You have surely guessed by now that we believe that CARBS and other sugars are pretty much evil stuff for those who want to lose either weight or waistline. All wheat, grain, potatoes, rice, pasta etc gets turned into sugar in the body, then insulin comes to our rescue and caries the poisonous sugar off to our fat deposits and stores it as a future source of energy. However, the only time we can ever access this fat store is when there is virtually no insulin in our bloodstream. When insulin is limited and when we restrict the supply of new energy, we enter a state of what is known as ketosis. Here the body produces ketones (turning your fat into a usable energy source) to replace the sugar in our bloodstream. How do we get into a state of ketosis? Either we intermittently fast or our diet is very high in fat and very low in carbohydrates – preferably both!
Ketosis, Ketones, Ketogenic and Ketoacidosis... What Are The Differences?
- Ketosis – when we eat very few CARBS and a diet high in fat, eventually we turn our body from running on sugar to running on fat. An analogy would be like knowing that diesel engines aren’t any good for the environment, therefore we modify our car so it can run on electric. Ketosis is a metabolic state where we are burning ketones for fuel, not glucose. And by the way it’s a truly wonderful free ride when we eventually get there.
- Ketones – is the name of the fuel. Simplifying it a little, glucose (sugar) is one type of fuel and ketones (fat) is another.
- Ketogenic Diet – a ketogenic diet is one whereby we eat very small amounts of CARBS (almost exclusively green ones), moderate protein and lots of organic, healthy and delicious fats.
- Ketoacidosis – even though its name sounds similar, this has nothing to do with any of the above. Ketoacidosis is a dangerous medical condition whereby there is a build-up of acid in the blood. It’s a dangerous medical condition that mostly happens to people with type 1 diabetes who forget to take their insulin. The only reason I even mention it is that sometimes you will hear people saying that a ketogenic diet is dangerous. As they say, a little knowledge is often dangerous, and they are simply confusing two different things. Being in a ketosis metabolic state is what we were designed to do!
Where do ketones get produced? While insulin is created by the pancreas, ketones are produced by the liver. Just like a powerful motorbike that has been sat in the garage for too long, if we have been eating a diet high in CARBS and haven’t intermittently fasted before, it might take a while to kick-start our ketone machine into order, but once it fires up we begin to feel like a completely different person. This period of firing up our ability to consume our own body fat as an energy source is known as the keto- adaptation period.
On a normal diet where we restrict calories, if we do manage to burn more than we consume then, while we might lose a little weight, we will most likely feel sluggish and irritable. If we are still eating CARBS but just fewer of them, our body will still be using the sugar as energy and only dipping into our fat store after its sugar supply becomes completely exhausted. I describe it as the body is in a state of confusion – it doesn’t know which way to turn. To our body, using CARBS for energy is as simple as opening up the breadbin in our kitchen. It requires minimal effort. The food supply might not be the cleanest or the healthiest, but it is easily accessed. But to use our own fat, it’s like going down into the basement to open the freezer. The food here is definitely safer, but it’s a pain to keep going downstairs to get it. What we need to do is to tell our brain that the breadbin is not going to be filled up again. We need to tell it to stop looking there for fuel and to go and get all the food from the freezer downstairs and to put it in the fridge right next to the breadbin, which is going unfilled.
This conversion normally takes around two weeks of severely restricted CARB intake for the body to understand how to enter ketosis without any effort. It might take as long as six weeks if we have really damaged our metabolism through many years of CARB indulgence. The first days can leave us a little light on energy, but it soon passes and before we know it we will have more energy than ever. Once we have become keto-adaptive, rather than relying on the 2,000 to 2,500 maximum calories that our body can store in the form of glucose and glycogen, depending on our weight we will instead have access to more than 40,000 to 100,000 calories sitting there switched on and waiting for us to deploy as required! I know which fuel tank I would rather be able to access. But remember, it takes a while for the body to know where to look and this is the only time on the primal journey where patience is a virtue.
For over 20 years, while I didn’t enjoy it, in an attempt to lose my big belly, I would endure several weekly jogs. But no matter how many miles I clocked up, I never did reduce the size of my gut. We can exercise as much as we like – we can run for miles or cycle for hours, but if we have sugar or insulin in our body we are not going to lose any weight. We can’t burn fat in the presence of CARBS, sugar, insulin or starch. Period!
