What is a Ketogenic Diet?
The Ketogenic diet is a high fat, low carb diet. It seeks to "reprogram" metabolisms to focus on burning fat in the absence of carbohydrates. The process used by our bodies to burn fats in the absence of carbohydrates and glyogen is called Ketosis. In the Ketogenic (Keto) Diet, normal carbohydrates are replaced with healthy fats such as Poly-Unsaturated MCT's found in things like avacados, nuts, and meat.
Outside of the benefit of focusing the body on burning fat, it is also linked to a reduction in several diseases including cancer and epilepsy. In fact, although it has recently returned to favor in the diet and fitness community, it was originally introduced in the 1920's as a treatment for epilepsy.
Why Follow a Ketogenic Diet?
- Weight loss & Overall Health Improvements - Following a low-carb diet, in most cases, will lead to weight loss but more ketones in the body doesn't exactly play a key factor for enhancing weight loss. Thus, you don't need to follow a very low-carb diet if your aim is to improve your health. Many people experience great benefits following the paleo diet with low-moderate carbohydrates.
- Exercise & performance - The effects of the ketogenic diet on performance are described in Dr. Volek & Phinney's book: The Art and Science of Low-Carbohydrate Performance. Your personal carb requirements & timing of carbs depend on the type of exercise your doing. The general rule of thumb is that if you mostly do weight training and cardio exercise, you can fully function on ketones and don't need any extra carbs. If, however, you do a lot of HIIT or Cross Fit, you may benefit from carb backloading, as the standard ketogenic diet may not be best for you.Talk to your coach to learn more about carb backloading and low-carb performance.
- Disease management such as Cancer, alzheimer's or epilepsy - Some people may follow a more restricted type of the ketogenic diet for therapeutic purposes. Ideally, the ketone level should be high while the blood sugar levels are low. Using total carbs and following a very low-carb diet may be a better way of counting carbs for disease management.
How Many Carbs is Low Carb?
Even among experts there is debate and differences of opinion in not only whether to count total or net carbs but also regarding the "ideal" carb level. It is generally suggested that ~ 50 g of total carbs a day is enough to induce nutritional ketosis. This is about 20-35 grams of net carbs a day depending on the fiber content. Most people on a ketogenic diet successfully follow this approach.
If you choose to follow a very low carb diet, make sure you are getting sufficient micronutrients and include supplements, especially magnesium. You won't be able to eat avocados or some vegetables or fruits unless you use very small amounts. This leads me to the next question, "Should some healthy low-carb foods be avoided because they are high in total carbs?" Well, two thirds of the fiber in most foods are insoluble, meaning they have no effect on blood sugar and zero calories. More studies are needed to understand the effects of dietary fiber on metabolic health but it seems that soluble fiber can lower blood glucose levels.
Counting Carbs: Total or Net Carbs?
In a nut shell, if you follow a low-carb / ketogenic diet to lose weight and improve your health, counting net carbs is a convenient way. High level of ketones with low level of glucose are not the most important factors in weight loss. Research just doesn't support the idea that more ketones in your blood will always lead to a greater fat reduction. The most important factor in successful weight loss on a low-carb diet remains its appetite-suppressing effect. Consumption of fats and protein have shown to keep you fuller for longer periods than sugars and carbohydrates.
Does eating fewer carbs always lead to better weight loss & improved health? Although most people still count net carbs (total carbs without fiber), the new trend within the low-carb community seems to be leaning towards counting total carbs. Again, net carbs are total carbs minus the fiber. There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. The reason why most people use net carbs (aka available carbohydrates) is because they believe that dietary fiber does not affect blood sugar and our body cannot obtain any calories from it. However, this claim isn't entirely accurate because it only applies to insoluble fiber which cannot be absorbed and has no affect blood sugar and ketosis.
The ketogenic diet is a low-carb, high-fat diet. It lowers blood sugar and insulin levels, and shifts the body’s metabolism away from carbs and towards fat and ketones. There is no "wrong" way to count carbs, you can use either total carbs or net carbs. Choosing the "best" way for you depends on what you are trying to achieve by following the ketogenic diet. Net carbs are total carbs without fiber.
Recent studies show that soluble fiber can lower blood glucose levels. However, more studies are needed to understand the effects of dietary fiber on metabolic health. The most important factor in successful weight loss on a low-carb diet still remains its appetite-suppressing effect.
About the Author-Vanessa
Contact Vanessa to learn more about the Ketogenic Diet and what it can do for you. She has more in-depth information about what foods to avoid, foods to eat, ketogenic meal plans as well as customized regimens to fit your individual needs, healthy ketogenic snack ideas, tips for eating out on a ketogenic diet, side-effects of the ketogenic diet and how to minimize them, disease prevention and management, supplements for a ketogenic diet, frequently asked questions and so much more! Vanessa is a Nutrition Coach and Online Coach based in Louisville, CO. She graduated with her MNT from the Nutrition Therapy Institute in Denver, CO and has maintained a passion driven, private coaching practice ever since. She is a Certified Personal Trainer, Bikini Competitor and specializes in weight loss.