Switching to a ketogenic diet is challenging. It is often accompanied by unpleasant side effects and means that we have to do without almost half of our daily food. In the following you will find out why the new trend is still so popular and what healing effects the so-called ketosis is supposed to produce.
What is the ketogenic diet
Today’s ketogenic diet trend was developed back in the 1920s, primarily to treat people with epilepsy. A ketogenic diet consists exclusively of high-fat and high-protein food, with fat making up the majority of the diet at around 75 percent .
Carbohydrates are consumed in very small amounts – in the classic ketogenic diet, the diet consists of less than five percent carbohydrates . The special thing about this diet is the low intake of carbohydrates, because normally we primarily nourish ourselves from this macronutrient. The glucose it contains is an important source of energy for the brain and organs.
A ketogenic diet is a permanent change in eating habits , while the keto diet is a type of fasting for a specific and limited period of time. Similar diets include the low-carb diet and the paleo diet . Depending on whether you want to lose weight quickly or healthily , you can be more or less strict.
The body needs carbohydrates for energy supply – they can provide energy for the cells directly. In this day and age, it’s easy for us to get hold of carbohydrate-rich foods. Our brain in particular primarily uses sugar for its energy supply and is used to being supplied with carbohydrates in excess.
If you eat keto for several days to a few weeks, an energy metabolism takes place in your body. This change is also known as ketosis. It is achieved when less than 50 grams of carbohydrates are consumed per day. In fact, in the early days of mankind, ketosis was not uncommon. It is a kind of alternative program for the energy supply . As soon as the body can no longer cover its energy consumption by absorbing glucose, it has to fall back on fats and proteins.
From here the metabolism changes: In the liver, fats are increasingly converted into so-called ketone bodies. These are high-energy breakdown products of fatty acids that can supply most of the body with energy. The body obtains the rest of the energy it needs by converting protein from food or muscles into sugar.
In the beginning, unpleasant side effects such as nausea, difficulty concentrating or persistent feelings of hunger are possible. The body first has to get used to the change in diet, and that can take time. After a few weeks to three months , the metabolism should then have adjusted and stabilized.
The state of ketosis can then be detected, for example, via urine or blood . Ketone test strips intended for this purpose can be purchased in pharmacies and used independently.
Who is the ketogenic diet suitable for?
Originally developed to treat epilepsy, the ketogenic diet is often particularly effective in neurodegenerative diseases such as multiple sclerosis , dementia or Parkinson’s. Despite this, there is still little and often insufficient scientific evidence and studies on the healing effects of the ketogenic diet. This is set to change in the future: we can expect some representative studies on this diet in the next few years.
Cancer patients in particular can benefit from a low-carbohydrate diet. Cancer cells need significantly more glucose to grow than healthy cells. In addition, inflammatory reactions in the body often occur in cancer patients, which are additionally promoted by carbohydrates. Ketone bodies, on the other hand, have an anti-inflammatory effect – two good reasons to recommend a ketogenic diet in cancer patients as an accompaniment to therapy. Nevertheless, the healing effect is not sufficiently scientifically founded here either. Cancer cells can probably also use proteins and fats to grow. A low-carbohydrate diet is recommended if the patient responds to the change and the new diet.
The effectiveness of the ketogenic diet in children with epilepsy became clear as early as the 1920s. Even when medication had no effect, the low-carb diet was able to reduce epileptic seizures. It is still not entirely clear why exactly the therapy works so well. It is possible that the change in energy metabolism in children leads to a calming of the brain’s electrical activities .
Studies show how effective ketosis can be for epileptics: 20 percent of the subjects showed no more epileptic signs after a long-term ketogenic diet. In more than half of the epileptics, the seizures decreased significantly and improved the quality of life of those affected enormously.
This makes it clear that adults also benefit from this diet. However, children have the advantage that their brains are still growing and the ketogenic lifestyle is therefore particularly positive.
Obese and diabetics
Even if studies and investigations in this area are still rare, initial findings suggest that the ketogenic diet can support diabetics and overweight people. Diet boosts fat burning . Harmful glucose, on the other hand, is hardly absorbed.
The goal, especially for diabetics, is to reduce insulin release by reducing carbohydrates . This inhibition, in turn, promotes fat burning, an advantage for those who are overweight. The latest studies also show that over 90 percent of the test subjects did not need insulin therapy thanks to the ketogenic diet. That’s because excess carbohydrate consumption can lead to insulin resistance.
Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s patients
The healing effect of ketogenic nutrition on neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and dementia has already been proven in mice and rats. This is due to the ketone bodies, which have an anti-inflammatory effect and can thus reduce the inflammatory reactions in the brain .
As a result, the symptoms of those affected can not only be alleviated, but the clinical picture can even be positively influenced.
For whom the ketogenic diet is not suitable
The change in energy metabolism puts a heavy strain on the kidneys and liver, which is why the ketogenic diet can lead to health problems in people with kidney or liver diseases . Pregnant women, those who are underweight and people with heart disease should also refrain from this change in diet.
Anyone who is interested in this diet should first discuss this with their doctor and have them examined in advance.
Effects of the ketogenic diet
A ketogenic diet can also have positive effects on people without diseases. Of course, this requires a healthy liver and kidneys. Also, in some cases, it may be more beneficial to make a complete diet change rather than just going on a diet.
Athletes and runners in particular benefit from the ketogenic diet. In endurance sports, the body prefers to burn fat, which is why a high-fat diet has a positive effect on competitive athletes.
