The skinny on: Ketone Bodies, Ketosis and Ketogenic Diet
Keto diet is a trending topic and it seems everyone is on trend. So, naturally based on our fitness oriented lifestyle and physique we are often asked about our eating habits. Lately a few of you have been asking if we practice the ever popular Ketogenic diet and can our Chai Blends fit into such a lifestyle.
Our answer is complicated…
Short version, no we don’t practice the “keto diet” but we do allow our body to utilize ketone bodies by way of ketosis. And, yes our Chai Blends can easily be added to the ketogeneic lifestyle as we do so daily.
Confused? Don’t be, we’re here to break down all these terms and to give you the tools to figure out the right course of action best fit for your lifestyle.
The terms ketogenic (keto) diet, ketosis and ketone bodies are mentioned regularly in various articles and conversations. These terms are related to and used when discussing low-carb diets, high-fat diets, weight loss diets and fat burning mechanisms; as associated processes are known to carry numerous health benefits. But, do you really know what each of these terms mean and how exactly do they affect your body and health?
In this article, we’ll share a simple explanation of the terms ketone bodies, ketosis and ketogenic diet and how they relate to each other.
Ketone Bodies = Energy Source [in low Carb environment]
Ketone bodies (aka ketones) are energy source molecules produced by the liver from fatty acids. The energy system is a multi-tasker and it uses consumed food as fuel to coordinate several processes to produce various versions of energy molecules which are used by the body to conduct its daily activity. Depending on the state and/or activity we’re doing, one system will be the main energy producing runner with others contribute to the overall demands. As we constantly need energy to do stuff, think, breath and process, the body constantly produces energy and maintains inventory of all its quantities.
The body developed such versatile energy producing mechanisms to ensure our survival. So, when there is shortage of particular fuel source, the body switches the production to other sources. This is what happens during ketogenesis. Sugar is the preferred energy source for the body and able to be utilized by both energy streams [aerobic (with air/oxygen), and anaerobic (without air/oxygen]. The anaerobic (or glycolytic) pathway is much quicker producing little energy for immediate needs. Aerobic way take a bit longer but the payout in energy is much greater. Sugar is stored in specialized granules within cells in form of long sugar chains—glycogen. However, when blood glucose and glycogen levels decrease, the body increases other energy producing pathways (like ketogenesis).
Sugars are made up of three molecules (C-carbon, O-oxygen and H-hydrogen) and vary in size. Ketone bodies are the simplest form of the sugar structure with chemical double bond connection between oxygen and carbon (ketone).
Just like sugars, ketone bodies are used to fuel much of the body’s machinery, muscle organs such as the brain and heart. Ketones are produced whenever blood sugar is low, which usually occurs during caloric restriction (fasting, low carb diets) or prolonged or intense exercise.
Mechanism of production and use
When sugar levels drop, the body switches to the other main energy source—fat, by increasing triglyceride breakdown. Fatty acids are broken down (oxidized) into smaller molecules called acetyl-Coa. Acetyl-Coa is a molecule destined for an energy pathway within mitochondria (energy deriving machines of the cells) through a process called the TCA (or Kreb’s) cycle which yields several types of energy based compounds. The acetyl-Coa wants to go through the TCA cycle however, because of depleted sugar levels, the body compensates the overall energy balance by breaking down more fat to produce even more acetyl-Coas. This increases acetyl-Coa levels, while slowing down energy production through the TCA cycle. With so many acetyl-Coas floating around, they begin to react and connect to each other (via Ketogenesis) creating the first ketone body called acetoacetate. Acetoacetate then used to generate the second ketone body—beta-hydroxybuturate or/and spontaneously degrade into a third ketone body—acetone.
Ketosis State = Energy from Ketone Bodies
Majority of ketone bodies are produced in the liver and then sent back into the blood stream to be used by organs and tissue for energy. Our body’s metabolic state is the overall energy supply from various sources (ie: fats, sugars). Ketosis is a metabolic state where some of that energy supply comes from the ketone bodies.
