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What Is a Ketogenic Diet?

You’ve heard of it but what exactly is a ketogenic diet? As promised in my prior post,  “What’s a Ketone and Why Should You Care?”  I will break this down to give you a working understanding.  The prior post covers the benefits of a ketogenic diet and defines a ketone and ketosis.

The Anatomy of the Diet

A basic definition is that a ketogenic diet is one that allows your body to produce ketones to burn as fuel to encourage a state of ketosis. It’s helpful to establish for those who do not know, that calories in food come from the carbohydrate, protein and fat that make up that food. So now let’s start with three basic statements regarding the amount of carbohydrate, protein and fat that define a ketogenic diet.

  • a ketogenic diet is not just a low carbohydrate diet
  • a ketogenic diet is not a high protein diet but rather a moderate protein diet
  • a ketogenic diet is a high fat diet

In order for a diet to be ketogenic a person must consume a low amount of carbohydrate. Estimates of what this amount should be range from 5 – 20% of total calories from carbohydrate. For someone consuming an average of 2000 calories/ day this would equate to no more than 100 grams of carbohydrate per day. But it can be as low as 20 grams of carbohydrate per day. It really depends on the person, the fitness level, their age and any degree of insulin resistance (loss of sensitivity to insulin and inability to utilize blood glucose for fuel) that a person has.  If this leaves you totally blank about how much carbohydrate we are talking about here then know that a typical piece of sandwich bread or a small apple has about 15 grams of carbohydrate.

But the reason it’s important to point out that a ketogenic diet is not just a low carbohydrate diet is because the tendency is that when a person lowers their carbohydrate intake then they usually will raise their intake of protein in the form of meat, chicken, fish and eggs to make up for the calories not consumed from bread, pasta, fruit and other high carbohydrate foods.

So this leads to the next “not” statement about a ketogenic diet. A ketogenic diet is not a high protein diet but rather a moderate protein diet. Protein must be consumed moderately in order for the diet to be ketogenic. This is because protein can be converted to glucose by the body. So a high amount of protein in the diet can increase glucose in the blood and prevent ketones from being produced. (See prior post linked above.)

Since the purpose of a ketogenic diet is to promote the production of ketones then eating high amounts of protein would be counterproductive. But this is exactly what often happens when people attempt to follow a low carbohydrate diet to achieve ketosis. From a percentage standpoint a moderate level of protein would be anywhere from 10-15% of calories from fat. For a 2000 calorie/day intake this would be no more than 75 grams of protein/day.  For a reference point that is about three 3 ounce servings of cooked meat, poultry or fish per day.

That brings us to last statement that a ketogenic diet IS a high fat diet. Unlike carbohydrate or protein, fat cannot be converted to glucose. High fat translates to 65 to 85% of calories from fat. The upper level of 85% I would venture to say is more fat than most people just learning about a ketogenic diet have ever consumed in a given day in their life. So you can see how this might be quite an adjustment. For a 2000 calorie diet that equates to roughly 145-190 grams of fat/day. For a visual, this is about 38 teaspoons of olive oil to equal 190 grams. But remember some of your fat comes as part of the protein foods you normally eat and can be healthy fats if the protein is from a healthy source.  (see below)

The reason I have given the somewhat wide ranges above is that 1) there is a bit of variance in what “experts” consider to be the percentages of carbohydrate, protein and fat that make for a ketogenic diet and 2) even the experts agree that the exact levels can vary from individual to individual as far as what levels bring an individual into ketosis. It all really comes down to how much carbohydrate and protein an individual can tolerate to keep blood glucose low enough to promote the formation of ketones. Then the balance of the calories should be consumed as fat.

Putting it All Together

So now, given all the detail above, you may be wondering how you actually would implement this. What’s the readers digest version?

To me if someone is considering this way of eating then consider it because you are considering it as a lifestyle. There really is no benefit to using the diet just to lose weight and then going back to the way you normally eat. Much of the benefit of being predominately in ketosis comes from the therapeutic effect it may have on health for the longterm.

If you are just learning about a ketogenic diet and want to try it I would recommend starting out by limiting your carbohydrate intake and increasing your fat intake as described above. Remember that most vegetables, other than root vegetables, are negligible in carbohydrates and you should use these liberally.  Avoid the temptation to eat extra quantities of meat, poultry, or fish to keep yourself full. Cook with and look for ways to add healthy fats to your diet. Healthy fats include:

  • Olive oil – drizzle liberally on, well anything! Certainly on salads, but also on any raw vegetable that you’ve sliced up or lightly sautéed, steamed or roasted
  • Grassfed butter or ghee, also great on sautéed, steamed or roasted vegetables
  • Avocados and avocado oil
  • Coconut oil
  • MCT oil which is made from coconut oil. Consider blending it into your morning coffee or into smoothies.
  • Nuts  and nut butters such as almonds, cashews, pecans, brazil nuts, hazelnuts
  • Fat from grassfed beef, pastured pork and wild caught seafood
  • Egg yolks, preferably organic, from pastured hens

Along with increasing your fat intake, begin to pay attention to how much carbohydrate you eat and how you feel.  As you lower your carbohydrate intake and if you actually are in ketosis, you may not feel great for a few days. Most people get beyond this as their bodies adapt to burning ketones for fuel.

