A Quick-Start Guide to the Ketogenic Diet
by Sydnie Aldrich, Milene Brownlow, PhD, and Julie Duck
It seems like we’re always on our way to a destination. Whether it’s a physical journey, such as traveling out of town, or a mental one, like getting ready for a job interview, we must prepare for the journey in order to get there. Entering a state of ketosis is no different. Strategic planning is important.
What is “ketosis,” and how can you get there? Many people associate ketosis with a popular diet program and as a way to lose a considerable amount of weight. However, for all of the mystery surrounding ketosis, it’s actually an adaptive metabolic process your body utilizes when there aren’t enough carbohydrates to burn for energy. Instead of carbs, your body burns fat, and ketones are produced as a byproduct of this process. When in a state of ketosis, you may even experience a decrease in cravings and overall appetite,1 which may further promote weight loss. And while all of this sounds great, you need to know how to get into ketosis and stay there in order to receive the healthful benefits it offers.
What Are the Day-to-Day Benefits?
Besides weight loss, the benefits of following a ketogenic dietary approach are manifold.
- Increased mental focus—While on a ketogenic diet, ketone bodies replace glucose as the main energy source for the brain. Experimental studies have shown that ketone bodies improve mitochondrial function and metabolic efficiency by raising ATP levels in the brain, while lowering the production of reactive oxygen species (and therefore reducing oxidative stress).2 As a result, you may feel more alert and find it easier to focus on tasks.3
- Blood sugar management—According to research, calorie-restricted diets help support insulin metabolism in the body. And consuming fewer carbs helps your body maintain stable blood glucose levels by breaking down proteins and fats.4
- Increased energy—Carbs can only do so much to keep you going, especially during a workout. But during ketosis, your body’s use of fat instead of glucose means your body receives a steady supply of ketone bodies, which is necessary to sustain physical performance.5
- Cardiometabolic health—A ketogenic diet has also been shown to help support blood lipid and fatty acid metabolism.6
What to Eat for Ketosis
Food is where your journey begins, and eating the right food is your one-way ticket to ketosis. A typical ketogenic meal consists of:
- About 70% of calories from high-quality fats such as avocado, unsaturated and medium-chain triglyceride oils, nuts and seeds, and coconut7
- 20% of calories from proteins, such as fish rich in omega-3s or grass-fed animal protein7
- About 10% of calories from healthy, complex carbs such as leafy greens, nonstarchy vegetables, or a limited amount of legumes and berries7
Remember: Before starting any new health regimen, it’s important to receive personalized guidance from your healthcare practitioner.
How to Track Your Progress
Being in a state of ketosis means that your body has switched from depending on carbs for energy to burning fats for fuel. As you restrict carbohydrate intake and increase dietary fat, more fat is metabolized and more ketone bodies are created. Ketones can be monitored in a variety of ways.
Acetone, a ketone body produced from the metabolism of beta-hydroxybutyrate (βHB) to acetoacetate and then into acetate, can be measured in the breath using a breath meter device. Another way to check for ketosis is by using ketone urine testing strips that change color to indicate the level of ketones (acetoacetate) excreted. However, ketone levels in the urine don’t necessarily match ketone levels in the blood. Additionally, water intake plays an important role in providing false positives or false negatives. Dehydration may result in a false positive while over hydration will result in a lower concentration of ketones, providing a false negative.
Measuring ketones (βHB) in the blood is the most accurate approach but is significantly more expensive and invasive than the breath and urine test options. Lastly, it is important to keep in mind that as your body becomes more efficient in utilizing ketones as an energy source, ketone levels may decrease due to increased tissue utilization (less circulating βHB in blood or excreted acetoacetate in urine). Partner with a healthcare practitioner to decide on a personalized ketosis monitoring approach.
Get Started Today
Starting your journey into ketosis may seem daunting, but with personalized guidance, the right ratio of healthy foods, regular progress monitoring, and some perseverance, you can get there faster than you think.
- Gibson AA, Seimon RV, Lee CM, et al. Do ketogenic diets really suppress appetite? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Obes Rev. 2015;16(1):64-76.
- Hallbook T, Ji S. The effects of the ketogenic diet on behavior and cognition. Epilepsy Res. 2012;100(3):304-309.
- D’Anci KE, Watts KL. Low-carbohydrate weight-loss diets. Effects on cognition and mood. Appetite. 2009;52(1):96-103.
- Yancy Jr. WS, et al. A low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet to treat type 2 diabetes. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2005;2:34.
- Volek JS, Phinney SD. The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living. Beyond Obesity LLC. 2011.
- Adam-Perrot A, Clifton P. Low-carbohydrate diets: nutritional and physiological aspects. Obes Rev. 2006;7(1)49-58.
- Volek JS, Sharman MJ, Gomez AL, et al. Comparison of energy-restricted very low-carbohydrate and low-fat diets on weight loss and body composition in overweight men and women. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2004;1:13.