People who have adapted their diet to keto often report energy boosts and immense increases in performance. The blood sugar level always remains constant and a sudden drop in performance is less likely.
Greater focus and attention
Glucose is a good fuel for the brain because it can be used directly as an energy source. But this energy dissipates just as quickly, it is used up faster than energy from ketone bodies.
Ketone energy keeps blood sugar levels steady, keeping us focused and alert while working and studying.
Another advantage of the ketogenic diet is the increase in well-being and mood. Certain hormones such as serotonin and growth hormones are increasingly formed and released through the ketogenic diet. The result: improved quality of life.
Permanent fat burning
Since your body no longer has any carbohydrates available, it is dependent on constant fat burning. In order to avoid a yo-yo effect, however, the ketogenic diet should be continued permanently, even if you have already reached your ideal weight.
The conversion of the energy metabolism does not always proceed without difficulties. The one-sided diet causes an emergency in the body, acidification and an excessive accumulation of toxins can be the result. Some of the toxins are carried away through the breath, which can cause an unpleasant bad breath .
Some other side effects of ketosis are very similar to the symptoms of the flu, which is why this phase of the transition is also known as the ” keto flu “. Increases in temperature, headaches and tiredness are not uncommon. Almost all people who adapt their diet to ketogenic have to go through this unsightly change. This is often accompanied by problems concentrating, constipation or diarrhea – however, those who master this unpleasant phase will be rewarded afterwards with better performance, increasing and sustained concentration and energy boosts.
However, the change in energy metabolism can also have a strong impact on the kidneys. She is unusually stressed during this time as she now has to convert the fats into ketone bodies. In the worst case, the kidneys even react with kidney stones , high cholesterol levels or long-term kidney damage . However, these are rather rare side effects that are often associated with existing kidney problems. So if you’ve had liver or kidney problems in the past, the ketogenic diet most likely isn’t for you.
Tips for implementation
Transitioning to the ketogenic diet can be tricky because typically our diet is made up mostly of carbohydrates, around 50 percent. If you still want to face this challenge, we have 5 tips for you to make the transition work.
Beat Keto Flu
The first hurdle to changing your diet can become noticeable after just a few days: the keto flu. What actually feels like the flu is actually just a reaction to a low-carb diet—the body needs to adjust to getting energy in a different way. The keto flu is triggered by a nutrient or vitamin deficiency . In addition, sugar has an addictive effect not unlike that of drugs. In a way, the body experiences withdrawal , which is accompanied by unpleasant side effects such as headaches and nausea.
Basically, movement is extremely important, even if you suffer from fatigue and pain. Nevertheless, you should only exercise in moderation so that you don’t deprive your body of even more energy at the beginning. You will notice for yourself when your body has enough energy for greater athletic performance – you will feel more alert and energetic .
The keto flu is only temporary, it will subside after a few days. Until then, it is important not to give up on the change in diet. Your energy will return quickly if you drink enough water and eat salt. Sea salt is particularly valuable for your body during this time because it can keep the mineral balance in balance. It is best to keep a small supply of different salts and mix a little of them into your water and your dishes.
Dietary fibers support the intestinal function
Dietary fiber is not only important during the transition period, but throughout ketosis. They support the intestinal functions, are healthy and filling. The recommended daily requirement should not be less than about 30 grams per day. This also applies to those on the ketogenic diet. Unfortunately, most high-fiber foods also contain a lot of carbohydrates. Some of the healthiest high-fiber foods include avocados , chia seeds , almonds , and cauliflower.
Fiber can have a positive effect on some unpleasant side effects of ketosis, such as constipation or diarrhea.
Get medical advice
Before switching to a ketogenic diet, it is strongly recommended to consult a doctor to be sure. It should be ruled out that your kidneys and liver are damaged and you have no other diseases that could be negatively affected by a ketogenic diet. Even if you suffer from diabetes or are overweight and are hoping for an improvement with the change, you should discuss this with your doctor in advance. Especially if you are already taking medication to lower blood sugar, your doctor may have to adjust the medication dose after a certain time.
Even after the adjustment phase, healthy people should see their doctor regularly to rule out potential negative consequences.
Avoid unhealthy fats
Simply doing without carbohydrates is far from enough in the ketogenic diet. The most important thing is to eat the right high-fat foods . You should avoid processed and artificial fats, such as margarine, shortening and hydrogenated fats such as those found in processed foods or french fries.
Especially at the beginning it can be a challenge to deal with every food and to question it. Some providers and online shops now offer ketogenic alternatives to carbohydrate-rich foods. This way you don’t have to do without bread, for example.
Dietary supplements help against side effects
Your body does not only depend on sufficient vitamins and minerals during the change in your energy metabolism. You will often encounter the problem of a balanced and holistic diet during the period of ketosis. Dietary supplements can make your life much easier. Above all, they can also alleviate or completely inhibit the symptoms of the keto flu.
There is an increased risk of magnesium deficiency on a ketogenic diet because most magnesium-rich foods are also high in carbohydrates. The mineral magnesium increases energy and regulates blood sugar levels, and it also helps against sleep disorders , irritability and muscle cramps.
We get vitamin D mainly from sun exposure, but many foods are fortified with vitamin D. This is because people in northern regions in particular are often deficient in vitamin D. The consequences are tiredness, sluggishness, a reduced ability to concentrate and even depressive moods. Here, too, additional vitamins in the form of capsules can help you to alleviate the symptoms of keto flu and also prevent deficiency symptoms in the further course.