Healthy Eating Series: Everything You Need to Know About Ketogenic Diet

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If you’ve been looking to improve your diet, you’ve probably come across the Ketogenic diet. But with diets, there’s no one size fits all.

Like any other diet, it comes with its pros and cons, and it may or may not be right for you. Keep reading for an in-depth look at the Ketogenic diet to decide if it can provide health and wellness to your current lifestyle.

What is the Ketogenic Diet?

The Ketogenic diet is a low-carb, high fat plan that was first developed back in the 1920’s to help epileptic patients. When these people fasted, or avoided eating foods for a short amount of time, especially carbohydrates, researchers found that people had fewer seizures.

What’s more, this brief fasting benefitted other areas of their health, including their hunger, sugar and cholesterol levels.

But fasting isn’t a very sustainable or healthy method to obtain these benefits. So, the Ketogenic diet was designed to mimic starvation, while providing improvement in other areas of the body.

If the Ketogenic diet could benefit epileptic patients, could it help other individuals like you and me, too?

The answer is yes.

What Does “Ketogenic” Mean?

The term “Ketogenic” comes from the word, “ketosis”. Ketosis is a metabolic state in which the body gets its energy from ketones instead of glucose.

So, the Ketogenic diet revolves around your body’s metabolism process. Basically, with a Ketogenic diet, you switch up your energy source from blood glucose, or sugar, to ketone bodies.

What Happens on the Ketogenic Diet?

Now, you might be wondering what the big deal is about switching your energy source from glucose to ketones.

It’s a big deal if you consider that most American adults eat a high carbohydrate / glucose diet. And if you eat a high glucose diet, your body is used to getting its energy from the glucose you consume. Your body can’t produce glucose.

When you cut back on carbohydrates (sugar) and increase your fat intake, your body has less sugar to metabolize.

But it still needs energy to function and survive, right? This is especially true for your brain, which requires a lot of fuel, and is accustomed to getting the majority of its fuel from glucose.

When you don’t give your body enough sugar to metabolize for energy production, your body is smart, and turns to its fat stores. Your body starts burning fat for energy.

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In fact, your body can quickly become a fat-burning machine. And don’t worry about your brain – it’s getting fuel because the liver transforms fat into ketones, which provide the brain with necessary energy.

It doesn’t take very long for the body to be forced to turn to its fat stores as a source of energy. Furthermore, since your body is burning fat, that means you can lose weight with a diet like this.

Different Ketogenic Diets

Even though the Ketogenic diet operates under one guiding principle (low carbohydrates and high fat intake), there are several different approaches.

  • Standard Ketogenic Diet (SKD): With this approach, you consume about 75% fat, 20% protein and a mere 5% of carbohydrates.
  • High-Protein Ketogenic Diet: The only different between this plan at the Standard Ketogenic Diet is the protein intake. With this diet, you get about 60% fat, 35% protein and still just about 5% of carbohydrates.
  • Targeted Ketogenic Diet (TKD): If you work out frequently, this might be a good plan for you as it allows you to increase your carbohydrate consumption surrounding your exercise routines.
  • Cyclical Ketogenic Diet (CKD): This diet makes room for more carbohydrate intake, but only for two, consecutive days, followed by five days of the Ketogenic diet.

How should you decide which ketogenic diet is best for you? It’s a good idea to discuss your options with your primary care physician. They will take into consideration your medical history, including blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and whether or not you’re pregnant and / or breastfeeding.

As always, if any diet makes you feel worse in the long run, it might not be providing your body with the nutrition it needs.

Will I Get the “Keto Flu” on a Ketogenic Diet?

Because the Ketogenic diet brings about a huge shift in your body’s metabolic processes, it’s natural for you to feel differently (and a little worse) during the first couple weeks. These side effects are sometimes referred to as the “Keto Flu”, and can make you feel weak, tired, moody, constipated, interrupt your sleep patterns and make you lose your libido.

Luckily, not everyone experiences all the symptoms of “Keto Flu”, and fortunately, these symptoms fade once your body becomes accustomed to the ketosis process.

In the meantime, you can increase three specific minerals to counteract the effects of the Keto Flu. Up your sodium intake to 3,000 – 4,000 mg each day. Try to get 1,000 mg of potassium, and about 300 mg of magnesium daily.

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However, if these and any other symptoms continue for more than a couple weeks, it’s best to reconsider the Ketogenic diet. Or, to adjust your Ketogenic diet to better suit your nutritional needs.

