Because the ketogenic diet alters the body's metabolism, it is a first-line therapy in children with certain congenital metabolic diseases such as pyruvate dehydrogenase (E1) deficiency and glucose transporter 1 deficiency syndrome, which prevent the body from using carbohydrates as fuel, leading to a dependency on ketone bodies. The ketogenic diet is beneficial in treating the seizures and some other symptoms in these diseases and is an absolute indication. However, it is absolutely contraindicated in the treatment of other diseases such as pyruvate carboxylase deficiency, porphyria, and other rare genetic disorders of fat metabolism. Persons with a disorder of fatty acid oxidation are unable to metabolise fatty acids, which replace carbohydrates as the major energy source on the diet. On the ketogenic diet, their bodies would consume their own protein stores for fuel, leading to ketoacidosis, and eventually coma and death.
If you have diabetes, it’s important to understand the difference between nutritional ketosis and ketoacidosis. Both involve ketones. But ketoacidosis is a dangerous condition that happens when your body doesn’t have enough insulin and ketones build up too much. Symptoms include excessive thirst, urinating often, confusion, and weakness or fatigue. It’s more common for people with type 1 than type 2.
Walking, stretching, or doing gentle yoga or other mind-body exercise should be fine and may even help you feel better. But when your body is already under stress from trying to adapt to a new fuel system, don’t place an additional burden on it by attempting any type of strenuous workout. Take it easy for the first few weeks and then slowly increase your exercise intensity.
Adopting a ketogenic diet may also hamper athletic performance, says Weiss, even though many athletes try it, thinking it will have the opposite effect. In a recent study in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, Weiss and his colleagues found that after four days on a keto diet, participants performed worse on anaerobic exercise tasks—which involve short bursts of intense activity—than those who’d recently gone on a high-carb diet.
Why the heck does it happen? Normally, the body uses glucose—or sugar—as its main source of energy. When you cut your carbs below 50 grams per day (the typical threshold for a ketogenic diet), you enter a metabolic state called ketosis: Instead of burning carbs for fuel, your body begins burning ketones—an alternative fuel source that the liver makes by breaking down fat. In turn, this can make you feel run down.
Insulin is a hormone that lets your body use or store sugar as fuel. Ketogenic diets make you burn through this fuel quickly, so you don’t need to store it. This means your body needs -- and makes -- less insulin. Those lower levels may help protect you against some kinds of cancer or even slow the growth of cancer cells. More research is needed on this, though.
Many ketogenic dieters also swear by MCT oil. (MCT simply stands for medium chain triglycerides.) MCT's energy-sustaining powers can be explained as follows: When MCT oil is metabolized in the body, it behaves more like a carbohydrate than a fat. Unlike other fats, MCT oil does not go through the lymphatic system. Instead, it is transported directly to the liver where it is metabolized so it releases energy like a carbohydrate and creates lots of ketones (which can be used for fuel) in the process.
From a genetic perspective, certain people are less metabolically flexible because they have genetic variations (e.g., insufficient production of specific enzymes) that make it more difficult for them to adapt to the ketogenic diet. In contrast, those who are quick keto-adapters may be gifted with genes that enhance their ability to switch between fuel sources more efficiently.
The classic ketogenic diet is not a balanced diet and only contains tiny portions of fresh fruit and vegetables, fortified cereals, and calcium-rich foods. In particular, the B vitamins, calcium, and vitamin D must be artificially supplemented. This is achieved by taking two sugar-free supplements designed for the patient's age: a multivitamin with minerals and calcium with vitamin D. A typical day of food for a child on a 4:1 ratio, 1,500 kcal (6,300 kJ) ketogenic diet comprises three small meals and three small snacks:
In its 2016 report “Healthy Eating Guidelines & Weight Loss Advice,” the Public Health Collaboration, a U.K. nonprofit, evaluated evidence on low-carbohydrate, high-fat diets. (The keto diet falls under the LCHF umbrella.) Among 53 randomized clinical trials comparing LCHF diets to calorie-counting, low-fat diets, a majority of studies showed greater weight loss for the keto-type diets, along with more beneficial health outcomes. The collaboration recommends weight-loss guidelines that include a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet of real (rather than processed) foods as an acceptable, effective and safe approach.
On a ketogenic diet, your entire body switches its fuel supply to run mostly on fat, burning fat 24-7. When insulin levels become very low, fat burning can increase dramatically. It becomes easier to access your fat stores to burn them off. This is great if you’re trying to lose weight, but there can also be other, less obvious benefits, such as less hunger and a steady supply of energy (without the sugar peaks and valleys we can get from high carb meals). This may help keep you alert and focused.