A great nutritional strategy for many is to adopt a ketogenic diet. The name comes from the small energy compounds called ketones – which are an alternative fuel source when glucose is in short supply.
Ketones are produced if you eat very few carbohydrates and moderate amounts of protein. They are produced in the liver from fat and are a great fuel source especially for the brain as ketones are water soluble.
It is speculated that the bodies ability to manufacture and run on ketones has evolved from our hunter gatherer times. Over thousands of years of evolution humans have traded larger guts for bigger brains, the trade off being that the larger brains are extremely energy demanding. The problem with this especially during our hunter gatherer times is that food was not always readily available like it is today. Therefore finding a way to keep the body and brain fuelled in times of food scarcity became a crucial element to survival.
It is thought that ketogenisis, whereby the liver breaks down fat in order to make ketones was a key adaptation to our survival. This allowed our ancestors to go long periods without food yet still stay mentally sharpe enough to hunt and survive.
Today very few of us have to deal with food scarcity, quite the opposite. However, we can certainly take advantage of our bodies ability to go into ketosis and reap many health boosting benefits:
Health boosting benefits of a ketogenic diet
The main driver for the recent surge in popularity of the ketogenic diet is its ability to aid fat loss. There are many reasons why fat loss occurs with a ketogenic diet, such as:
- The reduced carbohydrate intake on a keto diet subsequently lowers insulin and thus improves insulin sensitivity.
- It enhancing the bodies ability to use fat as a fuel source which reduces feelings of hunger and so leads to better compliance.
- You are encouraged not to snack on a ketogenic diet so overall calories get reduced.
Increase mental performance
A great benefit to many on a ketogenic diet is that the ketones provide a great fuel source for the brain. Ketones are water soluble so pass the blood brain barrier easily:
- Many experience better concentration levels on a ketogenic diet.
- Other symptoms include reduced brain fog and increased metal clarity.
- The controlled steady release of ketones in the body provides a constant fuel source allowing for longer periods of concentration.
Improved Health markers
In order to get into ketosis you need to avoid eating many of the foods that lead to inflammation and disease such as cereals, sweetened drinks and junk food. This helps improve the following:
- Blood sugar levels are reduced which help with arterial blood vessel health and potentially help to reverse type 2 diabetes.
- Being on a ketogenic diet improves cholesterol profile through reduced inflammation.
- Blood pressure can improve.
- Fasted insulin improves thus helping your body cope with sugars better in the future.
- Better energy due to increased mitochondrial density.
What to eat on a ketogenic diet
The key is to base your meals around lean proteins, vegetables and healthy fats and abide by the following:
- Dramatically lower carbohydrate to under 50 grams a day – ideally below 20 grams. In order to get into ketosis the body must be starved of sugars for a sustained period of time, initially at least 2-3 days.
- Eat a moderate amount of protein, approximately 1 gram per kg of body weight. This is because excess protein will be broken down in the liver to glucose thus preventing ketosis occurring.
- The majority of your calories should come from healthy fats. Once wrongly vilified in main stream media, we are now seeing the benefits of eating healthy fats. Great sources are grass fed butter / olive oil / avocado and nuts.
- Avoid snacking. Eating too regularly prevents the body from going into ketosis, therefore to stay in ketosis it’s best to restrict your eating to 3 meals a day.
In summary you should eat
- Natural fats – butter / olive oil / avocado / dairy
- Veg grown above ground – broccoli, asparagus, spinach etc.
- Sea food
You should avoid
- Refined carbs like breads and pasta
- Grains such as rice and quinoa
- Sugary drinks
- Veg grown below ground – potatoes, carrots, parsnips
You should drink
A typical day will look like the following:
Breakfast: 3 eggs omlette with garlic, peppers and chives.
Lunch: Chicken salad with spinach, tomatoes, olives, avocado and olive oil.
Dinner: Seabass with green beans and butter.
Ketogenic Diet Summary
Adopting a ketogenic diet is a great nutritional strategy especially if you are over weight and insulin resistant. However it is not for everybody in particular if you are a type 1 diabetic as it can lead to ketoacidosis. (as a side note, a great resource for type 1 diabetes is: www.optimisingnutrition.com). Also if you are an athlete in a high intensity sport such as rugby or football then adopting a ketogenic diet may not be the best way to eat.
That being said the majority of people will experience a great deal of benefits through adopting a ketogenic approach to eating. For further information on this topic a great resource is: https://www.dietdoctor.com/low-carb/keto/diet-plan