And finally be aware that if you increase your fat intake without simultaneously decreasing your carbohydrate and protein intake you may gain weight!

Testing For Success

The above is just dabbling with the diet. There are great benefits to health, blood sugar and lipid metabolism if you eat a lower carbohydrate diet and consume predominately healthy fats, avoiding unhealthy fats. If you do just that, then in my opinion you are doing great! But if you want to follow a ketogenic diet you will need to test for the ketones your body is producing.

Testing can be done two ways. Urine strips are an inexpensive  and easy method. Ketones in your urine show that you are producing ketones. These ketones are the extra that your body did not use and are being spilled over into your urine as waste. But the longer a person adheres to a true ketogenic diet then the more efficient their bodies become at using the the ketones for fuel. At that point the level of ketones in the urine may decrease. That’s why many experts recommend testing the blood for ketones which can be done with a device that uses blood from a finger prick much like a home glucose monitor.

If you think you’d like to follow a ketogenic diet I recommend becoming educated. One great source that I recommend is “Keto Clarity” by Jimmy Moore. (This is an Amazon affiliate link and I will be compensated if  you purchase through this link.) And if you feel you need one on one help to accomplish your health and nutrition goals you may contact me with any questions or to discuss how I might be able to assist you.  Of course, if you plan to adopt any new diet then it is always recommended to speak with your doctor first.


What’s on Your Slate/Plate for 2017

It’s a blank slate. What you achieve in 2017 is yet to be determined. We may have many worthwhile and admirable goals for the new year. But I propose that optimizing our health through nutrition and lifestyle is foundational to much of what we would like to accomplish in and through our lives.  So maybe we should look not only at what we put on the slate but what we put on the plate to help us achieve all of our goals.

Take physical fitness as an example. It’s a very common new year’s resolution to exercise for our health. But for some people, especially if over 45 we may encounter many obstacles to exercise. Our knees or other joints can be effected by excess weight. The blood pressure medicine we have to take makes us lethargic. The statin we are on for cholesterol makes our muscles feel weak or causes fatigue. We exercise to feel better but often we need to feel better before we can exercise!  Even younger people with none of these issues are fooling themselves if they think that a rigorous fitness routine will cancel out their dietary indiscretions.

Or maybe you want to improve your relationships in 2017. Improving our health with nutrition I also consider fundamental to this. If we don’t feel good it’s hard to work on our relationships. When we don’t feel good we lack the patience that healthy relationships require. Parenting, for instance is a hard job and is even harder when we don’t feel our best.

Even growing spiritually can be dependent on optimizing our health with healthy nutrition. If we do not have optimal health then it can be challenging to grow in our service to God and to others. God did not design our bodies to be fed junk and our physical and spiritual conditions are interconnected by God’s design.

Our career and professional goals can be at the top of the list. But having the stamina and brain power to accomplish our goals can be elusive if we are not feeling great. I’m personally dealing with this now in launching a new business. I’ve found that I need to be my healthiest self to stay on target. It’s a journey so I do not ever consider myself as having arrived.

I am simply passionate about this. Addressing our health challenges with diet changes and using a few targeted nutritional supplements may be the single most important thing we can do for ourselves to keep us healthy and off of medication as we age. But why do I find that many people are resistant? Because it’s hard. The road is not easy. Going to the doctor and being prescribed a pharmaceutical seems much easier. It’s covered by insurance so our pocketbooks are not bruised. And it’s so cut and dry. You have this so take this. We find it very appealing to be able to take a little pill for our ailments rather than give up foods that we are attached to.

But the easy road is seductive indeed. Using prescription drugs to address diseases of aging like diabetes, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia and arthritis has the downside that the root cause of these issues is not being addressed and the drugs themselves can eventually have side effects that undo our health.

No I’m not suggesting stopping any medication that has been prescribed. I never advise that without consulting with a personal physician. But if you have been to the doctor and have been told that if X doesn’t happen then you will need to start taking a medication, wouldn’t you prefer to not take the medication? This is where nutrition and diet changes can have a dramatic effect. Did you hear that? You may not have to take medication if you make permanent nutrition and lifestyle changes! If you are already on medication then you may be able to come off by working with your doctor and working on your diet.

