You’ve probably heard of Keto, a diet trend that’s been popular for awhile. Like all diet trends Keto is neither new or original. It’s been around since the dawn of time and is actually the preferred method of nutrition consumption for most carnivores and many mammals outside of human beings. Keto, short for Ketosis is a method in which fat becomes the preferred energy source for the body’s caloric needs through careful caloric manipulation and monitoring. Keto shares it’s foundations with Paleo, The Zone Diet, Atkins Diet, and many other meat and fat centered eating plans. In essence all revolve around the notion of severely limiting carbohydrate intake while increasing the ratio of healthy fats and proteins. It is believed that this style of diet is most similar to what our ancient paleolithic ancestors may have consumed.
I say “it is believed,” above because the fact is we just don’t know what our paleolithic ancestors ate every day. the few corpses we have found preserved in ice, bogs, and other extreme methods of natural mummification only give us a glimpse. The truth is we only know what those particular individuals were eating in the hours leading up to their deaths. Written human history coincides with agricultural human history. As far as we “know” human beings have eaten a plant heavy diet for as long as we’ve been keeping records. The oldest written records we have confirm a plant heavy diet relying on agriculture to feed the majority of people. Even in so called “Modern Paleolithic Tribes,” plants and vegetables make up the bulk of the everyday diet. So what Keto isn’t is the original “miracle” way of eating.
What is “Keto” then? Ketosis is, to simplify things greatly, a process in which your body goes into emergency mode in the absence of carbohydrates and starts manufacturing and consuming Ketones for energy, primarily for the brain’s use. Your brain being interestingly enough the single largest consumer of calories in your body at any given moment. Ketones are mostly fatty acid molecules manufactured by your liver. Fat packs more calories and potential energy into every gram than protein or carbohydrates. In that regard its more efficient. However it also takes more calories to “burn” fat because it has to be processed into a more simple fuel primarily glycogen or sugar before it can be utilized by the body for energy.
The Keto diet if you will, was discovered during clinical trials with cancer and diabetes patients by accident. This is also where we get the notion of intermittent fasting as it pertains to diet and weight loss. To make a long and convoluted lesson on biology short. Doctors and researchers found that if they starved patients for short periods of time it tricked the body into an enhanced regenerative mode. The body’s own immune system would start targeting and destroying cancer cells, and in effect any abnormal cell not at the peak of function and health. This is not just a good thing if you’re dying from cancer, but to everyday health as well. In diabetes patients this translated into increased insulin regulation, sensitivity, and greater ability to control blood sugar and energy levels.
While we do not know for sure what our ancient ancestors ate we do know that they likely did not eat as often as we do today and may have gone several days between large meals. While they may not have had an abundance of fresh calories coming into their bodies everyday they did have an abundance of stored fat just waiting to be burned for energy. Their bodies would utilize their fat stores to provide sustainable energy between meals, successful hunts, and other activities. Humans share this ability and trait with most other mammals.
Can “Keto” help you? Well certainly it can, but it is not the catch all miracle trumpeted by diet gurus. Keto cannot overcome bad habits and poor choices. Keto is going to have the most impact on the obese and severely overweight, but only if you commit to it wholeheartedly which means carefully monitoring your blood sugar and ketone levels either with urination strips or blood testing. If you’re not regularly checking your ketone levels throughout the day to maintain that sweet spot you’re not doing “Keto” right.
Keto is not a quick fix. Depending on your own body chemistry it may take as long as 2 weeks to finally kick your body into sustained Ketosis. Once achieved Ketosis is also easily disrupted. Even a teaspoon of ice cream could bring the whole thing tumbling down. Remember Ketosis is an emergency survival mechanism, that your body does not “want” to be in. It wants to be in a calorie dense situation all the time every day. That’s why its easier to gain weight than it is to lose it. Keto is a tool, not the whole tool box. I cycle on and off Keto alongside intermittent fasting throughout the year but never for more than a few weeks at a time.
Keto is not the answer to all of your problems. The long term answer to maintaining a healthy weight is a sound eating plan avoiding an over abundance of simple carbs and an active lifestyle incorporating regular exercise along with recreational activity and motion. Sitting on your ass all day whether at work or on the job is making America overweight. Wolfing down a whole bag of chips as opposed to a few is making us fat. Poor choices and over indulging have more to do with America’s expanding waistlines than do what we’re eating.
My diet is heavy on meat and saturated fats sourced from animal sources. However its also heavy on vegetables, greens, and some beans and starchy foods. My diet is also directly opposed to the advice you will get from the majority of health professionals out there, but it is supported by my own experiences over the last 18 years as a fitness and nutrition coach and trainer. I carefully monitor the quantities of everything I eat and also time when I eat them. For instance I eat carbs just before or right after exercise or intense physical activity. Your body needs carbs, I say that again, IT NEEDS THEM! A healthy human eats carbs, fat, and protein in an optimal balance. That balance depends on your daily activity levels and personal body chemistry. As with anything do your own research and seek out professionals.