12 Science-Backed Health Benefits of the Keto Diet
Who needs carbs? Have you heard about the health benefits of the keto diet? Some research articles suggest that protein and fat are the two most essential macronutrients for sustained energy release and optimal health. For decades nutritionists believed that carbohydrates were the cornerstone of the nutritional pyramid. However, in the mid-nineties and early 2000’s, various carb-free diets emerged, such as the Atkins diet. Individuals that used these diets regularly sang their praises about the positive health effects, particularly in weight loss diets.
How is it possible that nutritional science missed this confounding conundrum? Is it really possible to live carb-free, without feeling lethargic all day? Athletes and regular people can both benefit from the health improvements involved with eating a ketogenic diet. What is a ketogenic diet? Read on to learn the principles and benefits of living a carb-free lifestyle.
What is Ketosis?
Ketosis is the name of a metabolic state that the body uses to create fuel for metabolic processes when glycogen is not readily available in the blood to fuel energy production. Traditional diets that include 20% to 50% carbohydrates convert the carbs to glycogen, the fuel used by your body to create ATP, the body’s energy source.
When carbs are eliminated from your diet, levels of glycogen promptly drop off. As glycogen stores are depleted over a period of three to five days, the body begins to enter survival mode in order to keep ATP energy levels at functional levels.
During this survival stage, the body begins to metabolize fat stores into ‘ketones’ for energy. These ketones are created in the kidneys and delivered to the bloodstream where they fuel the creation of ATP.
In essence, your body does not need glycogen to function. The body can remain in ketosis for an indefinite period, without any risk for your health. In fact, the contrary is actually true, being in a state of ketosis can actually improve and benefit your health. (1)
How to Get Your Body Into Ketosis
Leading your body into ketosis is actually quite simple. Our body requires 25 grams of carbohydrates per day in order to fuel glycogen production. When less than 25 grams of carbs are consumed for three or more consecutive days, the body undergoes stress from lack of glycogen. The brain then ‘flips the switch’ to ketone production.
What to Expect When Transitioning Into Ketosis
During the initial three to five days of eating no carbs, you will be waiting for the ketones to kick in. During this transition period, you will feel incredibly lethargic as the glycogen levels in your blood rapidly deplete.
Somewhere between 72 to 96 hours after you have consumed your last carbohydrate meal, you will awake one morning feeling completely restored and energetic. This is the first sign that your body has entered a ketogenic state and ATP production is now fueled by ketones.
During the first five days, you should notice that you urinate with greater frequency and by the end of the first week in ketosis you may lose up to 10 to 15 pounds of water weight. The reason for this water loss is that carbohydrates hold four grams of water for every gram of carbs consumed. Therefore, when you enter a carb-free state of ketosis, your body drops the excess water and the scale goes down.
Many people confuse this initial water loss phase with fat loss. This is far from the case and as soon as you return to eating carbs, the water weight will pile back on. You may also notice that your urine smells a bit off, similar to the smell of urine after asparagus has been eaten. This is another sign that ketones are now present in the body.
Your body will remain in a ketogenic state as long as you abstain from eating carbs. The moment that you change back to carbohydrates you will notice a sudden drop in energy, similar to how you felt before you entered ketosis. This occurs because your body switches back to assimilating carbs for glycogen production. It takes some time for glycogen to build to effective levels that provide sustainable energy for metabolic function.
Ketosis and Fat Loss
Ketosis mobilizes fat stores for energy. This principle has made it incredibly popular among individuals that are interested in starting a fat loss diet. Ironically, ketosis was first popularized by the bodybuilding community.
Bodybuilders have been using ketogenic diets in their contest preparation since the late eighties and mid-nineties. The diet was popularized in the bodybuilding community by Dave Palumbo, a competitive bodybuilder that has had incredible success with the diet. Today, Dave is sought for his knowledge on contest prep that focuses on keto diets. Another fitness and health training system, the ‘Paleo diet’, or ‘caveman diet’ advocates carb-free diets for improved levels of health and energy.
