Lose fat while eating bacon for breakfast every day and preventing cancer!
Sounds a little like a 4:00 AM infomercial type of diet, doesn’t it?
But that’s the promise of the Ketogenic Diet (keto) diet and the reason it’s hot, hot, hot.
Depending on who you ask, keto is either the best diet ever or a dangerous fraud.
Keto is a high fat, moderate protein and low carb diet. You’re going to be eating a boat load of fat while nearly eliminating carbs from your diet. That means skipping pasta, bread, pizza and beer. Instead you’ll eat nuts, avocados, pork rinds and full fat cheese.
The only real difference between keto and Atkins or other low carb diets is protein consumption. Protein consumption is much more limited in keto.
In this blog post, I’ll cut through the hype to explain what you need to know so you can make an informed decision. (Teaser alert: the truth lies somewhere between the extreme positions. And there are different strokes for different folks. Your personality type and ability to stick with a very restricted diet should play a huge role in your decision.)
Before we dive into the #sciencey stuff and cautions, let’s get to the good stuff.
THE GOOD PART: THE BENEFITS OF KETO
The Ketogenic Diet has some pretty sweet benefits, including putting a high priority on bacon consumption. Beyond that, there’s:
Weight Loss – As explained below, keto uses your body fat for energy, helping you lose weight. Fat burning becomes your primary fuel source. Your insulin levels drop which helps prevent fat storage.
Blood Sugar – With a lack of sugar in your system, studies even show that keto is a more effective than low calorie diets in preventing diabetes. If you’re pre-diabetic or have Type II diabetes, consult your doctor about the wisdom of adopting a Ketogenic Diet.
Insulin Resistance – Insulin resistance can lead to type II diabetes if left unmanaged. If you go low carb, your body can become more insulin sensitive.
Ninja Focus – There’s no denying mental focus is a big draw for keto, ranking right behind fat loss. By limiting the up and downs of insulin spikes with a carb diet, you’ll be able to improve focus and concentration.
Increase Energy and Normalize Hunger – By giving your body a more consistent energy sources, you’ll avoid the dips after the insulin spike. On top of that, fat is naturally more satisfying and ends up leaving you in a full state for longer.
Epilepsy – This is the reason the Ketogenic Diet came into existence. It is still one of the most widely used therapies for people who have medicine-resistent epilepsy.
Cholesterol and Blood Pressure – A ketogenic diet has shown to improve triglyceride levels and cholesterol levels most associated with arterial buildup despite the high fat. Low-carb, high-fat diets show a dramatic increase in HDL (good cholesterol) and decrease in LDL (bad cholesterol) particle concentration compared to low-fat diets..
Acne – It’s common to see improvements in your skin when you switch to a ketogenic diet.
THE BAD PART: SIDE EFFECTS OF KETO
When introducing something new to your body, there are always side effects. The big thing to ask yourself is Are the benefit orders of magnitude better than the side effects?
For example, if you were to take a medicine for a social anxiety and a side effect was loss of bladder control, I might opt to keep thinking people are judging me rather than fear peeing in my pants at free random.
Thankfully, loss of bladder control and anal leakage aren’t on the table with the Ketogenic diet. I’ve also sprinkled in some remedies to mitigate the downside. You’re welcome..
Keto flu – ask anyone that has tried a low carb diet they’ll tell you the struggle is real. The first 2-3 days are a bitch.
The most common symptoms:
As you get further into ketosis these subside, within a week you’ll be fine.
Now the Keto marketers in the group will tell you that the Keto flu is your body detoxing from the harmful effects of carbs or ridding your body of toxic sludge.
The real reason is carbs retain water and in that water is electrolytes like sodium, potassium and magnesium. When you go low carb, you end up pissing all those out, much like you would after a good night of drinking.
Notice the symptoms are the same as a hangover?
Once your body adapts to the new environment you’re aces. Or if you want to make a smoother transition into ketosis, increase salt intake by drinking a cup of bouillon or chicken broth a couple times a day.
If that doesn’t sound appetizing, just add extra salt your food or water.
Within just a couple days of cutting out carbs, the body will increase ketone concentrations and the brain will begin making the switch. From beginning to full ketosis is about a four week process, provided it’s done consistently.
Leg Cramps – This is a common side effect of going Keto, or low carb in general. For the same reason as the keto flu, also give you leg cramps. Cramps are more contributed to pissing out magnesium which is used to normalize nerve and muscle function. Luckily, these are easy to avoid…
- Drink plenty of fluid and get enough salt.
- Supplement with magnesium. Look for a supplement that will give you 300-420 mg a day; men on the higher end, women the lower.