Health Risks Associated with the Ketogenic Diet

There is scientific literature showing that the Ketogenic diet can cause many adverse reactions to certain individuals. They can include any of the following:

  • Inflammation
  • Kidney Stones
  • Gastrointestinal disturbances
  • Hair loss
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Muscle weakness and / or cramps
  • Lower concentration and cognition
  • Altered mood
  • Nutrient deficiency
  • Menstrual difficulties and amenorrhea
  • Heart arrhythmia

Because a Ketogenic diet mimics starvation, it definitely alters the way your body’s systems operate. As you can see, for certain individuals, a Ketogenic diet can be more detrimental than beneficial to their health.

Health Benefits Associated with the Ketogenic Diet

Luckily, not all individuals experience adverse reactions with Ketogenic diets. In fact, there is an equally long list of positive benefits from these types of low carb, high fat diets. Here are just some of them:

  • Weight Loss and Obesity prevention
  • Reduction in epileptic seizures
  • Improvements in Autism
  • Improvements in Bipolar disorders
  • Relief for traumatic brain injuries
  • Relief for PCOS
  • Improvements in neurodegenerative disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease
  • More Physical Endurance
  • Better Concentration and focus
  • Improvements in Diabetic patients
  • Potential protection from Cancer
  • Improves Heart Health

It’s clear that ketogenic diets can be powerful methods to combat serious health conditions. And if you suffer from any of these issues, it’s well worth considering along with the guidance and counsel of your primary care physician.

What Foods Are Allowed in Ketogenic Diets?

Typical ketogenic diets include natural fats, seafood, fish, meat, cheese, eggs and certain vegetables. Let’s take a closer look at each food group:

  • Natural fats: Your diet should include oils such as olive, coconut, avocado, butter, palm and nut and seed oils
  • Seafood and fish: Wild-caught fish, rich in polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats, such as salmon.
  • Meat: Grass-fed beef, organic chicken, organic meat, organ meats.
  • Cheese: Raw cheese, organic cheese, and cultured dairy, such as yogurt.
  • Vegetables: Leafy vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, sea vegetables, asparagus and artichokes. It’s best to avoid vegetables that grow above the ground. Therefore, potatoes and root vegetables aren’t encouraged. While it’s true that carbohydrates are allowed, it’s optimal to consume less than 50 grams of carbohydrates per day.
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How to Meet Your Nutritional Needs with the Ketogenic Diet

Because Ketogenic diets drastically cut back on your carbohydrate intake, some people wonder if they can meet their body’s nutritional needs.

It is possible to fuel your body with all the necessary vitamins and minerals with a ketogenic diet. But it’s still a good idea to pay attention to what you’re eating to ensure your nutritional needs are being met.

Animal-based foods, such as meat, seafood and poultry, are all adequate sources of B Vitamins, as well as Vitamins A and D. Animal sources are also a great way to get your daily intake of calcium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and iron. Plant-based food sources, on the other hand, such as vegetables and fruits, are a good supply of Vitamins C, E and K.

As you can see, animal-based food sources, which make up the majority of the ketogenic diet, provide your body with many necessary nutrients.

Plant sources, especially green leafy veggies, cruciferous veggies, sea vegetation, artichokes and asparagus can fill in the rest of your nutritional needs.

Ketogenic Diets Versus Other Similar Diets

You may notice may similarities between ketogenic diets and other trends. What’s the difference between them all? Here’s a brief breakdown.

  • Ketogenic Versus Paleo: Ketogenic diets are very strict about fat, protein and carbs proportions in order to achieve ketosis. Paleo diets do not aim to mimic starvation, and while they do eliminate dairy, processed foods and grains, you can eat fat, protein and carbs in proportions that you choose.
  • Ketogenic Versus Atkins: They are both ketogenic diets, at least at the outset. But eventually, people on the Atkins diet are allowed to increase their carbohydrate in-take.
  • Ketogenic Versus Vegan: This one is pretty obvious. The ketogenic is brimming with animal food sources, while a vegan diet excludes all animal-based foods.

It’s important to remember that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all diet. And while the Ketogenic diet might sound ideal, it’s always a good idea to do your own research and consult with your primary care physician before introducing it into your lifestyle. Your body’s nutritional needs are unique and this unique diet may be a good match for you.