Also, change does not usually happen with a 6 week diet. While it may be a useful approach for jumpstarting your efforts, without followup and persistent practice the changes that occurred from the diet slip away. The blood sugar, blood pressure and blood cholesterol numbers start to rise again and the weight creeps back up.

I’ve emphasized above conditions like diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and arthritis. Other bothersome health conditions that can be addressed nutritionally include:

  • insomnia
  • brain fog/memory and concentration problems
  • digestive issues
  • low thyroid function
  • autoimmune problems

Changing your diet is a journey that requires setting small, achievable goals in order to stay on track and implement permanent change. If you work with me I can help you set appropriate and individualized goals, providing you with education and feedback as you go. Or maybe a grocery store tour would be just what you need to get motivated. One 90 minute walk through the grocery store with me and I can arm you with powerful knowledge for change. (Contact me discount pricing on a limited number of tours in January and February). At the very least hop on over to my Facebook page ( and hit “like”. There I strive to provide useful tips and information all year long.

So what will you be writing on your 2017 slate? What will you be putting on your plate? Why not make it the year to achieve your very best health so that you may accomplish all that you desire? I know you can do it! I wish you the very best in 2017!

Very Nutritionally Yours,

Gay Grice

What’s a Ketone and Why Should You Care?

shutterstock_347464688Ketones are the new darling in the health/wellness/nutrition/diet universe. If you are as old as I am you may remember them from several decades ago as being one of the cornerstones of the Atkins Diet, popularized by Dr. Robert C. Atkins. If so, and that is where your knowledge ends, then you may be wondering why are they back in the spotlight because don’t we now know that ketones are bad? Or maybe if you are younger (and not a biochemistry geek) you are scratching your head saying “What in the heck is a ketone?”

Ketones are produced by our bodies as a byproduct of burning fat for fuel. When our bodies are burning fat as their primary fuel source then we are in “ketosis”.

Now what we usually think of as a primary fuel source for our bodies is glucose. And especially with our modern carbohydrate rich diets, for most people it is the primary fuel source. Glucose is produced when carbohydrates are burned for fuel. But our bodies are adapted to use ketones during times of fasting and starvation when food is not readily available to produce glucose.

But we don’t have to fast and starve ourselves to produce ketones and burn fat for fuel. Our bodies will naturally produce and use ketones when we eat a low carbohydrate, moderate protein and high fat diet. This is called a “ketogenic diet”.

Unfortunately, ketones often have a bad reputation, even with medical professionals. Perhaps because they can be associated with starvation. But also because of some confusion between “ketosis”, the state of the body burning fat for fuel, with a serious condition called “ketoacidosis”.

When diabetics do not get enough insulin they produce ketones. Insulin is the key for glucose to enter the cells from the blood. When there isn’t enough insulin, the body can’t use the glucose in the blood that is produced from what you eat and so produces ketones from fat stores to survive. In this case ketones would rise to very high levels in the blood and so would glucose. Because, remember the glucose can’t enter the cell and stays in the blood. This condition is called ketoacidosis and is a dangerous condition requiring medical intervention.

Ketosis, on the other hand, is a natural metabolic state and is not the same as ketoacidosis. Ketosis is simply the state of burning fat for fuel. When a body is in ketosis, ketones in the blood are only moderately elevated and the blood glucose usually lowers simultaneously.

Our hunter-gatherer ancestors were probably often in ketosis because there were shortages of food. In the case of being well fed, in our modern society a person can be in ketosis if they follow a ketogenic diet, defined as a low carbohydrate, moderate protein, high fat intake.

Being in ketosis is a perfectly normal, although not typical, state of metabolism.

So now that we know ketones are not bad, why would they be good?

  • The muscles, heart, brain and liver actually use ketones as a source of fuel over glucose which has exciting therapeutic implications for many health conditions
  • Following a ketogenic diet and being in sustained ketosis can result in healthy weight loss and lowered blood glucose
  • Ketosis in the presence of lowered blood sugar has been observed by some clinicians to result in lowered systemic inflammation
  • Increased blood ketones are known to improve brain function in conditions like dementia but also healthy people report better mental clarity while in ketosis
  • Ketogenic diets are actually being used to treat cancer; it’s thought that the cancer cell can only survive with a substantial supply of glucose so switching the metabolism to run mainly on ketones starves the cancer cells of nutrition

I hope I have piqued your interest in ketones! There truly is nothing new under the sun. But what we know is ever changing. I believe that ketogenic diets will be used more and more in the near future to treat obesity and diseases of aging. That’s why you should care about “What is a Ketone?”. Wondering what exactly a ketogenic diet is? Look for a “Part 2” to dive into this.

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