Like Switching from Gasoline to Diesel: Is the Ketogenic Diet for You?
Ketogenic refers to a way of eating that shifts the body’s fuel source from mostly sugar (in its various forms: grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy) to mostly fat. When the body burns fat for fuel, the liver takes some of those fats and turns them into water-soluble molecules known as ketones. Ketones are very handy as sources of energy, particularly in the brain! Fat molecules themselves cannot cross into the brain, but ketones can, and once in the brain can be used for energy. Most people love the mental energy and clarity that comes when the brain is relying on ketones for fuel.
In situations of starvation, there is obviously no sugar available and ketone levels go up. Diabetics who don’t make their own insulin (the protein that enables us to use sugar for fuel) also lack sugar, so they burn up their body fat, and their ketones can go dangerously high. You may have heard the phrase “ketoacidosis” referring to a state that can be very dangerous for diabetics, and makes ketones sound kind of scary. Non-diabetics with ketones go into “ketosis” but never “ketoacidosis.” Whew.
Far from scary, there are situations where ketones are actually incredibly useful. Doctors first sugar-deprived patients into ketosis when treating epilepsy in children before drugs were available. It seems the brain just loves ketones and the diet was then, and still is, very useful in the control of seizures before drugs as a substitute or adjunct to drug treatment.
Ketogenic diets are also a handy way to teach your body to burn fat for fuel, very good if yKou have extra fat on your body you would love to burn, OR if you are a long-distance athlete who doesn’t want to stop to eat every half hour as you burn through your stored sugar reserves. Ketogenic diets are also being investigated as a tool for fighting cancer. Many cancers (especially some brain, breast, and prostate cancers) are highly dependent on sugar for fuel, so when the fuel shifts to ketones it can prevent some cancers from growing, at least temporarily.
There are two ways to go into ketosis. You can eat a very low carbohydrate diet by avoiding grains, starches, root vegetables, and all fruits other than berries. Choose only full fat dairy, or better yet: cream and butter! Supplement this very low carb diet with ketones and you can get into ketosis. Ketones are now available commercially, but for years folks have supplemented with either coconut oil or MCT oil (medium chain triglyceride oil, derived from coconut oil) to get into ketosis. The other way to achieve ketosis is by eating a very very very low carb diet, with only limited protein, and eating LOTS of fat! Eventually your body just gives up looking for sugar, and takes that dietary fat and some of your body fat, and just creates the ketones your body needs from all that fat.
Before you worry about “getting fat” remember that eating fat doesn’t make you fat, that being in ketosis means your body burns fat for fuel, and you are way more likely to lose weight! Nor is eating all that fat (if it’s good quality) bad for your heart. There are some hazards though. Some folks get the “low carb flu” as they adjust, or headaches, or sleep disturbances. Those who have ever had kidney stones have to be careful: ketosis raises the risk of stones. Most folks, not all, feel very good once they get over the introduction and well into ketosis.
Folks with any health problems should consult a knowledgeable practitioner before “trying this at home.” Recipes and meal plans are easily found on the internet, and all of your local health food stores carry nice forms of both coconut oil and MCT oil, found in the supplement section, not with the cooking oils.
Read more of Dr. Deborah’s healthy insights at www.DrDeborahMD.com.