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A Brief Overview of the Ketogenic Diet
The ketogenic diet, colloquially referred to as the keto diet, is a popular diet with high amounts of fat, adequate protein, and low carbohydrate content. It is also called the low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) diet and the low-carb diet.
It was primarily formulated for the treatment of epilepsy which was unresponsive to medication for the disease.
The diet was originally published in 1921 by Dr. Russell Wilder at the Mayo Clinic. Dr. Wilder found that fasting for epileptic patients helped reduce the frequency of 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 decades to treat epilepsy in children and adults. In several epilepsy studies, approximately 50% of patients reported having at least a 50% reduction in seizures.
However, the advent of anticonvulsant drugs in the 1940s and later relegated the ketogenic diet to the status of “alternative” medicine. Most caregivers as well as patients have found using the pills much easier than adhering to the strict ketogenic diet. It was then ignored in the treatment of epilepsy by most specialists.
In 1993, renewed interest in the ketogenic diet was sparked by Hollywood producer Jim Abrahams. Abraham brought his 2-year-old son, Charlie, to Johns Hopkins Hospital for treatment for epilepsy. Charlie experienced rapid seizure control within days of using the ketogenic diet.
Jim Abrahams established the Charlie Foundation in 1994 which helped revive research efforts. His production of the TV movie titled “First Do No Harm” with Meryl Streep also helped promote the ketogenic diet greatly.
The meals were designed to provide the body with the right amount of protein it needs to grow and repair itself. The calculation of the amount of calories consumed has been made to provide adequate amounts that will be able to support and maintain the appropriate weight needed for the height and weight of the child.
Underlying Concepts of the Ketogenic Diet
The classic ketogenic diet has a “fat” to “combination of protein and carbs” ratio of 4:1.
The general daily calorie breakdown of the ketogenic diet is as follows:
60-80% of calories from fat
The ratio of foods in a ketogenic diet is formulated to help the body induce and maintain a state of ketosis.
However, the ketogenic landscape has greatly expanded in both application and implementation. While the classic ketogenic diet is still widely used today, it has now served as the basis for the development of several alternative ketogenic protocols.
Ketogenic diets basically encourage the consumption of around 20-50 grams of carbs per day. Protein consumption is moderate and mainly depends on factors such as gender, height and activity levels of the individual. Essentially, the overall caloric intake of the diet is balanced primarily based on the amount of fat consumed.
Fat and protein ratios in a ketogenic diet
Increasing the consumption of healthy fats is the primary goal of the ketogenic diet. Additionally, the goal is to maintain the state of ketosis at all times, allowing your body to use more body fat for fuel.
The body digests fats and proteins differently. Fat is arguably the body’s best source of energy and in a state of ketosis the body can use both body fat and dietary fat.
In general, fats have a very limited effect on blood sugar and insulin production in your body. However, protein affects both of these levels if consumed in large amounts beyond what your body needs.
About 56% of excess protein ingested is converted into sugar. This has the effect of disrupting the state of deep burn ketosis due to the body’s reaction to glucose created by protein breakdown.
Depending on the type and source of fat ingested, a high fat diet can be much healthier. Reducing carbohydrate intake and increasing your intake of more saturated fats that come primarily from medium-chain fatty acids will dramatically improve your body’s fat profile.
The ketogenic diet increases HDL (good) cholesterol levels while lowering triglyceride levels. These two factors are the main markers of heart disease.
A ratio of less than 2.0 in your triglyceride to HDL ratio means you are doing well. However, the closer this ratio is to 1.0 or less, the healthier your heart is.
This type 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 amounts of fat in the diet can cause “rabbit starvation”. Rabbit starvation is a condition where there is an insufficient amount of fat. This condition is seen in diets that consist mostly of lean protein.
One of the main symptoms of starvation in rabbits is diarrhea. Diarrhea can often become severe and lead to death. This often happens within the first 3 days to a week of pure lean protein diets. If adequate amounts of fats are not consumed within days, diarrhea can worsen and lead to dehydration and possibly death.
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