Note: Before starting any new diet program or taking any supplements, you should always consult with your doctor. The KETO diet is not for everyone. This is NOT medical advice. People with certain medical conditions like liver and gall bladder disease, eating disorders and genetic disorders can put themselves at risk by going KETO and fasting. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products/programs are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The reader/user accepts full responsibility for using the content listed by Janine Henkel LLC. This information has been generalized for healthy adults who want to try a ketogenic diet. These guidelines may not fit all persons.
*Heads Up! Some of my resources contain affiliate links. All that means is you don’t pay a penny more but I get a small commission to keep writing articles for you.
Warning – This article is INFO OVERLOAD because a KETO diet is a powerful tool.
Chew slowly because there is a lot of great stuff in here. At the end I have a downloadable eBook that answers more questions and will help get you into Keto step-by-step.
The Keto Diet – fried stuff in cheese?
When I first heard about the Keto diet, I envisioned someone slouched in a chair, watching TV and shoving sticks of butter in their mouths. Is this Paleo 2.0? Or Atkins circa 1992 where people just ate bacon and cheese all day? Maybe the fat commodities taking a dump so the ‘fat industry” had no choice but to launch some sneaking marketing campaign?
Just like you, I’m a healthy skeptic so I dug deeper. And what I found out made me want to grab onto someone’s shoulders and yell “you have to read this!”.
The Backstory – so good they made a movie about it.
Ketogenic Diets were commonly prescribed in the 1920’s to children suffering from Epilepsy. By the late 1920’s, Epilepsy patients worldwide were being prescribed ketogenic diets. It was that effective. But by the 1940’s, anti-convulsant drugs muscled their way in and the Keto Diet was phased out. Always easier to take a pill, right? Predictably, this was followed by heated fat debates and poor-quality studies.
Then something pivotal happened.
In 1993, Hollywood movie producer Jim Abrahams’ 1-year old son Charlie began to suddenly have seizure attacks. Charlie was a normal, healthy toddler but for no apparent reason, began to have up to 100 seizures A DAY. The Abrahams looked everywhere for help. But after hitting several dead ends through conventional/alternative medicine, they discovered a book – ‘Seizures and Epilepsy in Childhood: A Guide for Parents’ by Dr. John Freeman. Inside, Dr. Freeman had quietly snuck in nutritional protocols. I say ‘snuck’ because Dr. Freeman’s first attempt to have the book published was more focused on the diet. And no publisher would touch it.
The Abrahams agreed to try this strange “ketogenic diet” and guess what? After one-month, Charlie was seizure and drug free. This life changing event started The Charlie Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to spreading the word about a Ketogenic Diet, especially those suffering from seizures. The Abrahams story was ultimately made into a movie called “First Do No Harm”.
As if by magic, strong interests in Ketogenic Diets for therapeutic use was resurrected. Which brings us to today.
What is Ketosis?
Simply put – A Keto Diet puts you into ketosis, which is when your body and brain shift from relying on glucose (carbs) to fatty acids and ketone bodies (fat) for fuel. This usually occurs when you change your macronutrient ratio (protein, carbohydrates, fat) to look like this: 70% fat + 10% carb + 20% protein. What this means is your daily calorie content needs to be 70% from fat.
For example. If you eat 2000 calories a day, your macronutrient breakdown would be: 1400 calories from fat (156g fat) 400 calories from protein (100g protein) 200 calories from carbohydrate (50g carbs). Most of your carbohydrates will come from leafy, non-starchy greens (around 6 cups a day).
*70% from fat is a good starting point. Most people can reach ketosis in this range if they pair it with Intermittent Fasting (IF), which is restricting your “feeding window” to 8 hours a day (i.e. only eat from 11am to 7pm).
“But what about protein!?” There is a TON of interesting research on muscle growth using a Keto Diet. But I won’t bore you here. Just know that Protein, when eaten in excess, can be turned into glucose by the body by gluconeogenesis. Simply put, it’s when the body takes non-carb sources (i.e. protein) and turns them into glucose. Since protein is gluconeogenic, excess may be converted to glycogen in the liver. Which in turns raises insulin levels thus lowers your ketone levels. And prevents/pushes you out of ketosis.
