The most important thing when you’re doing the keto diet is to get to the state of ketosis and stay there for long periods of time (weeks or, ideally, months).
If you’re just starting out, chances are that you still have some questions about what ketosis is and isn’t, so we’ve made a quick guide to the health aspects of ketosis to help you out.
If you’ve just heard about keto diet, chances are you might have these questions in your head:
Is ketosis bad?
Will keto ruin my health?
What are the negatives and dangers of ketogenic diet?
Or you might even hear people explain to you why keto is bad.
So what’s the truth?
First things first:
What is Ketosis?
Ketosis is a completely natural metabolic state in which your body, when deprived of carbs as its primary fuel source, resorts to burning fat. When you are in ketosis, your liver produces ketones, which are then used for energy.
In the beginning, before your body gets adapted to using fat as a fuel, it produces an excessive amount of ketones, which can be detected in your urine; after a while, the production of ketones self-regulates, based on your actual energy needs (hence after a while they might not even be detectable in your urine).
To enter the state of ketosis, you first need to deplete your glycogen stores in your muscles and liver. Glycogen is the quick energy resource of your body. This usually takes between 1 to 3 days of eating a minimal amount of carbs (20-25 g net carbs daily).
After that, your body goes through a longer process called fat adaptation, in which your body adapts to burning fat instead of carbs.
It can take anywhere between 2 to 4-6 weeks and in the beginning, you might experience the so-called keto-flu.
Some parts of your body (for example, your brain) do need a small amount of glucose to function, which is the reason why your body can produce glucose via a process called gluconeogenesis.
Is Ketosis A Natural Metabolic State And Why?
Yes, ketosis is a completely natural metabolic state and the human body is well-equipped to handle it.
In fact, in earlier periods of human history, and most notably, before the agricultural revolution, which made crops such as rice and wheat widely used throughout the world – carbs were not as readily available, and during long periods of time (weeks and possibly sometimes even months at a time) humans needed to rely mostly on fat and protein to survive.
Additionally, most people have been in ketosis already – if you sometimes go without food for a period of 16-20 hours (for example, if you sometimes skip breakfast), or if you occasionally eat low-carb meals, it’s likely that you have been in ketosis at least a few times.
What Are The Differences Between Ketosis And Ketoacidosis?
While ketosis is a natural state that your body can handle without any major difficulties, ketoacidosis is a complication of type 1 diabetes and the two should not be confused.
Ketoacidosis is a life-threatening condition in which a very high amount of ketones are present in the blood, and it happens to people with type 1 diabetes. It’s the result of a lack of (or insufficient) insulin in the body. Its symptoms include stomach pain, vomiting, dehydration, shortness of breath and others.
Ketosis cannot lead to ketoacidosis in healthy individuals. Ketosis is also a completely normal and safe state that is the result of consuming a very low amount of carbs. For more about the differences between the two, read this article.
What Are The Benefits Of The Keto Diet?
The keto diet has plenty of benefits, which is one of the reasons why it’s so popular nowadays. Here are some of them:
- Weight loss: it’s no magic – due to better hunger control, you’ll have a much better success with adhering to your diet. Most people report decreased hunger on keto, and less sugar cravings.
- Losing more abdominal fat than on other diets: abdominal fat not only looks ugly, it’s also a major health risk. On the ketogenic diet, you have better chances of losing it, than on a low-fat diet (1).
- Better blood sugar management: your blood sugar won’t spike and crash on a daily basis, but will, instead, stay within normal ranges. This will lead to increased energy and better mood, and will significantly lower your risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Better triglycerides management: when you cut carbs, your triglycerides will also likely go down. High triglycerides are a major risk factor for heart disease.
- Can be used to manage epilepsy and possibly other brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
What Are The Possible Side Effects Of Being In Ketosis?
Most of ketosis’ side effects come from the fact that your body is struggling with adapting to burning fat for fuel, and are, therefore, temporary.
Here’s what you might experience in the first couple of days or weeks of the keto diet:
- Decrease in physical performance
- Bad breath
- Muscle cramps
The last two are completely preventable and you just need to make sure that your electrolytes are in check, and that you’re drinking enough water (but not too much either, as you don’t want to flush your electrolytes out of your system).
The other side effects will also resolve with time, and can be greatly improved with proper electrolyte supplementation.
Is Keto Safe for Long-term?
There aren’t many studies on the long term effects of the keto diet, so it’s difficult to know for sure.
Many people decide to stick to keto for long periods of time (or even for life), and online you can find plenty of keto success stories anecdotal evidence that their experience has been positive.
For most people, being in ketosis long term is likely not harmful in any way, but you need to make sure that you’re getting all your essential micronutrients from the food that you’re eating (i.e. don’t skip the veggies, or if you do, make sure you’re eating some organ meat, which is very nutrient-rich).
One study from 2004 has pointed out that the keto diet can be very beneficial for obese patients when followed over the long term (2).
In the end, you need to decide for yourself how you feel on the keto diet, and for what amount of time you’d like to stick to it. Be mindful of the signals your body is giving you and adjust as necessary.
Why Should You Give The Keto Diet A Try?
It’s not a secret that the keto diet is rather restrictive, so your motivation is essential. If you give it an honest try – by properly tracking your macros and staying under 20-25 g net carbs for at least 3-4 days.
Also, do yourself a favour and don’t cheat, especially in the beginning, you’ll notice plenty of positive changes: diminished hunger, stable weight loss, better mood, more energy, and less and less carb cravings.
Plus, if your goal is achieving better health, you’re on the right track with keto – if you stick to eating whole, unprocessed, natural food in the long term (which is what you’ll be eating on a well-formulated keto diet), you’re doing yourself a great service in the long run, and are significantly lowering your risk of type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and heart disease. Sounds awesome, right?