If you want to become a lean, mean, fat-burning machine, the goal is to achieve a ketogenic state. When you’re in a ketogenic state, you’re producing ketones, an alternative fuel for the body created when glucose is in short supply. Ketones are made in the liver from the breakdown of fats.
Most people never get down to burning fat because the Standard American Diet (SAD) is heavy in carbohydrates (a diet high in carbs means you store more fat and cannot readily access that fat for fuel). So they end up only burning carbs, not fat. When you eliminate high carbohydrate foods by implementing a ketogenic diet (for example, Paleo and Primal foods), your body starts to use the glucose stores in your muscles. When those glucose stores run low, fat released from your fat cells travel through the blood to reach the liver, where they are processed into ketone bodies for your body to use as fuel. The ketone units then circulate back into the blood stream and are picked up by the muscle and other tissues to fuel your body’s metabolism. You literally become a fat-burning machine.
Most people have heard of ketones and ketosis because of the Atkins Diet, a diet especially popular in the 1990’s that allowed dieters to eat all the protein and fat they wanted as long as they stayed away from carbs. Low carb diets are still all the rage today. The first problem with a diet like Atkins is there is no focus on quality of food. There’s no distinction between a USDA Prime piece of antibiotic/hormone-laden steak and a naturally raised, grass-fed steak. No encouragement to choose organic produce over the kind you get all wrapped up in cellophane. Even if you don’t have a degree in nutrition, warning signals should sound in your head if any diet tells you it’s better to eat artificial sugar (that includes Splenda and Truvia, so-called “natural” sugars, which they are not) over a piece of fruit. That just doesn’t make any sense.
The second problem with most of those low carb diets is that there’s no caution regarding the amount of protein one eats. It’s important not to go hog wild in your protein consumption. You shouldn’t be eating too much of anything, even the good stuff. The body can only process so much at one time. Chemically speaking, protein is an acidic food, meaning it breaks down into acid when it’s digested. An excess of protein therefore creates an excess of acid in the body. Your body wants to maintain balance, so our pH is somewhere around 7.3 to 7.4, which is slightly alkaline.
Now I know it is more complicated than that, as some cultures survive off primarily fat and protein, especially in the polar regions. Remember folks they have evolved over thousands and thousands of years to consume such a diet, you have not.
Your kidneys are the key to keeping a proper pH level in your body. When you consume to many acidic foods, or soft drinks (sodas are highly acidic) you lower your bodies pH (you become acidic). In order to correct your pH, bones release calcium and magnesium to reestablish alkalinity, and muscles are broken down to produce ammonia, which is strongly alkaline. Once your body re-balances, your bone minerals and broken-down muscle get excreted in urine. Over a lifetime, this slow breakdown of bone and muscle will catch up with you, hence all the osteoporosis medications and supplements advertised on TV today. In fact, acidosis seems to increase with age, which may reflect a lifelong poor diet. Researchers now believe that weak muscles set the stage for falls and fractures in the elderly. Also, when our bones release calcium to buffer acidity, there’s a risk that some of the calcium will separate and form a kidney stone. I know I have found people who drink a lot of soda, seem to get kidney stones at a much higher rate than those who consume no soda.
Achieving a ketogenic state is NOT the same as being in a state of ketosis. A ketogenic state is when your body is primed to burn fat because of the food you eat. I hear the supposed Paleo, Primal, and health and wellness experts incorrectly using the word “ketosis” all the time. They always say, “you want to be in a state of ketosis.” This is partially true. When first transitioning to a healthy, natural low carb form of diet, initially you will enter a state of ketosis, because you are not fat adapted yet. Being fat adapted means you are able to access fat stores to be used as energy, this is truly how the human body was designed. Otherwise you would be able to store unlimited amounts of glycogen (stored glucose), which we know is not the case. Ketosis is when you have an overabundance of ketones in your bloodstream. Too many ketones send your body’s pH balance out of whack. This can lead to inflammation, dehydration, and swelling. To put it simply: A ketogenic state is GOOD, constant ketosis is BAD. If you can keep those two things straight, you’re ahead of most people. Even most of the experts, sadly. Matter of fact, excess ketone bodies in the blood and urine can be a sign of metabolic disease, and doctors often use the measurement of ketone bodies as a tool in diagnosis.
Here is one key factor that the “supposed” ketogenic experts do not understand: A ketogenic diet, as they define it (constant ketosis), is not a long term solution to obtaining optimal health or weight-loss. There are two main reasons for this. First, you have about a 10-14 day window when in a state of ketosis, before your body will actually do the opposite of what you are trying to do, and that is slow down your metabolism. Secondly, If you consistently have an over abundance of ketone bodies in your blood, your body will now think you are in a state of starvation. There is only one physiological state that would cause you to stay in long term ketosis, and that would be starvation. In order to survive bouts of not being able to find food, our bodies have adapted by being able to store large amounts of fat as a backup fuel source.
Trust me, I have had more conversations than I count with people who have done the ketogenic diet for far too long, and are now gaining all the weight back no matter how few carbs they eat. Not only that, but once you bring carbs back into your diet after being on a ketogenic diet for too long, you will become hypersensitive to any carbs. Thus you will gain weight, especially in the form of body fat at a very rapid rate, when you re-introduce carbs.
So my rule for the going on a ketogenic diet, is you only do it for two to three weeks and that is it. Some of these experts will say you just need to cycle on and off the ketogenic diet to avoid the above pitfalls. Sounds great, but aren’t we trying to avoid yo-yo diets to begin with. A ketogenic diet is a tool to kick start you into burning fat as a primary fuel source as your body was intended, but not as a long-term solution.
We have various energy systems kicking in during certain energy requirements, and that is how your body was intended to work. You can not force your body to utilize one energy source all the time, without out some consequences. Mother nature is a fickle beast who you can never cheat and expect to win. In the end you and your health will always pay the price.
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