Dr in the Hub: What is the Ketogenic Diet Part 1
WHAT IS THE KETOGENIC DIET – part 1
A history and short introduction to the ketogenic diet.
If you have stumbled upon this page, it is very likely that you are interested in the ketogenic diet but unsure whether it’s healthy, safe or effective. And who can blame you?
As far as diets go, it is a little technical (it’s not as simple as cutting out a single food group) and goes against many of the things we’ve been told as being healthy (you’ll find out that saturated fats are in fact not bad for you).
For that reason, a lot of people, including some of my doctor colleagues, see the ketogenic diet as something of a fad diet and even dangerous.
As someone who was once sceptical, but now fully on board with the ketogenic diet, my aim is to cut through all the misinformation and give you what would have helped me when I first started my low-carb lifestyle.
I want to show you that a low-carb approach is probably the most natural for us and in fact, one of the healthiest changes you can make to your life.
But before we get into the wonderful science of carbohydrate metabolism and ketones, let’s step inside my imaginary time machine and dial it back to the year 1911.
A hundred years of seizure treatment
The same year that the Titanic was launched was the same year two doctors used starvation as a treatment for epilepsy. Gulep and Marie, in 1911, treated 20 children and adults with epilepsy and reported that seizures were less severe during treatment. Nine years after this, Drs. Cobb and Lennox at Harvard Medical School noted that the control of seizures occurred through the body’s production and use of an acid-forming fat, which occurred in a fasted state or when carbohydrate levels were low.
In the year 1921 two pivotal observations were made that eventually coined the term “ketogenic diet”:
- Scientists noted that molecules called ketones appeared in normal subjects by starvation or a diet containing a low proportion of carbohydrate and a high proportion of fat.
- Wilder, another scientist, noted that the benefits of fasting could be obtained if ketones were made by other means other than fasting, and proposed a diet that would be as effective as fasting and could be maintained for a much longer period of time for his patients…
…and the ketogenic diet was born.
The ketogenic diet is now one treatment option for children or adults with epilepsy whose seizures are not controlled with antiepileptic drugs. For many, the diet has helped reduce the number and severity of seizures as well as providing other positive effects.
Yes, but what about weight loss?
Type ‘keto’ into Google Trends and you will see the graph shown below. Though coined nearly a hundred years ago, the term keto has only gained popularity in the last couple of years. Interestingly too, search numbers have spiked every January since 2017, possibly due to people frantically trying to find solutions to lose excess Christmas weight!
Weight loss is the primary goal for most people, and incorporating a ketogenic diet into a healthy lifestyle has been shown to be extremely effective in doing so. It is important however to note that not everyone may respond to, do well or even like the ketogenic lifestyle. And yes you heard me right, lifestyle, not diet. Eating low carb should be part of a wider approach in improving one’s health. Going low-carb to lose a few pounds quickly for an upcoming event is good and all, but veer away, and the weight will inevitably start piling back on. This type of yo-yo dieting is detrimental to one’s health and solely focuses on weight loss as the end goal. Let’s focus on good health instead.
The ketogenic diet has a vast array of benefits, weight loss being only one of them. For some, the amount of weight lost and the speed at which it is accomplished is astounding. Instead of going through boring studies, I’ve screenshotted popular posts on the Reddit page ‘r/keto’ for anecdotal evidence. Have a look.
Links to original content
What is the ketogenic diet exactly?
The ketogenic diet is a low-carb, high-fat diet.
It involves eating only 20-50g of carbohydrates a day and replacing it with healthy fats. When you reduce the amount of carbohydrate from the diet and use up your sugar stores (glycogen) the body goes into a state called ketosis.
Ketosis is a state where the body turns fat into ketones in the liver, and ketones (instead of carbohydrates) become the dominant fuel source.
What’s a ketone?
Ketones, or more specifically ketone bodies are naturally occurring molecules that provide the body with energy and other special benefits.
Ketones are nothing new to your body and are formed whether you’re partaking in the ketogenic diet or not.
In fact, your heart and part of your kidneys are using ketones right now. The ketogenic diet allows more ketones to be produced allowing other parts of your body like your muscles and brain to begin to use them too.
When studies and articles talk about ketone bodies, they are referring to the three ketones that the body forms naturally.
- Beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB)
These three are all produced by the liver and used as an energy source when glucose is not readily available, but they are all produced at different times in slightly different ways. The rise in ketones aid with fat loss, as fat is turned into ketones for fuel.
Ketones have also been shown to have other health benefits ranging from improving cognition to helping reduce tumour growth.
Are you ready to begin?
Now you know a little bit about the history of the ketogenic diet and what it encompasses, some of you may be eager to start your low-carb journey.
Though it may sound as easy as reducing one’s carbohydrate intake to less than 50g a day, there are many pitfalls and things to watch out for when first beginning this diet.
Not to overwhelm you with too much information, I will be covering this next time on this blog, tune in then!
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