Popular during the 1980s and 1990s, the Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution had many dieters jumping on its ketogenic bandwagon. Overweight and obese individuals were quickly able lose body fat. As the diet promoted low carbohydrates and high fats to eat, this was in opposition to what the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was advocating with their dietary guidelines. They depicted a simple picture called the Food Group Pyramid with bread, cereal, rice, and pasta to consume the majority of an individual’s diet. Fat was also treated as evil and to be used sparingly.
Because of the success Dr. Atkin’s diet had with weight loss, much attention was brought to the science community. Over the last several years, research has proven that a ketogenic diet done correctly can have lasting success in both fat loss and health. It is still the most popular diet, therefore it’s helpful to understand what ketones or ketone bodies are and how they work before jumping on the ketogenic diet.
What are Ketones?
Ketones, also known as ketone bodies, are byproducts of fat broken down in the body and used for energy. These byproducts occur when an individual’s diet consists of low carbohydrates and high fats. It may also occur during fasting, starvation, or prolonged exercise.
Are Ketones the Best Fuel for Burning Fat?
Have you every pulled into a gas station to pump fuel into your car and wondered what those three numbers (87-89-93) on the pump really mean? Maybe you’ve heard that those numbers represent the rating of something called octane which is the measure of how much compression a fuel can withstand before igniting. The higher the octane rating (premium gas), the less likely the fuel is going to pre-ignite or explode at higher pressures and damage your engine.
Your body is much like a car as it also needs fuel to continue running. Food is your octane, but you too have choices on the type of fuel to use. You can either run on low octane (sugar) or high octane (fat). Running your body on sugar fuel is inefficient energy that will cause your body to explode out with fat and be damaged with chronic disease. On the other hand, fat fuel is highly efficient and will keep you lean, as well as protect and regenerate your body from disease. This comes with the help of ketones.
How Ketones are Produced
Ketones are produced when very small amounts of carbs are eaten and the body breaks down fats, thereby creating fatty acids which are burned off in the liver during a process called beta-oxidation. Like fats, carbs are one of the major types of food. However, carbs convert into sugar when broken down by the body which leads to obesity and health problems. On the other hand, the human body and brain prefers ketones as its primary energy source as it runs 70 percent more efficiently than sugar.
From an evolutionary standpoint, this preference makes perfect sense. After all, carbs weren’t easily accessible during prehistoric days. Cavemen had to hunt and gather their foods which were mainly meats and plant foods. They relied on ketones for energy as sugar sources were scarce. Even breastfed babies run on ketones. Now that people have an abundant source of fruits and other carbs, they don’t access ketones as their primary source of fuel and their metabolic pathway becomes dormant.
Why Ketones Should be Used as Your Primary Fuel Source
The state in which the body uses ketones as its primary fuel is called ketosis. As mentioned earlier, ketones are the byproduct of burning fats. They are produced when your body is low in sugar. When your body doesn’t have enough sugar to run on, you enter ketosis.
Just as your vehicle requires gasoline to move, your body requires energy to keep your metabolism regulated. That energy is stored as either glycogen or fat. Until your body needs energy, glycogen is stored in your skeletal muscles and liver while excess fat is stored in your body’s cells. If your body is storing glycogen, it will be converted into sugar when needed. Because it is easier for your body to use this source of energy, it needs to be used up before it can even start burning fat. If there is no stored glycogen, your body will then convert some of its stored fat to ketones.
The average person stores about 600 grams of glycogen in the body – about 500 grams in skeletal muscles and 100 grams in the liver. It takes about one to two days for the body to burn through glycogen stores. With eating of carbs at every meal several times per day, this makes reaching your fat stores much more difficult. Today, an average person carries at least 15 to 20 pounds of stored body fat. That equates to about 53,000 to 70,000 calories. Based on this information, it would seem that using ketones to burning fat makes more sense.
What Foods do I Need to Eat to Produce Ketones?
Many diet proponents and gurus have promoted the keto diet as it is the best for burning fat. The unfortunate thing is that many keto diet books lack the right foods and nutrients which cause cravings and out-of-control appetites. This leaves dieters with unhealthy bodies and weight regain. Therefore, it’s important to consider the types of foods you eat while accessing ketones to help you reduce body fat.
Be sure to include grass-fed meats, certified organic poultry, pasture-raised eggs, and wild-caught fish and seafood. These are your proteins which should take up 15 to 30 percent of your daily diet. Most of your carbohydrates should come from dark green leafy and cruciferous vegetables, and they should make up five to 10 percent of your diet. Berries are low in sugar content and high in phytonutrients so include blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries. Include one serving of berries per day for its powerful antioxidant protection. Pecans and walnuts are wonderful dietary fat source when you want to snack. Also, include egg yolk; flax, chia, and hemp seeds; flax and olive oils; aged cheese; and avocadoes are great fatty food sources. Dietary fat should make up 60 to 75 percent of your diet.