Author Nina Teicholz
One of the criticisms of going on a keto diet is some people say it’s hard and it’s not sustainable. But what is harder? It is harder to live as an obese person. It’s harder to take four or five pills every day. It’s harder to live with diabetes and inject yourself with insulin everyday. And people say it’s not sustainable. But there is plenty of research to show it is sustainable. But what is harder to sustain is to be sick. Not being able to walk up a flight of stairs. Feeling so bad, you can’t go to work. Feeling depressed and lousy. And constantly being on medication and getting fatter and fatter. That is what is unsustainable. But it is a challenge. When I lived in the UK for a while, I used to love your huge Dairy Milk chocolate bars and all of your bread. And if you had said to me then that I had to give it all up, I would have said forget it. There is no way that I can live without it. But what actually happens is your palate, and your taste buds change. Your want, and desire, for sweetness completely goes away. It’s amazing, and you wouldn’t think that is possible. But it does. What tastes sweet to me now is that 90% dark chocolate. And now, sweeter than that and I don’t like it. But I couldn’t have imagined that before. But your palate does change.
Our body has two main sources of fuel: sugar/glucose produced from CARBS or burning fat through ketosis. Our body doesn’t really differentiate between incoming fat or stored body fat, as it can produce ketones from either. Once we learn to switch on our ketosis metabolism, when we restrict incoming calories, losing weight becomes both a breeze and enjoyable.
Before we look at burning ketones, let’s go back to what prevents us losing our fat.
As we have discussed already, when we eat CARBS our body converts them to sugar, and, as our body regards sugar as both fuel and poison, our pancreas creates insulin that takes the glucose and either helps us burn it if we need the energy immediately or dispatches it to our fat stores.
While insulin is active, even if we are on a long run or cycle ride, it prevents us from using our body fat as fuel. This is where I personally went wrong for so many years. I could never understand why I wasn’t losing weight even when I was running three or four mornings a week. I just didn’t realise it was the pizza the night before, or the early morning orange juice and cereal, that was secretly ganging up on me and sending their by-product insulin to render all my good intentions and painstaking efforts worthless.
So, before we can even start burning our body fat and entering a state of ketosis,
we must rid our body of as much sugar/CARBS/insulin as possible. Once we have insulin under control, our body will turn to our fat stores for energy. Then, when
we open the door of our fat store, our body releases energy in the form of ketones. Ketones are effectively an alternative fuel source to sugar/glucose. Not just energy to drive our vital organs, but as fuel for our muscles and brain too. In fact ketones are the fuel of preference for our brain, heart, liver and muscles, yet many individuals haven’t been able to supply this rich energy source since they were infants consuming their mother’s breast milk!
Once we open the door and enter our fat stores we are said to be in ‘ketosis’. Until we enter ketosis it is impossible to lose body weight. For decades, as I stood on my bathroom scales after my early morning runs, the scales always showed that I had duly lost weight as a result of my hard hour slogging my guts out. But I was misinterpreting the results. Because I always had sugar/insulin in my body, it was preventing me entering ketosis and therefore all I had really lost was water and not fat. It is so important to understand this that I am going to repeat myself one more time.
During that long jog or cycle, we will be putting stress on our joints and limbs while not really gaining any benefit, and most likely do more harm than good. Plus, as we will be burning lots of calories, we are sure to replace them with even more CARBS and other sugars as soon as we finish. Remember, just like nicotine makes a smoker want another cigarette as soon as it starts to exit the body, as insulin gets burnt it makes us crave more sugar and empty calories. I would like to blame the food corporations exclusively for this addiction. While it is true that in many cases, just like they do with cigarettes, manufacturers insert chemicals into food to make us crave them or even worse become addicted, Mother Nature had a hand in it too.
You see, at the end of the summer when she knew food was about to become scarce, she loaded her bushes and trees with sugar-rich fruit. To ensure that our caveman ancestors ate as much as they possibly could, stocking up their internal fat stores
for the barren cold winter, she made it possible for us to consume CARBS, store them quickly and then fool our brain to eat even more. She effectively shut down the creation of the ‘I am full hormone’ leptin, so our caveman took on board and stored as much calories as possible.
