The year-end is around the corner. Festivities, too. This means many things: celebration, togetherness, gifts and feasts. Unfortunately, it also means having to deal with the dreaded increase in the number on the weighing scale. But let’s hold our horses before we start resolving to get on crash diets come January. They can be notoriously unhealthy, and needlessly to say, not sustainable in the long run. A more measured approach is up for grabs, in the form of keto.
The term ‘keto’ in the famed keto diet comes from a process called ketogenesis, where the body breaks down fat molecules into ketones (an alternative fuel). While the primary source of fuel for the body is glucose, it can also use other substances for energy. Ketones are one of them.
There are three major macromolecules, carbohydrates, fats and proteins, that our body depends on as its fuel source. Among the three, carbohydrates are the easiest to break down for the body. In the energy hierarchy, carbs are followed by fats and then proteins.
The Ketogenic or keto diet follows a very low carbohydrate and a high-fat distribution in the overall dietary intake. Shristi D Chatlani, sports nutritionist from Bengaluru, says, “A keto diet typically has 5 per cent carb, 20 per cent protein and 75 per cent fats instead of the usual 50 per cent carb, 35 per cent fat and 15 per cent protein distribution.”
Our body goes into the ‘state of ketosis’ (where the body relies on ketones for energy) when it starts to break down fat molecules and increases the amount of ketones in the bloodstream. Besides other factors, a low-carb diet can shift the body’s primary fuel source from glucose to ketones.
The idea behind this diet is to trigger the body to break down fats instead of carbs to induce weight loss and manage type 2 diabetes. Madhu Kiran Kota, nutritionist from Hyderabad, explains, “When the body is starved of carbohydrates, it starts to break down the fat cells, helping one burn the stored calories and lose weight.”
Chatlani adds that when the body starts losing fat through ketogenesis, it also loses unhealthy fats which is a bonus for heart health.
Health benefits of the keto diet
A corpus of studies notes the benefits of adhering to the keto diet under certain health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, childhood epilepsy and kidney conditions. However, most note that the short-term benefits are more profound than following it for a long time.
A study published in the International Journal of Health Sciences found significant weight loss and improved metabolism among 80 participants who were put on a low-calorie ketogenic diet for 12 weeks.
However, Kota notes that adhering to this strict low-calorie and low-carb diet is very difficult, and sustaining it in the long run is impractical. Chatlani warns, “Keto diets should be followed cautiously because such restrictiveness can cause several deficiencies in the long run.”
In diabetes, the body is already lacking in insulin and therefore starts breaking down protein for energy. Chatlani explains, “A ketogenic diet works well for people with type 2 diabetes because the body does not need insulin (a hormone that breaks down glucose) for the process of ketogenesis.”
The keto diet with a high-fat percentage was, however, first explored for children with epilepsy with only 5 per cent carbohydrates. The diet proved effective in reducing the frequency of seizures in them. Kota says, “Ketones produced as a result of fat breakdown have an anti-epileptic effect in the brain which helps in reducing the adversity of epilepsy.”
Transitioning into ketosis with caution
The keto diet is notoriously known for the ‘keto-flu’. The first few days into following the diet can trigger flu-like symptoms. You could have side effects like brain fog, irritability, gastric discomfort and nausea. Kota says that the flu-like symptoms start on the second or the third day and may last for several months for some. “Another challenge is a distinct smell in the breath when the body starts ketogenesis,” adds Chatlani.
But the keto diet is not all bad, studies say. In fact, one study shows that healthy fats have appetite-reducing effects and therefore can help with weight loss effectively. However, Kota suggests taking the help of an expert to understand individual carb requirements to induce ketosis, because the suitable carb percentage varies from person to person. Furthermore, she advises keeping an eye on the blood ketone levels which should be between 0.5 to 3 mmol/dl when ketosis is maintained.
If you want to try the keto diet for weight loss, here are some tips that can help you transition into ketosis and maintain the state:
- Start slowly by reducing the amount of carbohydrates in each meal
- Keep reducing your carb intake until you are eating only 15 per cent of carbs to induce ketogenesis
- After two weeks, once the body learns to maintain ketosis, you can increase the carb intake under the guidance of a dietician
- Introduce coconut oil to the diet; it has ketosis-inducing properties stronger than any other oil
- Eat foods like avocado, seafood, meat, poultry, cheese, eggs, and nuts and seeds
- Avoid foods that are high in carbs like cereals, breads and pasta, potatoes, certain fruits, cakes, candies and sugary beverages
(As advised by Madhu Kiran Kota, nutritionist, Hyderabad)
Read more on keto diets.