The word keto comes from the term ketosis; a metabolic state where the body produces molecules called ketone bodies used for fuel instead of glucose. The scientific term is actually ketogenesis, which translates into generates ketones.
The body does this by using fat as the main energy source instead of carbs, essentially by converting fat into these ketone molecules. When we talk about fat, we’re talking about two things. First, dietary fat (i.e. any fat that you consume in the diet). And second, we’re talking about fat stored on your body in the form of what’s technically referred to as adipose tissue, which is just a fancy term for body fat.
The keto diet, therefore, is one which encourages the body to switch its main fuel source from glucose to ketones through the process of ketogenesis. The best way to think about ketosis is that it’s a secondary backup energy system that evolved over time to allow humans to survive and thrive during times of food scarcity. There are a number of ways to encourage the body to switch to ketosis. The most direct way is through fasting as, over time, the body will burn off any excess glucose and will need to generate the energy it needs from body fat. However, what has become popular over recent years is what’s called nutritional ketosis. This is where we drive ketosis through making changes to the diet; specifically, by keeping carbs incredibly low.
This diet requires a very disciplined approach to macronutrients, primarily carbs and protein. Carbs must be kept incredibly low, normally in the region of 20-50g per day for newbies; however, this varies from person to person. For example, people who are more experienced, or what we call “fat adapted” or folks who are extremely athletic, can usually tolerate much higher levels without impacting ketosis. Personally, I can tolerate high levels whilst still maintaining high ketone levels, often up to 200g per day!
The major myth is that keto causes ketoacidosis; a dangerous condition where the body produces dangerously high levels of ketone bodies, which can lead to a coma or be fatal. It is mainly seen in people with Type 1 Diabetes and for that reason, it’s usually called Diabetic Ketoacidosis. The issue is where the body can’t produce enough insulin to use glucose. This is not the same as nutritional ketosis which produces ketone levels around three to five times lower than ketoacidosis.
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