What is ‘keto’ and how the hell does it differ from other diets? What the hell are ‘ketones’ anyway? How do you get them? How much do they cost? Why is this ‘keto’ thing something I should do or should I? At the bottom of this post I’ll include some additional links for your reading pleasure that get into the technical\medical\scientific aspects of nutrition, but for you and me, I’m going to try to keep it simple. I like simple. Plus, all I would be doing is regurgitating someone else’s work (Lyle McDonald and Mauro Di Pasquale are two definitely worth reading and I have links to them at the end), not only is that not fair to them, I’m lazy. Honestly, I really don’t want to do it. :). I’m also not going to get into all the nuts and bolts of how to achieve ketosis, there are hundreds of sites out there that cover this already.
As I mentioned in my ‘You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?’ post, I wasn’t on board with this thing at all. I didn’t get it. It was against conventional wisdom and everything I’ve heard\learned\been taught my entire life. “FAT IS BAD!!! You should eat WHOLE GRAINS AND LOTS OF CORN AND RICE! MARGARINE, NOT BUTTER!!! GET CANOLA OIL, IT’S GOOD FOR YOU!!” and “You don’t need to change the way you eat, just eat less!” I’m sure you’ve heard all this before too. Actually, the last part does work, the issue is once you get done eating less, you most likely will eventually go back to eating more. Maybe not a lot more, but enough. And guess what happens then? FAT COMES! HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?? I STOPPED EATING FAT???
This is where some science and understanding of how the body actually works with nutrition as well as understanding the difference between body fat and dietary fat. There are many different studies, research docs, links, companies, health clinics, etc that will tell you pretty much what you want to hear if you look hard enough. How does someone really get a handle on this stuff? It’s hard. And I resisted HARD when the lady brought all this up. I couldn’t wrap my head around it and was determined she was going to ruin the little progress I had doing it my way.
I was wrong.
She was right.
First, we need to get some terms and misconceptions right out of the way. The diet (you know, that stuff we eat and not something that we buy as a weight-loss plan) consists of MACRO and MICRO nutrients. Macro – being big because that is what ‘macro’ really means – are the main items in our diet. Micro are the supplementary (yet still important) items in our diet. I’m not going to get into micro-nutrients in this post but those are the vitamins and minerals we also need to survive. Nope, let’s talk about the big boys:
Now, the collective wisdom some time in the 70s decided that dietary fat was bad for us and that carbs were the thing we needed to really stock up on. Why or how this came about isn’t really important but you should know that for the first several millions of years that the human species has existed, carbohydrates were not part of our diet. Not until about 10,000 years ago when agriculture became a business did we start eating any significant amount of carbs. What does that tell us? The human body not only survives quite well with low to no carbs, it prefers it. Yes. IT PREFERS IT!! Carbs only have one purpose in the body – quick fuel. Protein is the building blocks of the body (and can be used for fuel in the absence of fat or carbs). Fat is fuel and essential for healthy hair, skin, nails, etc. So, what does this mean in simple terms? Each gram of carbs or fat equals one calorie of glycogen, which is the fuel your body uses to run. Now, carbs have 4 calories per gram, fat has 9. So, first off, fat is more dense which means it is more fuel efficient than carbs. It also takes longer for your body to process which means fat makes you feel full longer. Second, any extra ‘energy’ that you take in that you can’t use, well, that gets stored as body fat. Yeh. That crap that hangs over the belt and makes it so the jeans you bought last year don’t fit any more. Not cool.
YOU DON’T NEED CARBS.
But you’re probably saying ‘hey Hobbit, so what if I don’t need them, their not really hurting me and they are fuel, right?’ (and if you actually said that out loud and got a strange look from the dog, cat or significant other, then that makes me smile). Actually, they can hurt you in the form of body fat. Since carbs only have one purpose in the body, any ‘extra’ fuel that you are not using has to be stored, and it is stored as fat. As an additional thing to note, each part of that storage also includes 4 parts water. So, each extra carb you store, you store 4 parts water too. OUCH.
Let’s look at it like a your body is a house. This house has both a generator and regular electric system. Carbs are the generator, fat is the electric system, protein is wood. Now, to keep your house warm you can do a couple of different things – run off the generator, run off electric, or run off wood that you scavenge from the structure of the house. Let’s look at 3 scenarios:
- You run mostly off the generator, but since the generator puts out more energy than you can use in one day, you need to add some batteries to store it. And then those batteries get full, so you add more batteries. And more. And more. And more. Now you need to add more rooms to the house to hold all those batteries. All the while this is happening, you are running out frequently to get more gas (calories) to keep the generator running. This is your body on carbs. Those batteries? FAT.
- You decide to not fill up the generator any more. Eventually, after a few days, the generator runs out of gas. But, since you have all those batteries taking up space in the house, it starts running off the batteries instead. As each battery dies, you get to throw it away. Eventually, all the batteries run out. Now, depending on what you chose to do, a couple of different things happen. If you get more gas (carbs), you start the cycle all over again and start filling the batteries back up. If you let the batteries run out, the electrical system kicks in and since you only pay for what you actually use and electricity from the power company is much cheaper over a month than gasoline, you save money (aka be more calorie efficient). In addition to this, since the electricity is not only more efficient, it is stable. You are always ‘full.’
- You don’t get gas. The batteries run out. The electric doesn’t kick in. You start taking pieces of wood from the house to make heat. At first, you take a little here, a little there, but eventually you’ve ruined the structure of the house.
Situation number 1 is your body on the typical Western Diet. We constantly are ‘recharging’ our system by feeding ourselves way more carbs than we need, which leads to fat storage in the body.
Situation number 2 is your body on ketosis. After a few days of dropping your carb intake down below 30g a day, the body starts running off stored fat in the form of ketones (again, for the exact science, definitely read the links at the bottom of this post). Since you are running off stored fat as well as a constant and efficient supply of dietary fat, you are ‘sparing’ the structure of your body – the protein. And since you are no longer spending money constantly on gas (carb calories), you now have money to build onto the house (add protein which is used for muscle growth). The added benefit to this is the more you add to your house, the more energy you burn at an efficient rate.
Situation number 3 is starvation. This is when you don’t get enough fat and have eliminated carbs. Your body will start converting muscle to glycogen to keep the system running. Eventually, you will destroy your house. Don’t do this:)
I hope this helps explain why many of us have chosen to take the low-carb, high fat, moderate protein route.
As promised, the links: