The Ketogenic (Keto) diet is certainly not a fad — it’s here to stay. And if you’re thinking about trying it, there are a few things you should know.
What Keto Means
Keto is short for ketogenic, which means the genesis, or production, of ketones. When we eat carbs, we break them down into sugar. When we eat fats, we break them down into ketones. The keto diet simply means eating fat instead of carbs for energy.
Our bodies, especially our brains, strongly prefer using sugar for energy. But when carbs are not available, like in a period of starvation, the body will break down it’s own fat stores and use those ketones for energy. This process has kept us alive when our preferred source of energy was scarce.
Mark Sisson, New York Times best-selling author, founder of Primal Kitchen, a long time friend of Territory, and arguably one of the most influential voices on keto, shares this about carb vs fat energy sources in his keto guide:
The carb-heavy Standard American Diet is an evolutionary aberration. The constant drip of glucose into our blood is a modern luxury (or, more to the point physiologically-speaking, a modern burden). For most of human history, if we wanted carbs, we had to climb a tree and extricate a bee’s nest, spend hours digging tubers, or wait around for the wild fruit to ripen.
We are designed for periods of low food availability, and, especially, low glucose availability. In short, we’re wired to favor fat and ketone burning.
To replicate natural food seasonality/scarcity, a true keto diet limits carbs to 20–50 grams per day. All foods are technically allowed, but to meet the extreme carb restriction people generally avoid all grains, starches, legumes and fruit.
A period of “starvation” sounds like a bad thing, but the keto diet certainly has it’s benefits:
- Like in certain medical conditions where energy isn’t processed normally in the brain. Keto has been used for centuries to help with epilepsy and seizures, and is being tested with certain cancers and Alzheimer’s.
- Without sugar in the blood, the body becomes more sensitive to insulin in the short-term, which is good for diabetic patients.
- Carbs and sugar can cause inflammation, while healthy fats reduce it. Keto provides the double benefit of being low in carbs and high in good fats.
Some people lose weight on a keto diet and some don’t. The suspected reasons why people do lose weight on keto are:
- Feeling full from eating fats.
- A decrease in the appetite-stimulating hormones that are usually triggered by carbs.
- Promotion of fat loss due to breaking down some body fat for energy.
- That said, weight loss is most beneficial when it is gradual and sustainable. The keto diet is not likely to be the best long-term approach if your goal is to lose weight fast and keep it off. More on that, and a few other health considerations here and here.
Should I Try It?
It depends on your short and long-term health goals. Keto might be beneficial if your goal is:
- To help your body get more efficient at switching between energy systems — such as relying on carbs during and after exercise, but relying on ketones if you skip a meal.
- To stabilize your energy, mental focus and mood by reducing your dependency on carbs.
- To prevent cognitive decline.
- To learn about how different macronutrients affect your body. For example, if you work long shifts requiring mental concentration, a high-fat diet could improve sustained energy and focus. However, if you’re an athlete or do high intensity exercise and you severely restrict carbs, you might see your performance decline.
- Sisson’s take on other potential benefits and some common misconceptions.
- If I try it, how long should I stick to it? Once upon a time, the keto diet was natural as we ebbed and flowed with changing seasons and food availability. For this reason, it’s advised to “do keto” for short periods of time, cycling on and off with a higher-carb diet, to mimic how this shift between energy sources occurred naturally.
Since there isn’t yet enough evidence on the effectiveness or side effects of a keto diet, do your research and chat with your doctor before diving in.
If strict keto doesn’t strike your fancy but you’re still looking to limit carbs, the paleo diet is a more accessible version of keto. Paleo focuses on protein and healthy fats, with limited carbs from vegetable and fruit sources.
Territory is committed to personalized nutrition and my role as the culinary and nutrition manager is to curate a menu that supports many different dietary preferences. Our chefs prepare over 50 different meals each week, including many that are keto-friendly and paleo.
If you’re curious about either, we offer an easy way to indulge your curiosity. You can check out next week’s menu here.