Ketosis /kɨˈtoʊsɨs/ is a metabolic state where most of the body’s energy supply comes from ketone bodies in the blood(molecules produced by the liver from stored fat), in contrast to a state of glycolysis where blood glucose provides most of the energy.
Usually, people are in a state of glycolysis. This means glucose (sugars) in the blood -which come from carbohydrates like grains and sugars -provide energy. However, while in this state, we store fat because we are not using it for energy.
When I learned about ketosis while studying nutrition, it was worded and posed in a way that made it seem like a negative thing. When people talk about ketosis, it is usually referred to as something that happens as a survival mechanism in times of starvation – or restricted carbohydrate intake. The thing is, our ancestors didn’t eat 3 square meals a day or snacks, or grains. They ate when they could and what they could – usually berries, fruits, nuts seeds, small animals and the like. So this “starvation mode” was actually the way their bodies functioned normally. They were probably constantly in a state of ketosis burning stored fat for energy.
I have written about low-carb diets and what that usually truly means. We know processed carbohydrates like bread and sugars are harmful to our bodies and it’s better to substitute with the whole grains. However, the more I think about it, and do research, I have come to learn that grains, in general, are what keep our bodies struggling to be at their leanest and fittest! Not to mention they promote certain deficiencies and illnesses. (I’ll explain what I mean below).
Like I mentioned in another post, grains have only been consumed by humans for a few thousand years, a tiny fraction of the time humans have been around. And before we ate grains, our bodies used to burn fat as fuel! When you eat grains or sugar or any of those types of carbohydrates, they cause your body to actually block the fat from leaving your tissue so that the sugars get used as fuel instead! Not only that, but because of some of the naturally occurring compounds in grains, what little nutrients they have don’t get absorbed by your body anyway. On top of all that, some of those compounds promote inflammation which can lead to other illnesses prevalent in our society.
The reason grains became so widely used is because they are easy to grow, are very filling and are easily accessible. However, we don’t need to eat grains. We can get all the same nutrients and more and actually absorb them into our body if we eat vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts and meats. Much like our ancestors did before they discovered grains. If grains are your only source of nutrients though, of course that’s better than nothing.
What drives this home even more for me is that, while researching, I’ve found out that a ketogenic diet reduces epilepsy symptoms in both children and adults, as well as a variety of other neurological illnesses like headache, neurotrauma, Alzheimer disease, Parkinson disease, sleep disorders, brain cancer, autism, pain, and multiple sclerosis. What does that tell us? If these conditions are improving when you allow your body to burn its stored fat instead of the glucose by not eating grains, sugars, and starches, evidently, the body is meant to function that way.
Now, I’m not saying to strive to achieve ketosis, unless that’s what you want to do (it is very difficult and must be carefully monitored because ketones can be harmful in large amounts). However, while achieving ketosis would require following a lot of restrictions, just cutting out grains and refined sugars will allow your body to burn stored fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates without any risky side-effects.
I believe we can avoid or ameliorate many modern illnesses, neurological and otherwise if we stick to what our bodies are designed to do. Gluten sensitivity, lactose intolerance, allergies and autoimmune disorders are all modern illnesses that are derived from putting foods in our body that we are not designed to process or deal with. Humans are very resilient, so we’re still here in – relatively – good health. But imagine how healthy we would be if we just continued eating and living like our ancestors did.
A lot of my views for weight-loss and living a healthy lifestyle have been challenged and changed over and over throughout my pursuit of a healthy, fit body and mind. And my most recent research has led me to drop grains completely as well as refined sugars. I will now be following a paleolithic-type / primal-style diet devoid of most things our ancestors did not eat. I say most because there are things like cheese and sprouted legumes and grains were not eaten by our ancestors. However, through the processes of fermenting and sprouting respectively, one can eliminate or significantly reduce chemicals and compounds which are harmful to our bodies like lactose from milk and phytic acid from grains and legumes. I have also stopped snacking and am only eating 3 meals a day as I have found no evidence to support any negative effects from not eating for 12 hours or less. This makes it easy to keep calorie intake under control and it’s cheaper too!
Snacking was something I encouraged during the first steps towards a healthy lifestyle change and I still do. Snacking makes it easier to eat smaller portions during the transition when you’ll be hungry between meals because you’re still getting used to eating smaller amounts. I don’t think I would have been able to go from my original lifestyle to a more primal, only-what-my-body-needs lifestyle in one step. I believe going through steps and slowly modifying habits and removing items from our diet makes for a much easier and smoother transition into a lifestyle that, while the healthiest choice, is difficult to achieve all at once because of all our modern conveniences and inventions. Slowly transitioning, while at the same time learning the whys of rejecting certain foods will also help make this a sustainable lifestyle.
