The Ketogenic Diet (‘Keto’ Diet) has taken the world by storm, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before (does Atkins ring a bell?).
Dieters are always on the huntdown for the latest trend and Keto promises all the bacon, pork rinds, cheese and avocado – day in and day out.
Sound like a Dieter’s Dream?
Before you jump in on this latest diet fad, let’s cut the crap and look at the facts…
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The Keto Diet is a low carb/high fat diet. Traditionally, in normal, healthy diets, carbohydrates (carbs) hold the majority of our food intake – and for good measure, as glucose is the body’s preferred energy source.
Surprisingly, the Keto Diet was founded in 1924 to treat epilepsy, NOT obesity! Various studies conducted since have continued to show the efficacy of ketosis on seizure reduction, particularly in children.
One of the earliest detected side effects of this treatment was a reduction in “weight” (and bad breath), so the Weight Loss Industry jumped on board! But to this day, utilising the Keto Diet as a treatment for epilepsy requires careful monitoring from a physician due to the risky side effects.
With the Keto Diet, the body is forced into a state of ketosis – a natural process and survival mechanism of the body – converting fat and protein into energy in the form of ketone bodies (acetoacetate and hydroxybutyrate).
Ketone bodies can cross the blood-brain barrier, enter the brain and be used for energy in emergencies.
That means, ketone bodies operate like the handbrake of the car, with glucose the footbrake – let me ask you a question, what you would use more frequently to get from Point A to Point B. The handbrake can have devastating effects if not used in the appropriate manner.
Unfortunately, one of the byproducts of ketosis is acetone and this is the cause of that bad “Keto Breath”.
GLUCOSE GOALS AND THE BRAIN
Our bodies prefer glucose as the main source for energy, especially in our brains. It is estimated that 20% of our calorie intake is for our brains (60-70% of our carbs). Keto Diets allow as little as 5% carb intake….
Wait! if our brains require 20% of our diet to be glucose sources… How does Keto cover the energy for our brains?
Our bodies have this nifty little system called gluconeogenesis. Basically, its function is to convert fat and protein into glucose so that we can meet the minimum glucose energy requirements to live. Living is a good thing.
But this is the scary part…
Our brains are so critical and valuable to our own system, that our bodies will even sacrifice itself as a last resort for our brain’s survival. Basically, that means our bodies will break down our own muscles in order to feed our brain if there isn’t sufficient protein available in our diets.
What’s wrong with muscle breakdown? Well, greater muscle mass means you have a stronger metabolism which means more delicious food!!!
The strongest man in the world (The Mountain – Game of Thrones) eats 10,000 calories a day! 10,000 calories might be achievable for the average person if you load up on empty, high density calories like chips and other junk foods, but you wouldn’t be able to eat that many calories in whole foods if you tried!
In the pursuit to reach a result on the scales as quickly as possible, sadly, the average yo-yo dieter will neglect their own overall well-being.
Unfortunately, it takes two grams of protein to make one gram of glucose, so it isn’t a very efficient way to create energy. It’s hard work building muscle mass so it’s not worth the trade off.
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WHAT’S WRONG WITH CARBS ANYWAY?
Let’s look at some facts.
When you eat carbs, energy is extracted in the form of glucose. Glucose is converted into glycogen that is then stored in the muscles and liver for later use. Glycogen is great for storage because it doesn’t break down so easily and can be used over a longer period of time.
Glucose is the one of the main energy sources our muscles and organs use to perform any day to day activity, such as Zumba, Crossfit, breathing and even getting up from the couch after that great Netflix binge!
When glucose is released into the bloodstream, another great thing happens – insulin is released.
Keto fans will tell you that insulin is bad for you and that it inhibits the body’s fat burning potential.
This is simply not true.
The Keto Diet harnesses ketosis for energy instead of glucose. It’s like a backup battery pack.
Look, burning dietary fat, body fat and some protein makes sense and sounds tempting, doesn’t it? No carbs, no insulin, more fat burned…!?
Let’s have a look at the role of insulin…
Insulin is a hormone required by the body to metabolise carbs and proteins (with carbs requiring much more insulin to be metabolised). Insulin also regulates the amount of glucose in the blood (Blood Glucose Levels). Keto Diet advocates worry that insulin stops our bodies from burning fat and tells it to utilise glucose instead. They make this sound like a bad thing, however, there are two main benefits.
