A beginner’s guide to the ketogenic diet

If you are reading this, you’re probably heard about the ketogenic diet – the unbelievable diet that helps you achieve rapid weight loss without going hungry. It sounds a bit ridiculous, but the key to unlocking success this diet is food compositions and portions. In this introduction, I will outline how the ketogenic diet works as a biological ‘hack’ to help the body burn fat rapidly.

How the body normally turns food into energy

Every cell in the body needs energy to survive. Usually, energy is created from the sugar (glucose) within the bloodstream. Insulin helps to regulate glucose levels in the blood and stimulate the absorption of glucose by the cells in your body. When we eat a lot of starch and the body has an excess of glucose, 2 things happen:-

  • The first is glycogenesis. The body converts the excess glucose to glycogen and stores this in the liver and muscles.
  • The second thing that could happen is lipogenesis. This happens when the body already has enough glycogen in the liver and muscles, so extra glucose is converted to fat and stored in the body. This is the almost certain route when we eat a lot of starch for an extended period, without exercising. We begin to “put on weight”.

If on the other hand, the body doesn’t have enough glucose or insufficient insulin to produce energy, it goes into ketosis. Ketosis is a normal and safe chemical reaction which occurs when the body breaks down fat for energy, instead of sugars/starch.

A ketogenic diet (keto) is a diet very low in carbohydrates, designed specifically to result in ketosis. Ketosis simply means that the body is breaking down fat to produce ketones. The  process involves the creation of fatty acids, which are burned off in the liver in a process called beta-oxidation. The end product of the whole process of ketosis is the creation of ketones, which are used as fuel by the muscles and brain.

Because energy is always needed for the normal bodily functions, when the intake of carbohydrates is low, the body breaks down its own stored fat through ketosis to generate the energy required. Ketones are an alternative fuel for the body and brain, used when blood sugar (glucose) is in short supply. The body can’t run on fat directly, it can only run on glucose or ketones.  The research surrounding ketosis is amazing, and shows that the body and brain run 70% more efficiently on ketones than on glucose.  The most efficient way to generate ketones consistently is to eat a strict low-carb diet, also called a ketogenic diet.

Now, let’s digress a little to discuss the relationship between insulin, fat and carbohydrates. As we discussed earlier, the body produces insulin to regulate the amount of glucose in the blood. High levels of insulin in the body leads to high levels of fat accumulation. And the easiest way to increase insulin levels is to eat more carbohydrates. Therefore, eating more carbohydrates lead to more insulin being produced, which in turn leads to more fat accumulation. To lower the body’s insulin levels, one has to eat fewer carbohydrates. This means that on a low carb diet, weight is lost by storing less fat, and burning fat more efficiently.

When you eat very few carbs (and only moderate amounts of protein), the body produces small fuel molecules called “ketones”. These are energy molecules (like blood sugar) that are produced in the liver, from fat. It is an alternative fuel for the body, including the brain, used when blood sugar (glucose) is in short supply. The body can’t run on fat directly, it can only run on glucose or ketones.

How does a Ketogenic Diet Help You Lose Weight Rapidly?

On a ketogenic diet, your entire body switches its fuel supply to run almost entirely on fat. This is because the body is low on carbs. The ketone production lowers the insulin level in your bloodstream. The lower your insulin level, the higher your ketone production. When your insulin level becomes very low, fat burning increases dramatically. It then becomes easy for your fat deposits to shrink and release their stored energy, burning them off.

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