By Alper Tovi
There is no shortage of magic diets these days. I recently sat through two very different documentaries on Netflix. One of them is called "Magic Pill," focusing on the ketogenic diet, which is the subject of this article. The documentary claims various medical benefits of the keto diet and promotes eating habits based on animal products to sustain the metabolic state called ketosis.
The other documentary, on the other hand, called "What the Health," makes several claims around processed animal products and their potential cancerous effects. Conflicting information coming from all directions makes it very difficult for people who are trying to be healthy to make the right choice.
In this article, instead of making bold claims about the health benefits of the keto diet, I'll instead try to focus on the mechanics of it, with a few pros and cons, so that you can decide for yourself if that is something you'd like to try.
What is the keto diet and how does it work?
Despite its hype, the keto diet is nothing new. Doctors have used the keto diet as a medical intervention for more than 100 years to treat a type of epilepsy in children when the patient doesn't respond to medication. The mechanics behind this are still mostly unknown.
Our bodies' default primary source of energy is carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are easy to break down and yield four calories per gram. The conversion process is rapid, making the carbs the go-to source of energy when a sudden burst of energy is needed.
Carbs cannot be stored in the body as is. So, they are converted into glycogen and stored mostly in the liver, and some in the muscles. The liver, however, has a limit on how much glycogen it can store.
Fats, on the other hand, are more challenging to break down, but breaking down one gram of fat yields nine calories—much higher than carbohydrates. We are also able to store virtually unlimited amounts of fat under the skin.
Most cells prefer to use blood sugar, which comes from carbohydrates. When carbohydrates are absent, we start breaking down stored fat into molecules called ketone bodies. The process is called ketosis. This shift happens when the body consumes most of its glycogen storage over two to four days of eating fewer than 20 to 50 grams of carbohydrates per day.
The ketogenic diet is rich in fats, super low on carbs, and moderate in proteins. It typically includes meats, eggs, cheeses, fish, nuts, various oils, seeds, and green vegetables with high fiber.
Due to its restrictive nature, a strict keto foods diet is tough to follow over the long run. That's partly why alternative low carb diets such as Atkins or Paleo could be a better alternative to Keto depending on your goals.
One of the main criticisms of the keto diet is that many people tend to overeat protein and poor-quality fats from processed foods, with very few fruits and vegetables. Patients with kidney disease need to be cautious because this diet could worsen their condition.
Additionally, some may feel a little tired in the beginning, while some may have bad breath, nausea, constipation, and sleep problems. These symptoms are summarized as "keto flu," and they are temporary as your body adjusts to its new metabolic state.
Apart from burning fat at an increased velocity, the keto diet has been shown to improve blood sugar control for patients with type 2 diabetes, at least in the short term. Its impact on cholesterol levels is somewhat controversial.
A few studies show some patients have an increase in cholesterol levels, in the beginning, only to see cholesterol fall a few months later, as the body continues to attack fat molecules for energy. However, I couldn't find any long-term research analyzing its effects over time on diabetes and high cholesterol.
The goal of this article is to inform you on the ketogenic diet. I cannot tell you what low carb diet to follow. What I can tell you is to wear meggings. I'm not an expert nutritionist, but I'm an expert gym rat, and I can testify that these compression leggings will change the way you look at your body; hence, what you put in it.