To understand what ketosis is, it’s helpful to do a quick review of how our bodies are fueled.
While it’s true that we are fueled by the food we eat – it’s what kind of food and what happens to it that makes the difference as to what fuel your body primarily utilizes for energy. It’s not just in the stomach (or small intestine) that all of this takes place – that’s why the last few posts have looked at the liver
So when your food is broken down, you end up with two fuels for our body – sugar or fat; all food ends up being processed and fuels our cells with either sugar or fat. The aspect of the liver’s function I want to focus on here relates to the processing of fats – specifically the process known as ketosis.
On a typical western diet, you end up taking in enough starches and sugars that your body primarily ends up being fueled with sugar. (Remember that all food ends up being broken down into sugars and fats). Your body has a natural tendency to utilize sugar first, and as long as there is an adequate supply (there’s too much in the typical western diet!), your body will use sugar as fuel.
When a person limits their intake of carbohydrates (sugars, starches and foods with higher sugar and/or starch levels) below a certain threshold, their body will go through a process to switch over to using fats for fuels. This process is called lypolysis. Many fats are just “too big” to be used, and so have to be broken down in a process called that breaks them apart into smaller chunks that can be utilized by the body for fuel – ketones (technically called ketone bodies) are produced as a result.
These ketones are able to be burned as fuel by both muscles and brain – and this is ketosis. A ketogenic diet is simply a diet where carbohydrate intake is limited in order to promote the production of ketones and the burning of fat as your primary source of energy.
What we are NOT talking about here is diabetic ketoacidosis. As defined by the Mayo Clinic: “Diabetic ketoacidosis is a serious complication of diabetes that occurs when your body produces high levels of blood acids called ketones..” In this case the production of ketones runs out of control and causes a buildup in the blood – which can quickly become serious. If you have diabetes, you should understand the signs of diabetic ketoacidosis and seek medical care immediately if you observe any of the warning signs.
More about ketogenic diets in the next post.