The Science Behind the Ketogenic Lifestyle

As far as I can tell, the ketogenic “diet” idea is about a hundred years old. It was used during the 1920’s to treat epilepsy in children.  Researchers discovered that extreme hunger decreased the incidences of seizures in children, so they created a “diet” to mimic the process that was reducing them in the first place-which was ketosis.

So, there are three instances where there’s definite research to back up going on a ketogenic diet. These include as part of the aforementioned treatment for epilepsy, to help control type 2 diabetes, and for weight loss.

During ketosis, fat is used for energy. Normally, the body’s preferred fuel source is glucose, which come from carbohydrates.

Ideally, burning carbohydrates to fuel energy works well-if folks are eating a well-balanced diet of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. However, in the United States, our food sources have become highly processed and further and further from their natural origins. There are fewer local farmers raising sustainable vegetables and meats, and many more “big box” mega-stores that sell mass produced items.  The standard American diet is far too rich in refined carbs and sugars. Such high-carb diets lead, inevitably, to an overproduction of glucose. When heavy amounts of glucose run through our bloodstreams, our bodies use what they need for energy, and store the rest as glycogen in the liver. If any glucose remains after that, it is converted and stored as, you guessed it, FAT. Hence, weight gain, and chronic conditions related to obesity.

Simply put, with a ketogenic diet you lower your intake of carbs and increase your intake of fat. Since the body then has no glucose for energy, it uses fat as its alternative energy source. Fat is broken down into ketones, which generate energy. This process will continue to occur until carbohydrates are reintroduced into the diet and glucose can once again be used as the energy source. If carbs are not introduced, the body will keep burning its fat reserves.

So, it stands to reason that weight loss is the main reason people try a ketogenic diet. 

And, for many people, it works-ketosis melts away fat as the body converts it to ketones and noticeable results occur rapidly. Ketosis also decreases appetite, so weight loss accelerates.

It is important to understand that the fats and oils consumed on a ketogenic diet are  monounsaturated ones-not those linked to contributing to heart disease-which are saturated fats. 

A classic keto diet involves eliminating all sugars (honey, maple syrup, agave, white/brown sugar, molasses, coconut sugar, etc.), all starchy vegetables (tubers like white and sweet potatoes, and root vegetables, such as beets, carrots, etc.), all grains and legumes (beans) and most fruit. All prepared and processed foods are no-nos.

  • Allowable keto foods include:
  • Grass fed beef, lamb, pork, venison, poultry, fowl, wild caught seafood, eggs (pasture fed)
  • Leafy green vegetables-spinach, kale, collard greens, lettuce, endive, bok choy, arugula, romaine, etc.
  • Above-ground vegetables-cauliflower, broccoli, eggplant, cucumber, green beans, etc.
  • Coconuts, nuts and seeds, flours and oils made from nuts/seeds; nut butters
  • Avocados and low-glycemic berries (raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries)
  • Healthy oils-olive, avocado, coconut, flaxseed, grapeseed,hempseed, macadamia
  • Full-fat dairy-hard cheeses, Greek yogurt, grass-fed butter
  • Full-fat, unsweetened dairy substitutes-coconut, almond, cashew, and soy milk
  • Low-carb sweeteners-stevia, monk fruit, erythritol
  • “Never Eat” foods specifically include the following:
  • Cold cuts with added sugar
  • Meat that has been marinated in sugary sauces
  • Fish or chicken nuggets
  • Margarine
  • Artificial trans fats
  • Potatoes
  • Corn
  • Raisins
  • Ice cream
  • Sweetened nonfat yogurt
  • Ketchup
  • Honey mustard
  • BBQ sauce
  • Fruit juice

Best Ketogenic Foods to Consume

Avocado oil-1 tbsp-for heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids

Canola oil-1 tbsp-reduces total & bad cholesterol

Coconut oil-increases HDL cholesterol levels

Heavy cream-1 tbsp-easy way to add calories and fat in a keto diet

Chicken-1 thigh-good source of selenium, zinc, and B vitamins

Eggs-1-contains satiating protein and fat

Ground beef-3 oz.-70% lean, 30% fat-excellent source of vitamin B12

Asparagus-1 cup-contains calcium, potassium, and magnesium

Avocado-1/2-packed with fiber, excellent source of vitamin C

Bok Chot-1 cup-rich source of vitamins A & C

Celery-1 cup- helps with hydration

Cucumber-1/2 cup-hydration and vitamin K

Green Peppers-1 cup-source of vitamin B6

Lettuce-1 cup-adds bulk; vitamin A & C

Things to be Aware of when Beginning a Ketogenic Lifestyle

  1. Frequent urination due to your body burning stored glucose and releasing excess water and sodium
  2. Hypoglycemia, especially is a person has been eating a lot of carbohydrates. Dizziness, tiredness, shakiness, and hunger are symptoms that eventually subside once the body adjusts to its intake of fat
  3. “Ketosis flu-” this subsides as well, but it can last several days
  4. Digestive issues-Both constipation and/or diarrhea can occur with the drastic change in macronutrient ratios. Make sure you are getting enough fiber.
  5. Bad breath- Acetone is one of the ketones created during ketosis. It has a distinct order that is unpleasant, but it means your body is in fat-burning mode. It usually goes away in a few weeks.

