While the ketogenic diet has stirred controversy, its amazing health benefits simply cannot be disputed. It was originally designed for patients with epilepsy by researchers at Johns Hopkins Medical Center, as it was found that fasting helped improve the amount of seizures patients had.
Unfortunately, fasting is not feasible for more than a few days. Therefore a diet was developed that would trick the body into thinking it was fasting. But improving epilepsy isn’t all a ketogenic diet can do. It also aids in losing weight, fighting cancer and even treating Alzheimer’s disease.
The Ketogenic Diet At a Glance
- Ketogenic diets were developed to help improve symptoms of epilepsy, but help with many other chronic health problems.
- Weight loss is a huge benefit of ketogenic diets due to lowered insulin levels and the body’s ability to burn stored fat.
- Following a ketogenic diet can help prevent and even kill cancer cells.
- Ketogenic diets have been used to treat and reverse Alzheimer’s symptoms.
The Ketogenic Diet 101
Basically, a ketogenic diet puts your body in ketosis, a metabolic state where most of the body’s energy comes from ketone bodies in the blood. This is in contrast to a glycosis state, where blood glucose (sugar) provides most of the energy. When you’re following a ketogenic diet, your body is burning fat for energy rather than carbohydrates. So your body actually burns either its own body fat or fat that you’re consuming through your diet for its overall energy production.
Our bodies normally run on glucose or sugar for energy. We can’t make glucose and only have about 24 hours of it stored in our muscles and liver. And once glucose is no longer available, we begin to burn stored fat. The bottom line here is that because a ketogenic diet eliminates glucose, it causes the body to burn stored fat.
There are several medical studies — conducted by the Department of Radiation Oncology at the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center for the University of Iowa, the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and more — that show the ketogenic diet is an effective treatment for cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and quick weight loss. I’ve personally found that the ketogenic diet is quite possibly the best diet for very fast weight loss.
Now, I don’t believe that the ketogenic diet typically should be done for periods of more than three to six months. After that, you should add good carbohydrates back into your diet. But if your goal is to lose weight fast, the ketogenic diet could be the perfect diet to help you get a jumpstart on weight loss.
3 Major Benefits of a Ketogenic Diet
1. Fights Cancer
We know that cancer cells feed off of sugar. Therefore, a diet that eliminates sugar and other carbohydrates may be effective in preventing or fighting cancer. The regular cells found in our bodies are able to use fat for energy, but cancer cells cannot metabolically shift to use fat.
A ketogenic diet is essentially a diet made up of typically 75 percent fat, 20 percent protein and 5 percent carbohydrates. But it can actually vary to around 80 percent fat, 10 percent protein and 10 percent carbohydrates — or maybe 70 percent fat, 20 percent protein and 10 percent carbs. The carbs are very very minimal so your body burns fat for energy. That means there is little sugar in your system blocking the body from utilizing fat in favor of burning sugar.
The reason the ketogenic diet is effective as a natural cancer treatment is that the cancer cells are starved of the sugar that feeds them and them to multiply. They have no sugar to feed off of, so the cancer cells essentially starve to death.
2. Aids Weight Loss
When we eat carbohydrates, insulin is released as a reaction to elevated blood glucose. Insulin is a storage hormone that signals the cells to store as much available energy as possible, initially as glycogen (storage carbohydrates) and then as fat.
The ketogenic diet works by eliminating carbohydrates from the diet and keeping the body’s carbohydrate stores almost empty, preventing too much insulin from being released during meals. With less insulin around, your body starts burning its own body fat for energy, helping you lose weight quickly. Think about this: Your body will also then continue to burn fat even while you’re sleeping at night. That means your body is burning fat 24/7.
And it’s not just burning the fat you consume — it’s burning body fat. That’s why it’s the most effective way to burn fat fast.
But a 75 percent fat, 20 percent protein and 5 percent carbs diet may not be necessary for adults to reap the benefits of the ketogenic diet. Many adults find weight loss success in a more moderate approach to the low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet by just reducing carbohydrate consumption and increasing calories from healthy fats and protein. This is known as the “modified ketogenic diet.”
Here are my exact recommendations for following a ketogenic diet to achieve lasting fat loss:
First, the type of fat you consume is very important. I recommend consuming a large amount of MCFAs (medium-chain fatty acids) from coconut oil since this is the easiest type of fat for your body to burn as fuel.
Then getting SCFAs (short-chain fatty acids) from raw dairy products and other sources of fat from nuts, seeds and organic meats.
In short, I recommend eating mostly coconut, avocado, chia seeds, non-starchy vegetables, sprouted nuts, seeds, organic meat and raw dairy products. And most adults will see weight loss by just reducing carbohydrates to 30 percent of their diet, and increasing fat and protein to 40 percent and 30 percent, respectively.
3. Treats Alzheimer’s Disease
Evidence shows that a ketogenic diet is a natural treatment for Alzheimer’s . In fact, a medical doctor in Florida treated her husband, who had dementia and Alzheimer’s, with what she called the “coconut ketogenic diet” and said it cured his symptoms completely.
We know that part of what happens in dementia and Alzheimer’s is the degeneration of the nerve system in the brian. So to treat Alzheimer’s, you really need to support the brain nerve system.
Well, we know that a diet made up of around 70 percent healthy fat helps the brain. And we also know that ketosis and your body being able to burn fat for energy or utilize fatty acids is critical for the brain and for the natural treatment of dementia.
Other Ketogenic Diet Benefits
As we’ve discussed, modified ketogenic diets can be beneficial for most healthy adults, especially those struggling to losing weight. It may also be beneficial for those with type 2 diabetes who are not on insulin. (Diabetics on insulin should contact their medical provider prior to starting a ketogenic diet as insulin dosages may need to be adjusted.)
Even though the ketogenic diet is a high fat diet, it will not raise your cholesterol or increase your risk for heart disease. Heart disease is caused by inflammation, influenced mostly by the intake of trans fats and sugar, not by heart-healthy fats. So if you want to lose weight, reduce your risk of cancer, and improve your blood sugar, a ketogenic diet may be the right diet for you.
Final Thoughts on a Ketogenic Diet
So are you convinced that a ketogenic diet is right for you but don’t know where to start? You want to begin by adding these three types of healthy fats in your diet:
- Healthy saturated fats — coconut oil and high-fat dairy like grass-fed butter and ghee
- Omega-3 fatty acids — found in omega-3 foods like salmon, chia seeds and flaxseeds
- Healthy omega-9 fatty acids — found in olive oil, avocados, almonds and sprouted nuts and seeds
And remember: You should only follow it for a three- to six-month period of time because your body does need carbohydrates long-term to function at its very best.
For more information on the ketogenic diet and a ketogenic diet nutrition plan to follow, see the chart below.