What is ketosis? What’s a ketogenic diet and why would you be on one? Since I’ve been having many variations of this conversation for the last few months, I thought I’d answer some of those questions here.
In short, ketosis is when your body switches from running on glucose (sugar) to fat. Being in a ketogenic state suppresses appetite, improves cognition, and is an effective weight loss solution. Studies have shown its efficacy in substantial weight loss, reductions in seizures, markers of diabetes and more. Even if you don’t have much weight to lose, entering into a state of ketosis can be helpful for other reasons — such as for improved energy levels, mental capabilities and mood stabilization.
So if it makes you smarter and thinner, why isn’t everyone doing it? In short, it’s pretty different from how most people eat, and requires planning and self-monitoring to get there. To get your body into ketosis, it has to be deprived of all carbohydrates; then it will switch to fat for fuel. When this happens, levels of ketones increase in your blood and your body officially is in “ketosis” or a “ketogenic state” (literally meaning “producing ketones”). Your neurons actually prefer to run on fat, which is why ketosis boasts so many cognitive benefits. Most ketogenic (keto) diets are high in natural fats, moderate in protein and severely restrict the number of carbs eaten each day.
How Ketosis Works
- You drastically cut consumption of glucose from carbohydrate foods — grains, starchy vegetables, fruit, etc
- This forces your body to find an alternative fuel source: fat (think avocados, coconut oil, salmon)
- In the absence of glucose, the body starts to burn fat and produces ketones
- Once ketone levels in the blood rise to a certain point, you enter into a state of ketosis.
- This state results in quick and consistent weight loss until you reach a healthy, stable body weight
How does this happen? To make a complicated process far simpler, your liver breaks down fat in a process called beta oxidation. Ketones are the product of your body breaking down fatty acids. They circulate in you bloodstream, and when they are present at a specific level, you’re body literally becomes a fat burning machine. Alas, the path to fat burning mode isn’t always pleasant. If you’ve never experimented with ketosis before, you will likely experience what’s known as the ketosis flu.
- Fatigue and low energy
- Difficulty sleeping
- Moodiness and irritability
- Low libido
- Bad breath
- Increased cravings for sugar & carbs
- Digestive issues & water retention
This may last 1-2 weeks but the good news is you are unlikely to experience all of those symptoms and may experience none at all. And while none of those symptoms are fun, they are all signs that your body is successfully switching into ketogenic mode. And how do you know for sure? Technically speaking, ketosis defined by blood serum ketone levels between 0.5 to 3.0 mM. Some believe that 1.5 – 3 mmol/L is “optimal ketosis” which might contribute to the most weight loss. Every person is a bit different in terms of what exact macronutrient ratio will keep them in this range, while also allowing them to feel their best in terms of energy levels and other symptoms. You can experiment with different carb amounts while testing to see how this affects your ketone levels, aiming to remain in nutritional ketosis (0.5 to 3.0 mM), as long as you feel well doing so. Try to test at the same time each day for consistency and avoid testing right after exercise.
Measuring for Ketones
- Using a blood ketone meter: These use test trips and provide precise measurements of levels of BHB ketones in your blood. They can be purchased online and sometimes are a bit costly, but are a reliable way to know you’re consuming the right macronutrient ratio to remain in ketosis.
- Performing urine strip tests: You can measure ketone levels by using inexpensive urine strips, which is cost efficient and simple to do. However, the downside is that only acetoacetate ketone levels are revealed, not levels of BHB (beta hydroxy butyrate – another type of ketone). Two popular types are called Ketostix and Uriscan
- Using a breathalyzer: These measure the ketone called acetone and don’t require strips, however they may not be as accurate as blood tests.
How To Get Into Ketosis
Once you successfully switch to ketosis, you should aim to stay there. In addition to the benefits listed above like weight loss, you will also experience less cravings and overall hunger. So how exactly do you do it?
- Aim to get 60–80 percent of your daily calories from sources of fat. Between 15–25 percent of calories should be from protein sources, and only about 5–10 percent from carbohydrates (this will likely be very different from your current diet).
- Generally, this looks like 20–30 grams of net carbs (total grams of carbs minus grams of fiber) a day.
- Include more carbs to begin with during your transition into ketosis, in order to help you adjust and minimize the effects of keto flu. Aim for around 50–60 grams net carbs daily in the beginning while you work towards decreasing to 20–30 grams if you wish.
- The ketogenic diet takes into account net grams of carbohydrates, not simply total grams. Net carbohydrates are the amount of carbohydrates left over after you subtract grams of fiber from total grams of carbohydrates. For example, if vegetables you’re eating have 5 grams of carbohydrates total, but 3 grams come from fiber, the total number of net carbohydrates is only 2 grams, which is the number you add to your daily total.
