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Keto 101

In the most recent years, the ketogenic diet has been the talk of health and fitness magazines, media published articles and well-known figureheads. It has been the spotlight of media attention as a front running method of weight loss. I have encountered so many people who have all tried the keto diet and I am quite sure that many of you guys know at least one person who has tried this method of fat loss dieting. 

It is a dieting strategy that has received an absolute wide range of both fame and popularity while at the same time garnering infamy for being a dietary method that some have claimed is a fad or scam. Most people who have given keto a fair shot have lost significant amounts of weight. However, some have managed to keep it off while some have regained all their previously lost weight and then some. 

So, what’s the deal with keto? Does it work or not?

Let’s take a look at it and find out if it works and, if so, how it works. 

Ok what is Keto actually and how does it work?

In simple terms, the ketogenic diet is a diet that involves drastically reducing the number of carbohydrates (and by drastic we mean eating around 30g of total carbs per day or less) a person will consume on a daily basis and essentially replacing it with fat and additional protein. Due to this energy source exchange, an increase in substances known as ketones (a substance that allows your body to use fat as a primary energy and fuel source) is formed by your body in response. This metabolic state that your body shifts into is what we know and call ketosis.

When this happens, your body becomes incredibly efficient at burning fat for energy. It also turns fat into ketones in the liver, which can supply energy for the brain. Additionally, ketogenic diets can cause massive reductions in blood sugar and insulin levels. 

But basic biology says that your body NEEDS glucose to function.

Correct, this still holds true. Your body does indeed need, on average, around 120g of glucose a day just to function. Moreover, certain parts of the body almost only exclusively work with glucose as an energy source. These parts include the brain, red blood cells, the central nervous system and anaerobic functions of your muscles. 

However, your body has a mechanism that allows it to produce carbohydrates through the conversion of non-carbohydrate substrates in the liver. This process is known as Gluconeogenisis. In other words, your body will make glucose from the converted carbohydrates it creates in the liver. It will source and convert this energy from your consumed fats and/or proteins. This then allows your body to perform all the necessary functions it needs to by making the substances it needs in order to function. 

Wait, so if your body can make its own carbs… 

There are two ways to take the above information:

  1. Carbs are obsolete and your body doesn’t need them to function.
  2. If your body will use carbohydrates anyways by making them, that makes the keto diet obsolete, 

With regards to the first point: no, your body will not starve or lose any sort of functionality as a result of it going into a state of ketosis.  

Now a lot of you may be thinking that since your body does not need carbs, insulin sensitivity and resistance must be a real thing and carbs are the enemy. Therefore, if we avoid carbs, we will not lose the abilities of any critical bodily functions and we can stave off insulin resistance thus creating the insulin sensitivity needed for additional and faster fat loss. True, insulin sensitivity goes up, but it is important for everyone reading this to understand that: INSULIN IS NOT THE ONLY MECHANISM THE BODY HAS OF STORING FAT. In fact, the human body is quite apt at storing fat extremely efficiently even in ketosis. 

But surely fat metabolism increases in a ketogenic state and with insulin resistance being low and insulin sensitivity high, we can lose way more fat? 

Correct thought process but wrong outcome. 

Fat digestion happens by being packaged in chylomicrons (fat vehicles if you will). They are then dumped in the bloodstream and are transported to areas of the body that burn fatty acids. However, an additional area of this transportation destination is adipose tissue which, simply put, are tissue areas that hold and store body fat. 

Now when you ingest more fat, your body creates more chylomicrons to send to areas that will burn it off as energy. However, you also store more fat as a result. So sure, your fat metabolism might increase but your fat storage increases as well. Furthermore, this entire process and all the subsequent storage happens quite effectively without the presence of insulin.  

Keto essentially boils down to the same old song:  

The net balance of fat storage to fat (fat usage) is what determines whether you store body fat or not. 

So, is the keto diet useful at all?

This leads to my second point above: No, the keto diet is not obsolete. It plays its role for select individuals who have chronic illnesses that impose dietary restrictions and there are even the odd groups of people who actually find ketosis sustainable and enjoyable. The body will produce the glucose it needs to function anyways, and these people will have a sustainable method of fat loss if they are eating in a deficit. 

So, the underlying theme with keto is this: It works by placing people in a caloric deficit. People who generally transition to keto diets are individuals who were previously eating scores of carb-dense meals. After the transition, all those carbs just disappear when they start eating in keto fashion. The result is that their new overall caloric intake clocks in at a noticeable deficit and subsequent fat loss occurs as a result. 

These individuals are people who generally do not ©track their food intake and by chance, happen to fall into a deficit once they remove their calorie-dense foods choices. Which is why a large majority of them also pick up fat really quickly once they reintroduce carbs (and the additional excess calories) back into their daily lives.

Therefore, deciding on whether you should jump onto keto or not is a matter of you deciding whether being in deficit with keto restrictive foods is a sustainable course of action for you or not. The key is tracking your food. Remember that.