Ketosis can occur from fasting or staying on low-carbohydrate diets (like ketogenic diet). Ketosis and the rate at which ketone bodies are produced can be measured on your breath (acetone), in urine (acetoacetate) and in blood (beta-hydroxybutyrate). Extended ketosis has been researched and tested to treat conditions like epilepsy (in children), diabetes and metabolic syndrome. However, extreme levels of ketone bodies may be poisonous causing adverse affects and health problems.
Keto Diet = high fat, medium protein and low carbohydrate
The keto diet focuses on specific macronutrient ratio involving high-fat, medium protein and low-carbohydrate daily intake. By almost eliminating carbs/sugars, the body is left with only one other main energy source—fats. The diet has been around since 1920s and was originally designed to treat epilepsy. Scientists noticed that ketosis state from fasting reduced seizures along with body fat, blood sugar and cholesterol while improving insulin sensitivity. However, long-term fasting (no food whatsoever) was not a realistic treatment, and a low-carb diet (keto diet) was born to mimic the fasting benefits. This is referred to as induced or nutritional ketosis.
Like any other macronutrient, fat comes in various sizes. The bigger the fat molecule, the longer it takes for the body to break it down into numerous acetyl-Coas. The smaller it is, the quicker the overall process towards energy. Therefore, the keto-diet recommends consuming smaller fat molecules like medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). You likely heard of the MCT type palm or coconut oils and supplements, which are quickly converted into ketone bodies (given there is no carb intake) to obtain a faster nutritional ketosis.
Since the mid 1990s, keto diets have been popularized by Hollywood segmenting the traditional-medical model into several friendlier versions, each one having a more “relaxed” view on certain foods and/or macro percentages. Because fat packs twice the calories (energy) compared to protein or carbs, keto diets tend to be more filling, which can help reduce overall food consumption.[4,18] Healthy fats contain important molecules (like omega-3 fatty acids) that are used in various cellular structures and shown to reduce body weight, type 2 diabetes, epilepsy, neuro-degeneration and cardiovascular disease.[4,5]
Ketosis is a metabolic state where a portion of overall body energy is supplied in form of ketone bodies that are produced from fat. If you’re fasting, intensely exercising or on extremely restrictive caloric diet, the body quickly goes through its sugar reserves and shifts into breaking down fat storage for energy. And if you’re on a keto diet (low-carb), the body uses consumed fats to produce ketone bodies through induced ketosis.
Scientific research links ketosis to number of health benefits, which some have been extended to the keto diet. However, the keto diet is designed to simply instigate ketosis while consuming calories and hence leading the body into a fat-burning environment. Sooner or later the body adapts to the new way of eating and making energy, establishing a new metabolic equilibrium (balance). Initial benefits such as fat loss that were being achieved during adaptation period level off, and even revert if strict keto-like guidelines are not followed.
What are other health befits to be expected with low-carb eating you might ask?
Well, they’re not quite clear and reported information is at times confusing and/or inconsistent. On one hand there is weight loss, or at least at the beginning phase as the body gets used to the new feeding ratios. Studies shown that eating less carbs and more protein with fats reduces appetite and results in consuming far fewer overall calories.[6,18] This is the case with any “low-carb” diets, including high protein variety like the Atkins. The quick weight loss is primarily due to the water weight. You see, sugar molecules need water to be stored as glycogen, making them heavy. Fat on the other hand is low maintenance product stored as is.By depleting body’s glycogen stores, and using fat through ketosis, the body excretes much of the (no longer needed) excess water within first two weeks of the keto-diet.
Furthermore, the diet details with many experiments vary creating different results. The standard keto diet ratio of 75% fat, 20% protein and 5% carbohydrates demands much cleaner food choices. Substituting bacon and cheese for a spoon full MCT oil along with grass-fed ghee on top of avocado is the recommended way of consuming fat. Such options automatically eliminate many processed carbs and unsaturated fats resulting in eating less processed foods, weight loss, greater insulin sensitivity and other health benefits. The same macro portions and food choices also make standard keto-diet a hard proposition for many. Keto often becomes part of the “yo-yo diet” as eating in such way long-term is very difficult for people, eventually leading to swapping different foods and macros or stopping the diet altogether. This reverses any of the gained benefits including weight loss.