Incorporating Intermittent Fasting (IF) and Coffee
Once you get into a ketogenic state, it’s much easier to stay there. In addition to the cognitive benefits of running on fat, not having cravings or even hunger frees up energy which allow for improved mental performance. This means while you’re eating dense, fat heavy meals, you aren’t really thinking about food and can more easily fast. Ketones also suppress appetite in a variety of more significant ways because they affect hunger and satiety hormones. Ketosis suppresses ghrelin- your body’s “I’m hungry” hormone and increases cholecystokinin (or CCK – signaling satiety). And these effects continue even when you return to consuming higher levels of carbohydrates. After two weeks of return to non-ketotic levels (blood ketones measured 0.19 mM), subjects’ rates of hunger and desire to eat were significantly lower than pre-weight loss levels. So, if you time it correctly, cyclical ketosis is just as effective as a full time ketogenic diet.
A ketogenic diet goes hand in hand with Intermittent Fasting (IF). While there are several types of IF, most common is where you eat 6-8 hours per day and fast for 16-18. While this might sound extreme, you time so that you’re sleeping the bulk of those hours. Stopping eating at 6pm and then starting again at 10am, or 8pm until 12 noon. Since working with patients and weight loss, something I’ve found is a lot of excess caloric consumption (or binging, if you will) occurs at night. If you can commit to closing the kitchen and 6pm or 8pm (depending on your schedule), you’ll obviously eat less but will also eat less junk.
One “trick” to achieve this longer fasted state more easily is with Bulletproof Coffee. This takes really clean coffee (no pesticides, chemicals or mold – 91% of the coffee in this country has ochratoxin A, a mold toxin and all conventional coffee has 27 pesticides a cup – yum!) and combines it with Brain Octane Oil (a super clarified coconut oil and GREAT exogenous source of ketones) and grass fed butter or clarified ghee. This not only feeds your brain but because there’s no carbohydrates or protein involved, your body still thinks it’s fasting. If you have this upon waking, it buys you at least a few hours until you are actually hungry.
So, to summarize:
Benefits of Ketosis
1. Weight Loss
People often adopt a ketogenic diet as a lifestyle, while the same can hardly ever be said for diets that restrict calories and fat, because you are simply too hungry.
When you eat more food than your body needs, it’s converted to triglycerides and stored inside your fat cells. The more often you keep consuming large amounts of glucose through carbohydrate heavy foods, the less your body needs to tap into existing sources for energy, making weight loss more difficult. Reducing carbohydrate consumption like this means that the majority of empty calories from processed foods must be eliminated from your diet, including things like bread and rolls, pasta, rice or other grains, sugar-sweetened beverages, desserts, etc. In their absence, the body starts burning its own excess fat stores instead, promoting weight loss.
2. Suppressed Hunger & Reduced Cravings
Remaining in ketosis doesn’t require counting calories, measuring portions or dealing with hunger pangs for the sake of eating as little as possible. Most people feel satisfied and energized while in ketosis and find that they can go for longer periods without the need to eat (which is why intermittent fasting is commonly practiced with a keto diet).
Compared to meals that mostly contains carbs, high-fat, moderate protein meals are very filling and do a great job of controlling hunger hormones, often for many hours. This results in less need for snacking or grazing throughout the day, especially on junk foods or sweets (read: empty calories that rob you of nutrients, mental clarity and increase your potential for a litany of other health issues – see below).
3. Improvements in Blood Sugar Control & Heart Health
The keto diet can also drastically improve other health conditions tied to factors like poor blood sugar management, overeating and poor gut health. These contribute to common health problems such as
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Indigestion, including IBS symptoms and acid reflux
- Even cancer and tumor growth
- Historically, the keto diet was founded in the 1920s as treatment for controlling seizures and epilepsy
4. More Energy & Enhanced Mental Focus
Your neurons actually prefer to run on fat and the presence of good fats reduces inflammation. You’re less distracted by hunger and food cravings which frees up mental energy. Your mood is less affected by the sugar rollercoaster and your energy is more sustained.
5. Reduced Risk for Other Chronic Diseases (Especially Neurological)
A keto diet can help treat or manage serious diseases including epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s Disease and certain types of cancer. Studies show the diet helps to reduce disruptions in nerve and neural activity in the brain.
While it’s still not entirely clear how the keto diet helps treat these conditions, most experts believe that drastically cutting off glucose supply and entering ketosis helps elicit biochemical changes that prevent and eliminate short-circuits in the brain’s signaling system that are responsible for cellular damage, seizure and tumor growth.
For more information on the value of ketosis in conjunction with Bulletproof coffee, listen to this audio blog with Dominic D’Agostino here. For foods to consume on a keto diet, check out this article by Dr. Josh Axe (a fellow chiropractor) here.
Did you know we have Bulletproof Coffee supplies at Absolute Wellness? We carry Bulletproof coffee beans and ground coffee as well as Brain Octane Oil. Stop by for yours!