Constipation – Oh the sweet agony of constipation. On one hand you can save time with bathroom trips but the other it gets uncomfortable after a few days. Here’s how to avoid this shitty situation:
- Drink plenty of fluid and get enough salt. Are you seeing a common theme here? The most common cause of constipation on low carb is dehydration. Your body removes the water from your poop which makes going to the bathroom like trying to pass a kidney stone.
- Eat plenty of vegetables or another source of fiber. Fiber on a ketogenic diet is usually in short supply since it is mainly found in fruits, veggies and fiber rich, carb heavy foods. Fiber as we all know keeps your pooping schedule moving like a German train schedule. Eating plenty of non-starchy vegetables may solve this problem. Things like flax and chia seeds or any vegetable basically will help you get out of a jam. If all else fails go with a sugar free Metamucil. You might feel like you’re 80 but it’s a risk worth taking when you haven’t laid any cable in a week.
Bad Breath – One of the biggest downsides of the Ketogenic diet is bad breath. When you reach the point of fat burning there are byproducts, one being the smell and taste of acetone in your mouth.
It tastes like you drank nail polish remover. This can also change the scent of your sweat. However, not everyone experiences it and usually it only lasts for a week or two. At that point the body adapts and gets rid of the acetone differently.
For some “lucky” people it doesn’t go away. Here are a few ways to mitigate your bangin breath.
- Drink enough fluid and get enough salt. If your mouth feels dry– again the dehydration thing – this means you have less saliva to wash away bacteria. This can result in bad breath, so drink up.
- Maintain good oral hygiene. Brushing your teeth won’t stop the keto smell (it actually comes from your lungs), but at least it won’t be mixing with other smells.
- Use a breath freshener regularly. This can mask the smell a little.
- Wait. Not the soundest of plans but it’s easy.
- Reduce the degree of ketosis. If you are one of the lucky few – I’m in this category – the smell is a long-term problem. The best thing to do is reduce your level of ketosis. This means eating a bit more carbs, 50-70 grams per day is usually enough to get out of ketosis. With the reduction of ketosis, you also reduce the effects like fat burning, insulin sensitivity etc.
Another option is to eat 50-70 grams of carbs per day and add some intermittent fasting. This can get you roughly the same effect as a strict low-carb diet… without the smell.
Heart Palpitations – You’ve probably picked up on a trend in the last few downsides of going Keto – dehydration. One of the more scarier downsides is a slightly elevated heart rate and heart beats that feel like the bass of a Skrillex song. This is normal and usually nothing to worry about.
A reduction in the amount of fluid in the blood stream means that the heart will have to pump blood slightly harder or faster to maintain blood pressure.
The quick fix is to drink enough fluids and make sure to get enough salt.
On the other side of the coin, it can also be a result of stress hormones released to maintain blood sugar levels. This is usually a temporary problem as the body adapts to a lower-carb diet. It should go away within a week or two.
In the unlikely situation that the problem sticks around – and the palpitations are causing you concern – try to slightly increase the carb intake. You’ll reduce the low carb fat burning effect but your heart won’t be beating out of your chest. It’s a give and take.
Nerd Alert: The #Sciencey Stuff
Feel free to skip this and the next several sections. I won’t tell anyone if you skip right to the section called “The Bottom Line” at the very end.
Back in 1921, Dr. Stanley Cobb and Dr. W.G. Lennox became the first to observe that seizures untreatable with drugs could be controlled by a very low carb diet or fasting.
Molecules called ketones could fuel the body in the absence of the glucose that comes from eating carbs. Ketones only form when carb consumption is low and protein is kept in a moderate range.
If carbs are kept low, then the body switches its energy production to predominantly burning fat.
Fat in typically hard to reach places, like the belly and thighs, become more readily available.
Since you are either eating fat or using fat from troubled areas, you always have a steady stream of energy. You don’t get hunger pangs, a big plus compared to other diets.
But to get to this dietary nirvana you have to deplete your glucose stores. This can be done through fasting, going very low carb or a combination of both.
After you deplete your glucose stores, your body has to switch to a state of burning fat for fuel. This state is called ketosis, which is a very sensitive state to be in. If you consume too much protein or eat carbs, you will be kicked out of ketosis as an alternative fuel source is available.
The macro ratio to ensure you stay in ketosis is 5-10% carbs, 15-30% protein and 60-75% fat.
ARE KETOSIS AND KETOACIDOSIS THE SAME?
Ketosis and ketoacidosis are about the same as a having a good buzz and getting blackout drunk. Ketoacidosis is almost exclusive to the diabetic community, especially Type I. Insulin acts as a buffer to keep ketone levels in the safe range. If you can’t produce insulin, the regulator is off and all hell breaks lose.
Even low levels of insulin, like which is available in ketosis, will help keep you in the fat burning range.
HOW DO I KNOW IF I’M IN KETOSIS?
