What is a Ketosis Diet?
A ketosis diet, in the context of weight loss, is any diet that induces the state of ketosis to make you lose weight. Ketosis is a state in which your body mainly burns fat for its fuel rather than glucose. In simplistic terms, glucose is basically created from starches and sugars that you consume.
If you are healthy, most of your body will first use glucose for energy. Once you use up the available glucose, your body will use fat as energy.
When trying to lose weight through ketosis, what you are trying to do is limit the amount of glucose in your body so that your body will burn fat. Again in order to reduce the glucose in your body, you need to reduce starches and sugar (bread, cakes, cookies, pasta, potatoes, etc.).
So, a ketosis diet is actually any extremely low-carb diet, meaning low in starches and sugar. A ketosis diet tries to make your body constantly burn fat, as a result of lack of glucose.
What To Eat For Ketosis
When you are on a ketosis diet, you will be mainly eating protein, good fats, low-carb vegetables and low-carb fruits. You can check out the details of the Paleo Diet for a sample list. You will have to severely limit wheat products (bread, pasta), rice and sweets. Again the idea is to limit starch and sugar intake so that you will have very little glucose in your body, forcing your body to use fat instead.
The amount of carbohydrates recommended for ketosis differs based on the particular diet and activity level.
For example, the Atkins diet only allows 20 grams of carbs (excluding fiber) per day during its Induction phase (Phase 1), most of the carbs coming mainly from vegetables. This phase is intended to quickly get you into a state of constant ketosis. In the next step (Phase 2), you are allowed to increase your carb intake by 5 grams at a time until you reach a point where you are consuming as much carb as you can but still losing weight.
In the Paleo diet, apparently many people on the diet consume between 50 to 80 grams of carbohydrates per day to enter into ketosis needed for weight loss.
Considering almost all vegetables and fruits already contain carbohydrates (for example, 1 medium sized apple has about 21 grams of carbohydrates excluding fiber), this does not leave much room for bread, pasta or cookies!
Again although it depends on the individual circumstance such as your exercise level, anything above 100 grams of carbohydrates (starch plus sugar) a day may not induce ketosis, although this is still probably low enough to avoid weight gain.
In the long run, anything below 50 grams is probably not realistic, since you would need to eat more to get the necessary nutrients and vitamins from vegetables and/or fruits (which contain carbohydrates).
Ketosis Protein and Fat
In terms of the quantity of protein and fat, again suggestions differ based on the diet.
For example, the Paloe diet (Dr. Cordain) does not limit protein but suggests cutting out fatty meats and restricting oils.
The Dukan diet (Dr. Dukan) also allows unlimited protein but is very much against fats, stating in the book The Dukan Diet that “Fats are the absolute enemy of anyone trying to be slim” and that “For those who want to be slim, and in particular for those who are trying to lose weight, fats represent every danger possible.”
On the other hand, the Atkins diet allows for up to 6-8 ounces of meat per regular sized meal (assumes 3 meals per day) and is favorable to all good fats including saturated fats. Read their article here. In the Atkins diet, you can eat all the fat on the meat. As a matter of fact, they require that you consume enough fats. However according to their latest book “New Atkins for a New You,” the diet does recommend that you not over-consume fats due to their high calories.
According to Mark Sisson of Mark’s Daily Apple, a website about “primal” living and the low-carb diet, for efficient weight loss you should limit your intake of protein, since apparently too much protein can actually be converted to glucose! As for fat, according to Mark Sisson you can consume a lot of fat including bacon and butter. However he mentions that for ketosis for weight loss, you have to make sure you are burning your consumed fat as well as your stored fat, so gorging is probably not a good idea. This is apparently because your body does not differentiate between the fat you ate and the fat in your body.
If you are unsure what to do, perhaps a good way to start is to not over-consume either one (protein nor fat), and start changing the ratios to see which one works best for you to induce ketosis. The most important thing is to cut down the carbs!
What are Ketones?
You may have heard the term “ketones” in relation to ketosis. They are also referred to as “ketone bodies.” Ketones are created as byproducts when fats are burned for energy. Ketones refer to 3 types of compounds and while 2 of them are used as sources of energy especially in the heart and brain, the 3rd one (called acetones) is mainly excreted from the body through your breath and urine.
State of Ketosis
Did you know that every person is constantly producing ketone bodies? Ketosis is actually a state in which your body has a higher concentration of ketones because your body is constantly burning more fat and creating more ketones.
For a typical individual, the ketone level is low enough that the ketone bodies would be undetectable in normal urine tests. For individuals in prolonged ketosis, they will typically see a higher level of ketones (acetones) in the urine. The Atkins diet sees ketones in the urine as a good sign that you are burning your body fat.
On a side note, it appears that not all acetones are excreted and some are actually broken down by the liver to chemicals that are used for normal body functions. See report here.
Pros and Cons of Ketosis
Long-term ketosis for weight loss is still controversial and opinions differ among experts.
Those in favor of ketosis note the following general benefits:
- Fast weight loss
- Eventually you will not feel hungry
- Your body will get efficient at burning fat for energy
Other experts caution the use of ketosis and point out the following risks:
- Strain on the kidney
- Large loss of calcium
- Rise in cholesterol
Tips When Going on a Ketosis Diet
- Drink plenty of water to prevent strain on your kidney.
- Your brain may feel foggy and you will probably feel very tired in the beginning. This is apparently a very common symptom. Avoid any activity that requires a high level of concentration or energy during this time.
- Make sure you get plenty of fiber. If you restrict vegetables and fruits, you may end up with lack of fiber. Taking a fiber supplement such as psyllium husk may be a good idea.
- Take calcium supplements to be safe.