We’ve longed been told that calorie restriction, increasing exercise and reducing dietary fat intake are the keys to weight loss. But, if you’ve ever attempted to control your weight by subsisting on fewer calories — especially from mostly bland “diet foods”— you’re already probably aware that this typically produces minimal results and is extremely hard to stick with long-term or consistently.
Considering the high rates of obesity now facing most developed nations — along with an increased risk for health conditions like diabetes or heart problems as a result — researchers have been anxiously working on how to suppress appetite and achieve weight loss in a healthy, sustainable manner. The ketogenic diet has emerged over the past several decades as one potential answer to this large-scale weight loss problem.
While there are some differences in opinion, depending on who you ask, regarding the best approach to very low-carb dieting, studies consistently show that the ketogenic diet (also called the keto diet) produces not only substantial weight loss for a high percentage of people who adhere to it, but also other important health benefits such as reductions in seizures, markers of diabetes and more.
The keto diet revolves around eating foods that are high in natural fats, consuming only moderate protein and severely restricting the number of carbs eaten each day. Even if you don’t have much weight to lose, entering into a state of ketosis can be helpful for other reasons — such as for improved energy levels, mental capabilities and mood stabilization.
5 Benefits of Ketosis
The ketogenic diet approach to eating is one that can often be maintained and incorporated into a lifestyle, while the same can hardly ever be said for diets that restrict calories and fat, because they simply leave you feeling too hungry.
When you eat more food than your body needs, it’s converted to triglycerides and stored inside your fat cells. The more often you keep consuming large amounts of glucose through carbohydrate foods, the less your body needs to tap into existing sources (your fat cells or stored glycogen in your liver and muscles) for energy, so your newly added fat cells remain intact and ,therefore, weight loss if much more difficult.
On a keto diet, carbs provide only about 5 percent of daily calories, compared to anywhere between 40–60 percent on a “standard diet.” Reducing carbohydrate consumption this drastically means that the majority of empty calories from highly processed foods must be eliminated from your diet, including things like white bread and rolls, pasta, rice or other grains, sugar-sweetened beverages, desserts, etc. These are the same foods that tend to cause fluctuating blood sugar levels, cravings for more carbs and sugar, low energy and contribute to overeating in general.
With their absence, the body starts burning its own excess fat stores instead, promoting weight loss in a very high percentage of people.
Suppressed Hunger & Reduced Cravings
In contrast to most other diet plans, remaining in ketosis doesn’t require counting calories, measuring portions or dealing with hunger pangs for the sake of eating as little as possible. In fact, most people feel satisfied and energized while in ketosis and find that they can go for longer periods without the need to eat (which is why intermittent fasting is commonly practiced with a keto diet).
Compared to meals that mostly contains carbs, high-fat, moderate protein meals are very filling and do a great job of controlling hunger hormones, often for many hours. This results in less need for snacking or grazing throughout the day, especially on junk foods or sweets.
Clinical results suggest both direct and indirect actions of ketones via modifications of various hunger-related hormones concentrations. While it’s not completely clear how ketosis reduces appetite, studies have found that ketosis is effective at lowering food intake and regulating appetite by altering levels of the hunger hormones including cholecystokinin and ghrelin. At the same, ketone bodies seem to affect the hypothalamus region in the brain, positively impact leptin signals, and avoid slowing down the metabolism like most other diets do.
Improvements in Blood Sugar Control & Heart Health
Aside from its benefits related to weight loss, the keto diet can also drastically improve other health conditions tied to factors like poor blood sugar management, overeating and poor gut health. These contribute to common health problems such as:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure and unhealthy cholesterol or triglycerides
- Indigestion, including IBS symptoms or acid reflux
- Even cancer and tumor growth
- The keto diet has also been used for decades to help control seizures and symptoms of epilepsy in both children and adults
How can ketosis help reduce your risk various health concerns? It comes down to the benefits of stabilizing your blood sugar and decreasing glucose intake and usage. As glucose enters your blood, your pancreas sends out insulin to pick up the sugar and carry it to your cells so they can use it as energy. However, when your cells have used or stored all the glucose that they can, what remains is converted into glycogen to be stored in the liver and muscles OR converted into triglycerides, the storage form of fat.
More Energy & Enhanced Mental Focus
Not only do most people find that excess weight quickly drops off while on the keto diet, but many also experience improvements in terms of sustaining higher levels of energy.
After a period of time, your body becomes adapted to using ketones as fuel instead of glucose. Your muscles begin to learn to convert acetoacetate into a ketogenic substance called beta-hydroxybutyrate, or BHB. BHB then becomes the new preferred ketogenic source of energy, including to fuel all brain activity. What is not needed is expelled from the body as waste.
Another process also happens during ketosis that helps keep your body energized, and it’s called gluconeogenesis. This occurs when glycerol (created during beta-oxidation) get’s converted into glucose that your body can use for energy. Protein in your diet can also be converted to glucose in small amounts. So as you can see, essentially your body is able to create its own source of necessary glucose without getting it from carbohydrate foods. The human body is very efficient, and it knows just how to convert other macronutrients (protein and fat) into useable molecules that can be dispersed throughout the body as needed.
Reduced Risk for Other Chronic Diseases (Especially Neurological)
There’s strong evidence that a keto diet can help treat or manage serious diseases including epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and certain types of cancer. Studies show the diet helps to reduce disruptions in nerve and neural activity in the brain.
While it’s still not entirely clear how the keto diet helps treat these conditions, most experts believe that drastically cutting off glucose supply and entering ketosis helps elicit biochemical changes that prevent and eliminate short-circuits in the brain’s signaling system that are responsible for cellular damage, seizure and tumor growth.
Other mechanisms that have been suggested include: changes in ATP production making neurons more resilient in the face of metabolic demands, altered brain pH affecting neuronal activity, direct inhibitory effects of ketone bodies or fatty acids on ion channels, alterations in amino acid metabolism, and changes in synthesis of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA.