My encounter with the ketogenic Diet or perhaps the first mention to me was introduced by Dave Asprey and the introduction of his “Bulletproof Coffee”. I instantly became very fascinated with this diet although apart from having delicious coffee, I didn’t really pay it much notion. The idea that I would have to part ways with carbs seemed very alien to me and thus, I never ventured further than that. I was re-introduced to this diet two years later when I heard the first interview of Dominic D’Agostino on the Tim Ferris Show. At that time of my life, I was struggling with many health issues including digestive issues, sleep deprivation, headaches and thought of implementing it into my life as a way of improving my health. For those that are new to this diet, the ketogenic diet is a way of eating where your body is fueled by healthy fats, moderate amounts of protein and include foods that are low in carbohydrates. When I heard Dominic speak of this diet, I immediately knew that this is something which could potentially change my life.
As someone who was studying to be a Nutritionist, I immediately delved into the research. I actualized that there were numerous studies on PubMed with its efficacy on epilepsy. This diet has in fact been used by the medical profession for over a 100 years for treating treatment resistant epilepsy and has worked miracles for many if not all. The devil is in the details though. There are many variations to this diet, including four different ratio’s such as 4:1, 3:1, 2:1 and a 1:1 which shows the ratio of fat (being the first number) to carbohydrates and protein (second number). This diet is a way of teaching your body to switch fuels for energy. Most of us know that the body uses glucose as a form of creating energy but the Ketogenic Diet, teaches the body to use fatty acids and fatty acid derived ketones as the primary source of energy. In this manner, the body switches from fatty acid synthesis and storage to mobilizing them from our adipose tissues for fuel. As a result, the body switches back and forth from using fats or carbohydrates for ATP production, which is our energy currency in the body.
As I already considered myself a healthy eater, the implementation part of this diet became effortless. I immediately purchased a blood ketone meter called the precision extra so that I could gauge my starting point in terms of glucose and ketones. I gradually started to lower my carbohydrate intake while slowly increasing the amount of mono and polyunsaturated fats in my meals. This meant, there was an abundance of healthy fats in my diet such as Extra Virgin Olive oil, avocado’s, nuts and seeds, olives, and the omega-3 rich fish i.e., Salmon, sardines, and mackerel. I ate protein moderately and that was one macronutrient which needed to be adjusted in this process of me creating ketones. I religiously took my electrolytes while I exercised and made sure that I prioritized getting sunlight in the morning and sleeping on time at night. I was quite aware of the keto flu where fatigue sets in within the first week, but creating good habits can help you avoid that. Measuring ketones regularly was a defining factor on whether I could easily produce ketones as the number on the monitor showed me where my diet could be manipulated and managed. Within the first two weeks, something in my brain and body has changed. It felt like a light bulb had gone off for the first time and my cognition and energy had improved drastically. I no longer had headaches and no longer has issues with sleep and best of all, my digestion was working better.
In the last decade or so, the ketogenic diet has really been commercialized due to the increase in keto snacks everywhere. I do believe that most of the magic of this diet has been lost due to that. This is a powerful adjunct to an already healthy lifestyle if done well and I’m very fortunate to have experienced it just by eating whole foods and not relying on any ready-made keto snack. I realize not everyone has this smooth of a transition but it’s important for everyone to know that our bodies were designed to use fatty acids for fuel in the form of ketones when food was scarce. Some might even say that producing ketones is our default mode but in this society of overconsumption, our bodies are never really allowed to burn fat because we are rarely ever in a position where food is unavailable.
No doubt, there are a multitude of benefits with this diet alongside epigenetic changes and there is on-going research homing in on the specifics. This diet has now shown efficacy in epilepsy, certain cancers, neuro-degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, psychiatric ailments, endocrine disorders, migraines and certain genetic metabolic disorders. The common denominator for these illnesses shows a change in metabolism and the utilization of glucose for energy. Whilst this is such a new area of research, we have enough anecdotal evidence to suggest that yes, this diet can be of great therapeutic support.
The ketogenic diet has also shown distinct physical benefits visible in the body. This diet has shown to help weight loss simply because the body is using fatty acids as fuel and lowering inflammation. One feels satiated easier eating a diet higher in healthy fats and has an enormous amount of energy all day. The way the body is fueled creates less reactive oxygen species which allows the body less inflammation which is also neuro protective. The ketogenic diet has shown to increase the activation of the longevity genes as well as other enzymatic pathways which support neurogenesis in the brain. It’s shown to increase GABA which is our calming neurotransmitter.
All in all, it seems like a panacea for all. However, the caveats really come down to the restriction in carbohydrates. My advice for those who want to try it, is to implement these changes gradually. The first step towards living a healthier life could be to eliminate all the processed food in their homes and just start to eat a diet rich in whole foods. Ensuring a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables could be a great starting point for anyone who wants to change their eating habits. Evaluating your relationship with food could be another goal to accomplish. It’s important to understand if the body is hungry or one has the tendency to overeat due to boredom or stress. A third would be to switch out all the fats in the home for things like butter, EVOO, avocado and coconut oil. Lastly, if you are going to change the way your body’s metabolism functions, you will have to learn to be patient. Rome wasn’t built in a day and once your body is keto adapted, you will know that this is here to stay.