Although a low carb diet seems to be a hot weight loss trend of late, the concept of eating low carb is not new. You may recall the Atkins diet which soared in popularity in the late 1990s into the early 00s.
This diet was very similar to the currently trending ketogenic diet, in that carbohydrates were severely restricted, while unlimited fat i.e. “eat fatty foods until you’re satiated” was the general rule of thumb.
These two diets differ slightly in that with Atkins, you’re permitted to put your body into glucose-burning mode once the initial dietary induction phase is past.
Keto vs Low Carb
The ketogenic diet is more strict, with the goal being to keep your body in a ketone-producing metabolic state, so that you’re in permanent fat-consumption-for-energy mode.
For decades, doctors and nutritionists have custom-designed low-carbohydrate diets to meet the needs of their diabetic patients who must limit sugar intake to better control fluctuating blood sugar levels due to their inability to produce insulin.
A traditional low carb diet designed for someone with diabetes would typically include controlled portions of carbohydrates.
For example, you might see “half a cup” of pasta or cereal per meal as determined by a nutritionist and depending on the person’s height, weight and other factors.
This isn’t the “low carb” that most modern-day dieters are seeking, though a diabetes-friendly diet that balances blood sugar may prove successful for people who want to lose weight even though they may not have been diagnosed with diabetes.
These days, most people who are hoping to see significant weight loss results are in search of information on the ketogenic diet, or a variation of it.
The American Academy of Family Physicians defines low carb diets as diets that restrict carbohydrate intake to 20 to 60 grams per day, typically less than 20% of caloric intake.
However, many people loosely use the term low carb to describe their severe limiting or elimination of sugary sweets, pasta, cereal and bread from their diets.
Low carb is definitely a subjective term and therefore can mean different things to different people.
How Do You Adjust Your Diet?
If you’re used to eating 2 bowls of cereal in the morning, a double-decker sandwich for lunch, and a dinner plate heaped with mashed potatoes and gravy that just keeps on coming, then “low carb,” will be different for you.
It might mean dialing it down to customary serving sizes of carbohydrates at each meal, i.e. two pieces of whole grain bread instead of four pieces of enriched white bread.
However, many people these days use the term “low carb” and “keto dieting” almost interchangeably. So if, to you, low carb diet means maintaining a metabolic state of ketosis that will have you burning consumed fat instead of consumed carbohydrates and sugar, then “low carb” basically describes the ketogenic diet.
Another popular low carb diet is known as the paleo diet. “Paleo” is pronounced like paleontology, and refers to the way that cave men likely ate at the dawn of civilization.
This diet is a combination of meat and plant-based eating and does not permit consumption of processed carbohydrates such as pasta, breads, cereals or milled grains.
People who “eat keto” strive to keep their bodies in a constant state of ketosis. Here, the terms “low carb” and keto” can be interchangeable. However, you’ll give yourself more leeway if you occasionally eat a low carb diet, which means maybe you might enjoy that slice of wheat bread or treat yourself to a small dish of pasta every once in a while.
Just know that as soon as those carbs go down your gullet, you have changed your metabolic state, and the tipping point from which your body drops out of blood ketone production and into carbohydrate-burning mode can be very near.
If you really want to go “total keto,” you’ll be steering clear not only of sugar-laden treats and desserts, but also bread, pasta, cereals, white potatoes, corn, and any of the typical carbohydrate offenders that raise insulin levels. This can be as simple or as complicated as you make it.
If no other form of carbohydrate (including vegetables) is eaten in a single day, your “carb cash-in points” could earn you permission to eat an entire bagel.
However, eating a keto diet you must remember that 75% fat and 20% protein must then be the only type of food you can consume for the day without managing to take your liver out of ketosis!
The Science of the Ketogenic Diet
Ketosis is the metabolic state that your body goes into when it’s deprived of its typical energy source, which is carbohydrates. When in this state and in the absence of carbohydrates, your liver begins producing ketones to use as an alternate fuel source of energy.
To simplify things, the ketogenic diet requires that 75% of daily calorie intake come from fat. The rest of your caloric intake for the day would be 20% protein and 5% carbohydrates.
With the average person consuming 2,500 calories per day, if they were following the ketogenic diet they would ingest about 30g of carbs.
This state of ketogenesis, or fat-as-fuel for your body to run on, can be compared to the same “starvation” mode your body goes into when you have deprived yourself of necessary food-for-fuel in a timely fashion– although it’s not exactly the same.
Benefits of Ketosis
In that state, because there are no food-based calories for your body to use up as energy, your body takes its needed energy from fat cells. Once the fat has been depleted, energy is obtained from lean tissue and muscle – hence, starvation in effect.