The keto diet has now been adopted by mainstream nutritional science and fitness professionals as an effective diet strategy for fat loss. Along with losing inches on your waistline, you can expect some interesting positive health effects from running a ketogenic diet for a period of 6 to 16 weeks.
Here are 12 amazing health benefits of a ketogenic diet:
12 Health Benefits of the Keto Diet
1. Reduced levels of Inflammation
Inflammation is responsible for almost all disease and health disorders that occur. Inflammation of the GI tract by excessive refined carbohydrate consumption reduces the efficiency and health of the micro bacteria found in your gut.
This sets off a chain reaction of inflammation that spreads to your bloodstream and nervous system. Common effects of inflammation on your health include;
- Low energy
- Impaired thought
- Accumulation of fat
- Reduced hormone production
- Poor mood & depression
By removing carbs from your diet you get rid of the primary cause of inflammation in your body, namely carbohydrates. Less inflammation in your body leads to improved levels of health and well-being. (2)
2. Improved gut biome health
This is by far the biggest health benefit from eating a ketogenic diet. Your gut biomes are micro bacteria that control the assimilation of nutrients and minerals from your food. When your gut biomes are under stress from inflammation, metabolic function is impaired and your health declines. However, with a ketogenic diet, you remove the source of inflammation from your diet and keep your biomes happy.
3. Better immune function
Another side effect of lower levels of inflammation in the body and improved gut health is improved immune function. Your immune system will strengthen, increasing your body’s resistance to disease and health disorders.
4. Reduced fasting blood glucose levels
Carbohydrates are responsible for glycogen levels in the bloodstream. Modern diets are high in refined carbohydrates and sugar. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that diseases such as obesity and diabetes are rising in the general public of western societies.
Removing carbohydrates from your diet by using a ketogenic diet will dramatically reduce your fasting blood glucose levels. Some studies have shown that ketogenic diets used in perpetuity can actually cure some cases of type 2 diabetes and restore insulin sensitivity in your pancreas.(3)
5. Reduced total triglycerides and improved lipid levels
Contrary to what we have been led to believe by nutritional authorities, fat is not a dirty nutrient. The real problem nutrient for health is carbohydrates. Excess consumption of sugar and refined carbohydrates has now been linked as the primary cause of cardiovascular diseases such as atherosclerosis.
By eating a ketogenic diet, you reduce the level of LDL (bad cholesterol lipids) and improve the levels of HDL (good cholesterol lipids) in your bloodstream. Total triglycerides will also reach lower levels, improving the condition of your cardiovascular and circulatory systems. Improved circulation leads to better levels of energy and well-being.
6. Improved cognitive function
Ketogenic diets also have a positive effect on your cognitive processes. The brain seems to think clearer on ketones, this has been noticed by many practitioners of the diet. Nutritional science believes that this is tied to lower levels of inflammation in the blood. With a ketogenic diet, you will experience better levels of health physically and mentally.
7. Relief from conditions such as hypertension
Carbohydrates are bad for your health, especially refined carbohydrates. High blood pressure and hypertension are diseases that are treatable through diet and exercise. If you are suffering from either of these two conditions, you may find tremendous benefit in using a ketogenic diet to relieve the symptoms and improve the health of your cardiovascular system.
8. Improved feeling of well-being
With reduced levels of inflammation, an improved blood glucose and lipid profile, as well as clearer thought and less adipose tissue, you can expect better feelings of well-being in your body.
You may find that you require less sleep, your concentration and focus improve, and you will experience a better feeling of well-being.
9. Firmer, glowing skin
Sugar and carbohydrates prompt an insulin release from the pancreas. This insulin floods your bloodstream and causes inflammation. Insulin release has been tied to the aging process and has been identified as one of the culprits behind a loss of skin elasticity.
Removing carbs from your diet and improving your insulin resistance with a ketogenic diet will improve the look and feel of your skin.
