Let’s Talk About Ketosis
What is ketosis? Is ketosis a good or bad thing? If it’s good, how do I get into a state of ketosis?
…All very good questions that we hear from many people these days as the ketogenic diet is becoming more well-known, and the science proving its efficacy continues to build, and many like yourself are in search for answers, possibly for a better, happier, healthier, and more fulfilling way of life.
Nutritional Ketosis Basics
First, let’s define nutritional ketosis, which is the body process or state that results from following a ketogenic diet and leads to fat-burning, weight loss, and many other health benefits that we’ll talk about.
Dr. Peter Attia, describes it this way on his blog Eating Academy:
Ketosis – also known as keto-adaptation, fat-adaptation, and ketogenesis – is a state, achieved through significant reduction of carbohydrate intake (typically to less than 50 grams per day), at which point the body makes a fundamental change from relying on glycogen as its main source of energy to relying on fat as the primary source of energy. In particular, the brain shifts from being entirely dependent on glucose, to being primarily dependent on beta-hydroxybutyrate – a so-called “ketone body.” Ketone bodies are chemical structures made by the liver (also somewhat in the kidney) out of fatty acids, primarily.
…This is a normal metabolic process, one that actually gives us quite a biological advantage should we ever go without food, which likely happened quite often in our not-so-distant ancestral past.
If our bodies relied totally on glucose for fuel, we would die if we ever encountered any shortage of food or periods of fasting/starvation, because the average person burns 2000 calories per day, while the body can only store 1000-1600 calories of glucose in the form of glycogen in the muscle and liver cells. (Ketogenic-Diet-Resource)
In those situations, where glucose is depleted, the process of ketosis kicks in, creating ketone bodies from stored fats, and our muscle cells & brain can live just as well (or better) on those ketone bodies. And, whenever carbohydrates are consumed again, the body quickly kicks over to converting them into glycogen.
Nutritional Ketosis IS NOT Ketoacidosis
Any time we discuss ketosis with someone new to the concept, it’s wise to make a key distinction between nutritional ketosis and ketoacidosis (DKA). Many dietitians and doctors, still today, get the two confused.
I go into more detail on the differences between the two here, but for the sake of brevity on this post, know that they are completely different; while ketoacidosis IS very dangerous, nutritional ketosis is harmless and proven to have many health benefits.
- Ketones – small substances derived from fatty acids that contain energy the body can use as fuel
- Ketosis – a metabolic state where ketone production is increased, usually marked by blood levels of ketones greater than 0.5 mmol/L
- Nutritional Ketosis – the process of accelerating the production of ketones via restriction of dietary carbohydrates
- Ketoacidosis – a dangerous side effect of Type 1 diabetes where ketone production reaches level above 10 mmol/L. This does not happen in non-diabetics
- Keto-adaptation – the process the body goes through when it’s exposed to limited carbohydrate and continuous elevated ketone levels. It is characterized by a shift to using predominately fat for fuel, and takes at least several weeks, if not months, to fully develop
If you would like to dive into some of the research that shows the benefits of the ketogenic diet & ketosis, check out these:
- Ketone bodies, potential therapeutic uses – Richard Veech
- Beyond weight loss: a review of the therapeutic uses of very-low-carbohydrate (ketogenic) diets – Paoli, Rubini, Volek, Grimaldi
- The Ketogenic Diet as a Treatment Paradigm for Diverse Neurological Disorders – Stafstrom, Rho
- The use of ketogenic diet in special situations: expanding in intracable epilepsy and other neurologic disorders – Lee
Achieving And Maintaining A State Of Ketosis
Here’s a great video from a legend in the ketogenic diet arena, Dr. Stephen Phinney on the topic of getting into, and staying in, a state of ketosis…