using ketogenic low carb diets for weight loss

All food comprise of three essential components or macronutrients. These are protein, fat, and carbohydrate. Weight loss diets manipulate the intake of these three macronutrients. Majority of weight loss diets focus on the calorie reduction of one or more of them.

Ketogenic diets, however ironic their core principle may sound, manipulate the macronutrient carbohydrate. These diets have achieved some of the most remarkable rapid weight loss effect.

What Are Ketogenic Diets?

Ketogenic diets are a group of high-fat, moderate protein or high-protein, moderate fat diets. They are generally very low-carbohydrate diets.

The name ketogenic refers to the increased production of ketone bodies. Ketone bodies increase due to an increased rate of lipolysis (fat breakdown). Ketones are acidic compounds. They are a result of the intermediate metabolism of “fat” into “fatty acids” and ketone bodies by the liver.

The first sets of ketogenic diets were in the early 1920s. The Johns Hopkins Pediatric Epilepsy Center and Dr. R.M. Wilder of the Mayo Clinic were the developers. They were for the treatment of children with hard to control seizures.

The diets provided about 10-15 grams of carbohydrates per day. They also provided 1 gram of protein per kilogram of the patient’s body weight and the remaining calories from fat.

The diets were to mimic the biochemical changes associated with periods of fasting. These changes include ketosis, acidosis, and dehydration. The diets replaced the natural fasting methods used in treating epilepsy. The change was necessary as natural fasting was not sustainable for long-term treatment.

They were successful until the late 1930s when the first anticonvulsant drug – phenytoin (Dilantin) come on stream. Several other variants also become available. The use of ketogenic diets reduced greatly as patients turned to the new methods.

The use of ketogenic diets in treating epilepsy thus stopped. However, new incidents came up in the mid 1990s. There were a lot of reports of patients not responding to any medical or surgical procedure. The treatment of the patients were however successful using ketogenic diets. Doctors in over 40 different countries currently use ketogenic diets in treating epilepsy.

Ketogenic Diet Principle

However, a cardiologist, Dr. Robert Atkins, adopted the core principles of ketogenic diets. In 1970, he formulated his now very popular diet called Atkins Diet.

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Ketogenic diet promoters like Dr. Atkins, are strongly of the opinion that carbohydrates are the major cause of weight gain. Particularly implicated are the low-glycemic index carbohydrate-containing foods.

Excess fat in the diet easily correlates to weight gain. While this is true, a worse enemy exists – carbohydrates. The body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose, a form of sugar.

Glucose is the preferred primary energy source for cells in the body. The body can break down muscle and fat to provide energy. It however prefers low-glycemic index carbohydrates as its primary source of energy.

Thus, most argue that the major cause of weight gain is the glucose from carbohydrates. The rate of carbohydrate absorption into the bloodstream is the quickest of the three macronutrients. It is therefore the main culprit when it comes to fat storage compared to the other macronutrients – protein and fat.

Effects of Ketogenic Diets on Insulin

The fast absorption rate of carbohydrates easily causes a rise and fall in blood sugar levels. This leads to the body over producing insulin – a hormone that regulates blood glucose level. Insulin is the maintainer of the energy in/energy out equation that rules body weight.

Generally, insulin causes the body to store glucose in the liver and muscle cells as glycogen. It also stores glucose as fat in fat cells (adipose tissues). Excess amount of glucose in the bloodstream causes increased insulin secretion. This in turn leads to the storage of the excess as glucose.

If left uncontrolled, this situation can easily cause major weight gain. It can also develop into a “conditioned eating” or an “emotional eating” habit.

Thus ketogenic diets aim to reduce insulin production to its barest minimum. The aim is to hugely reduce carbohydrate consumption. They also advocate using energy from either fats or proteins as the body’s primary energy source.

Thus ketogenic diets help to reduce insulin production and forestall weight gain. However, their ultimate aim is to induce ketosis. Ketogenic diets thus encourage and promote the state of ketosis.

Understanding Ketosis

Ketosis is a state where the rate of creation of ketones is faster than the ability of tissues to oxidize them. Ketosis is actually a secondary state of the process of lipolysis – fat breakdown. It is a common side effect of low-carbohydrate diets.

