You are likely sick of hearing about the ketogenic diet, but I feel that it's important to share some basic information before I begin sharing some of my favorite keto recipes here at Sage & Clover.
What is the ketogenic diet?
The ketogenic diet is a way of eating in which the carbohydrates, or sugars, are restricted to 20-30grams per day in an effort to allow the body to adapt to using fat as a source of fuel, in place of carbohydrates.
Fat As a Source of Fuel
The body can naturally run on two types of fuel. Carbohydrates and fat.
Most of us are used to running on carbohydrates. We eat lots of grains, veggies, fruit and limit our fat intake. When we eat like this, our body burns the carbohydrates, the glucose (sugar) enters the blood and our body releases insulin, which pulls the glucose into our cells to keep them running.
We gain weight when we have too much glucose to be pulled into the cells and it is instead "saved for later" in the form of fat tissue (adipose). This issue happening repeatedly over a number of years can lead to our bodies not seeing the insulin we've sent to bring the sugar to the cells, which leads to Type 2 Diabetes and other health complications.
With the ketogenic diet, the body becomes adapted to running on fat. To do this, our body begins to create a molecule called a ketone body. The ketone body is produced in the liver via the breakdown of a fatty acid. When the ketone bodies are produced, our cells can gobble them up and use them for energy. More information on ketone bodies here
When our body becomes used to running on ketone bodies, it burns fat more efficiently. This is why fat loss and ketogenic diets go hand in hand. We think that our only source of fat is through our diet, but in fact, our body has stored fat that isn't used when we burn carbohydrates for fuel. So, if we get our body into a state where it is comfortable burning fat, we can use both nutritional AND internal sources of fat to create these ketone bodies.
Why 20-30 grams of carbohydrates? It's all in the math
The "Standard American Diet" suggests that carbohydrates make up around 60% of the daily calories consumed. That means, if somone is eating 1700 calories per day, 60% = 1020 calories from carbohydrates. This doesn't only include things like chocolate, candy, juice and pop, but it also includes fruits, veggies, complex carbohydrates from grains and some root veggies. If we convert 1020 calories to grams of carbohydrates (4 calories = 1 gram), thats about 255 grams of carbohydrates per day.
That is quite the difference from 20-30grams, isn't it?
With the ketogenic diet, carbohydrates are reduced to 5% of the overall calorie limit. So again, let's say someone is eating 1700 calories per day, 5% = 85 calories from carbohydrates. At 4 calories per 1 gram of carbohydrates, that means that the overall amount of carbohydrates is about 22 grams.
Why keep the carbs low?
When we keep the carbs low, our bodies must learn to run on fat! We are essenitally forcing it to efficiently use the dietary and internal fat sources for fuel in place of always expecting a burst of carbohydrates.
When we consider a ketogenic diet, most people start with a breakdown of 70% fat, 25% protein and 5% carbohydrates. If you're not into the math, that's ok. There are simple ways to follow the keto diet without tracking.
Low Carb doesn't sound safe. What about "everything in moderation?"
I'm not here to discuss if the keto diet is safe for individual patients, but what I can tell you is that there is a lot of legitimate research surrounding low carbohydrate diets. If you've ever heard of the Atkins diet, then you are likely familiar with low carb. But, what the Atkins diet leaves out is the focus on FATS! If you aren't eating many carbs, and just eating protein with a touch of fat, you're likely not very satisfied and your kidneys are working overtime to handle all of the protein (read about the "comparisons" on the Atkins website). Additionally, the body is able to make sugar out of protein if you eat too much! However, if you cut out the majority of carbohydrates, moderate your protein and LOAD UP ON FAT you have a no fail way to live a long and healthy life- and eat well while doing so!
Fats are bad though, right?
Not at all. Way back in the 1950s and 1960s the sugar industry paid researchers at Harvard University to review and publish an article about research studies on fat vs. sugar and it's link to heart disease. Well, as you can imaging, when the sugar industry has paid for something, it's obviously going to show them in a positive light. Which is where the idea that fat causes heart disease came from. The researchers used studies chosen and submitted by the sugar industry. Each study was carefully selected to show a correlation between fat and heart disease. This landmark review became the basis for many of our current health laws, rules and regulations. It is the basis for the food pyramid in the US and Canada's Food Guide.
It has since been discovered by a research team in California that this coersion by the sugar industry influenced this landmark paper and they are now working on reversing the issues that this has caused. And it's not as simple as you might think. When fat was villianized, sugar became the superhero. Take baked goods for example. Doctors, dietitians and foodstuff companies said "remove the fat" and "increase the sugar." This is why the sugar industry saw a HUGE growth in sales after this review paper was published in the New England Journal of Medicine (see the paper here).
A Ketogenic diet should only be undertaken when a qualified medical practitioner has been consulted.
The NY Times wrote a great article on the subject of Sugar vs. Fat and Heart Disease
A Google Scholar listing of scientific articles on "ketogenic diet"
DietDoctor.com is a wonderful resource for patients and practioners