10. Accelerated fat loss
The primary factor that attracts most individuals to ketogenic diets is the potential for rapid fat loss. When the body is in a ketogenic state, it uses fat stores for fuel to create ketones. Therefore, you can expect a faster fat loss rate from eating a ketogenic diet. (4)
11. Rapid weight loss
Every gram of glycogen produced by the assimilation of carbohydrates is bound to four grams of water. When carbs are limited to under 25 grams a day, glycogen stores begin to deplete. As the body metabolizes the glycogen, water is excreted. This phenomenon is known as losing ‘water weight’. Within the first week of starting a ketogenic diet, it is possible to lose as much as 15 pounds of water weight, depending on your BMI.
The water weight effect can be incredibly deceiving and is often mistaken for fat loss by novice practitioners of ketogenic diets. When the body returns to glycogenesis, the water weight will pile back on as quickly as it was lost.
The effect of removing all sugar and refined carbohydrates from your diet will also have a tremendous impact on fat loss. When the body is depleted of glycogen and in a ketogenic state, it uses fat stores for fuel to create ketones. Therefore, you can expect a faster fat loss rate from eating a ketogenic diet. (5)
12. Cancer prevention
Cancer cells were previously thought to thrive using the energy from cellular respiration. However, recent research has proven that cancer cells need glucose fermentation to grow. When a ketogenic state is induced, glycogen production is halted and cancer cells are starved of the fuel they need to survive.
Another key factor in the spread of cancer cells is an inflammatory environment. A poor diet filled with refined carbohydrates, sugar, and saturated fats creates inflammation. A ketogenic diet works to combat inflammation and creates a biological environment in the body that wards off the growth and spread of cancer cells. (6)
Nutritional Parameters of a Ketogenic Diet
The nutritional parameters of a ketogenic diet have a strong focus on fat as the primary macronutrient. A common macronutrient split for a ketogenic diet is;
- 65% Fat
- 35% Protein
- Trace Carbohydrates (from leafy vegetables)
In an example daily diet of 1000 calories, this would translate to 650 calories from fat ( 73 grams of fat), 350 calories from protein ( 88 grams of protein), and trace amounts of carbs that total well less than 20 grams.
Quality of Fat Sources for Ketogenic Dieters
Protein and fat are the two most important macronutrients for a ketogenic diet. However, fat should make up the majority of the calories in your diet. There is a big difference in fat sources, and this is what initially fueled the public fear around fat. Saturated and trans saturated fats are incredibly bad for your health. They lead to all types of cardiovascular disease and should be avoided at all costs.
Polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats are actually the complete opposite of the saturated kind. These fats have huge health potential and provide a clean-burning fuel source for your body that replaces the energy you used to receive from carbs.
Recommended Fat Sources
- MCT oils – Oils with long polymer chains and double carbon bonds provide slow-releasing energy at sustained levels.
- Nuts & Nut butter – Cashews, Macadamias, almonds, and walnuts.
- Avocados – A rich source of fat. Makes for great oil as well.
- Natural butter – (yes, you read that right butter is not as bad as you previously thought)
- Eggs – Rich in good fats and biotin.
- Fatty fish – Salmon, anchovies, and sardines are good choices.
- Heavy whipping cream – great with coffee in the morning, but NO sugar!
- Fish oil – Preferably the cold filtered kind that you buy in bottles from the health store and store in the fridge. (5)
Try and avoid animal fats and other trans-saturated fats as much as possible. Keep your fat sources clean and your body will thank you with improved metabolic function.
Is a Ketogenic Diet Right for You?
While they may sound like the miracle diet you have been missing out on, ketogenic diets don’t suit everyone. Every person is different and some people just simply don’t respond to a ketogenic state as well as others.
The only way you will know for sure if the diet suits you, is to give it a try. If you are at the end of your second week and have successfully achieved a keto state but feel terrible, then keto probably isn’t for you.
Log Your Ketogenic Experience and Make Adjustments
If you decide to run a ketogenic diet, make sure you are well prepared to deal with the first week of low energy until ketones are produced and energy levels return. Log your keto experience in a diet journal.
Record every meal you eat and monitor your progress daily. Include your feeling of well-being in your daily notes. Review your notes every week and make adjustments to your calories as you go along.