I have also found that short bouts (about 12 minutes!) of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) as few as 2 times per week can make a huge difference in your health, especially when combined with a paleo diet so I am also implementing that change. I can honestly already feel the difference and it’s only been about a week, though I did have pizza one day, but that’s the beauty of 80/20! 😉
Before I moved to Japan, I was only eating one slice of – Ezekiel – bread maybe once or twice a week. I never ate pasta and I would eat grains like barley and quinoa once a week or less. I had a physical before moving and everything was great. After about a year of living in Japan and living a Japanese life of daily rice, not only had I gained a few pounds but also accumulated fat in my liver! Once the doctor told me that, I immediately knew the cause. My body was not doing well on all the rice. I stopped eating rice completely and lost 4 lbs in just 3 weeks, annoying little aches and pains disappeared and my digestion was perfect. I didn’t just take rice out, I substituted with vegetables, eating over a bowl of sauteed cabbage or broccoli instead. I could feel – and see – the difference so I decided to start doing research on eliminating grains altogether.
I do my research on PubMed which has thousands of scientific research publications on pretty much everything, but it is very easy to navigate using keywords. If I read about a new nutritional development or idea, I always check the medical publications to see what the research says. All of this research is what motivates me to make these changes.
Two sentences stood out to me the most in my research:
From Wikipedia’s article on Ketogenic Diet:
“Almost half of children and young people with epilepsy who have tried some form of this diet saw the number of seizures drop by at least half, and the effect persists even after discontinuing the diet…[ “The classic therapeutic ketogenic diet was developed for treatment of pediatric epilepsy in the 1920s and was widely used into the next decade, but its popularity waned with the introduction of effective anticonvulsant drugs.”
And from a medical publication from the National Institute of Health:
“An ancient Spanish proverb ‘Diet cures more than the lancet’ suggests that the importance of diet in maintaining good health is an age-old concept”.
It’s terrible that, as a society, we forsake natural solutions or treatments for chemicals and other drugs. Not to mention usually western medicine only treats the symptoms of most illnesses and not the cause.
I believe that if we stick to a lifestyle that is natural in every way possible, our health will reap the benefits. I think this next change will bring me closer to that natural state!
I am not following a specific existing approach, and basing my changes and decisions more on eating the foods which are more beneficial, cutting out foods which are detrimental (with anti-nutrients and such), and training my body in a natural way which allows for maximum results with moderate effort. I have been learning a lot from medical journals, nutritionists and the paleo and primal approaches, but ultimately, I will stick to consuming that which makes my body function at it’s best, only cutting out foods which in one way or another are harmful to said functioning, regardless of whether they were consumed by our ancestors or not. For example, I eat yogurt and cheese even though our ancestors didn’t, as they have protein and fat but less lactose and are probiotic. Therefore, cheese = OK.
The changes I am making are:
- No grains or legumes (rice, wheat, beans, peanuts, etcetera) Fresh peas and greenbeans are OK.
- No milk, only (full fat) fermented dairy products like cultured butter, yogurt, kefir, cheese, etcetera.
- Eating 2 -3 meals per day.
- High intensity intervals 1-2 times per week. (about 15 minutes)
- Toning sessions 2-3 times per week. (strength training, yoga, etc…) 15-30 minutes.
- Walking for at least 1 hour whenever possible.
Of course, living in a different country, being social and a human being, I am sticking to this mostly around 90%. The grain-free and legume-free part is difficult to follow in Japan when eating with groups or just wanting to experience new things. There’s rice, wheat and/or soy in a lot of dishes! Sometimes all at the same time.
I will keep you posted on the results!
UPDATE: It is two and a half years later and I now do intermittent fasting while still avoiding grains and legumes. I feel fantastic, have energy, I don’t get hungry, I don’t get headaches, and my “bad knee” doesn’t get randomly swollen anymore! I have also had several blood panels done over these last 2.5 years and my levels are all always at optimal levels. No deficiencies or surplus of anything. It certainly works for me!
Here are some publications I recommend on this topic:
Acute nutritional ketosis: implications for exercise performance and metabolism
The Ketogenic Diet as a Treatment Paradigm for Diverse Neurological Disorders