What is a ketogenic diet?

Recently we’ve looked at liver function and how to keep your liver healthy and the role your liver plays in weight loss, and how that is connected to how your body processes fats, followed by a quick overview of the metabolic process called ketosis.

This now brings us to the subject of ketogenic diets.  Many people will immediately think of the Atkins diet, but there are many other ketogenicdiet plans besides Atkins that based on ketosis.  One of my personal favorites is the Southbeach diet.  I like the description as noted by USA Today in a recent article, it emphasizes “…avoiding carbs like pasta and potatoes and eating the right carbs” and helps you choose the “right kinds of fats” but doesn’t worry as much about limiting fats.  I do think it’s important to point out that none of these diets will work well at producing lasting results if you don’t change your lifestyle.  As previous posts have pointed out, diets don’t work.  Only lifestyle changes will work to produce sustainable lifelong changes in health (and weight).

There are *many* diets out there that base themselves on some of these same principles, even if they don’t label themselves as ketogenic – they work because of the metabolic effects that come about when you restrict carbs and when your diet includes higher levels of (healthy) fats.  In future posts we’ll look at some of the differences in these diets and dive a little deeper into more specifics on metabolism and the factors that some of the hormones related to digestion play in all this.



What is Ketosis?

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.waist line

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.



Is there a connection between a healthy liver, diet, and weight loss?

You bet there is!  That’s why we’ve been looking at liver function, and how to support and maintain a healthy liver in the last two blog postings.  As stated previously – without your liver you cannot live, and without a healthy liver, you cannot be healthy.  I’ll add to that by stating that an unhealthy diet will result in an unhealthy liver – making it all the more challenging to maintain a healthy weight.

One of the major aspects of nutrition and diet that is important is the amount of fat in your diet.  Whether it is a greater portion or a lesser portion – either way it’s important to be able to efficiently process fats in order to get the proper nutrition, energy and vitamins that fats contain, and just to properly process the fats in one’s diet.  An unhealthy liver can also play a part in a number of conditions like irritable bowel syndrome.  Fatty liver disease and gallstones are two of the examples of results of complications from unhealthy conditions which then ripple through to other effects on your health.

Several diets claim to not only assist with weight loss, but also address some of the symptoms of fatty liver disease – and in some cases reverse the condition.  According to the National Institutes of Health, weight loss is the generally recommended clinical management for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).  Some studies have demonsrated improvement of fatty liver disease on a low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet.

In our next post we’ll begin looking into what a ketogenic diet is, and begin to explore some of the impact on your overall health from making this dietary approach part of your lifestyle.

Best way to help your liver?

This post is really about the second best way to help your liver.

As mentioned previously – your liver is one of your major organs – it is impossible for you to have excellent health if you don’t have a healthy liver.  As mentioned previously, your liver performs an array of functions that are crucial to your overall health and the proper functioning of your body; not the least of which is removing toxins from your body.  And if you have any hope of properly metabolizing fats (and the associated fat vitamins) as well as other nutrients – you need to have a healthy liver.

So what is the best way to protect your liver?  The simple answer is avoid toxins.   The not-so-simple part of that is thinking about the air, food, water, and other things you consume and that you come in contact with that add to your toxin load.  There are many substances people are now exposed to on a daily basis that our bodies were never exposed to in the past and that put a heavy toll on your body – and on the liver itself.  We’ll look at ways to avoid toxins in future posts – but given this, what can you do to help your liver?

There are a number of foods that can assist in healthy liver function – in an upcoming post I’ll detail a few of those.  However there is an herbal supplement you can take that will help with healthy liver function and can help detoxify or rebuild your liver:  milk thistle.  I recommend the her Milk Thistle as a part of a healthy lifestyle to keep your liver in good shape and help it deal with the daily load of toxins it deals with for you.

There are three reasons you should add Milk Thistle to your daily supplement regimen:

  1. Milk Thistle has a long reputation as a liver aid  For thousand of years people have used Milk Thistle to revitalize the liver, to aid in it’s detoxification, and to help with the flow of bile (crucial to the proper utilization of fats and fat based vitamins).  It has had and continues to have this reputation because it does work.
  2. Milk Thistle contains the substance Silymarin -a highly active antioxidant that contains silibinins and other related compounds.  This potent substance is known to have a very positive effect on the liver, on toxicity in the body in general, and a strong antioxidant in it’s own right.
  3. Milk Thistle has a growing reputation as having positive effects on a number of other health issues including high cholesterol, dermatitis, and a protective effect against a number of cancers.

