The ketogenic diet, colloquially called the keto diet, is a popular diet containing high amounts of fats, adequate protein and low carbohydrate. It is also referred to as a Low Carb-High Fat (LCHF) diet and a low carbohydrate diet.
It was primarily formulated for the treatment of epilepsy that did not respond to medications for the disease.
The diet was originally published in 1921 by Dr. Russell Wilder at the Mayo Clinic. Dr. Wilder discovered that putting epileptic patients on a fast helped to reduce the frequency of the symptoms. At the time of its publication, there were few other options available for the treatment of epilepsy.
The ketogenic diet was widely used for the next several decades in treating epilepsy both in children and adults. In several epilepsy studies, about 50% of patients reported having at least 50% reduction in seizures.
However, the arrival of anticonvulsant drugs in the 1940s and afterward relegated the ketogenic diet to an “alternative” medicine. Most health care givers as well as patients, found it a lot easier to use the pills compared to adhering to the strict ketogenic diet. It was subsequently ignored in the treatment of epilepsy by most specialists.
In 1993, a renewed interest in the ketogenic diet was sparked by Hollywood producer Jim Abrahams. Abraham had his 2 years old son, Charlie, brought to the Johns Hopkins Hospital for epilepsy treatment. Charlie experienced rapid seizure control within days of using the ketogenic diet.
Jim Abrahams created the Charlie Foundation in 1994 which helped to revive research efforts. His production of the TV movie called “First Do No Harm” starring Meryl Streep also helped to greatly promote the ketogenic diet.
The meals were designed to provide the body with the right amount of protein it needs for growth and repair. The calculation of the amount of consumed calories was done to provide adequate amounts that will be able to support and maintain the proper weight necessary for the child’s height and weight.
Underlying Concepts of the Ketogenic Diet
The classic ketogenic diet has a “fat” to a “combination of protein and carbohydrates” ratio of 4:1.
The general daily calorie breakdown of the ketogenic diet is as follows:
- 60-80% of calories from fat
- 20-25% from proteins
- 5-10% from carbohydrates
The ratio of the foods in a ketogenic diet is formulated to help the body induce and maintain a state of ketosis.
However, the ketogenic landscape has expanded considerably both in its application and implementation. While the classical ketogenic diet is still extensively used today, it has now formed the basis for the development of several alternative ketogenic protocols.
Ketogenic diets basically encourage the intake of about 20 to 50 grams of carbohydrates per day. Protein consumption is moderate and mostly depends on factors such as the gender, height and activity levels of the individual. Essentially, the overall calorie of the diet is balanced primarily based on the amount of consumed fat.
The Fat and Protein Ratios in a Ketogenic Diet
Increased healthy fat consumption is the main focus of the ketogenic diet. Also, the purpose is to maintain the state of ketosis at all times thus allowing your body to use more body fat for fuel.
The body digests fat and protein differently. Fat is arguably the body’s best source of energy and in a state of ketosis, the body can make use of body fat and dietary fat equally well.
In general, fats have very limited effect on blood sugar levels and insulin production in your body. However, protein affects both of these levels if consumed in large amounts beyond what your body requires.
About 56% of the excess ingested protein is converted to sugar. This has the effect of upsetting the ketosis state of far burning as a result of the body reacting to the glucose created from the protein breakdown.
Depending on the type and source of ingested fats, a high fat diet can be much healthier. Reducing carbohydrate intake and increasing your consumption of more saturated fats from mostly medium-chain fatty acids will greatly improve your body’s fat profile.
The ketogenic diet increases HDL (good) cholesterol levels while at the same time reduces triglyceride levels. These two factors are the main markers for heart disease.
A ratio of less than 2.0 in your Triglyceride-to-HDL ratio means that you are doing well. However, the closer this ratio is to 1.0 or lower, the healthier your heart.
This kind of fat profile is associated with increased protection against heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems.
Consumption of increased lean protein in the absence of adequate of amounts of fats in the diet can cause “rabbit starvation.” Rabbit starvation is a condition where there is an insufficient amount of fats. This condition is seen in diets that mostly consist of lean proteins.
One of the major symptoms of rabbit starvation is diarrhea. The diarrhea can often become serious and may lead to death. This often occurs within the first 3 days to one week of pure lean protein diets. If adequate amounts of fats are not consumed in the succeeding days, the diarrhea can worsen and may lead to dehydration and possible death.