The keto-diet. Is it a fad? Is it a lifestyle? Is it good? Is it bad?
These are all questions my clients, friends and other colleagues ask me. Before I answer any of these questions, I feel that a brief history lesson is necessary.
A Brief History of Keto
The keto-diet was developed in the early 1920s to help children with epilepsy; they had enough evidence back then to prove that it was capable of reducing the severity and frequency of their seizures.
By the ‘40s, “Keto” found its way into medical textbooks and was cemented into the 20th century.
Among epileptics, the ketogenic diet is effective with populations such as:
- People with neurodegenerative disorders (MS, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s)
- People with traumatic brain injuries
In the ‘80s & ‘90s, athletes and bodybuilders began to pick up on the trend. The only issue is that it depends who you are as to whether you’ll see results. And by “who you are,” I mean: your biological make-up.
There are several reasons why it depends on your biological makeup; you will need to understand the science of ketosis, know what the keto-diet looks like and have a good understanding of your own biology.
What is ketosis?!
Before I explain what Ketosis is, I need to explain what Ketones are.
Ketones are organic compounds with a specific structure. The term ‘Ketone’ was coined in 1850 by a German chemist, Leopold Gmelin. There are two types of these ketones: acetoacetate and D- βeta-hydroxybutyrate are used for energy, while also boosting levels of antioxidants, helping scavenge free radicals, and reducing oxidative stress through something called Oxidation.
Oxidation is a natural part of our cellular metabolism, but with too much or no balance of antioxidants, we begin to endure metabolic disorders.
Ketosis occurs when the body doesn’t have sufficient access to glucose, which is the body’s usual fuel source. Once we enter ketosis, our bodies begin a new metabolic function: fat becomes the primary source of energy for the body, resulting in a build-up of ketones.
These fatty acids are combined with co-enzyme A to form acetyl-CoA chains. These chains move into the mitochondria (energy factories), which are then broken into acetyl-CoA units by βeta-oxidation. These Acetyl-CoA units begin to form the two ketones, plus acetone. Our liver then releases these ketones, which are fed to the rest of our body (predominantly our brain).
Ketosis has been shown to improve levels of HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol), and is currently being studied to identify whether or not it has a beneficial effect on Metabolic syndrome, Alzheimer’s, Acne, Cancer, Polycystic ovary disease and Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Being in Ketosis
With everything good, there is always something bad… Because our body releases acetone in the metabolism of ketones, a common symptom of ketosis is bad breath.
It is also important to be aware of how long you are in a state of ketosis. As ketone levels rise, the acidity in the blood also increases, leading to Ketoacidosis.
Ketoacidosis most commonly occurs in people with type-1 diabetes. It can also occur in people with type-2 diabetes, but it is less common.
Extended ketosis can also lead to nutrient deficiencies (keto-flu) in some people; women in particular are more sensitive to the keto diet – their bodies can sense less energy and fewer nutrients coming in, which has been shown to affect women’s menstrual cycles.
That being said…
Research has suggested that in some cases, such as type-2 diabetes, ketosis may be a short-term treatment that could boost metabolic processes back to a more normal and regulated state. This would require close medical supervision by the client’s GP.
It is also to be noted that there is a slight correlation to the improvement and reduction of neurodegenerative diseases
If you are looking to gain lean mass, the keto diet may not be ideal for you. Mainly, we need insulin and Growth Hormone to create an anabolic environment for muscle growth.
Trying to build muscle while in ketosis is incredibly difficult, because we are experiencing a lack of insulin due to the high fat / low carb diet.
While the keto diet has been proven to improve fat loss and overall weight-loss, it is not a sustainable diet for the long-term and, you should always consult with your physician when attempting to adopt a new diet.
I don’t recommend the ketogenic diet for sustainable fat loss.
If you’re a someone who simply wants to be healthy and fit, here are some better options to help you achieve those results:
1. Know your body and the demands of your sport.
Unless you’re an ultra-endurance athlete, becoming fat-adapted or adopting a ketogenic diet probably won’t improve your performance.
2. Don’t add stress.
Training is a good stress, but still a stressor. Fasting and restricting energy (i.e. calories) or a particular nutrient are also stressors. Stress adds up. Don’t add nutritional stress from a stringent diet to the mix.
3. Make meeting your nutritional needs your priority.
If you’re active, you need more fuel and nutrients than the average person. Rather than taking stuff OUT of your diet, look for where you can add good stuff IN: protein, vitamins, minerals, fiber, fatty acids, phytonutrients, water, etc. from whole, minimally processed foods.
If you’re looking for more information, coaching or assistance with dieting and nutrition, contact me HERE for a free consultation and assessment.
Wes Van Hart is a personal trainer, nutritionist (and far more), located in Toronto. Wes is an advocate for constantly improving both physical and mental health, and as such, he is dedicated to advancing his knowledge base, certifications and ability to help his clients, no matter how that looks.
Wes was the very first FitIn affiliate, and is a regular contributor to the FitIn blog.