Ketosis. To the vast majority of the world’s population, this technical term holds little significance. For those deeply entrenched in the low-carb, high-fat way of eating known as ketogenic / keto.
This one word dictates a daily regimen that has transformed their lives in more ways than one.
So, is the keto diet bad for you?
This article is going to unravel the misconceptions about ketosis and the keto diet answering relevant questions such as:
Let’s shed light on the evolution and positive applications of the ketogenic lifestyle.
THE HOT TOPIC OF KETO
The keto diet is all the rage in this day and age. From celebrity endorsement to emerging scientific research, the seemingly new way of eating has hit mainstream attention faster than a Kardashian scandal.
Yet with any unconventional practice that goes against the grain, there are a fair share of skeptics and misinformation that run rampant.
For those having grown up listening to the unfounded antics perpetuated by Ancel Keyes that ‘fat’ is the enemy since the 1960’s, it’s not uncommon to be faced with criticism and blanket statements of concern surrounding the subject.
Ketone bodies, whether gained from fasting, ketogenic diets, MCTs (which are medium chained triglycerides) or exogenous ketones have many potential applications. With benefits ranging from performance, to health, to longevity and mitigating symptoms and risks of certain diseases…
How Keto Helps in Making a Metabolic & Mental Shift
The ketogenic lifestyle is not new; stemming back to our ancestral beginnings of hunting and foraging to being officially coined in the 1920’s when nutritional ketosis was implemented as a therapeutic tool.
Over decades to follow, the burgeoning and quantifiable science have shown intrinsic benefits that range boosting cognitive function and even allowing for enhanced muscle preservation as we age to counteract age-related disease3.
Today, the keto diet is changing both our preconceived notion of how to MORE effectively fuel our bodies and physiologically tap into a primal energy source that has existed since the presence of single cell organisms.
IS KETO BAD FOR YOU? THE BASICS OF NUTRITIONAL KETOSIS
Before you can assess whether the keto diet is good or bad, it’s important to understand what it is and how it’s fundamentally different than the popularized ‘Western’ diet.
The purpose of the ketogenic diet is to mimic the effects of fasting.
Which allows the body to utilize and breakdown fat stores aka glycogen to cultivate the creation of three ketone bodies in the liver as a byproduct. This process allows the body to make a metabolic switch from using glucose (sugar) for energy to burning FAT for fuel.
Nutritional ketosis can be achieved by concentrating on lowering your carbohydrate intake to only 5-10% of your total caloric intake.
Then boosting your healthy fat intake upwards of 70-80% of your daily intake, with the remaining 15-25% from protein.
This macronutrient profile may vary per person, but the premise of depleting all the present glycogen in the body in order to activate production of ketones is the same.
KETOACIDOSIS VS. NUTRITIONAL KETOSIS
Ketoacidosis is an abnormal abundance of fat metabolism that results in an acidic level of ketone creation. This is triggered when insulin is not present or naturally produced, even at low levels, to regulate the production of ketones and high blood sugars.
Ketoacidosis will NOT occur with nutritional ketosis, unless an underlying absence of insulin stemming from condition such as type 1 diabetes or pancreatic issues.
Nutritional ketosis is naturally regulated and keep your blood ketone levels within a healthy and beneficial range without ever achieving an acidic level.
Even if you were to complete a full fasting period of 30 days, levels would likely not exceed 8-10mmol/L of blood ketones (acidic levels are above 25mmol/L).
IS KETO BAD FOR THE LIVER?
As ketones are created in the liver, can the consistent and long term process of breaking down high levels of fat cause liver damage?
The answer may surprise you.
Not only can your liver be supported and health markers be improved even as you breakdown high quantities of fat on a continual basis with keto, but studies have shown that nonalcoholic fatty liver disease can be greatly IMPROVED with the application of the ketogenic lifestyle.
Fatty liver is categorized as an excess of 10% of the liver’s weight comprised of fat, to which it can no longer function adequately.
This will result in insulin inefficiency, blood sugar level imbalance, and systemic inflammation and can lead to more chronic conditions such as liver cancer, abdominal fluid, and more.
But is FAT the actual culprit?
In fact, an excess of sugar and carbohydrates which are broken down to long-chain fatty acids take longer to metabolize in the body, therefore leaving deposits in the liver that buildup over time.