I personally recommend Milk Thistle extract available from Life Extension.  This formulation is high quality and has a good reputation.  In addition, I hold Life Extension in high regard for their research into healthful living and ways to increase/maintain good health.

Please use the reply form below for any questions or comments –  I’d love to hear from you.


The importance of healthy liver function

It’s important to briefly touch on the liver before reviewing some of the various dietary approaches to a healthier lifestyle.  Why?  Because your liver is one of the most vital organs in your body, performing dozens of functions – only a handful of which we’ll look at here.  Without your liver you cannot live, and without a healthy liver, you cannot be healthy.

The liver is the largest organ of the body – a few of it’s most important functions are:Liver

  • Helps metabolizes nutrients
  • Detoxifies harmful substances
  • Storage of glycogen for later use
  • Production of bile
  • Helps break down insulin and other hormones
  • Production of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1)
  • Production of ketones

While there are many other important functions of the liver – these are the ones I wanted to focus on as we look at a healthy diet as part of a healthy lifestyle.

Consider these four important facts regarding your liver:

  1. A healthy liver is important (and necessary) for daily health and living.  Impaired liver function can cause many serious diseases and conditions.
  2. Your lifestyle and diet can have a great effect on the health of your liver and it’s overall function
  3. A healthy liver is *crucial* to the proper metabolism of fats in your diet (especially if you intend to live a low-carb lifestyle)
  4. There are specific dietary and supplement approaches to assist in keeping your liver healthy

Upcoming we’ll look at

  • one specific herbal supplement to aid in healthy liver function
  • the liver’s function in low-carb and very low carb diets
  • some of the benefits of a low-carb diet as a part of a healthy lifestyle
  • some first-hand experiences with a low-carb approach to a healthy diet


Have a question or something to add?  Use the reply form below – I’d love to hear from you.

Don’t I just need to go by the RDA?

Ask many people about vitamins supplements and they’ll tell you that they get everything they need from the food they eat.  “Besides” they’ll tell you – “I get the RDA (recommended daily allowance of everything I need.”  The unfortunate fact is that you probably don’t get everything you need just from the foods you eat (see Do you need supplements).naturevalley

It’s helpful to start by asking – What is the RDA?  If you’ve looked at the side or back of most packaged food products you’ve seen a label similar to this one:

If you’ve wondered what the RDA is or where it came from – here’s the background, and here’s why it’s probably not a good measure of what your nutrient needs are for optimum nutrition and health.

The RDA is based upon calculations made in 1941 during World War 2.    The RDA was calculated based upon Estimated Average Requirements (EAR) which were the levels estimate in order to meet the basic nutritional needs of 50% of the people  (keep in mind that this was an across-the-board calculation for soldiers, citizens, and people facing food rationing).  While the levels and amounts are reviewed every 10 years or so, even these are designed to meet an average requirement in order to avoid the diseases of deficiency, and to provide basic nutritional needs (not what I would call optimal health).

So what does all this mean to you if you’re seeking to live a healthy lifestyle?

  1. Understand and be in touch with your body and your specific needs
  2. Do your research on what are considered levels for optimum nutrition.
    One excellent source for this is Life Extension Foundation.  Their stated mission is “to help you stay younger and healthier longer … looking for new and better ways to prolong youth, health, life.”  That sounds pretty good to me – most people are interested in staying healthier longer and being able to prolong health – I know I am.
  3. Adjust your lifestyle and diet accordingly.  As I’ve pointed out many times, you should focus on a healthy diet that supports a healthy lifestyle – not on going on a diet.  Remember – diets don’t work.
  4. Add the right foods and supplements to your diet to ensure that you are setting yourself up for optimum health, not just avoiding the diseases that come from nutrient deficiency.

If you are only going by the RDA printed on your processed food packages, I think you are doing yourself a great disservice and not setting yourself up for optimum health.  Remember – these calculations which formed a basis for all this were done during a time of scarcity and in order to avoid nutritional deficiency diseases for an average person with average needs.

In future posts we’ll review so of the specific vitamin, mineral and herbal supplements I believe you should consider adding to your diet to preserve, protect and prolong your health,