A little appreciated (but important) fact: For most of human history, the average person would have been regularly exposed to ketosis. It was mostly mild and transient, sometimes more prolonged, but they were never far from a mildly ketogenic state. Food wasn’t always a sure thing, after all, and carbs weren’t necessarily readily available all year round. Ketosis was normal, it was frequent, and it was beneficial, even life-saving.
Today, few people achieve ketosis without intentionally fasting or follow a ketogenic diet. The last refers to any very low carb diet, low enough for your liver to produce ketones that your cells can use for energy instead of glucose. It may seem like keto exploded in popularity out of nowhere, but doctors have actually been prescribing therapeutic keto diets to treat epilepsy for over a century. Today, keto is popular primarily as a weight loss diet, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the benefits a keto diet has to offer.
This is because keto diets have two benefits: carb restriction and the resulting ketones. Each profoundly affects health and longevity, in addition to stopping seizures and helping people adjust to smaller jeans. I’ve been talking about keto since the beginning of the Primal Blueprint because I strongly believe that everyone should spend time in a state of ketosis.
Here are some of the reasons why.
Why Go Keto? The big picture
The main reason I recommend everyone try keto is to metabolic flexibility. To put it bluntly, if you want to be metabolically healthy, you duty be metabolically flexible. Metabolic flexibility, you may recall, is the ability of your cells to use any available substrate (glucose, fat, or ketones) for energy on demand. It is the opposite of carbohydrate addiction, the metabolic state that characterizes the vast majority of the population today.
Keto diets upregulate your cells’ ability to burn ketones, obviously, but they also make you more suitable for fats. And being able to metabolize fatty acids efficiently is important whether you’re keto or eating a “regular Primal” regimen.
There are other things that keto does particularly well compared to other types of diets, namely lower blood sugar, insulin and inflammation. Hyperglycemia, hyperinsulinemia and chronic inflammation are the triumvirate of fate when it comes to chronic disease. I can’t think of a single chronic disease of any kind – metabolic, autoimmune, neurodegenerative, cancer – that doesn’t have one, if not all three, as a contributing factor.
It is evident that seriously restricting carbohydrate intake would reduce blood sugar and insulin secretion, thereby reducing inflammatory markers. Keto diets also trigger more complex downstream biochemical processes that account for many of their beneficial effects. For example, keto modulates the action of a critical enzyme called AMPK which is involved in the regulation of cellular energy, improving glucose uptake by cells, improving insulin sensitivity and decreasing inflammation. Ketone body beta-hydroxybutyrate has direct anti-inflammatory effects.
In short, with keto diets, you reap the benefits of NOT eating too many carbs, along with a host of other benefits that are specifically due to being ketotic..
Benefits of the Keto Diet
The Keto Diet for the Treatment of Major Medical Conditions
The ketogenic diet remains the only thing with the consistent ability to prevent epileptic seizures. We have better medicines than doctors did a hundred years ago, but not everyone responds to them. Whether it’s Thai children suffering from incurable epilepsy, Scandinavian children with treatment-resistant epilepsyor adults with refractory epilepsyketogenic diets simply work.
Ketosis ameliorates epilepsy via several mechanisms.
- It increases the conversion of glutamate to glutamine in GABA, reducing neuronal excitability.
- It increases the antioxidant status of neuronal mitochondria, improving their function.
- It reduces the formation of free radicals in neurons, a probable cause of seizures.
- It provides alternative fuel to brain neurons that may dysfunctionally metabolize glucose.
These effects on neuronal function and health, as well as the ability of aging or degenerated brains to accept and utilize ketone bodies, also have implications for other brain conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease., alzheimers, and bipolar disorder. However, ketogenic diets are not only beneficial for brain disorders. People with mild cognitive impairment and even generally healthy people can benefit cognitive benefits like improved memory, mental clarity, increased focus and positive mood, to name a few.
And the impact of keto extends far beyond the brain. For example…
A Spanish ketogenic diet (keto with wine, basically) reversed metabolic syndrome and the improvement of the health markers of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Over 92% of subjects improved their liver health; 21% completely resolved the liver disease.
Keto diets are poised to be the next big thing in prevent and treat cancer. Keto diets dramatically reduce circulating glucose – the preferred fuel for most types of cancer – by inhibiting the ability of cancer cells to proliferate. Although research results are still very preliminary, it is suggested that keto diets can be used to augment (not replace) traditional cancer therapies in many cases. In cancer patients, a keto diet also preserves lean body mass and causes fat loss.
Ketogenic diets may improve symptoms of PCOSwhich is strongly linked to insulin resistance.
The Keto Diet for Physical Performance
Being keto-friendly has several benefits for anyone interested in physical performance.
It increases energy efficiency. At a given intensity, a keto-adapted athlete burns more fat and less glycogen than an athlete burning sugar. Long-Term Elite Keto Athletes Can Burn up to 2.3 times more fat at peak oxidation and 59% more fat than non-keto athletes, and they do so at higher intensities. They stay in the predominantly fat burning zone at 70% (or more!) of VO2max, while non-keto athletes shift from mostly fat burning to peak sugar burning at 55% of VO2max.
It spares glycogen. Glycogen is a high octane fuel for high exertion. We store it in muscle and liver, but only about 2,400 calories, which is enough for at most a few hours of intense activity. Once it’s gone, we need to stock up on carbs to replenish it, lest we hit the dreaded wall. Keto-adaptation allows us to do more work by using fats and ketones as fuel, saving glycogen for when we really need it. Since even the leanest of us carry tens of thousands of calories of body fat, our energy stores become virtually limitless on a ketogenic diet.
It builds mitochondria. Mitochondria are the powerhouses of our cells, converting incoming nutrients into ATP. The more mitochondria we have, the more energy we can use and extract from the food we eat, and the more performance we can extract from our body. Ketosis places new demands on our mitochondria, which adapt to the new energy environment by increasing in number.
The Keto Diet for Fat Loss
Ketosis isn’t “magic” – it doesn’t melt body fat. Instead, it works for many of the same reasons as a standard low-carb Primal way of eating: by reducing insulin, increasing the mobilization of stored body fat, and decreasing appetite.
Appetite suppressing ketosis may be the most important feature. The overriding desire to eat more food is the biggest obstacle to weight loss, and it’s the reason most diets fail. When people try to eat less food when they want more, they come up against their own physiology. Few win this battle. The ketogenic diet completely avoids this problem by suppressing the increase in hunger hormones that normally occurs after weight loss..
Many diets work in the short term and fail in the long term. Weight loss is worthless if you can’t maintain it. Ketogenic diets appear to be good for long-term weight loss maintenanceat least compared to low-fat diets.
How to Go Keto the Right Way
The real benefits of keto come from doing it correctly. Hardly anyone reading this needs to follow a strict therapeutic diet of the type usually prescribed to epileptic patients, usually involving excessive fat and low protein.
For most of us, keto works best when we prioritizing nutrient density, healthy fats and a good amount of protein, an essential way to eat but with fewer carbohydrates. My books The Keto Reset Diet And Keto for life go into detail on how to implement this way of eating, or start with my Definitive Guide to Keto.
The point I want to clarify is that keto diets are beneficial in ways that other diets are not due to ketones and carb restriction, but you don’t have to be keto forever to reap the rewards. Dipping into ketosis for four to six weeks at a time, a few times a year, is enough. If you find that you feel better in ketosis, you can absolutely stay there. For everyone, it can be a periodic thing.
Don’t miss the opportunity to achieve ultimate metabolic flexibility!
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