Ketogenic diets are trending at the moment and perhaps by now, you’ve heard of the low-carb, high-fat regime being followed by athletes and the general population alike. But what exactly does it mean?
Be Fit Food co-founder and practising accredited dietitian Kate Save explains ketosis as a metabolic state in which our body produces ketone bodies as an alternative energy source to glucose.
“The body's preferred fuel source is glucose which you largely consume in the form of carbohydrates found in breads, cereals, grains, legumes, fruit, starchy vegetables and dairy products and sugar,” explains Kate.
“But if you only consume a very low amount of carbohydrates and boost your fat intake levels, your body begins to look elsewhere for fuel which is where ketone bodies come into the equation; you start to burn ketones rather than glucose.”
One of the key benefits of using ketones for energy – and what often yields weight loss results – is that the body no longer relies on dietary intake and instead uses stored fats for fuel.
“There is also a state called ‘mild nutritional ketosis’ which is just as it sounds, a milder state of ketosis which is sustainable for longer periods and has fewer side effects due to its less extreme fat vs carb ratios,” she adds.
So, taking all of this into account, what actually happens to your body when you are in a ketogenic state? Here are a few changes you’re likely to see.
1. You may feel tired and you might get sick … temporarily!
The first few days of following a ketogenic diet are not much fun as your body is still looking for carbohydrates to burn. You may be hungry, low in energy, a bit irritable, more likely to get sick and you might not be able to train at your peak.
2. You will be less hungry
Once you’re in ketosis, your appetite is reduced for a number of reasons. A high protein intake has a higher satiety effect; we see changes in the levels of appetite control hormones and the ketone bodies themselves have a direct appetite suppressant action.
3. Your breath might smell
One of the by-products of the breakdown of ketones is acetone. Acetone is the chemical responsible for the production of nail polish remover and some paint thinners. Acetone is exhaled through the lungs, thus making your breath smell a little like nail polish remover. Aside from the need to use breath mints, this is not harmful and is a sure-fire sign that your body is in ketosis.
4. You might have constipation
It can be hard to consume enough fibre on a ketogenic diet as many high-fibre foods are excluded such as grains, cereals, too much fruit, and legumes, so a common complaint from followers is they can get clogged up. However, it is possible to consume enough fibre from non-starchy veggies so just load up your plate with salads and steamed greens to keep the bowels working well.
5. You’ll lose weight
Although it seems counter-intuitive to be eating more fat and losing weight, now that your body is burning body fat as its main fuel source, you can lose weight very quickly. In addition, your appetite is suppressed so you’re less likely to overeat or go back for seconds.
6. You’ll get control of your blood sugar levels and your insulin levels drop
On a ketogenic diet, you’ll limit the spikes in blood sugars that come with frequent carbohydrate and sugar intake. As a result, your body doesn’t need to produce as much insulin. Low insulin levels mean that your body is better able to break down fat to be used as fuel. This may also be a good result for people with Type 2 Diabetes who can use their own insulin better and possibly get the stage where they can rely less on medication in the long term.
7. Increased energy
Once your body is in ketosis, your energy levels should come back to normal or even better! Now that you are using fat as fuel, you are not short of an energy supply and no longer relying on your dietary intake as your main source of energy.
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