While today the vast majority of adults in the Western world never enter a state of ketosis, primal man spent far more time in ketosis than out of it and if you were breastfed from birth you previously did too. In his brilliant book Keto Clarity author Jimmy Moore explains that within 12 hours of being delivered into the world we enter a state of ketosis, with ketones from our mother’s milk providing around a quarter of our total energy. What I also found fascinating was that breast milk is rich in MCTs, which is what coconuts provide by the bucket-load. It is for this very same reason why much packaged baby milk contains either coconut oil or MCT oil. It is too early in the book to go off on a tangent and start talking about one of my favourite subjects, but for your health’s sake please do everything possible from this point forward to fall in love with coconuts. They are simply one of nature’s miracle foods and can actually accelerate the speed at which we enter the metabolic state of ketosis. So much so, that in order to bring forward the entry point into ketosis, many people now take MCT supplements.
Because our primal forefathers often went days without catching food, and during the winter ate very sparsely, they were constantly engaged in an intermittent fast orchestrated by nature. It’s important to remember that when the supply of CARBS and protein is low, our body will run on fat. It doesn’t distinguish from stored fat or free fat. Our stored fat, whether it is from our buttocks, love handles or waistline, results in exactly the same ketones as the fat we eat. So our caveman ancestors didn’t have to worry about balancing their food, the fact that their bellies were often empty meant their ketosis metabolism kicked in automatically once their glucose and glycogen was depleted.
If we have a lot of weight to shed and really want to shift it, then one sure way to do so is to avoid as many CARBS as possible (even the good ones for a short while) and enter into a state of ketosis. If we can exercise as well and remain in ketosis for prolonged periods, then our weight should drop off. Warning: Don’t drop the green CARBS (broccoli, spinach, etc) for long as we need to eat healthy CARBS such as leafy green vegetables and low-sugar fruits. The only time we should drop them from our diet might be for just a few weeks while we teach our body how to enter ketosis.
So how do we become keto-adaptive? We need to get our daily CARB intake to below 50g and ideally these should come from complex CARBS such as leafy greens. Jeff S. Volek, PhD, RD, and Stephen D. Phinney, MD, PhD in their book The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance sum it up brilliantly: “When it comes to cereals, breads, pasta, potatoes, pastry, candy, juices or other carb-dense foods we’ll say it once... just don’t go there. Because all of these are like the nuclear option in suppressing ketones, we’ve started calling them ‘carbage’”. They have created this wonderful word ‘carbage’ by combining CARB and garbage, and I think it should be added to the English dictionary!
Now you might wonder why I say low CARB, moderate protein and lots of quality fats. Why do we need to be careful of our protein intake? Aren’t proteins the good guys? Yes, proteins are the good guys, and play a crucial role in our wellbeing. However, our body is really clever. It has the ability to turn protein into sugar. In the absence of CARBS, the body turns any excess protein into sugar and therefore while attempting to enter ketosis we need to be careful not to overdo the protein. If you remember back to chapter 1, I said that while the body must intake protein and fats to survive, it can function happily forever without a single CARB. Now we are getting into the detail, let me explain that the body does occasionally need glucose to function. If it can’t locate it when it’s needed, through a process called gluconeogenesis, it synthesises it from proteins. This is really important to understand if we want to either enter ketosis or lose weight, or more commonly both! While protein is undoubtedly vital to our survival and a critical macronutrient for our body’s self-repair mechanisms, when we consume too much of it, in the absence of CARBS our body will convert any excess into the same by-product of CARBS – sugar.
Although we don’t count calories, while we are training our body to enter ketosis it’s ideal to aim for around 20% of our calories from green CARBS and protein and 80% from healthy fats. But remember these are just guidelines and every single one of us is different. For example, because I have damaged my metabolism so badly in the past, I only have to look at CARBS to put on weight. Seriously, it seems I am that sensitive to processed CARBS I only have to sniff a pizza and my waistline bulges! And the same happens when I consume too much protein. I seem fine with 30g of protein during or immediately after a workout, but on days when I am not exercising, I have to be just as strict about my protein intake as I am about CARBS.
As counting calories is not primal, a simple summary for ketosis is – virtually no CARBS, reduced protein and double our quality fat intake.
