What is Ketosis?
The question is simple, what is Ketosis? Ketosis is a natural metabolic state where the body uses its fat stores. It does this rather than using carbohydrates as its main fuel source.
Food is the primary source of energy for our bodies. Three main nutrients in food provide the body’s energy needs. These nutrients are carbohydrates, fat, and protein.
Under a normal, well balanced diet, the body will first break down carbohydrates from foods, followed by fat and protein. If the body does not have access to enough carbohydrates (glucose), either induced or naturally, it will burn fat instead so as to meet its energy needs.
What is ketosis? This is ketosis. In this state, the body is almost completely fuelled by fat.
Ketosis occurs when a person’s carbohydrate intake is very low. When the body results to breaking down fat, it produces an acid called ketones or ketone bodies. This acid becomes your body’s main source of energy.
As a result of the metabolic shift and reliance on fat for energy, the body burns fat at a higher rate. This comes with the benefit of rapid weight loss, improved health and performance. It is for this reason that ketosis is advanced as one of the ways whip your body into the right shape and improve your health.
However, ketosis also has potential side effects. For individuals with type 1 diabetes and certain other rare situations, excessive ketosis can be fatal.
Learn about how to get into ketosis, harness its full benefits, while avoiding any potential problems.
The “keto” in ketosis comes from the word “ketones”. Ketones are the small fuel molecules in the body alternatively known as ketone bodies. This is an alternative fuel for the body produced from fat and used when blood sugar, glucose, is in short supply. Ketones are produced when you consume limited amounts of carbohydrates and only moderate amounts of protein. This balance is very important in achieving ketosis and staying in ketosis. If one was to consume more carbohydrates, the body would revert back to default and use the carbs as the main source of blood sugar. On the other hand, consuming excess protein would put you out of ketosis as excess protein is converted to carbs. This process is known as gluconeogenesis.
Under the right balance, the liver converts fat to ketones which then enter into the bloodstream. They are then used up as fuel by the cell in the same way as glucose. More importantly, ketones are used as brain fuel. The brain is a very hungry organ and it cannot be directly fuelled by fat so ketones are a vital alternative.
Benefits of Ketosis
Ketosis, either through a ketogenic diet or intermittent fasting, offers important benefits to the body. Some of these benefits are;
Ketosis turns your body into a fat burning machine. Insulin, which is a fat storing hormone, levels drop which promotes fat burning significantly. This is beneficial for weight loss as it becomes easier for the body to lose fat without hunger. Studies have shown that keto diet is a more effective and faster way to achieve weight loss.
When the body has finally accustomed to ketosis, you are likely to gain more control over your appetite. Your body is burning fat 24/7 and it has access to weeks or months of stored energy. Studies have shown that this reduces the feelings of hunger. This makes it easier to control how much you eat and when you eat which also promotes weight loss. Intermittent fasting also becomes easier. This will additionally speed up weight loss and super-charge efforts to reverse type 2 diabetes. In the long run, it will save you money and help you get over certain food addictions.
Control Blood Sugar and Reverse Type 2 Diabetes
Ketosis helps regulate blood sugar levels. It is also very effective in managing type 2 diabetes, sometimes even resulting in complete reversal. By lowering blood sugar levels, ketosis reduces the need for expensive medications. It also helps avert the potential negative impacts of high insulin levels.
Improved General Health Markers
Ketosis has been shown to improve several of the important risk factors for heart disease such as the cholesterol profile. It also typical to observe improved insulin levels, blood sugar levels and blood pressure. These markers are connected to metabolic syndrome, and improvements in waist circumference, weight etc. all these improvements indicate general improvement in one’s health.
Energy and Mental Performance
Studies have shown that some people experience increased energy while in ketosis. For this reason, some people use ketosis, specifically to boost their mental performance. While on ketosis, the brain operates without dietary carbs. Instead, it is fuelled by ketones which is an effective brain fuel. Ketosis produces a steady flow of ketones (fuels) as opposed to carbs which often come with big blood sugar swings. This steady supply of brain fuel results in improved concentration, focus, mental clarity and resolution of brain fog.
Ketosis through a ketogenic diet results in a calmer stomach, less cramps, reduced cramps, less gas and pains. Some people get on the ketogenic diet specifically for this reason as their top benefit. It also helps that it only takes a day or two to achieve this benefit.
