The media has been buzzing about this popular trend. Ketogenic diets have been on the rise lately and for good reason. With new research about the negative metabolic effects of carbohydrates and the potentially protective benefit of a higher fat diet to prevent heart disease, cancer, and aid in weight loss, it almost seems too good to be true.
What is it?
A ketogenic diet is the elimination of carbohydrates entirely or eat in very small amounts. The main macronutrient is dietary fat, usually 70-75% of total daily calories. The rest is broken down into 20% protein and 5% carbohydrates.
A typical breakfast might be an egg over a bed of leafy greens with three tablespoons olive oil, ½ avocado and ¼ cup blueberries. Lunch might be an arugula salad with almond slivers, roasted salmon, olive oil and avocado.
Choosing high quality fats is the healthiest way to approach ketosis through choices like avocado, unrefined coconut or MCT oil, chia or flax seeds and grass-fed dairy products. When you are on a ketogenic diet, your body is forced to burn fat for energy instead of the glucose that comes from carbohydrates. Glucose is not stored in our bodies like fat which is why we get hungry in order to replenish glucose stores.
How does it result in weight loss?
There is strong evidence to support that switching to a ketogenic diet can result in weight loss. No calorie counting required. In one study, individuals on a ketogenic diet lost 2.2 times more weight than their cohorts on a low-fat, low-fat diet. Their cholesterol profile also improved with a reduction in triglycerides and HDL levels.
Switching your metabolism from carbohydrate-dependent to fat-dependent can result in weight loss, lasting stamina with increased energy. The energy we receive from carbohydrates is short-lived with stores lasting only about 24 hours. When we eat a cookie or piece of bread, insulin (fat storage hormone) rises, leading to our storing any excess sugars we can’t use right away as fat. Eating less carbs automatically decreases the amount of insulin released to our tissues and we use our existing fat stores for energy.
Ketogenic diets promote weight loss by:
- Suppressing appetite. You feel full longer due to changes in our satiety (hunger) hormones like leptin and ghrelin.
- Decreasing fat storage. Through a reduction in the process called lipogenesis, when sugar from carbs and processed foods that is converted into fat.
- Increased 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.
Work with a Parsley Health doctor to find the right diet plan for you.
What about cancer and ketosis?
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States. The genesis of cancer has been typically been focused on DNA mutations leading to cell proliferation. Halting or slowing down this process via cell autophagy (death) that occurs during fasting is thought to be cancer protective. Fasting induces cancer cell death via a process called differential stress resistance by the production of free radicals to only kill the cancer cells.
Another theory is that cancer is actually caused by mitochondrial dysfunction. Mitochondria are energy powerhouses or the batteries that run our bodies most intricate biological processes. Cancer causing mutations may be due to impaired mitochondrial metabolism by the production of reactive oxidative species that cause DNA damage.
While the main focus for treatment is typically on surgery and chemoradiation, combining those therapies with a diet that supports reducing side effects, increasing energy, supporting mitochondrial health, and preventing reoccurrence is key. This is congruent with the fact that the cause of cancer is likely multifactorial and we should be treating it comprehensively.
One theory is that all cancer cells feed off of carbs (glucose) in order to thrive and multiply. Eating a ketogenic diet that drastically reduces carb intake may “starve” the cancer cells of the necessary fuel to grow. The long term effects include cancer cells growing more slowly and/or decrease in number.
Other studies have looked at how ketosis reduces IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor). This hormone is essential to cell development and acts on insulin, an anabolic hormone. Anabolic means to build or grow. Reducing IGF-1 levels has a direct on decreasing insulin which may reduce tumor growth and cancer over time by following a ketogenic diet.
Does it reduce the severity of autoimmune conditions?
Research on mice have shown that fasting promotes regeneration and reduces autoimmune and multiple sclerosis symptoms. The ketogenic diet has potential to be just as effective in humans when done under the guidance of a physician.
How the diet works.
A ketogenic diet is not a long term nutrition plan. It should be done for only a short duration to maximize the benefits. First do a water only or water + coffee only fast for 1-2 days. Then follow with a ketogenic diet for one week. This time frame is ideal to support mitochondrial (energy) health, clean out excess toxins, improve metabolism, and boost stem cell production.
How we can help.
At Parsley Health, our highly-trained doctors regularly track specific biomarkers for patients on a ketogenic diet to track progress as well as to monitor metabolic changes like fasting insulin and cholesterol markers. This is key to ensure no long term damage to your thyroid and sex hormones and to easily see the trend in either direction.