What is the Keto diet?

Image found at: clevlandclinic.org

“What is the Keto diet?  Should I try it?”  These are two questions I have heard numerous times while at the gym and have been asked directly several times recently by family members.  To understand the Keto diet, it helps to understand the basic energy system our bodies run on.  Carbohydrates, protein and fats are macronutrients that our bodies use for fuel.  Our bodies love to run on carbohydrate i.e. sugar.  I know this sentence makes some people cringe but it is true.  Carbohydrates are a valuable and easily accessible fuel source for our bodies and most important, our brains.  When we eat carbohydrates, they are quickly digested into sugar that enters our circulating blood stream resulting in the release of insulin.  The circulating sugar keeps our brains running happily and the insulin release into our circulation results in the sugar being taken up into various tissues like muscle, so we can sustain work.  Protein is used by our bodies as building blocks, especially for maintaining and building muscle.  Finally, fats are a very rich energy source that can be stored for when we need energy but have exhausted our carbohydrate supplies.  When we have gone for a long time without consuming any food, like during a long-term fast, our liver will actually produce sugar or glucose (a process called gluconeogenesis) in order to keep our blood glucose at a specific level, to keep our brains happy and to prevent hypoglycemia which can lead to really bad things like coma and death.  If this fasting goes on for a prolonged period of time, the liver will actually start breaking down fats for energy.  The products of this process are called ketones.  Ketones will leave the liver, enter circulation and be taken up by tissues like muscle for energy, a process termed ketosis.  This is the fundamental principle of the Keto diet.  It can be thought of as:  fat breakdown drives ketone production and ketones are used for energy equating to ketosis.  The key for ketosis to occur is the absence of carbohydrate.  As soon as carbohydrates are on board, our bodies will grab them and start burning them for fuel.  It should also be noted that there is a point at which ketones can do harm.  When ketones build up in our tissues a condition called ketoacidosis can occur.  This is most prevalent in diabetics whose bodies lack the production of insulin (type I diabetes) but it is something to be aware of.   Personally, I have not tried to keto diet, mostly because I really, really love eating a variety of whole foods.  To be in ketosis, you are required to consume next to nothing in the way of carbohydrates and carbohydrates are in the whole foods I love like fruit and vegetables.  Oh, and I also do enjoy the occasional beer!  For me, I envision palate fatigue as a huge personal barrier with the Keto diet.  That being said, people on the Keto diet have success losing weight and the Keto diet has benefit for people with certain medical conditions so I will defer to a statement I came across recently:  if you are interested, be your own laboratory!

For more scientific insight on the Keto diet check out this link:  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28141738

2 thoughts on “What is the Keto diet?

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  1. I have heard there could be a connection between Keto diet & triggering a thyroid issue later in life? Could you make a connection to this?

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    1. There is a variety of commentary you come across via search engines if you look up Keto and thyroid function but I checked the scientific literature at a NIH sponsored site: PubMed. Looks like there is no data to support a link between Keto and thyroid function but there is currently a clinical trial on-going that may assess this:
      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29361967

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