Increased Physical Endurance
In theory, ketosis gives you access to vast amounts of energy in your fat reserves. In turn, this improves your physical endurance. In comparison, the body’s supply of glycogen, carbohydrates, only last several hours of intense exercise. Fat reserves carry enough energy to last you day and even weeks. In additional to more energy supply, ketosis helps you reduce your body fat percentage. This reduction comes in handy for a variety of endurance sports in addition to making it easier for the body to achieve fitness.
As early as the 1920s, ketosis has been proven to be a highly effective medical therapy for epilepsy. Although traditionally used for children, adults have also benefited from this therapy in recent years. Through a ketogenic diet, more people are able to take less or no anti-epileptic drugs without the risk of seizures. In the long-run, this reduces drug side effects, allows the body to heal and repair naturally while also improving mental performance.
Apart from the above, more common benefits, ketosis also has more surprising and less known benefits. These include;
- Helps normalize blood pressure
- Helps manage acne
- Helps with certain mental health issues
- Helps control migraines
- Helps reduce heartburns
- Helps manage Alzheimer’s disease
- It is a potential treatment for brain cancer
How to Achieve Ketosis Successfully and Safely
Achieving ketosis and maintaining the body in ketosis is not straight forward, but it is not rocket science either. There are two ways to enter the state of ketosis. Eating a ketogenic diet and doing intermittent fasting.
Intermittent fasting does not suggest going days without food but rather going for periods of fasting intermittently. What does intermittent fasting mean? You can eat for 8 hours in a day and then fast the remaining 16 hours. Alternatively, you can eat a low calorie diet for a few days depending on your gender. For women, about 1,200 calories and 1,500 calories for men, daily. As you consume less food, your body is forced to use more of its fat reserves as fuel.
In a ketogenic diet, you will need to severely limit your carbohydrates intake. Ideally, consuming no more than 20 to 50 grams of carbohydrates in a day. You have to follow this regiment strictly if the diet is to help you attain ketosis and stay there. You will also need proteins in a ketogenic diet. However, your protein intake should be approximately 20% of your total daily calories. A higher protein consumption will trigger gluconeogenesis and push the body out of ketosis.
Under these circumstances, the body’s limited glucose reserves gradually run out. Eventually, the whole body switches to run almost entirely on fat. Insulin levels, which is a fat storing hormone, become very low and the body’s ability to burn fat increases exponentially. The body gains an easy access to fat stores and can burn them off for energy. This is great for losing excess weight. Studies have shown that keto diets result in more weight loss, faster with other potential benefits.
There is also a third option. Exogenous ketones. You can talk to your doctor to give you these supplements which put and help keep the body in ketosis.
As the body burns off fat, more ketones are produced and accumulate in the blood. When their levels reach over 0.5mM, the body is said to be in ketosis.
Fasting is the fastest way to achieve ketosis – not eating ANY food. However, it is not possible to do this for an extended period of time – for obvious reasons. A strictly low carb diet, otherwise known as a keto diet or ketogenic diet, is the best alternative. You can also carry it forward for as long as you wish. It achieves ketosis, and it is safe for your overall health.
Does the Brain Need Carbs?
As earlier stated, the brain is a very hungry organ. Optimal brain activity is absolutely necessary for basic survival. In the same breath, the body can only store carbs for a day or two. Without food, the brain would slow down and eventually shut down after a couple of days. Alternatively, it would have to convert our muscle protein into glucose just to maintain its activity. This is a very inefficient process and it would make us waste away quickly.
Fortunately, our bodies are smarter than that. We have fat reserves that would allow us to survive weeks, even months without food. Ketosis ensures that the brain can run on these fat stores. In conclusion, the brain does need carbs for its high energy requirement. However, it can happily run on fat at peak performance in the absence of carbs. As a matter of fact, many people feel more invigorated and focused when the brain is running on ketones rather than blood sugar.
How to know you are in Ketosis – signs and symptoms
Ketosis does not occur instantly. This metabolic state kicks in after three or four days of going through periods of intermittent fasting or limiting your carb intake. You do not need to visit the doctor to know if you are in ketosis. Just pick up a ketone urine test or a breath ketone analyser from your local drug store. Alternatively, use a blood sugar meter that is capable of measuring ketones.
Urine strips are the simplest alternative. They are straightforward and only takes few second to get your result. The only drawback is that they become less accurate the longer one stays in ketosis. As the body continues to absorb the ketones, eventually, there won’t be any left in the urine. A breath ketone analyser will cost you around $200 and it measures ketones from your breath. Both of these tests are reusable which will save you money in the long run. However, sometimes and over time, they can give you very misleading readings.