Again, this is not quite the same as being in ketosis, but the concept should help make things clearer.
While in a state of ketosis, your body also takes its energy from fat cells, hence it is literally burning fat, rather than running on carbohydrate energy which is what it does on the typical American, carb-loaded diet.
According to this article published in the US Library of Medicine, “a ketogenic diet maintains the body in a state of ketosis, which is characterized by an elevation of D-b-hydroxybutyrate and acetoacetate.”
Another metabolic side effect of being in a state of ketosis is that your insulin levels drop dramatically because your body is no longer processing glucose or sugar.
This is the desired state for diabetic people in particular. With the ketogenic diet, you’re giving your pancreas a needed rest, and this could be life-changing for many people as they re-learn what constitutes a reasonable serving size of carbohydrates.
Is there medical legitimacy to the ketogenic diet?
Some doctors recommend the ketogenic diet for people with certain conditions such as diabetes and obesity. This diet works for these health conditions because it cuts out the pancreas’s daily workload of having to produce insulin to help the body digest carbohydrates.
Curiously enough, seizure disorders such as epilepsy can often be controlled as a result of the body remaining in a permanent state of ketosis. Many people who experience brain seizures have been able to prevent their seizures from happening while following a strict ketogenic diet.
Health Benefits of the Ketogenic Diet
In scientific studies such as this one performed on 83 clinically obese people for a total of 24 days, the ketogenic diet has been shown to significantly reduce body weight and body mass index, while lowering triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, and blood glucose.
The ketogenic diet also increased levels of HDL cholesterol. HDL, or high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, is associated with a lowered risk of coronary heart disease.
Will I increase my chance of heart attack or stroke as a result of being on the ketogenic diet?
Many people opt out of the ketogenic diet as they fear that increased consumption of saturated animal fat present in butter, sausage, bacon, and cheese will damage their heart, arteries, and vascular system.
There is no evidence of this type of health risk for people who adopt the ketogenic way of eating for the short term. However, long-term effects of ketogenic dieting have yet to be determined.
Smart weight-watchers who plan to live the keto lifestyle should keep in mind that a healthy abundance of fresh, green, low carb vegetables should be consumed along with the various high-fat keto diet recommendations.
An example of a healthy keto meal choice would be eggs and bacon over spinach salad with olive oil and vinegar dressing.
If you have any health concerns or are taking prescribed medications, please consult with your doctor before embarking on any drastic plan to change your eating habits and lifestyle. This includes either the official or unofficial ketogenic diet.
What Are Some Signs that Your Body Has Gone into Ketosis?
If you’re new to the ketogenic diet, then you probably will want to know if you’ve successfully achieved a state of ketosis, which means your body is producing ketones in order to burn fat as its main energy source.
Here are some common signs that you may, in fact, be in ketosis or fat-burning mode.
Immediate weight loss. A couple of things occur which causes immediate weight loss while in ketosis mode during the introductory phase of this diet.
One, your body is no longer processing sugar.
And two, your body no longer needs the extra water that made you thirsty as a result of having to process the sugar. So, you’re not retaining water anymore, hence the sudden, lower scale reading.
“Fruity” bad breath. Some people who go on the ketogenic diet report a sweet or fruity smell to their breath. This is due to the by-product acetone being produced while your liver is in ketosis mode, doing its hard work of breaking down the fats you have consumed.
If you find this new breath odor to be a problem, you can always chew minty gum, swish with mouthwash, or chew on a peppermint or spearmint leaf to get rid of the unique odor.
The best way to know if you’re in ketosis or not is to purchase keto test strips. These are a way to administer a home urine test to determine your current level of ketone production.
Additionally, some people take ketone supplements to maintain a constant state of ketosis throughout the day. Many people who supplement with ketones claim that doing so improves cognitive ability and seems to speed up their mental faculties.
What Makes a Diet “Keto” and Not Just a Low Carb Diet?
The ketogenic diet severely restricts carbohydrates while increasing fat intake in both animal and plant form.
Pasta, potatoes, corn, starchy root vegetables such as potatoes, beets, and carrots, and most fruits, which are naturally high in carbohydrates and sugars, will quickly send the keto dieter soaring over the allowed limit of 20-60 grams of carbohydrates per day.
These foods are therefore not advised to be consumed if the person wishes to maintain the metabolic state of ketosis, or elevated ketones produce by the liver while the body is in “fat burning for fuel” mode.
In order to keep your calorie consumption to the allotted 75% fat, 25% protein, 5% carbs that will maintain the desired state of ketogenesis which fuels your energy supply with fat calories rather than glucose… you must stockpile foods that are high in healthy fats, to be consumed as the main course with every meal.