- Insulin is required for glucose to enter the muscles, and adipose tissue (body fat) to be converted to glycogen and stored as energy.
- When insulin is released, it tells our growth hormones to secrete the Insulin-like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1) from the liver.
IGF-1 plays an essential role for our bodies. In childhood, it is essential for development as it stimulates efficient body growth. It continues to aid the body in building important proteins and nutrients into adulthood. IGF-1 also has growth promoting effects in almost every cell in the body, especially skeletal muscles, cartilage, bones, our nerves and organs.
Insulin is something our body needs!
Oh! If you’re thinking of a carb loaded cheat meal on Keto, beware the carb hangover: headache, stomach cramps, diarrhea and general feelings of discomfort for the next 8-24 hours. And that’s just from a carb intake of 100-150g! On average, half a whole pizza will make you feel this way! Goodbye to dinner parties and social gatherings…
LET’S LOOK AT AN EXAMPLE!
Susan consumes 100g of protein and 20g of carbs(glucose) each day.
If Ketone bodies account for 50% of her brain’s energy requirements, she will still need 40 grams of glucose from somewhere…
We can convert 80 grams of protein into 40 grams of glucose.
Okay. Her brain’s happy now!
Some Keto advocates will tell you that you don’t need to consume carbs at all because gluconeogenesis will cover everything.
That is wrong.
Susan has 20 grams of protein left to use elsewhere in the body.
To put this into perspective – this isn’t enough protein to maintain muscle mass even if she was living a sedentary lifestyle, not to mention the lack of energy and resources she would face if she was trying to be active.
STILL KEEN ON KETO?
But…there’s good news – you will lose “weight” on Keto! In fact, it will come off quickly! But this rapid weight loss is from your glycogen stores (commonly dubbed as water weight). Every gram of glycogen is bound to 3 grams of water.
In the first week of Keto, as your body becomes depleted of glycogen, you’ll be hit by the ‘Keto Flu’ – impaired cognitive functioning, dizziness, headaches, fatigue and nausea – to name a few symptoms. Keto is also a diuretic, so you will need to be replacing lost electrolytes and drinking more water than ever, because the kidneys filter the ketone bodies and lose sodium (plus more water).
Your body is also depleted of vitamins as you cut back on the carbs (remember, fruit and vegetables are high in carbs!) so you will need to watch what you’re eating more than ever, adding supplements to your daily routine and keeping in mind how they aren’t always as readily absorbed into the body. If you become malnourished you may see more problems, such as hair loss.
Unfortunately, the effects of Keto in the long run (such as 22 weeks without increasing carb intake) can lead to glucose intolerance and even insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want the carb hangover to never stop even after resuming a normal diet.
So, think about it, is this lifestyle maintainable? Is quick and easy really the way to go, or does your weight fluctuations over the years tell a different story?
In summary: If you want any excuse to eat bacon, cheese and butter – then say you’re doing Keto! This is the ultimate diet, right? You can eat all the foods you were once told was bad for you, day in and day out. However, be informed of the risks: increasing your risk of health issues and bad breath, tiredness, loss of hair, and impaired brain function. Be especially prepared to lose some muscle! Keto isn’t good for gains!
Note From Oscar:
I’ve called out “Weight Loss” because not all “Weight Loss” Solutions are created equal. The problem with this industry is that people want quick results and they’ll do anything to get it including sacrificing their overall health.
What good is a number on the scale when your muscle mass is wasting away? Muscle Mass is important for survival and helps you burn more energy when you are sedentary. It also means, no weight fluctuations when you decide to eat pizza!
I’m not saying we all need to be Arnold Schwarzenegger but what I am saying is that a healthy amount of muscle mass is the only way to lose weight. Those of you who have yo-yo dieted a few times have impacted your muscle mass and are more prone to weight gain as a result.
The first step to losing weight is to restore your metabolism. This is the only sustainable weight loss solution. I’ve lost 77kg of body fat and put on 15kg of muscle mass in the process.
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The only way to lose weight properly is to eat more WHOLE foods. I eat more than I’ve ever eaten in my life and I’ve lost more weight than 3 punching bags.