The following conditions can induce a state of Ketosis:

  • Prolonged starvation/low-calorie intake
  • Use of a low-carbohydrate diet

A low-carbohydrate diet involves eating large amounts of either fat or protein and few amounts of carbohydrate. The major weight loss diets used to induce ketosis are high-fat and high-protein diets.

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Therefore, ketosis is a very efficient form of energy production. It does not involve the production of insulin as the body instead burns its fat supply for energy. So the idea is to reduce carbohydrate intake in order to reduce insulin production. This also forces the body into burning its fat store for energy.

The idea thus sounds very intriguing. This means that ketogenic diets can be very powerful in achieving rapid weight loss.

Ketogenic diets force the body to exhaust its glucose supply. Then they finally force the body to switch to burning stored fat for energy. Once ketosis starts, subsequent food intakes help to sustain the fat burning process.

During the ketosis phase, there is further adjustment to the amount of carbohydrate intake. These adjustments provide just the basic amount of calories needed by the body. This suggested carbohydrate intake makes the dieter to neither gain nor lose weight. This is the dieter’s Critical Carbohydrate Level for Maintenance (CCLM).

Ketosis and Ketoacidosis

However, there is a major mix-up about the state of accumulated ketones in the bloodstream. This is because there are two different conditions that can actually cause this. These conditions are ketosis and ketoacidosis.

Ketosis results from a low blood sugar level. But ketoacidosis results from increased blood sugar levels in Type 1 diabetic persons. This is due to insufficient insulin production and increased counter-regulatory hormone production.

Ketogenic Diets and Water Loss

A lot of people often insinuate that the weight loss from a ketogenic diet is mostly because of water loss. This argument does not however hold much truth.

It is important to realize that any form of healthy weight loss diet plan must oxidize fat in order to work. The process of fat oxidation (fat burning) called lipolysis produces the following:

  • Adenosine triphosphate or ATP (the fundamental unit of energy)
  • Carbon dioxide
  • Water

So any type of diet used for weight loss must result in a certain amount of water loss.

But ketogenic diets do produce a lot of water loss. The experience of this drastic water loss is only during the initial phases of the diet. This occurs when inducing the state of ketosis.

Water loss during this phase is due to an increase in glucagon secretion. Reduced carbohydrate consumption causes a reduction in insulin production. This makes the body to start using up its glycogen reserves in both the liver and muscle cells.

A glycogen molecule comprises of glucose and about 75% water. It thus makes sense why there should be a lot of water loss during this phase of a ketogenic diet.

Ketogenic Diets and Weight Maintenance

However, ketogenic diets aim at the secondary stage of lipolysis called ketosis. Their focus is not the ketosis-inducing phase itself. The lost muscles should be able to replenish themselves when using the last phases of the diet.

The last phases focus on the dieter eating the amount of carbohydrate correlating to his or her CCLM. This is the individual’s Critical Carbohydrate Level for Maintenance. It is the amount of consumed carbohydrate that causes neither gain nor loss of weight.

Caution on High Fat Ketogenic Diet

Nonetheless, there’s need for caution especially when using high-fat ketogenic diets. This concern the type of fat consumed. It is important whether on a high-fat or high-protein low carbohydrate diet.

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There should be a major reduction or a removal of saturated fats. The diet should consist more of the essential fatty acids (EFAs). This will help to promote overall healthy eating habits and get the best out of the ketogenic diet. Also, dieter’s should ensure to drink a lot of water due to the increased acidity level of the body.

In 2003, the Johns Hopkins Treatment Center came up with modified versions of the Atkins Diet. The protocol was to treat a group of twenty children with epilepsy. According to the Center, two-thirds of the twenty patients experienced major seizure reduction. Nine of them were able to reduce their medication dosages. Yet none of the patients developed kidney stones.

There are also ongoing studies by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). They are about the classic ketogenic diet and the modified versions of the Atkins Diet. Focus is on their weight reduction capabilities and the treatment of epilepsy.

Also, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) is carrying out studies. The focus is not just on the effects of ketogenic diets. They are also looking at making drugs that can create the same effect on weight loss.