Another fate of excess protein is simply eliminating it (money literally down the toilet). There is a limit to how much new muscle you can make each day and how much protein you can actually use. Excess (unused) protein goes through something called “deanimation” where it gets turned into ammonia, then urea, then peed out. So, you’re basically wasting money and risking lowering your ketone level. Say whaaatt?
Nerd stuff: There are two main two main ketone bodies; acetoacetate (AcAc) which gets measured in urine and 3-beta-hydroxybutyrate (3HB) which gets measured in blood. A third ketone body is called acetone (a breakdown of AcAc) which gets measured in your breath. And if you’ve heard of Ketoacidosis, it’s medical condition that primarily effects Type I Diabetics.
Here’s also the technical mechanism of a Ketogenic Diet .
Ketones (fats) vs. Glucose (carbs)
On a carbohydrate-based diet, your body relies on glucose (carbohydrates broken down) as its primary fuel source. The issue becomes this: when you eat carbohydrates, whatever glucose you don’t need gets stored as glycogen in the liver (and a small amount in the muscles). Once these stores are full, excess glucose has to be stored somewhere right? So, it gets turned into adipose tissue (aka fat). Too many simple carbohydrates and you are at risk for insulin resistance. This can lead to type II Diabetes and other metabolic disorders.
Once you become ‘keto-adapted’, your body has shifted from using glucose for energy to primarily fat for energy. This includes stored fat on your butt and other places you wish would go away.
And if you’re a fitness fanatic like me, this is where it gets interesting.
Keto Diets for Athletic Performance, Weight Loss and Brain Energy.
I have to be honest. The real reason I started looking into a Keto diet was because of athletic performance. As I dug deeper into research, I found that many professional athletes LOVE the Keto diet because they don’t ‘bonk’ during lengthy training session, easily build muscle and have quicker recovery. Why?
Athletic Performance: Your body only has around 2000 kcal of glycogen stores (glucose that has been converted into your muscles and liver for energy). But has upwards of 40,000+ kcal of fat storage for energy. What this means is if you are keto-adapted, your body has more access to fuel (fat) than if it were not keto-adapted and relying on glycogen.
Weight lifter? In chapter 4 of “The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance”, Dr’s Phinney and Volek explain how once you are keto adapted, you produce less lactic acid during any one workload. This means your exercise threshold is elevated (maybe one or two more reps without burning out?).
*There is also some speculation that when you’re not dependent on muscle glycogen, your brain doesn’t stress about lack of fuel (like, you’re running low on glycogen) so it doesn’t send a signal to STOP. This means your workouts may have more power and stamina.
Worried about muscle loss? Drs Volek and Phinney also go into great detail in their book “The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance” about how insulin promotes muscle synthesis. How? Because blood leucine (which increases in a ketogenic diet) is a potent regulator of muscle synthesis. (Did you read that?)
You can also check out this 6-minute video here that explains this in more detail.
*If you want to seriously geek out on this, check out Dr. Dominic D’Agostino’s website (rabbit hole). Not only is he an athlete, he’s a medical doctor who specializes in Keto Diets and research.
Weight Loss: this is a common ‘side-effect’ at first. There are a lot of reasons for this, one being weight homeostasis. This means your body naturally finds a healthy weight when you follow a healthy keto diet (low carb/phytonutrient rich greens, healthy fats, wild/grass-fed protein). Blood sugar regulation, lowered cravings, increased fat burning, weight loss and hormone regulation are all benefits that can be seen on a ketogenic diet
Brain Energy: Ketones also provide a very clean energy source for your brain, which can only use glucose or ketone bodies. If your blood sugar gets low, which can happen if you haven’t eaten in a while, you’ve probably felt that foggy brain feeling. Blood sugar can also get low if you eat A LOT of carbohydrates called “reactive hypoglycemia”. Why? Because your body sends out insulin to pull out excess glucose from your blood which then lowers your blood glucose level. You may recognize this as a ‘Sugar Crash’.
Keto Diets and Disease Prevention – it’s very promising.
Besides seizure control, a Keto Diet has gained serious momentum in cancer prevention/treatment, Type II Diabetes and Neurological Health (Alzheimer’s, Dementia, Parkinsons’). Dr. Thomas Seyfried published a much-referenced paper titled “Cancer as a Metabolic Disease”. It explains the mechanisms of cancer progression (think too much sugar) and how a carefully monitored Ketogenic Diet can be used to treat cancer patients.
