Before looking at the Keto Diet, it’s important to understand exactly what ketosis is, and how it is achieved through low carbohydrate intake. The fundamental benefit of a low-carb diet is to induce a certain metabolic state called ketosis. Ketosis is a state very familiar to humans – one we have experienced for long periods of our lives throughout the millennia we have walked on this planet. As hunter–gatherers, our ancestors would have experienced periods of low calorie intake due to scarcity of foods. Also, they would have favoured fatty foods that provided the highest nutritional yield per output (hunting or foraging). They didn’t care about being healthy or looking good for summer; it was about survival. Being efficient with their energy was optimal for this. Survival meant having a strong preference for nutrient-dense fatty tissues and organ meat over less nutrient-dense foods such as berries and grasses. This scenario meant that our ancestors would have been in ketosis much of the time.
Only during times when carbohydrates were more abundant would they have been reliant on an alternative fuel source. It is worth noting that some hunter–gatherer tribes would have had a low carbohydrate intake all year round. For example, Inuits living in tundra regions relied predominantly on a high-fat diet, eating fat-rich seals, whales and fish. Our ability to function on a diet high in fat, or to cope with periods of low calorie intake, has been instrumental in our survival as a species.
Adopting a low−carb/high−fat diet by simply manipulating your macronutrients will have significant implications for your health. We can now accept that the health message of the last 60-odd years (low fat, high carb) simply has not worked in our favour, so it’s time to rethink this picture. Since the 1950s we have witnessed improvements in farming, leaps in technology, medical advances and improved diagnostic skills, yet our health continues to decline, with epidemics of diabetes, obesity and Alzheimer’s disease being seen across the globe. The elephant in the room has been carbohydrates.
Let’s look that elephant straight in the eye.
When adopting a low-carb protocol for optimal health it should be accompanied with a high-fat approach. Pairing low carb with high protein comes with its own set of complications. The ketogenic diet has attracted widespread attention recently, primarily due to its many health benefits. The positive ramifications for adopting a ketogenic diet, even periodically, are vast:
ENCOURAGE FAT LOSS
In my mind, this is a by-product of the pursuit of health – not the driver. Being in ketosis will naturally increase satiety and help to normalise blood sugar levels, assisting with cravings. To produce ketones, your body will need to ‘liberate’ body fat for metabolism. It is this process in combination with appetite suppression and reduced insulin that will stimulate fat loss.
IMPROVE COGNITIVE FUNCTION AND MOOD
Ketosis will up-regulate mitochondrial biogenesis, literally creating more power stations in your brain. Ketones have been shown to be the preferred fuel source for the brain and heart, and are able to cross the blood–brain barrier with ease, making them readily available as a fuel source. Brain fog has been blamed on elevated ammonia levels and depressed GABA (the ‘chilled-out’ neurotransmitter) and ketones have been shown to increase GABA signalling and the removal of ammonia, helping improve clarity.
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IMPROVE INSULIN SENSITIVITY
Having elevated insulin levels can work against us. Elevated insulin inhibits lipolysis, or the burning of fat. During periods of elevated insulin, fat-burning is blunted until such time that insulin returns to normal levels. However, if insulin is chronically high due to insulin insensitivity then fat utilisation is compromised and fat loss harder to achieve.
This is the golden ticket for me. My 60-day Keto Protocol is designed to reduce systemic inflammation – adopting a ketogenic diet will inhibit inflammasomes, which are a part of the innate immune response and promote inflammation.
PROMOTE NEURON REGENERATION
We need to shake off the idea that we are born with a finite number of brain cells and beyond maturation they slowly die off, accelerated by poor diet and lifestyle. Humans actually have the ability to grow new brain cells through a process called neurogenesis, which occurs when your brain produces more BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) – ‘fertiliser’ for the brain. There are a few mechanisms to stimulate BDNF and being in ketosis is one.
PROTECT NEURON HEALTH
Ketones produced as a direct result of carb restriction elicit a protective response for the brain, which is highly significant in the fight against neurodegenerative diseases. As we age we do tend to see a decline in the integrity of our brain cells. Studies have shown that ketones improve cognitive function in sufferers of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and MS. In fact, beta-hydroxybutyrate (one of the naturally produced ketones) has been shown to reduce neuronal loss in animal models.
For more information and recipes, pick up a copy of The Keto Diet by Scott Gooding ($29.99), published by Hachette Australia.