Understanding the Ketogenic Diet

By Richard Asa @RickAsa
March 27, 2017

What is a ketogenic diet? This high-fat diet actually helps you lose weight and increase brainpower by helping your body burn ketones for fuel. Learn how.

Ketosis may sound like a disease, but in fact it is a diet high in fats that helps you lose weight and increase brainpower.

Our bodies are in the state of ketosis when blood sugar and liver glycogen are no longer present and our system resorts to using ketones, a special kind of fat, for fuel.

If you’ve been told that ketosis is dangerous it’s being confused with ketoacidosis, a serious condition caused by uncontrolled diabetes. Ketosis is a natural metabolic state, Hrefna Palsdottir, MS, of Authority Nutrition.

“A ketogenic diet is one that derives 80 to 90 percent of its calories from fat, and the rest from carbs and proteins,” says

David Perlmutter, MD, author of the best-selling “Grain Brain.” “It may sound crazy, but just remember: you’re burning those fats off, and building your brain power in the process.”


YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: The Obesity Epidemic in America


You lose weight because your body begins to burn off fat in ketosis either because your carbohydrate intake is so low there’s no fuel from it, or when you haven’t eaten for a long time.

“Both of these lead to reduced insulin levels, which causes a lot of fat to be released from your fat cells,” Palsdottir writes. “When this happens, the liver gets flooded with fat, which turns a large part of it into ketones.”

Many parts of your body are burning ketones during ketosis, including the brain. Perlmutter explains that ketones increase glutathione (a powerful, brain-protective antioxidant) levels in the hippocampus. “Ketones facilitate the production of mitochondria,” he writes, “one of the most important actors in the coordinated production that is the human body. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.”

This assumes you’re eating quality (good) fat, vegetables, and well-sourced protein, or getting all the micronutrients you need without starving yourself to lower caloric intake in one fell swoop.

“Following this high-fat, moderate-protein, low-carbohydrate model can induce ketosis. Your body’s main interest is to create the ketones it can use for fuel in the absence of glucose. In other words, your body’s main interest is to burn fat. And it does so to a far better degree than simply restricting calories does,” according to RebootedBody.

When ketosis begins, your body basically flips a switch, using

ketones for energy rather than carbs. This doesn’t happen all at once, leaving the door open for some side effects.

During the adaption phase, you may experience what’s called “low-carb flu” or “keto flu.” Symptoms can include headache, fatigue, brain fog, increased hunger, poor sleep, nausea, and poor physical performance. This may discourage some people from carrying through on achieving ketosis, but the symptoms typically only last a few days.

Other side effects can include bad breath, a result of ketone metabolism. Acetone is a by-product. You might also temporarily have leg cramps, digestive problems, and an elevated heart rate.

Minimizing side effects is a matter of drinking plenty of water, getting enough salt, increasing mineral intake, avoiding intense exercise, trying a low-carb diet first (which has more carbs than ketosis), and eating fiber.

Ketosis is likely an approach that doesn’t work for everybody and, in fact, probably works for only a smaller group of people, according to RebootedBody. It will probably work for a person who is “avoiding carbohydrates, keeping protein to moderate levels and getting adequate levels of fat.”

But being in ketosis also has been found to have benefits for people with obesity, type 2 diabetes, and children with epilepsy.

While getting into ketosis has obvious benefits for some people, it is definitely not for everyone,” Palsdottir writes. “Some people feel great and experience incredible benefits on a ketogenic diet, while others feel and perform much better on a higher-carb diet.”


YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: Our Popular Diets Section


April 09, 2020

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN