain unaware that complex carbohydrates contain hundreds of beneficial substances called phytochemicals; which are naturally occurring non-nutrients that help to prevent disease.
- Not a long-term solution. The weight loss from the Ketogenic approach is typically temporary, not permanent. When you change your eating habits short-term, your weight will also change short-term. The goal should not be short-term weight loss, but rather, long-term weight control.
- Fatigue and irritability. A Ketogenic diet increases the likelihood of hypoglycemia (low blood glucose levels) and can trigger what is known as the keto-flu. Symptoms may include headaches, fatigue, irritability and more unpleasant symptoms.
- Inability to perform regular sustained exercise. Carbohydrate is a major fuel source for muscles during exercise. When carbohydrate stores are low and/or hypoglycemia is present, it’s very difficult to exercise. Diet plus regular exercise is far more effective for long-term weight control than either one by itself.
Although supplements are not required for a ketogenic diet, they can be useful in reducing side effects and maintaining a natural balance in your body. Some useful supplements for keto include:
- MCT oil: For an energy boost and increased ketone levels, add MCT oil to drinks or yogurt.
- Minerals: Salt and other minerals are important when first starting keto due to fluctuations in water levels and mineral balance.
- Caffeine: Great for energy, increased athletic performance, and fat loss.
- Exogenous ketones: A supplement that can help raise ketone levels.
- Creatine: You may have heard of this supplement at is it widely used across the fitness and performance sectors. If you’re combining keto with exercise, creatine can be a very useful supplement.
- Whey: A half scoop of whey protein added to shakes or yogurt will up your daily protein numbers.
KETO VS. LOW-CARB
In order to follow a ketogenic diet, you need to be in a state of ketosis. This simply means that your body is burning fatty acids (ketones) for energy instead of carbohydrate stores (glycogen in the liver and glucose in the blood).
Now, it’s possible to have dangerously high levels of ketones in the blood. This is a condition known as ketoacidosis. However, unless you have type 1 diabetes, you shouldn’t have to worry about ketoacidosis.
The levels of ketones produced can be varied depending on daily macros. And, the amount of carbohydrates consumed is one of the big differences when looking at low-carb vs keto.
When you have normal levels of ketones in your bloodstream, your brain and the rest of your body are fueled by stored body fat. But, the only way to know for sure if you’re in a state of ketosis is by confirming it through daily testing.
Ketosis Symptoms: How To Tell If You Are In Ketosis
There are blood, breath, and urine strips. Some keto experts recommend testing breath over urine bu,t blood meters are the most accurate.
The reason many recommend breath testing is that the urine and blood strips can only be used only once, making them more expensive in the long run. A breath analyzer is reusable.
However, urine strips only represent the ketone levels that you pee out and anything you eliminate represents excess. Therefore, urine strips simply measure excess ketones whereas breathalyzers and blood meters show up-to-the-minute ketone levels.
Keep in mind that just because you reduce the amount of carbs you eat does not mean that you are now burning body fat for energy. In fact, you might be better off eating slightly more carbs than you are if you’re not in ketosis! This is particularly true when initially moving from high carb eating to low-carb.
If your body is still burning carbs for fuel rather than fat in the case of ketosis, and you drastically reduce the amount of carbs you eat, you can feel very lethargic. Some even get what’s known as keto flu.
Low-Carb Eating Without Being In Ketosis
There’s no need to be producing ketones to lose weight with low-carb. People who lower their daily intake to less than 150 grams a day have been successful in dropping pounds.
However, those who also reduce calories do better with a higher carb eating plan. That’s because most of the carb intake should be from keto-friendly vegetables and fruits which are naturally low in calories.
Active people also tend to do better on a low-carb diet as fat is burned through exercise.
Need some examples of low-carb vs keto? I discuss different variations in ketosis in my guide on how to start a low-carb diet.
How To Eat Fewer Carbs
Say you used to eat several servings a day of high-starch and high-sugar carbs. We’re talking heaping bowls of pasta, rice or other grains; bread; anything with white or wheat flour; ice cream; pastries, etc.
But now, you’re only eating a couple of servings per day while following the low-carb diet tips. So now you’ve gone from eating 600 grams of carbs per day to only 150 grams.
The good news is that you’re consuming far less carbohydrates that spike your insulin levels and produce wild blood sugar fluctuations.
The bad news is two-fold.
- You still might be using your body’s supply of carbohydrates for energy. Unless you’re definitely in a state of ketosis, you’re still not an efficient fat-burning machine.
- If you’re slashing carbs and not replacing those calories with mostly healthy dietary fat (avocados, fish oils, MCT oil, grass-fed butter, for example), you’re at risk for feeling run down.
Why the Ketogenic Diet Impacts Fat Burn
Keto can help you lose weight and make some positive changes to your life. The high-fat, low-carb diet has gained a lot of popularity in recent years, creating an entire community of keto-praising eaters.
Unlike with calorie restriction, keto helps you lose weight by putting your body into ketosis. When you eat minimal carbohydrates, your body produces ketones for energy. Ketones are made in your liver from fatty acids found in food or your own body fat. Therefore, your liver actually burns fat to make ketones. Ketones are used for energy in lieu of carbs.
As your body steadily burns fat as a fuel source, you will start to lose weight. You may be wondering if keto can target specific problem areas, such as belly fat. Burning belly fat is high on the priority list for many people. The fat in your belly is visceral fat, which is a dangerous type of fat that lives deep inside the abdomen, encasing your internal organs. Visceral fat is linked to heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Technically, you can’t spot-target fat areas for reduction. Your body decides where weight loss will occur. However, keto may be useful for eliminating stubborn belly fat.
Belly fat, or visceral fat, comes from a combination of genes and a diet high in refined carbs and sugar. Visceral fat can easily become inflamed, making it incredibly stubborn to lose and dangerous to surrounding blood vessels. A well-formulated keto regimen has strong anti-inflammatory effects, making it easier to drop stubborn belly fat.
Keto alone likely will not be enough to lose a large amount of fat. Keto works well in combination with high-intensity interval training (HIIT) exercises. Always consult with your doctor before beginning any new diet or exercise plan.
How to Minimize Side Effects
Although ketogenic diets are safe for most healthy people, you may experience some side effects while your body adapts to your new eating regimen. This period of adjustment is sometimes called the “keto flu” and typically only lasts a few days.
Keto flu might include low energy, hunger, sleep disturbances, or digestive discomfort. Some people have reported feeling nauseous for the first few days of keto.
To minimize these side effects, you can ease your way into keto. For instance, you could try a more traditional low-carb diet for a few weeks before going full keto. This process can train your body to start burning more fat before you totally remove carbs from your diet.
A ketogenic diet can also alter your water levels and mineral balance. You may want to add extra salt to your food or consider taking mineral supplements to restore normal balance in your body.
- Try adding 3,000 milligrams of sodium, along with 1,000 mg of potassium and 300 mg of magnesium to your daily intake to help minimize side effects and restore mineral balance.
It’s vital to eat until you’re full and refrain from restricting your calorie intake too much, particularly at the beginning of your ketogenic diet. Keto usually leads to weight loss without purposeful calorie restriction.
With the proper supplements and good dietary practices, the side effects of a ketogenic diet can be limited to very tolerable levels.