Ketones and the Ketogenic Diet For Weight Loss

Gabriella Safdieh, MS, MD
October 10, 2018

Studies show that a ketogenic diet produces not only weight loss and improved energy, but also other important health benefits such as reductions in markers of diabetes, chronic pain, and more.

The keto diet has taken off in popularity, and there is some scientific evidence to show that it can be beneficial for treating and preventing a range of diseases. But have you ever wondered what ketones are and how a ketogenic diet can help with weight loss and overall health?

We’ll explain what ketones are and the role they play in our bodies, how to know if you’re in ketosis, and how to use the ketogenic diet for weight loss and improved health. Remember, every body is different—consult with your doctor for tailored recommendations that specifically cater to your health goals.

What is a ketogenic diet?

A ketogenic diet is the elimination or extreme reduction of carbohydrates. Dietary fat makes up around 70-75 percent of total daily calories on the diet. The rest is broken down into around 20 percent protein and 5 percent carbohydrates.

In normal circumstances, the body uses glucose as its preferred form of energy. Glucose can either be used to fuel the body or be stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen. If there is not enough glucose available to meet energy demands, like when doing a ketogenic diet, the body will turn to stored fats and break those down instead.

What are ketones and how do they work?

When your body is forced to burn fat for energy instead of glucose, the liver converts fat into fatty acids. Ketosis simply describes the metabolic state where the body converts fat stores into energy, releasing ketones . Ketones are a byproduct of this process and are acids that build up in the blood and are eliminated in urine.

Benefits of the ketogenic diet

The ketogenic diet has been studied in the past and currently for use in a variety of neurological disorders , including epilepsy , Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, migraines, narcolepsy, and depression , and has shown promising results. In addition, clinical use of the ketogenic diet has been tested in various other disorders including diabetes , blood sugar issues , obesity, PCOS , nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, metabolic disorders, trauma, and cancer.

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How to use the ketogenic diet for weight loss

More recently, ketogenic diets have been shown to be promising for weight loss and has emerged as a diet trend. The overall concept is that ketone bodies produce more adenosine triphosphate (ATP) energy than glucose (sugar) or fatty acids by reducing the mitochondrial nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide couple and oxidizing the coenzyme Q couple. Put simply: the body is able to produce fuel more efficiently even with a caloric loss.

Ketogenic diets promote weight loss by:

1. Suppressing appetite.

You feel full longer due to changes in your satiety (hunger) hormones like leptin and ghrelin and a direct appetite suppressant action of ketones.

2. Decreasing fat storage.

During ketosis there is a reduction in lipogenesis , a process in which sugar from carbs and processed foods is converted into fat.

3. Increasing fat burning.

When in ketosis, our bodies increase the amount of fat burning even during rest. Particularly excess abdominal fat, which is inflammatory and increases risk of metabolic syndrome.

How to know if you’re in ketosis.

The first 1-2 weeks of a ketogenic diet may come with a few unpleasant side effects. This has been nicknamed the “keto flu” and while not everybody experiences it, it is usually associated with your body getting accustomed to being in ketosis. You may not feel great during this transition time, but these are common signs you’re effectively transitioning into ketosis. The good news is they are usually temporary and within a few weeks you’re likely to notice improvements in several health markers.

Symptoms of keto flu

  • Weight loss
  • Brain fog
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Digestive discomfort
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Low energy levels
  • Irritability
  • Sugar cravings
  • Dizziness

Tests that measure ketosis

If you absolutely want to know how your body is using ketones, these are a few options you can use to test this.

1. A ketone meter

This device measures ketone levels by determining your blood levels of the ketone beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB).

2. Ketone urine strips

Ketone strips are used to measure ketones in your urine. While they may not be as accurate as testing blood levels, they can provide some indication of whether you’re in ketosis and are more budget-friendly than glucose meters. However, the downside is that only acetoacetate ketone levels are revealed, not levels of BHB.

3. Breath analyzer

This device measures the amount of acetone you release in your breath when you are in ketosis. However, it may not be as accurate as blood tests.

At Parsley Health, you can try a ketogenic diet under the supervision of a medical provider, where we can track specific biomarkers to follow your progress, and monitor metabolic changes like fasting insulin for complications of the diet.

Want a doctor that can help you determine the right diet for your body? Find out how Parsley Health can help you by scheduling a free 15 minute call.

Who should try the ketogenic diet?

There are several precautions with following a strict ketogenic diet, and again it is important to consult with your doctor for specific recommendations that specifically target your body.

At Parsley Health, you can try a ketogenic diet under the supervision of a medical provider, where we can track specific biomarkers to follow your progress, and monitor metabolic changes like fasting insulin for complications of the diet.

The keto diet is not necessarily right for everyone. It’s not recommended for people with cardiomyopathy, hypotonia, exercise intolerance, myoglobinuria, easy fatigability, and certain metabolic conditions.

There are also a number of medical conditions that can be aggravated by the diet , including a history of kidney stones, dyslipidemia, liver disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and constipation. The ketogenic diet can cause several side effects, including dehydration, constipation, acidosis, slowed height velocity, dyslipidemia, kidney stones, and bone fractures. New research also shows it could put people at a greater risk for type 2 diabetes .

Avocado macros (1 avocado): 240 calories, 21g fat, 11g carbs (though 10g fiber and only 1g sugar), 2g protein.

Keto diet approved recipes

If you decide the keto diet is right for you, choosing high-quality fats from foods like avocado, unrefined coconut or MCT oil, chia or flax seeds and grass-fed dairy products is the healthiest way to do the diet. Get started with some of these keto-friendly recipes.

Takeaways on the keto diet

  • The keto diet is not for everyone and can be difficult to do right on your own.
  • Working with a doctor can help you do the keto diet more effectively and ensure that you’re in ketosis.
  • Aim for high-quality sources of fats, including plenty of plant sources.
Gabriella Safdieh, MS, MD

Dr. Gabriella Safdieh is a certified Functional Medicine Physician who specializes in pediatrics and rheumatology. She trained at University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, New York University School of Medicine, the Hospital for Special Surgery, and the Institute for Functional Medicine.

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