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What is Ketosis? A Simple Guide

What is Ketosis - A Simple Guide

What once was a near-mythical substance is now commonplace.

Sugar used to be sparse, found occasionally in wild fruits, but since the invention of agriculture, sugar – and other carbohydrates, has crept into almost all the food at your local superstore.

The modern norm is glycolysis, where your body breaks down carbohydrate stores for energy. But what if your body could break down your fat stores more efficiently and use them for energy? That is, in essence, what ketosis is.

What is the State of Ketosis?

All cells in your body need energy. They have various pathways that allow them to break down, transform, and extract energy from either carbohydrate or fat molecules.

When fat is broken down, it creates a variety of ketone bodies (ketones) through a process called ketogenesis. Ketones are molecules that can be used directly for energy by cells instead of glucose.

Here are the common ketones that are produced, although you don’t really need to know their names:

While the third molecule above isn’t technically a ketone, it can easily be converted to one as needed.

Now back to the question at hand – what is ketosis?

Ketosis refers to the state of relying almost exclusively on ketones for energy. It typically occurs when you have depleted glycogen (carbohydrate) stores. It can also occur to a minor extent during short fasts, such as sleeping. Do not confuse ketosis with ketoacidosis, a condition that only develops in diabetics.

Ketogenic Diets (AKA Low-Carb Diets)

In modern life, it is rare to go into ketosis for long unless you specifically plan for it. This is where a ketogenic diet comes in.

A ketogenic diet may or may not be a low-carb diet, depending on how low-carb the diet actually is. Popular low-carb diets include Atkins and Paleo, although Paleo may not be low-carb if you eat a lot of fruit.

In theory, it’s simple; eat anything you want, but as few carbohydrates as possible. In practice, there are few challenges and a few things you need to know.

How Many Carbohydrates Can You Eat?

The general recommendation is to keep your carbohydrate intake below 50 grams per day. However, larger or more active people might be able to go above that, while smaller or less active people find that they have to restrict carbohydrates even more.

You will have to test different limits to see how your body reacts to different carbohydrate intakes.

Testing for Ketosis

While you might develop a feel for it over time, the only reliable way to know if you are in ketosis or not is by testing.

There are 2 general testing methods:

  1. Urine testing: The simplest and most common method. Using Ketostix that you can find at most drug stores for cheap, you can get a relatively accurate reading of your ketone levels.
  2. Blood testing: When accuracy is the priority, like it is for diabetics, blood testing is the preferred option. Certain meters like this can detect levels of ketone bodies in blood.

With Ketostix, you simply urinate over the strip and it changes color. Then you match the color to the scale on the bottle to see if you are in ketosis or not.

Keto-Adaptation Doesn’t Happen Overnight

Your body has gotten used to using glucose for energy, so when all of a sudden it has to switch to ketones, it’s a shock.

You may be in a state of ketosis (producing ketones), but may not be able to efficiently make or use them. This is why many people who try a keto diet feel a bit off for a few weeks.

One study tracked ketone and glucose levels during a fast, and it took about 3 weeks for the subject to become fully keto-adapted (look at the hydroxy-butyrate line)[1]:

keto adaptation over time

Further studies have determined that it takes at least one week, but usually 3 or 4 to become fully adapted[2].

The Benefits of Ketosis

There’s a reason that we’re so excited about ketogenic diets. There are many benefits, but 3 in particular that stand out.

1. Improved Insulin Sensitivity

When your blood sugar, and consequently insulin, isn’t spiking all the time from carbohydrate consumption, your insulin sensitivity improves.

This is great because poor insulin resistance is linked to diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease[3].

2. Increased Satiety – Can Lead to Weight Loss

Protein is by far the most filling nutrient. While fat is not extremely filling, it has a better effect on satiety than carbohydrates. Studies have shown that low-fat diet (high carb) subjects consume more calories and have greater appetite than those on a low-carb diet[4][5]. It makes sense when you consider that it’s easy to eat a near infinite amount of candy.

3. An Effective Treatment for Diseases

Ketosis has traditionally been studied and used in the past due to its neuroprotective effects. A ketogenic diet is effective in treating epileptic seizures, and seems promising against Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease[6].

We’ve just scratched the surface of ketosis in this article, but hopefully you understand it better and see the potential benefits. Take a look at our other articles on Ketoship to learn more about ketosis and ketogenic diets.

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