If you’ve been in the Paleo lifestyle for more than five minutes, you’ve probably heard the term “ketosis.” You’ve also probably been exposed to the low-carb vs high-carb camps of people who make up the Paleo world. So if you’re wondering what ketosis is, what it can do for you, what is possibly good or bad about it, here’s some information.
Ketosis is the state your body goes into when you have elevated levels of ketones circulating. Confused yet? Don’t be. Ketone bodies (β-hydroxybutyrate and acetoacetate) are used for energy and are formed by ketogenesis when your glycogen stores are depleted.
When your glycogen stores are low, fat goes through a process (to put it simply) to produce fatty acids, some of which get further changed into ketone bodies. When your body needs energy, for example, for your workout, your body uses those fatty acids instead of glucose as a source of energy.
One of the side effects (or symptoms, some would say) of ketosis is that your breath and urine smells similar to nail polish remover, due to the breakdown of acetoacetate. Acetate is the base ingredient in nail polish remover.
How to Get Into Ketosis
Basically, there is one way to get into ketosis, and that’s to eat a low-carb (and high fat) or “ketogenic” diet. These diets are made up of, generally, less than 30g of carbohydrates, with the remaining food coming from a mix of fat and protein. These foods should be lean meat from healthy (preferably pastured and grass-fed) animals, sustainable wild-caught fish like salmon, eggs from pastured chickens, and cheese if you eat dairy. Low-carb vegetables are also a great choice.
When you don’t feed your body enough carbohydrates to convert into glycogen for energy, it takes it upon itself to convert your fat stores into energy through the process called “neoglucogenisis.” The more energy you need, the more fat stores your body will burn, and the more weight you will lose.
So you can see the draw, right? People want a get-thin-quick plan, and keto diets seem to work just fine. So what are some pros and cons?
Pros of Ketosis
The immediately obvious pro of ketosis is improved fat loss. What better way to sculpt that fat from your body than to burn it off as energy? To do this, you have to eat fewer calories than you need for energy. You don’t have to eat a super-low calorie diet, either. Fasting, either a prolonged fasting in the morning (say, from midnight until noon) can really kick-start that ketosis. Here is more information on intermittent fasting.
When you combine ketosis with an exercise program, you’ll probably notice an even greater fat-loss.
So we’ve covered the fat-loss benefit, but did you know that there are medical reasons for going into and staying in ketosis? One of them is epilepsy management, and one is for cancer treatment.
For many years, doctors have known that ketosis helps control seizures. No one is sure exactly why, but the theory is that the process wherein the brain runs off ketones rather than glucose produces a change in chemistry that affects seizures in a positive way. In fact, kids who follow ketogenic diets usually experience up to 50 percent fewer seizures than when on a traditional diet. Up to 15 percent of them actually stop having seizures at all. You can find out more about epilepsy here.
Alternative Cancer Treatment
The premise is that cancer cells require glucose to live; in fact, cancer cells live off of sugar. So if you replace the carbohydrates in your diet and replace them with protein and healthy fats, they say you will starve the cancer cells into submission. Read more about it here.
So if you’re living a ketogenic diet, you’re not only reducing or maintaining your body fat stores, you’re also reducing your chances of developing cancer, since those cancer cells will never get the food they need to develop.
The reason this works to starve cancer cells is simple: cancer cells don’t have the flexibility of the cells in your regular body to survive off of ketone bodies. So when you become “fat adapted,” your cancer cells will quickly start to die off.
To kill off or prevent cancer cells from developing in the first place, you may need to stop eating grains, processed sugar, and fruit, primarily. There are other things you can do to help boost your immune system naturally, but that’s a whole other topic.
Cons of Ketosis
The major problem with ketosis is that some people don’t believe that high-level athletes can get enough energy from being in ketosis. These are people with high-energy jobs who also work out, or those who work out a lot, or those who are high-level athletes.
A second downfall to ketosis is that it is a very restrictive way to eat and a lot of people have trouble adhering to the diet. Social functions, outings, and trying to find appropriate foods at restaurants all work against someone who is on a ketogenic diet.
Also, a long-term, low-carb diet may damage the metabolism, particularly when combined with a low calorie diet and excessive cardio exercise. Read more about it here.
Some people may take the low-carb train too far, cutting out all fruit and vegetables entirely. These foods provide vitamins and minerals essential to good health, as well as other nutrients like anti-oxidants. If you choose to try ketosis to burn some fat, make sure you do your research on the proper ratio and try not to cut out vegetables! Use a food tracker to keep count of the carb grams you eat every day, and listen to your body. It would probably be wise to take a high-quality multivitamin as well.