A ketogenic diet is an extreme nutritional intervention based on very low carbohydrate intake designed to mimic starvation and drive the body into ketosis, which is a process for the body to replace glucose as its primary fuel with dietary and stored fat. While other low carb diets like the Atkins and Paleo diets have also focused on carb restriction, the ketogenic diet is far more than the latest fad diet. Instead, it is supported by strong research to improve health, energy, brain function, and induce weight loss more effectively and sustainably than any other diet.
The Science of the KD
The goal of the ketogenic diet is to shift the body and brain to preferentially use ketone bodies formed by the mobilization of fat tissue as its fuel source instead of glucose. Ketone bodies, such as acetoacetate and b-hydroxybutyrate (BHB), are formed by the body through ketogenesis and can be oxidized as a preferred energy source when energy is sparse as with fasting or high-intensity or prolonged endurance exercise. After 3 to 4 days of fasting, the mobilization of ketone bodies from fat stores produces the state of a physiological ketosis characterized by low glucose and low insulin. Ketogenesis is an evolutionary adaptation key to our survival in periods of famine to allow the body and brain to rely on an alternate fuel supply while preserving carbohydrate reserves in working muscle and in the liver. Ketones provide a more efficient energy supply leading to improved cellular energetics at the cost of depleting stored body fat.
KD in Weight Loss
The ketogenic diet has been used to achieve lasting weight loss. Beyond calories, the KD leads to more reliable weight loss than most other dietary interventions.
The weight loss benefits of the KD arise for several important reasons. Firstly, there is an appetite suppressing effect of ketone bodies, especially BHB, arising from an increase in the satiety hormones and indirectly due to the appetite suppressing effects of increased dietary protein. Secondly, after prolonged fasting or carbohydrate restriction, there is a shift to utilize the body’s fat stores for energy production through ketogenesis in which ketone bodies are released to the bloodstream. In ketosis, ketone bodies are produced through lipolysis transforming stored body fat into fuel. Lastly, Ketosis is metabolically very efficient.
Ketones, like BHB, provide more energy per unit of oxygen consumed than glucose. The metabolic efficiency of a ketogenic diet can be demonstrated by a lowering of the respiratory quotient over time.
While the KD holds promise in weight loss, this rigorous diet requires a careful implementation strategy. Here are some best practices to keto like a pro:
- Stay plant-based. – Select vegan protein and a diverse array of vegetables as the foundation to the diet. Raw greens provide a low-calorie basis to the diet that should be supplemented with lean protein and healthy fat.
- Be brief. – The KD works best for induction of weight loss and after as few as 3-4 weeks results may be achieved and then maintained with a less intensive regimen like the Mediterranean diet. Emerging research indicates that lasting and significant weight loss can be achieved with an induction ketogenic diet followed by a modified Mediterranean diet (MD) for maintenance . Beyond this timeline, remaining in ketosis should be done cautiously and only under medical supervision.
- Dial-up protein. – While the traditional KD calls for no more than 25% of calories to be derived from carbohydrates and the balance largely from fat, a more practical modification is to reduce the high caloric grains and starches and dial-up dietary protein.
- Try fasting intermittently. – Physiologic ketosis can be achieved not only through major macronutrient shifts as in the KD but through caloric restriction. Intermittent fasting (IF) is a more acceptable mode of caloric restriction as it shifts the body into a fast-induced ketosis intermittently. This can be achieved by fasting 12-15 hrs on 3-4 days of the week. If on the non-fasting days a more strict ketogenic diet is followed, then the body is maintained in ketosis through the combination of IF and KD.
- ADD DIETARY KETONES. – Dietary ketone supplements can help support ketosis and prevent the break down of healthy tissues. Pure beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) can be sourced as a functional food or nutritional supplement and consumed to enhance the health, weight, and energy benefits of a ketogenic diet and lifestyle.
- Intensify your workout. – Like intermittent fasting, intense exercise can rev metabolism and extend the ketogenic benefits of performing either IF and/or KD. High-intensity exercise performed in intervals is referred to as HIIT. Electro-muscle stimulation (EMS) is a very efficient and effective training system that works out 40 muscle groups simultaneously with 40% more intensity than a conventional workout and all within 20 minutes. EMS should be performed twice weekly for metabolic, weight loss and muscle toning benefits. (LINK TO EMS)
- Don’t go at it alone! – Before embarking on any form of extreme nutritional or lifestyle intervention, it is wise to perform a baseline medical assessment including testing of liver and kidney function and glucose metabolism. For most healthy individuals a modified KD as described above can likely be initiated safely but should be medically monitored.
There is no one right diet nor a cookie cutter solution to weight loss. Although the ketogenic diet may be extreme and hard to maintain, it can be an effective way to kick-start your weight loss and boost your brain fitness.