So, if we want to enter ketosis, it’s all about maximising the amount of healthy fats we consume. But which fats I here you cry? We will learn about all of these little miracles of nature in detail later, but for now here is a snapshot of what can help us make up the 80% fat part of the diet:
- Organic grass-fed fatty meat (no need to trim the fat off)
- Oily fish
- Butter from organic grass-fed cows
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Coconut oil or coconut milk
- Coconut chunks
- Avocado or extra virgin avocado oil
Author Nina Teicholz
When you convert over to becoming a fat burner, it’s a difficult process at first, because you have to develop all of these different enzymes to be able to run off fat. And why do you want to operate off of fat? What is the benefit of that? Well, I will tell you that the simplest benefit is that once you become a fat burner, you don’t just operate off the fat you eat, when you are not eating, you operate off the fat of your body. Fat on your body is not just a curse that God gave you to mess up your teenage years, or whatever. It’s a genius invention. It’s like having granola bars strapped all over your body. To your body, it’s like, well, while I don’t have food right here on the table in front of me, I will just use this excess bit of fat here on my hips or my stomach for energy. Your stored fat is supposed to be your backup source of fuel. But you can’t access that fat on your body unless you know how to be a fat burner. How do you do that? You have to reduce glucose.
Because glucose is an easier fuel to burn, while it’s in your system, you will never consume your own body fat. And that is why, to lose weight, you have to reduce carbohydrates. Once you keep carbs low for a while, your body will automatically learn how to burn an alternative fuel source which is fat. And this process can take a while. That’s why some diets such as Atkins, advise you go super low on carbs at the beginning, to speed up the transition time. It will make the switch happen faster. But for people who are metabolically unwell and have had poor metabolisms for a long time, it can take a month to six weeks, and it can be painful. You can have nausea, headaches etc. It’s also why some people give up within a few weeks. They think something like, “I feel terrible, this can’t be right, this can’t be good for me”. But people need to understand, that is just your body undergoing a huge transformation. Just like people giving up smoking or alcohol, it takes a while, but you have to get to the other side. When you arrive at the other side, you feel great. You feel better, lose weight, you recover from other illnesses, and symptoms that you didn’t even know were diet- related. For example, I had no idea my own chronic sinus infections were related to my diet. I had taken antibiotics multiple times every winter, and yet since going low carb, I haven’t had a single problem for years.
Is Ketosis Healthy?
My wife’s first impression was no, it’s not! A side effect of being in ketosis is that one of the three different kinds of ketones, acetone, is primarily detected in our breath. And boy does it sometimes smell very pungent! The first time I went into the blissful state of ketosis, my wife was so convinced that I had a stomach ulcer she pleaded with me to go to the doctor. However, I was feeling wonderful and healthy and knew that there was nothing wrong. It was only recently that I discovered that my initial bad breath was just the body learning how to burn its new clean fuel. If the same happens to you, then just chew on some fresh mint until it goes away. I believe that bad breath for a few days is a small price to pay for something that can slow down the ageing process, reduces the risk of such horrible diseases as cancer (remember cancer needs glucose to fuel its growth) and improves virtually all cognitive functions, so much so that many specialists are recommending ketogenic diets for Alzheimer’s sufferers. In addition it:
- Helps accelerate weight loss
- Improves the quality of sleep
- Benefits the skin and can eradicate acne
- Helps hormones better control appetite
- Lowers blood pressure
- Makes it far easier to intermittently fast
- Provides the body with a superior amount of energy
- Increases testosterone for a better sex drive
- Improves moods and fights depression
- Increases the good cholesterol HDL
Dr Dan Maggs
I personally lost nearly five stone (31kg) on a ketogenic diet. It works by allowing your body to access all the energy you have stored as fat. Aside from that, the feeling of clarity and energy you get when your brain is mainly running on ketones is incredible.
Author Hannah Richards
Being hungry and having periods of fasting carry many health benefits for the body. We hear and say the phrase ‘I’m hungry’ quite a lot, but most of the time we don’t actually mean it. However, when we do say it, all that has really happened is food has been completely emptied out of the stomach.
Food passes out of your stomach into the duodenum and it can sometimes make a few gurgling noises which we associate with hunger, and of course you may well be hungry. However, hunger as we experience it will be vastly different from the way other cultures in history and in various places around the world today experience it. It is also something we will most likely be fortunate never to truly experience in our lifetime.
Having a juice day or a liquid day is an equally good thing to do to give your digestive system a rest. It is often overloaded, over-packed and overworked on a regular basis, which is why giving it a rest with a fast day can be beneficial and boost your microbiota, too!