Weight loss wearing you down? Feeling low on energy and demotivated? Blood sugar out of control? We may have just the solution for you, and you don’t even need to read about it on the back of an auto rickshaw. Among the many, many, many diet plans that flow through our social media and news feeds, terms like ‘Ketosis’, ‘Ketogenic diet’ or simply ‘keto’ (all with hashtags) have been generating a lot of buzz. Celebrities love it as do diabetics, and diabetic celebrities really love it.
Intriguingly, the ketogenic or keto diet in its present form was formulated during the early 1900s' as a natural (drug-free) means of treating epilepsy, but was soon found to have a positive impact on chronic conditions as varied as Type 2 Diabetes, Alzheimer’s Disease and irregular levels of cholesterol and blood pressure. Indeed, the low/no-carb diet is a favorite treatment to help control sugar levels in diabetes.
The good news is keto means bacon for breakfast, even lunch and dinner if you really want to be a pig. The bad news is keto means no breads, no pasta, no bakery items and no joy. Ok, the last may not strictly be true.
What is Ketosis and a Ketogenic Diet
No strange sorcery this: Ketosis is a naturally occurring metabolic phase wherein the body burns stored fats for bodily functions as opposed to its usual fuel of glucose, derived from carbohydrates.
Ergo, a Ketogenic Diet cuts the consumption of carbohydrates to a minimal, or even zero, amount, while including a high amount of fat and some protein. While it may seem counter-intuitive to eat fatty foods in order to lose weight, there is a logic to this Kafkaesque consumption.
Ketogenic diets were initially developed as a means to treat epilepsy, because well, science. Without getting into the mechanics of it all, diet has been associated with seizures since the times of Classical Antiquity. Essentially, when the body uses stored fat for energy, it leads to the release of ‘ketone bodies’ in the system.
It takes a few days for the body to adjust to deriving its energy from these ketones instead of the usual sugars, leading to a lowering of blood sugar levels. This is when the body enters a state of ketosis which, when carefully controlled, leads to more efficient functioning in various areas including metabolism, cognition, alertness and cardiac health.
While research is still being conducted, studies show that ketogenic diets can lead to a substantial improvement in controlling blood sugar and insulin levels and also a decrease in the occurrence of epileptic seizures, with the diet being viewed as an alternative to pharmaceuticals and their side effects. Other studies have shown that ketogenic diets help in the shedding of weight around the abdominal area (no more beer belly), and have a positive impact on areas like cholesterol levels, blood pressure and brain functioning, including combating chronic diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. You also lose weight like crazy.
While we’ve discussed the advantages of the ketogenic diet, it’s not all a bed of roses. Many people, when beginning the regimen, suffer from ‘keto flu’, which includes symptoms like listlessness, lack of energy, insomnia and digestive complaints ranging from constipation to diarrhea. Fitness and gym freaks may experience loss in muscle mass as well as finding their workouts far more exhausting. Kidney stones are also a distressingly common side-effect of the keto diet and people might have to take mineral and vitamin supplements to off-set the lack of carbohydrates and other nutrients.
Experts say that the body grows accustomed as time goes by, and followers report subsequent increase in energy and fitness levels after an adjustment period.
How to Keto
As with most diet plans, there are different variations of the keto diet that one can follow. While those mentioned below are the most commonly followed plans, individuals may need to tweak the eating regimen to suit their bodies, lifestyle choices and convenience.
• Standard ketogenic diet (SKD): This comprises a minimal-carb, moderate-protein and high-fat diet. Typical nutrition intake is 75% fat, 20% protein, with 5% carbs.
• High-protein ketogenic diet: While similar to the standard ketogenic diet, this includes higher amounts of protein. The ratio typically comprises 60% fat, 35% protein and 5% carbs.
• Cyclical ketogenic diet (CKD): This plan comprises periods of higher carbohydrate intakes, ideally 5 ketogenic days followed by 2 high-carb days.
The diets typically include a high concentration of fats derived from sources such as nuts, seeds and fatty fish like tuna, salmon, mackerel and sardines, moderate amounts of proteins from eggs and red meats, and a drastic reduction – or complete cessation – of carbohydrates and sugars. That means no grains, starches, tuber vegetables and most fruits; no desserts obviously. Fresh green vegetables should be consumed to ensure a steady supply of roughage and fiber.
Things to Remember
• While Ketogenic diets have a proven efficacy when it comes to epilepsy and Type 2 Diabetes, it’s also important to remember that it can stunt growth and muscle development in children.
• Other negative side effects include bad breath and strong-smelling urine (due to increased ketone levels) as well as short-term fatigue and insomnia.
• Many people show signs of ‘keto flu’ when they begin the diet. Symptoms include weakness, brain fog, inattentiveness and de-motivation. However, there are only a temporary malaise, and people report higher levels of energy and mental acuity once they’ve adjusted.
• ALWAYS consult with health professionals before starting a keto diet.