Blood ketone meters are the most accurate of the three options. A normal blood ketone level is under 0.6 millimoles per litre. If your test indicates any level higher than that, you are most likely in a state of ketosis. The downside is that you will have to prick your finger every time you want to test. But that is a small price to pay for an accurate measurement.
Other than these tests, physical changes can indicate a ketosis.
Signs and Symptoms of Ketosis
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Halitosis – fruity smelling breath
- Spike in energy levels – although energy may be decreased in the first few weeks on the diet
Side Effects of Ketosis
- Constipation or diarrhoea
- Leg cramps
- Heart palpitations
Many of these symptoms/side effects are associated with what is popularly known as “keto flu”. Experts say that these symptoms are temporary and should subside within two weeks. Although the side effects are minor and transient, they can be avoided by getting enough salt and fluid.
What is the Difference between Ketosis and Ketoacidosis?
The most common misconception about ketosis is confusing it with ketoacidosis. Ketoacidosis is a rare and dangerous medical condition that occurs when people with type 1 diabetes don’t take insulin. However, ketosis and ketoacidosis are not the same thing. They are not even close.
As earlier explained, ketosis is a natural metabolic state under full control of the body. It is the result of a brief period of fasting or a low carb diet.
Ketoacidosis on the on the other hand is a several body malfunction. It is characterized by excessive and unregulated production of ketones. Signs and symptoms include; nausea, stomach pain, vomiting, confusion and finally coma. It is potentially fatal and therefore requires urgent medical treatment.
The graphic below shows the difference in amount of ketones in the blood during ketoacidosis and ketosis.
Most people under a strict ketogenic diet struggle to go above 3 millimolar and even getting over 0.5 is a real struggle. These are the safe zones for ketosis. Ketoacidosis on the other hand starts at 10+ and more commonly, 15+. The difference is vast. It is like drinking a glass of water and drowning in an ocean. Whereas both situations are about water, they are not, in any way the same thing. Additionally, in the same way that drinking a glass of water will not make you drown, ketosis cannot cause or lead to ketoacidosis. That is if you do not have type 1 diabetes. The body has a natural safety net that prevents us from getting ketoacidosis – a healthy functioning pancreas. At high ketone levels, the pancreas is triggered to release insulin that curbs further production of ketones.
How to Achieve Optimal Ketosis?
Ketosis is not a black and white thing. It is not mutually exclusive where you are either in ketosis or not. Instead, you can be in varying degrees of ketosis. The graphic below demonstrates. Ideally, the optimal levels of ketosis range between 1.5 to 3 mmol/l.
Ketosis and a Ketogenic Diet
A ketogenic diet, also known as a keto diet is a very low carb, high fat diet. This diet focuses on replacing carbohydrates healthy fats. It is designed to purposefully force the body into ketosis and thereby kick-start weight loss. This means it’s important to note that a ketogenic diet does not solely focus on eating fewer carbs. The Keto Diet also aims to shift you from eating processed foods into eating more real foods.
An ideal ketogenic diets is in the ratio of 75:20:5. 75% of daily calories come from fat, 20% comes from protein while only 5%comes from carbohydrates.
Foods to Eat and Not To Eat While on a Ketogenic Diet
In a keto diet, you can eat certain foods freely while you’ll need to limit or totally avoid other foods. Here is a simple guide.
Foods to Eat on a Ketogenic Diet
- Meat (Pork, beef, lamb, fish, poultry, and wild seafood)
- Healthy oils (avocado oil, olive oil and coconut oil though sparingly)
- Nuts and seeds
- Non-starchy vegetables (asparagus, celery, cucumber, leafy greens, zucchini)
Foods to Avoid While on a Keto Diet
- Processed foods
- Artificial sweeteners
- Grains (Rice, Quinoa, pasta, white potatoes, pizza, bread)
- Refined oils
- High carb fruits (pineapples, bananas, grapes, tangerines)
Conclusion: Is Ketosis Safe for Weight Loss and Overall Health?
Ketosis has long being studies and investigated. Particularly its long-terms effects. From all the studies so far, ketosis appears to be generally safe for most people.
Achieving ketosis and keeping the body in ketosis may speed up weight loss and spur other health benefits at least in the short term. However, whereas ketosis is a preferred nutritional state for some people, it is not recommended for everyone. Additionally, it is not a good long-term eating approach due to its restrictive nature. If not properly monitored it may result in potentially dangerous nutritional deficiencies.
In conclusion, it is wise to consult your doctor before making such drastic changes to your diet. This will ensure that your medications or underlying medical conditions will not put you at risk for bigger health complications or even emergencies.