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The Ins and Outs of Ketogenic Dieting

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by Bruce Kneller

Ketosis is a metabolic state in which most of the body’s energy supply comes from ketones (sometimes known as “fractured fats") found in blood plasma. This is very different to the state of glycolysis in which plasma glucose (carbohydrates) provides most of the body’s energy needs.

Despite rumblings around the internet, ketosis is absolutely a natural state for the body to be in, when it is almost completely fueled by ketones. Without a doubt, ketosis is a normal metabolic state during fasting or when a person is on a very strict low-carbohydrate diet, which is known also as a “ketogenic diet."

The nuts and bolts of a ketogenic diet was actively designed in 1924 by Dr. Russell Wilder at the Mayo Clinic as a potential cure for epilepsy. The general idea behind a ketogenic diet is that the dieter will obtain most of his or her daily calories from fat, less from protein, and even less from carbohydrates. When a person consumes fewer than 50 grams of carbohydrates per day, the human body will eventually run out of fuel (plasma glucose) that it can use immediately.

This process typically takes about 72 hours. Next, the body will start to break down fat and protein for energy in lieu of carbohydrates—this can assist in losing weight. This state of using fats instead of carbohydrates for the body’s predominant energy source is called “ketosis."

A ketogenic diet may help some people lose more weight in the first three to six months of heavy dieting than many other types of diets. This may be because it takes more calories to change fat into energy than it does to change carbohydrates into energy. It’s also possible a high-fat, moderate-protein diet makes you feel more satisfied and full, so you eat fewer calories, but that hasn’t been conclusively proven yet and more research is clearly needed.

When people talk about ketogenic dieting, a term than gets thrown around a lot is “macros." The term macros is short for macronutrients, which are the energy-providing components of the food you eat that fuels your body. Macronutrients include carbohydrate, protein, and fat—basically, the stuff where all dietary calories come from.

While opinions vary greatly as to what macro profile is best to optimize weight loss during a ketogenic diet, I believe the best macro profile for most people during this type of dieting is:

  • 70 to 75 percent of calories from fat (or even more, many people strive for a full 80%),
  • 15 to 25 percent of calories from protein, and
  • 5 to 10 percent of calories from carbs.

It’s important to remember that being in ketosis or undertaking a ketogenic diet by itself is not enough to lose weight. The First Law of Thermodynamics (Conservation of Energy) would be violated if it did. In order to lose weight while in ketosis/using a ketogenic diet (or on any diet plan for that matter), a person absolutely must burn more calories than they ingest. People can meet this goal by reducing caloric intake, burning more calories from healthy exercise or, ideally, a combination of both.

Consumers who are trying to induce and/or maintain ketosis should completely avoid eating any foods that contain moderate-to-high amounts of carbohydrates. This includes all grains, even whole meal grains like wheat, rye, oats, corn, barley, millet, bulgur, sorghum, rice, amaranth, buckwheat and sprouted grains. It also means avoiding quinoa and white potatoes. Additionally, any foods that are made from these grains such as pasta, bread, pizza, cookies, crackers, etc., and sugar/sweets (e.g. table sugar, high fructose corn syrup, agave syrup, ice cream, cakes, sweet puddings and sugary soft-drinks) should be completely avoided to induce and properly maintain ketosis. Also, all tropical fruits (e.g., pineapple, mango, banana, papaya, etc.) and other high-carbohydrate containing fruits (e.g., tangerine, grapes, etc.) need to be avoided.

When undertaking a ketogenic diet, consumers need to monitor if they are or are not in ketosis. There are essentially two methods the average person can use at home to make the determination:

1) Detecting ketones in urine:

The easiest way to check for ketosis is by using ketone urine testing strips, usually and generically referred to by the brand name Ketostix®. These convenient testing strips are relatively inexpensive and are a great method for quickly checking ketone levels in the urine.

2) Detecting ketone levels in blood:

This method is a little more complex and requires a person to prick his finger and draw a small amount of blood. A special blood ketone meter is then used to measure the amount of ketones in the blood. While using the special blood ketone meter may be a bit more accurate than using the urine test strips, the downside is many people dislike having to prick themselves with a needle and use their blood for a measurement. Additionally, the special machines and their required test strips are considerably expensive, usually several dollars per test. It is standard practice to test a couple times a day to ensure ketosis is ongoing, so this can get expensive quickly.

A lot of folks discussing ketogenic diets on the internet have some doubts as to the safety of such diets. However, when followed properly, ketogenic diets have been shown to be both safe and effective in aiding in rapid weight loss. Additionally, ketogenic diets may offer other health benefits including better plasma glucose control, a decrease in systemic inflammation and better triglyceride and high-density lipoprotein levels. However, it is important to consider that in order to achieve and maintain ketosis, this diet must be a long-term lifestyle change followed by a very specific, detailed eating regimen to maintain weight loss over time.

Ketogenic diets are good for almost anyone looking to lose weight rapidly, increase mental focus, feel more energized and desiring to better control hunger. There is some evidence ketogenic diets may be useful in mitigating the negative effects of epilepsy, acne, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and other inflammatory states. However, much more research is needed into these topics and no diet should substitute for the advice and medical treatment of a physician or other health care provider.

Bruce Kneller, principal at Giant Sports International, is one of the sports nutrition industry's most successful formulators and ingredient inventors. With four patents awarded via the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, one patent awarded via the Canadian Patent Office, and several more awarded through the World Intellectual Property Organization, Kneller’s inventions, intellectual property (IP) and formulations can be traced directly and indirectly to more than $2.5 billion in sales globally in the sports nutrition industry alone.

Kneller is speaking about ketogenic dieting and how to formulate with supplemental ketones on the Supplyside Central Stage during SupplySide West, Las Vegas. The session, underwritten by Compound Solutions, is scheduled for Wed. Sept. 27, 4:30 to 5pm. See the SupplySide Central webpage for more info.

Kneller will also take part in a panel discussion during the SupplySide West Sports Nutrition workshop.

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