The ketogenic diet has an intake that is high in fat and low in carbohydrate and protein. When your body is in ketosis, fat is used as a fuel source instead of carbohydrates. Because of such a high fat intake, there is lots of speculation regarding the safety of the ketogenic diet. After all, there have been studies about how a high fat intake can give you high cholesterol and consequently, a higher risk of getting heart diseases. However, there is no need to worry as the ketogenic diet is safe.
What is the Ketogenic Diet?
The ketogenic diet aims to put your body in ketosis. On the ketogenic diet, you would have a high intake of fats, and a low intake of carbohydrates and protein. Your body usually runs on carbohydrates for energy. Carbohydrates are easily turned into glucose molecules for energy. When the body relies on carbohydrates for energy, it usually does not rely on other sources of energy such as stored fat. However, when your body runs out of carbohydrates, it starts to look for alternative sources of energy to use. Eating a high amount of fat can help your body rely on fat. When your body’s glucose levels drop, your liver produces ketone bodies, which your body tissues use, as ketone bodies are used for energy.
What is Cholesterol and What Does it Do?
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that can only be found in animals and humans. Cholesterol helps you build hormones and strengthen cell membranes. Cholesterol also helps your body absorb certain vitamins. Around 65% of cholesterol is produced in the body, while the remaining 25% comes from other sources, such as your food and drink intake. Without it, we would not be able to live. When you eat food with cholesterol, your body is able to process it so that even people with high cholesterol intakes will mostly be unaffected by it. Your body has systems in place to make sure that your cholesterol levels are balanced.
Your body has 5 types of lipoproteins. These are biochemical assemblies which help transport cholesterol around in your body. High-density lipoproteins (HDLs) are produced in your liver and intestines, and they make sure that cholesterol that is not used is brought back to the liver to be excreted as waste. Low-density lipoproteins (LDLs) bring your cells nutrients and energy. When LDLs are oxidized in your bloodstream, particles that do not get cleared contribute to plaque build-up. If your LDL particles are small, then they can easily penetrate artery walls and cause a build-up. The reverse is true as well– if your LDL particles are big then they are less likely to cause a build-up and are less likely to cause heart disease.
Ketogenic Diet and High Cholesterol
There is an assumption that having a high intake of fat will lead to a high amount of cholesterol in the body, which would be unhealthy. However, recent research has come to the consensus that this is no longer the case. In Creighton et. al’s study, ultra-endurance athletes that were on the ketogenic diet had less small LDL particles. Eating a diet high in fat will not cause a plaque build-up in your arteries.
If you have a high amount of LDL, your HDLs will take care of this. Having a lot of HDLs and LDLs that are large means that you are pretty much okay. On the keto diet, your LDL particles tend to get bigger. Your HDLs increase, which means that there is more protection against LDL particles oxidizing. More HDLs means you get a better HDL to LDL ratio. Your triglycerides decrease as well, which improves your triglyceride to HDL ratio. Triglycerides are fats that store energy to be used. The more triglycerides you have, the higher your risk is of getting diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and other health conditions. Your triglyceride to HDL ratio is what can predict cardiovascular diseases. When it is improved, then your risk of getting cardiovascular diseases is lowered.
If you go on the ketogenic diet, your body’s source of energy changes from carbohydrates to fat. Your fat profile may also change for the better, as your risk for getting cardiovascular diseases generally decreases.
Am I In Ketosis?
You can tell if you are in ketosis based on the symptoms your body will show. While your body gets used to running on fat, you may experience a few unpleasant symptoms. Together, these symptoms are known as the “keto flu,” as the time it takes for your body to get used to running on ketosis may make you feel like you have the flu.
Here are some symptoms you may experience if you are in ketosis:
- bad breath, which may taste fruity or sweet
- digestive issues, such as constipation and diarrhea
- dry mouth
- increased energy
- increased thirst
- increased urination
- insomnia or waking up at night
- reduced hunger
- short-term decreases in physical performance
- short-term fatigue
- weight loss
Generally, it may take a few days to get into ketosis. Getting into full ketosis may take anywhere between 7 and 30 days. The lower your daily carbohydrate intake is, then the faster and easier it will be to get into ketosis. If your carbohydrate intake is low, then you should try to consume carbohydrates from healthy sources. Remember to get the amount of fruits and vegetables that you need everyday. You may do this by opting for options that are low in carbohydrates, such as dark, green, leafy vegetables.
Should I Go on the Ketogenic Diet?
If you plan to go on the ketogenic diet, then go ahead as it is generally safe for everyone. However, the keto diet may be harmful for some people. What may help someone may hurt or be detrimental to someone else. Undergoing ketosis can affect everybody differently, thus it would be safe to first consult your doctor or healthcare provider before going on a ketogenic diet. To be on the safe side, do not go on the ketogenic diet unsupervised.
If you have any of the following conditions, you must first consult a doctor or healthcare provider before going on the ketogenic diet:
- you are pregnant
- you are breastfeeding
- you take medication for high blood pressure
- you take medication for diabetes