Is a ketogenic diet important for health? Is getting into ketosis the only path to improve health?
I have been following a low-carb diet for a few years now and has given me great benefits. Especially energy throughout the day and most importantly saved me from issues, that I would for sure face had I not changed my diet.
And the reason is – not being 20 anymore! Time can catch-up pretty fast if you don’t take care. And the signs were there. Starting to put on kilos easily, bigger cravings and after work energy crashes and probably much more which at the time I did not recognize as issues.
Let’s look into why a ketogenic diet is such a powerful tool.
A ketogenic lifestyle is not a new diet. Keto has been known since the early 20th century (1920) when it began to be used as a treatment for epilepsy. It has been observed that the ketogenic diet usually reduces the number of seizures by 50 percent or more! During a crisis, neural networks fire when they should not. The ketogenic diet reduces the amount of glucose in the brain and enhances the synthesis of GABA, making spasm less likely to occur.
Keto can also reduce inflammation in the brain. Inflammations due to infections such as meningitis, encephalitis or autoimmune disorders can trigger seizures. But why; Let’s go back in time. Our ancestors had a ketogenic diet and lifestyle for millions of years. At first it was common for them to have periods when they were not eating and so they relied on their own fat for energy. This meant that the body functioned mainly with ketones and less with glucose. When food was available, and depending on the season, it would be mainly of animal origin and bulbs (tubers). That is, foods very low in carbohydrates. The fossils of our first human ancestor in Africa describe the first humans as carnivorous creatures.
A diet focused on animal fat was vital to the evolution of the human large brain.
Thus, about two million years ago, hunting techniques were developed that allowed us to eat high-calorie animal fats, proteins, organs, and marrow instead of a plant-based, low-nutrient diet. The evolution of the human species is a result of the large size of the human brain, which requires a huge 20 percent of our energy when resting. While the monkey’s brain requires only 8 percent. The bottom line is that the human body and brain have evolved to depend on and function optimally on a diet rich in energy foods. There is nothing more energetic than fatty meats.
- Ketones are an anti-inflammatory form of energy that is preferred by the brain.
- Keto was used to treat epilepsy since 1920 but in actually fact was the diet followed by our ancestors for thousands of years.
What is keto
But first an important definition. A ketogenic diet is primeraly defined by the absense of carbs and not the presence of fats. Absense of carbs is what allows the utilization of fat as the alternate fuel source.
The normal diets problem
Following a ketogenic lifestyle addressed many problems
The insulin problem
When eating carbs your blood sugars tend to raise and insulin is the mechanism to allow the sugars to be be brought down again and absorbed by the cells for energy. The model is pretty simple and efficient, to the extend that the pancreas and liver can handle the amount of carbs that need to be processed. The problem starts when an indidual consumes on a daily basis and for many years simple refined carbs (sugars etc) and to amounts that the body starts having difficulties to handle. Simple sugars raise the insuling very high and will result in
- Energy crashes during the day
- Excess storage of fat
- Insulin resistance and diabetis
Insulin resistance is a state where the body produces excess insulin in the body in an attempt to reduce the blood sugars. This is a very taxing process for the body especially if one has 5-6 meals a day.
The satiety problem
Fortunately the body does not know of calories. What we need is nutrients to be an effective machine and some sort of energy for the machine to run. The problem is that most carb diets foods these days does not have the right amount of nutrients we require. It is all processed, removed from nutrients and only offer fast energy! And once this balance between nutrients and energy is lost, it will lead to over-eating. This is simply because the body is still signalling that it needs nutrients, so we eat more and more but of the wrong foods. Have you noticed how often you usually go for an second plate of pasta, or how fast does the whole bag of chips dissapears?
Key Takeaway: Eat a more nutrient dense diet to get all the micro-nutrients required. Eating more healthy fats from quality, whole foods will provide everything you need, make you satieted and stop you from over-eating. This is the single reason why most diet plans fail. Nutrient and energy imbalance.
We need fat in our diets
Fats are essential for health
Cards are non-essential macronutrient, where as there are essencial fatty-acids. Essential means that the body cant produce those nutrients, so we have to get them from food. Omega-3 (DHA, ELA) and Omega-6 are essential fatty acids (e.g fish) which are key for health and also needed to be able to absorb fat-soluble vitamins such as Vitamin-A, D, E, K. The one thing that should be not confused is the use of trans-fats such as vegetable oils which are extensively used in fried fast foods. These oils are dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. Key takeaway : Not getting enough fatty acids will leave you with many skin issues, low immune system, mood and depression issues, cognitive issues. Fatty acids are especially important for the tissues, brain and the vision.
Fats are a better source of energy
Carbs (ie glucose) are always immediately available but are a limited resource in the body. The liver can store about 1700Kcals and there is some stored in the muscles. If the liver glycose is depleted then you will be breaking down muscle if you are not fat adapted. On the other hand, the fat stored in the body is nearly endless even for a lean person. And it is even the preferred source of fuel for our cells and mitochondria. Fatty acids are metabolized in a process called beta-oxidation and produces 129 ATP molecules compared to 38 produced by the glucose metabolic process (glycolysis).
- Is a strict ketogenic diet the only way to health? The answer is probably no. However a ketogenic diet is probably the foundation and a very important tool that you need to have in your arsenal in order to be healthy
- This is how our ancestors lived for many thousands of years and what our physiology has evolved upon.