Types of Ketogenic Diets

Many people do not realize that there are different types of keto diets. One size does not fit all Based on your age, chronic medical conditions, your doctor’s advice genetics, or current lifestyle, you may choose a hybrid model to adopt.

  • Here are the basic types of keto diets:
  • Standard keto-typical daily calories intake is 5% carbs, 20% proteins, and 75% fats
  • Targeted keto-low intake of carbs (often before or after workouts and high intake of proteins
  • Cyclical keto-cycles between low and high intake of carbs. Throughout a week, 5 or 6 days will include low intake of carb, high intake of protein and fat. For the other 1-2 days, the nutrient intake is switched to a high carb diet. This method is employed to “trick” the body to increase metabolism and to avoid plateauing in the weight loss process.
  • High protein keto diet-the regimen is similar to standard keto, but adds a higher amount of proteins and lower amount of fats. The macros recommendations are 5% carbs, 35% proteins, and 60% fat.

Obviously, it is up to each individual to determine what works best for your situation. My experience is, so far, limited to the standard diet. Next week, I will hit my 6-month anniversary and I will reassess my goals at that time.

Again, I want to reiterate that the ketogenic lifestyle is a choice and a commitment. Those who have kidney or liver disease, those who are pregnant, and those who have gestational diabetes, should not follow the keto path.

Ketogenic Recipes

There are a plethora of websites where you can find ketogenic recipes. Taking a gander of some of the following should help you start to build some meal plans to use:

The Keto Summit

Peace, Love, and Low Carb

Healthful Pursuit (my personal favorite)


Elena’s Pantry

All Day I Dream About Food

Naturally, there are countless books, blogs, Facebook groups, and U Tube “how to” videos online. I have given up buying hardback books and ebooks; I simply “google” what I’m looking for and try it. If I’m a fan, I print it out and keep it in a little binder for repeat use.

Resources I use routinely for research on the ketogenic lifestyle include the Cleveland Clinic Functional Ketogenics Program and the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. The National Institutes of Health and the Administration on Aging are sites I use for researching statistical information on seniors.

The Need for Common Sense Assessment

One of the most important characteristics of any lifestyle is not its ability to help you lose weight. For the short term, many eating plans accomplish weight loss. Rather, it is the sustainability of the plan.  Is it something you can follow for a long time, or is it a plan to get you to a healthier weight over the short term? Many people adopt a keto lifestyle for a few months, then add more starchy veggies and fruits back into the program (while continuing to avoid grains and refined sugars), then return to keto. Sometimes this variations trigger metabolic shifts which result in weight loss.

However, one review suggests the keto diet can spur fat loss in obese people when used for a couple of weeks and up to one year. The meta-analysis noted that one reason for weight loss is likely that the keto lifestyle suppresses hunger. Some studies show that being on a low-carb diet for more than 12 months mitigates its effects.

Other people try a modified version of keto-40% fat calories, 30% carbs, 30% protein-and find it a much more sustainable lifestyle approach.

As you age and deal with chronic conditions, remember that your health becomes more important. If you feel great and you and your doctor are able to keep your conditions under control, keto could be the lifestyle for you! But, if you feel sluggish, sick, or just outright terrible, your body is telling you to forget this and reevaluate. One size does definitely not fit all! This is especially true for those who have hypoglycemia and liver or kidney conditions.

My personal intention is to continue the keto lifestyle as long as it works for me. I adore my coffee with heavy cream while I sit in my recliner in the mornings and pet my three cats. Starbucks is still an option for me with an almond milk sugar free vanilla latte later in the day. Currently I’m still in a position to officiate volleyball at the local parks and recreation center, which gives me some activity and contact with new folks.

The biggest surprise I’ve had related to being on a ketogenic diet for 170 days days is that the arthritis I’ve struggled with for years is much improved. At my six-month check up last month my doctor took me completely off a daily dose of Meloxicam. Instead he prescribed it PRN (as needed). This is shocking for me since I’ve been on Meloxicam for several years now. Taken over time Meloxicam has the potential to cause heart problems, so I am relieved to be able to dump it from my medication list. The swelling I’ve had in my knees and thumbs is much decreased and that “full feeling” I’ve experienced in my joints is gone.

Another byproduct of my keto lifestyle is that I feel younger in my head and more focused in my interests. No one wants to age and feel like a non-contributor in their communities. It’s nice to be able to roam around my neighborhood, visit people, and bop to the grocery for the Wednesday sales.

As always, if you have questions or comments, feel free to leave them for me. I read every one! As my site is new, I am very interested in any comments about my content and suggestions for improvement-