The Western diet has never quite been the emblem of health and longevity. Based upon a carbohydrate-rich foundation, processed meats, refined sugar, prepackaged products, and fried foods, our food pyramid is pointing us the wrong way. Our foods are engineered to meet our every want and need and with a cheap base such as soy or corn, our foods are manipulated to create a marketable product. This makes the food industry incredibly profitable, except for our health.
With the globalization of the Western diet, the world has seen a soaring rise in both diabetes and obesity. In the last three years, the diet has extended to younger populations, contributing to a 41% rise in Type Two Diabetes among younger individuals. The Western diet has also been linked to certain types of cancer such as the colon and prostate, as the diet leads to increased inflammation in the body. The western diet is making us sick. This is, perhaps why the Ketogenic diet has gained tremendous popularity in the last couple of years. Not only is the Keto diet a low carb diet, but it is also a way to transition away from processed foods and towards real whole foods in the right ratio. The Keto diet boasts a range of health benefits that are vigorously researched today in the treatment of diabetes, obesity, cancer, high blood pressure, and various autoimmune disorders.
As a board-certified physician of internal medicine, Dr. John Limansky is an expert on the topic. He is also the co-founder of a free platform intended to educate individuals on the keto diet and other techniques to access optimum wellness. The platform called Biohack MD includes videos; researched articles, recipes, and products intended to augment the journey to an effective Keto diet. Here, the “Keto Doctor” talks about the transition from the western diet to the Ketogenic diet and what you can expect along the way.
From your experience what should those that are new to the Keto diet expect?
The transition from a Western diet mainly composed of carbohydrates to a fat and protein-based Ketogenic approach can vary from extremely easy to feeling symptoms similar to the flu. This transition is commonly referred to as the ‘Keto Flu’ and varies in severity and duration. The reason for this transition is several fold. On a diet based predominantly in carbohydrates, our body uses glucose and glycogen (stored form of glucose) as energy. The brain, which is the most metabolically active organ, will use a significant amount of energy in the form of glucose for day-to-day activities.
As a consequence, if blood sugar levels drop, we develop symptoms such as lethargy, irritability, hunger pains and our brain sends out signals causing us to eat more (and get more glucose to the brain). As the body adjusts to lower levels of glucose (from carbohydrates) our body begins to utilize our body fat for energy. This process is highly dependent on insulin, the control switch for fat burning or fat storing. When eating a Ketogenic diet, insulin will be suppressed, leading to activation of a hormone called lipoprotein lipase, which allows lipolysis (or fat burning). Unfortunately, this process takes some time (1-2 weeks) and during that transition, our brain doesn’t have the energy it requires, as it cannot directly use fat as energy. As fat begins to be converted to ketone bodies in the liver these are then shuttled to the brain and used as energy.
The other component of the ‘Keto flu’ is dehydration from loss of water. When we burn through our glycogen, stored water is also released and we begin to see higher levels of diuresis. As insulin is lowered, our kidneys begin to lose salt (specifically sodium), causing water to also be removed from our body. This combination can lead to lower blood pressure as well as feeling lightheaded.
How long does the Keto diet take for clients to begin seeing results and what results should they expect?
As mentioned above, the transition to burning fat is around two weeks. But, the optimal use of fat as energy happens around four weeks. At four weeks, ketone body production is high and the enzymes needed to utilize ketones and fatty acids (derived from our fat stores or from food) are created. They then begin to produce the energy our body needs.
During the initial period (1 month) most people will see an approximate 8-10 pound weight loss, mainly from water and glycogen stores being depleted. The ultimate goal of a Ketogenic lifestyle is to lose fat, not necessarily weight, which can include muscle and water loss. If an individual is doing a water and electrolyte fast, they will lose around 1/2 pound of fat per day. So, that’s the reference point I like to use. As they continue with this type of eating, a couple key things happen. Fat loss occurs in a step-like fashion, with weight loss then plateaus then more weight loss. Insulin is suppressed and glucose levels become normalized. Blood pressure tends to improve and many other symptoms also have been shown to improve, including headaches, joint pains, depression, anxiety and seizure activity. The overarching goal of this lifestyle is a combination of weight loss but also improvement in metabolic function. Once the metabolism and hormone control is improved, weight loss occurs.