The ketogenic diet has been around for 90 years. It was created by Dr. Russell Wilder, at the Mayo Clinic in 1924 and was found to be highly effective in treating epilepsy. By the 1940’s, with the introduction of new anti-seizure medications, it fell out of popularity. Fast forward to today and I’m happy to report that the ketogenic diet is having a come back.
A ketogenic diet places your body into a state of nutritional ketosis where your metabolism creates energy from ketone bodies (by-products of breaking down fatty acids for energy) in the blood. Nutritional ketosis contrasts with the glycolysis state, where most of your body’s energy is derived from blood glucose. A ketogenic diet enables your body to burn fat rather than carbohydrates (glucose) for energy. As a result, nutritional ketosis promotes fat burning and weight loss much more efficiently than when your body is relying primarily on glucose for fuel.
The ketogenic diet promotes fat loss and health.
Glycolysis is a metabolic pathway that results in the conversion of glucose into energy (ATP). When the body is producing fuel primarily through glycolysis, energy stores must be replenished on a regular basis, for the body can only store glucose (in our muscles and liver in the form of glycogen) for 12-16 hours. When stored glucose runs out, then the body resorts to using other forms of fuel for energy. Since most people are in the habit of eating every few hours, running out of glycogen rarely happens if ever. The ketogenic diet essentially eliminates glucose, so the body has to burn stored fat for energy. This is one reason the ketogenic diet is an excellent approach to weight loss. In addition, here are 5 additional surprising benefits of the ketogenic diet.
1. It Improves Cholesterol and Triglyceride Profiles
A study published in Experimental and Clinical Cardiology in 2004 found that a long-term ketogenic diet had many beneficial effects on blood lipids in addition to reducing body weight and body mass index in obese patients. Levels of triglycerides, LDL (bad) cholesterol, and blood glucose all dropped, and HDL (good) cholesterol levels rose. This study also concluded that the ketogenic diet did not appear to produce negative side effects when used for a longer time period (24 weeks) than previously studied.
2. It Can Reduce Food Cravings While Aiding Weight Loss
When you eat carbohydrates of any type, your body releases insulin, which raises blood glucose levels. Insulin signals cells to store energy initially as glycogen, but if glycogen stores are full, that resource of energy is stored as fat. Nutritional ketosis, in contrast, has minimal impact on insulin. By keeping the body’s carbohydrate stores nearly empty, insulin levels don’t spike after meals. The result is that your body burns its own fat for energy, so you lose weight quicker and don’t experience the energy highs and lows of a carbohydrate-based diet. In addition, your body continues to burn fat when you’re inactive or sleeping. Over time, people on a ketogenic diet experience fewer hunger pangs, fewer food cravings and more balanced energy levels.
3. It May Help Preserve Muscle Mass
One of the genes associated with longevity is designed to cripple degradation of amino acids known as branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). Leucine is a BCAA, for example. Less degradation of BCAAs can help preserve muscle mass as well as increasing creation of new cellular mitochondria in muscles, including the heart. BCAAs are structurally similar to ketones, but the ketogenic diet preferentially metabolizes ketones, sparing the BCAAs so more BCAAs remain circulating. Hence, it’s easier to maintain muscle mass.
Nutritional ketosis can help you retain amino acids that help preserve muscle mass.
4. It May Fight Cancer
Cancer cells feed on sugar. In fact, high-tech PET scans test for cancer by using a radioactive tracer that is similar to the glucose that the body normally burns for energy. Higher levels of the tracer show up where tumors are actively consuming sugar. The ketogenic diet eliminates sugars and some experts suspect it may be effective in fighting cancer. Healthy cells in the body are able to use fat for energy, but cancer cells cannot. On a ketogenic diet there is very little sugar circulating in your system, which means the main fuel source for cancer cells is not available.
5. Brain Health May Benefit
Some doctors are exploring the possibility that the ketogenic diet may treat Alzheimer’s disease. In Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia, the brain’s nerve system is degenerated. We know that a diet that is made up of around 70% healthy (monounsaturated) fats benefits the brain. And we are also learning the many ways in which sugar impairs brain function. Expect to see more research about the effects of a ketogenic diet on brain health.
You Can Begin by Adding Healthy Fats to Your Diet
If you’re not sure where to start, you can begin by adding healthy saturated fats into your regimen, like coconut oil or mct oils, like BulletProof Brain Octane, which I use. Omega-3 fatty acids found in flaxseeds, chia seeds, salmon and sardines, are superb additions to your diet. Omega-9 fatty acids, which are in avocados, sprouted seeds, almonds, walnuts and olive oil are also healthy fats to include in your diet. The other key, of course, is cutting out sugars and non-fiber carbohydrates.
These two actions will help your body burn fat rather than sugar, and
help you keep glucose and insulin levels in check.