Not unlike Dr. Freeman, Dr. Seyfried openly talks about the professional risks of looking at cancer treatment from anything other than chemo and pharmaceuticals. You can listen to this interview with Dr. Seyfried as he talks about the mechanisms. Miriam Kalamian is a Nutritionist that specializes in helping Cancer patients through Keto diets. You can find tons of videos/podcasts with Miriam here.
*need to nerd out? You can read more about the mechanisms here.
Dr. Dale Bredesen has successfully reversed early-onset Alzheimer’s using a keto diet as well. He also goes into great (nerdy) details in his book ‘The End of Alzheimer’s’ on how inflammation appears to be the main contributor to Alzheimer’s. And one of his main successful tactics is nutrition.
Ketogenic Diets have also been extensively studied for many metabolic conditions like Type II Diabetes and obesity. A quick search in PubMed and you’ll witness the insane amount of positive studies surrounding the use of Keto Diets to treat disease.
I won’t get into the heavy, mind-spinning evidence but I’ll say this: the medical world is sitting up and taking notice.
How do you start a Keto Diet?
A Keto Diet is a little more sophisticated than most ‘diets’. But the effort is worth the payout. You need to prepare because shifting from Here are a few things you need to iron out first:
- Medical clearance – Keto isn’t for everyone and certain medication can interfere with ketosis.
- Your macro calculations – 2:1 ratio (fat to carb/protein)
- Customizing your protein levels.
- Testing – Blood? Urine strips?
- Food – You need to prepare, or you will fail.
- Exogenous Ketone Supplements – do you need them?
- Fasting – Most Keto dieters use intermittent fasting (IF) as a tool to get into and stay in ketosis (IF is also used as a therapeutic tool for brain health)
- Tracking and troubleshooting – Key to your success. Period.
Don’t freak out George! I created something awesome for you to effortlessly guide you through. It’s a short eBook that lays out the steps on how to get into ketosis, troubleshoot, free apps and more. Short and to the point.
Click here to download Keto 101 (boring title, great book).
This is a mass-oversimplification of a ketogenic diet to get your palate wet. The leaders in this field (and who you should turn for more info) are Dr. Thomas Seyfried (cancer), Dr. Peter Attia, Dr. Dom D’Agostino, Dr. Stephen Phinney, Dr. Jeff Volek and Miriam Kalamian.
- Seyfried, T. N., Flores, R. E., Poff, A. M., & D’Agostino, D. P. (2014, March). Retrieved February 27, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3941741/
- Bredesen D. The End of Alzheimer’s, The First Program to Prevent and Reverse Cognitive Decline. Penguin; 2017.
- https://www.drbredesen.com/thebredesenprotocol (many published papers and videos)
- Yancy WS, Foy M, Chalecki AM, Vernon MC, Westman EC. A low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet to treat type 2 diabetes. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2005;2:34.
- Allen BG, Bhatia SK, Anderson CM, et al. Ketogenic diets as an adjuvant cancer therapy: History and potential mechanism. Redox Biol. 2014;2:963-70.
- Volek J, Phinney SD. The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance, A Revolutionary Program to Extend Your Physical and Mental Performance Envelope. 2012.
- Wilson J, Lowery R. The Ketogenic Bible, The Authoritative Guide to Ketosis. Victory Belt Publishing; 2017.
- Boden G, Sargrad K, Homko C, Mozzoli M, Stein TP. Effect of a low-carbohydrate diet on appetite, blood glucose levels, and insulin resistance in obese patients with type 2 diabetes. Ann Intern Med. 2005;142(6):403-11.
- Gibson AA, Seimon RV, Lee CM, et al. Do ketogenic diets really suppress appetite? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Obes Rev. 2015;16(1):64-76.
Janine holds a Master’s Degree in Clinical Nutrition, is a Certified Nutritionist and Certified Personal Trainer. She is also a retired Police Officer and Marine Veteran, who gets the unique needs of First Responders.
After almost 20 years in Law Enforcement and lecturing her co-workers about their eating habits, she retired and founded www.OnPointNutrition.Org. Her purpose is to help others through precise nutrition.
For snack-sized bits of useful information, follow Janine on Instagram at @Janine.OPN