The only way to know if you’re keto-ing right is to test yourself through a pee strip, breathalyzer or a blood-ketone meter.
Pee strips or Urine strips is the easiest and cheapest way to measure ketosis. First time trying keto? I’d start here.
You dip the stick in your pee or pee directly on the stick, and 15 seconds later the color change will tell you the presence of ketones.
Pro: Cheap and easily available at your local drugstore or Amazon.
Con: The strips give a range rather than an exact number plus results can vary depending on how much fluid you drink. The ultimate drawback is if you’ve been in ketosis for a while your body reabsorbs ketones from the urine, making the urine strips unreliable.
[Insert drunk breathalyzer joke here]. At around $150 they are more expensive than urine strips. These analyzers do not give you a precise ketone level, but rather a color code for the general level. Research shows that there is decent correlation with blood ketones in most situations.
Con: Pain in the ass. Not accurate. More expensive. Not portable, needs computer hookup to read.
Blood-ketone meters show an exact and current level of ketones in your blood. The major disadvantage, however, is that they are expensive: A meter with 10 ketone-test strips and 30 needles included, costs about $120 and then an additional $3 per test after that.
Pro: Gold standard in terms of accuracy.
Con: Expensive. Requires pricking your finger for a drop of blood.
If you’re looking to get into the Keto game, go with the pee strips. If you like it, opt for the blood-ketone meter.
So now that you have your results, here are some ranges to know if you’re doing it right.
- Below 0.5 mmol/l is not considered “ketosis”. At this level you still have some work to do for fat-burning.
- Between 0.5–1.5 mmol/l is light nutritional ketosis. You’ll be getting a good effect on your weight, but perhaps not optimal. Equivalent to “just the tip”.
- Around 1.5–3 mmol/l is called optimal ketosis. This is where all the benefits we talked about.
- Readings of over 3 mmol/l aren’t something to really strive for. The results aren’t any different in this range compared to 1.5-3 mmol/l.
- Results of over 8–10 mmol/l are usually impossible to get to just by eating a ketogenic diet. It means that something is wrong. The most common cause by far is type 1 diabetes with severe lack of insulin.
KETO AND CANCER
One of the emerging fields of research in the Keto world is its possible benefit with cancer patients.
The thinking behind the research is that cancer cells need glucose to reproduce as rapidly as they do. In fact, one of the tests to diagnosis cancer, a PET scan, is an injection of radioactive sugar lights up the cancer cells due to the higher rate of glucose usage compared to normal cells. Cancer cells don’t have the ability to switch energy sources like normal cells do, they are strictly glucose fed.
Well if you starve cancer cells of their fuel source then you effectively reduce the risk of the cancer growing out of control. Coupling that with traditional treatments and it might give someone a fighting chance.
Now I’m not a doctor even though I spent seven years in college. This article is just to start the conversation. Please consult your doctors before doing anything.
KETO AND BRAIN DISEASES
In certain diseases like Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, Parkinson’s and just general aging glucose uptake in the brain is suppressed. Even in a glucose rich environment, the brain can’t take in enough to supply the energy needed.
While glucose is on a one lane road, ketones still have a three lane highway to supply the brain with the required energy. It has been shown that a ketogenic diet can improve symptoms in all four cases.
Having lost my grandfather to Alzheimer’s, this is amazing news.
THE BOTTOM LINE: IS KETO REALLY THE BEST DIET EVER?
The real question is whether you can stick to the keto diet.
If you can’t, forget it. You won’t lose fat and get the other health benefits. You’ll just eat a shit ton of fat for the sole purpose of eating a shit ton of fat.
Keto isn’t something you can half ass. With just about every other diet you can -ish it. I eat Paleo-ish. I eat Atkins-ish. Keto isn’t like that.
In order to get the results you want, you need to go all in on keto.
Keto isn’t for everyone. It takes a lot of discipline. Digesting that much fat daily is exhausting. Sure, bacon and eggs for breakfast is cool the first week but it gets old real quick.
Not to mention most restaurants are not on the keto bandwagon yet. This makes going out with family and friends that much tougher.
If you can stick with it 100%, then I would argue no other diet is going to give you the overall health benefits like the Ketogenic Diet will. Otherwise, I’d opt for something else like carb cycling, Intermittent Fasting or Slow Carb. All these will give you the fat loss benefits you want.
If you’re interested, give Keto a try for 45 days. It takes about 30 days to get knuckle deep in ketosis so to quit before that would be doing the diet and yourself a disservice.
If you’ve gotten this far I guess you’re interested. But you probably still have a lot of questions.
The most common questions I get are:
How do I get started?
What do I eat?
What about diet sodas?
What about supplements? Dave
Find out the answers by downloading my Keto Quick Start Guide. Let me know where I need to send it below