What is ketosis? I’ve mistakenly not went into many details on the state of the body being into ketosis yet in these keto post. I started writing about keto from all of the questions being received so it was more reactionary than educational. Let’s start at the beginning.
Ketosis is a normal metabolic state where in the absence of carbohydrates the body starts using fat from intake and/or storage as alternate fuel source. Without glucose running rapid in the body, the hormone insulin’s production decreases substantially and production of fatty acids increase. Many of the fatty acids are oxidized in the liver and turned into ketones.
ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate) is the energy source of the body. The body can make ATP from carbohydrates or fat. The process of breaking down fat for energy is called fatty acid oxidation. The process of breaking down carbohydrates to energy is called cellular respiration.
The body can make it’s own source of glucose from protein in the process of gluconeogenesis when it needs it. The brain has some glucose requirements, but even in ketosis those are still filled by ketones, proteins and the low amount of carbohydrates.
The body stores extra carbohydrates as fat because it is the preferred energy source (biggest bang for the buck) since it produces more energy per gram than any other macro nutrient (protein, carbohydrate or fat). The body will even increase the number mitochondria in the cells to burn fat more efficiently. I created the diagram image in this post to simplify the metabolic processes, show their similarities and total ATP production at a high level. A molecule of carbohydrate generates maximum net 38 ATP. A molecule of fat generates net 129 ATP.
The difference in the molecular structure of the macros not only produces different amounts of ATP, but also per gram are different calorie count. Protein and carbohydrates both have 4 calories per gram. Fat has 9 calories per gram. This makes a carbohydrate fueled life calorie requirement different than a fat fueled. In addition, fat keeps you fuller longer and there are no crashes from changing glucose levels in the bloodstream. Hangry is a term for the carb fueled.
The body goes into ketosis naturally for many reasons.
- The most commonly known state of ketosis is from starvation.
- Anytime the body has less than 50 grams of carbohydrates a day within 3-4 days it will be in ketosis. Ketogenic nutritionist recommend staying 20 g of carbs or less a day to keep the body in high fat burning state.
- Fasting causes the body to go into ketosis. Intermittent fasting is process a lot of dietitians recommend on keto diet or not for all the many health benefits.
- Extended periods of exercise will put the body in ketosis. The body will use up all the glycogen stores in the muscles and switch to fat and protein for fuel.
- In the last mid-term of pregnancy, mom and baby will be in ketosis during fetal brain development. Ketone bodies are attributed to the large human brain.
- Infants are born in state of ketosis. Breast milk is high in fat. Breast fed babies continue life in ketosis.
Can it be dangerous? Ketosis is not the same as ketoacidosis. Ketoacidosis is a dangerous metabolic condition where the bloodstream is flooded with high levels of glucose and ketones which change the acidity of the blood becoming harmful. This condition is not a normal state since the blood is usually flowing with one fuel source or the other. This condition occurs most often with uncontrolled type 1 diabetes.
Now that you have an understanding of ketosis, is a ketogenic diet right for you? This is a hard decision for many. Living a ketogenic lifestyle goes against all of the nutritional knowledge taught growing up. There are many diets out there with similar eating strategies though. The normal American low-carb diet is cutting carbs the same way as keto. However, the body feels like crap because it is never supplied with additional fuel from fat. The body goes in more of a starvation mode with prolonged lack of fuel when using up the stored fat fuel. What is so amazing about adding fat to your diet is not starving, continuing burning fat and feeling great. The body burns fat freely because it is getting an ample supply.
The Atkins diet does very similar macros, but does not focus on nutritional whole foods. Paleo dieters probably stay in ketosis most of the time as well depending on fruit intake. The list goes on and on. If you aren’t convinced, here are some of the many benefits of a ketogenic lifestyle:
- Weight loss
- Reduced hunger and crashes
- Mental Clarity
- Disease prevention – Epilepsy, Inflammation, Alzheimer’s, Cancer, Depress, Migraines
I am not a doctor so do your own research to make an educated decision. I wish you the best in turning into a fat burning machine!