With keto, you are eliminating the binding excess sugars and carbs, and using short and medium chain fatty acids (hence why MCT oil is a popular staple in the keto lifestyle) to metabolize quickly to be converted for energy uptake versus fat storage.
Ketones help improve blood glucose and lipid levels, and reduce inflammatory markers with higher overall insulin sensitivity4.
IS KETO BAD FOR THE HEART?
Certainly there must be negative connotations of consuming fats, especially saturated fats, on cholesterol levels and cardiovascular function – right?
Let’s revisit Ancel Keyes, the man who was paid by the sugar conglomerates to construct a myth that was perceived as fact that saturated fat was to blame for cardiovascular disease and high cholesterol levels.
It was not based on scientific findings, but became so widely believed that the low-fat trend prevailed for decades, and the sugar companies thrived off of this notion.
When you reduce sugar and carbohydrate consumption and boost healthy fats in your diet, complications stemming from the interactions between the two conflicting macros dissipate.
It’s important to note that often times those with pre-existing cardiovascular disease or heart health issues have a tendency to be on the obesity spectrum.
The ketogenic diet has the capacity to augment fat loss through energy expenditure efficiency versus a regular diet, and aid in keeping lean muscle mass.
While depleting adipose tissue, lowering glucose and triglyceride levels, and providing better overall body composition5.
Even for those who are not predisposed in their epigenetics towards heart concerns or who are presently normal-weight, a ketogenic diet favorably affects biomarkers for cardiovascular disease.
Studies suggest that the improvements of lipid disorders and controlling LDL cholesterol (known as the bad cholesterol) and improve or potentially an increase in the HDL cholesterol (known as the good cholesterol) can be observed through a well-formulated ketogenic diet.
THE HEALTHY KETO APPROACH
Whether or not you embark on the keto train, humans are built to thrive off of whole, naturally derived food sources.
When choosing what foods to consume, your success and health with any lifestyle is in how you approach the sourcing of your food selections and in limiting processed consumption.
The prospect of achieving ketosis through an abundance of bacon, cheese and butter can be tempting for some – but essential micronutrients that offer an array of polyphenols, vitamins and minerals is just as important as meeting your macronutrient profile.
By choosing whole foods, you ensure your body is supported not only with an optimized fuel source, but with quality proteins, vegetables, and fatty sources that will go a long way to helping your body function for years to follow.
KETONES – THE FOURTH MACRONUTRIENT?
It is widely known that there are THREE macronutrients (fat, protein, carbohydrates), but is it time to challenge the status quo and KETONES as the fourth?
Ketone bodies can provide up to 70% of our brain’s energy needs, and cross the blood-brain barrier to help signal out to the muscles, organs, and tissues which is critical not only for proper function, but in the prevention and healing of disease.
In conclusion, we are exploring a whole new world which will be faced with push-back and resilience. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to do the research and pick what’s right for YOUR body before snapping to uninformed judgement.
The keto diet research is flourishing, and available through PubMed articles and well sourced resources right now. All it takes is the desire to learn, to seek better health and to take small steps towards making the shift.
The next time someone asks if “is Keto is BAD for you”- you can feel confident in knowing that you have the information, the science and the personal experience to know otherwise!
1 – Mandal, Ananya. (2019, February 27) History Of the Ketogenic Diet; https://www.news-medical.net/health/History-of-the-Ketogenic-Diet.aspx
2- STEM-Talk Episode 14: Dominic D’Agostino. IHMC; https://www.ihmc.us/stemtalk/episode-14/
3- Tendler, D., Lin, S., Yancy, W.S. et al. Dig Dis Sci (2007) 52: 589. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10620-006-9433-5
4- Thorton-O’Connell, Jordan. (2019, March 13) Ketosis and Fatty Liver, LIVESTRONG.COM; https://www.livestrong.com/article/508895-ketosis-and-fatty-liver/
5 – Kosinski, Christophe., Jornayvaz, Francois R. Nutrients. 2017 May; 9(5): 517. Published online 2017 May 19. doi: 10.3390/nu9050517 Effects of Ketogenic Diets on Cardiovascular Risk Factors: Evidence from Animal and Human Studies; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5452247/
6- Sharman MJ, Kraemer WJ, Love DM, Avery NG, Gómez AL, Scheett TP, Volek JS. 2002 Jul; A ketogenic diet favorably affects serum biomarkers for cardiovascular disease in normal-weight men. The Journal of nutrition 132(7):1879-85. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/132.7.1879