At times ketosis levels are misrepresented creating some discrepancy between the rate of ketone bodies produced during nutritional ketosis vs. the standard fasted version. Some blogs quote science papers but often miss the details. For instance, we found one article (we won’t cite the post but only the referenced paper) where the author quoted both low-carb and low-calorie diets producing same ketosis levels. Though the paper does mention that both fasted and high-fat states trigger ketosis which were measured through subject breathing (acetone), the results were far from equal. Fasted state delivered unto 170 ppm of acetone sample while keto diet manages to max out at 30 ppm. Other long-term human studies compare low-fat and low-carb diets for weight loss, showing similar results between both.
The overall health regarding low-carb diets have been greatly publicized by number of influential celebrities and media people. But, the science is inconsistent and often does not support the publicly famed benefits. Researches investigate numerous ketogentic protocols publishing a mountain of academic papers however, the results do not follow a pattern, and at times completely opposite. For example, you can easily find papers associating keto-diet to greater weight loss and cardiovascular health. The opposite results also exist where low-carb diets are linked to “leveling-off” body loss along with greater risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and irregular heart beat (atrial fibrillation).[11,12] Experimental diets in both papers were similar including low-carb and high-protein intake. Such opposing results can be found for many other conditions. Still, there are many references of positive results between ketogenesis and insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, cardiac health and metabolic syndrome.However, the science continuously debates the overall validity of keto-based diets and their long term effect on health and wellness.
Another evolving factor appears to be not only the amount of fat, but the fat source itself. When you eat very little sugar/carbs, your consumption of other two macronutrients (ie: fats and protein) naturally increase. Large scale studies noticed that people on low-carb diets eating more animal-based protein or fat were at greater risk of early death, compared to people who were eating carbs in moderation. And, when same dieters chose plant-based protein and fat over meat variety, their risk of early death significantly decreased.
Much of the research regarding keto diet trends on high-fat vs. low-fat contrast rather than a direct ketosis experimentation. This is kind of comparing apples to oranges, as both macronutrients have their own pathways, storage capacities and preferences during various body activity. Though the initial weight loss appears faster with low-carb diets, the longer – randomized studies show similar benefits between both, along with each diet possessing its own health benefits and risks.[15,16] In the end, more research is needed looking at each particular condition rather than the overall comparison.
The body is an amazing machine that produces and stores energy from different foods. In the absence of sugar, the body uses fats to produce ketone bodies in order to power all of its mechanisms. This metabolic state is called ketosis where triglycerides are broken down in the liver to produce ketone bodies and move them to intended tissues via circulatory system.
Originally created to treat conditions like epilepsy, the ketogenic diet can also help with weight loss and other metabolic type diseases. The purpose of the keto-diet is to mimic natural ketosis (called induced/nutritional ketosis) producing ketone bodies as energy source for the body, and therefore extending the ketosis health benefits. The standard keto protocol is strict and difficult for many people which has led to several less taxing versions.
While the research is plentiful, the mechanisms of keto diets are unclear and little direct evidence exists that eating in such restrictive manner is effective or even healthy in the long run. Many papers even caution that low-carb diets are not for everyone and should be used as treatments for specific conditions, due to the risks associated with them.[13-17] Eating mostly fats limits consumption of other nutrient rich foods like fruits, veggies and some whole grains.This in itself creates a narrow window of nutritional variety leading to some adverse health effects.
At DUPIsCHAI, we believe that moderation is key. Keep it clean, keep it nutrient rich, and keep it as fresh as possible. As for maximizing on ketosis benefits—there are other ways. As for our Chai Blends and Keto diet—we most certainly fit into this and other lifestyles that are looking to add more superfoods that are naturally rich in antioxidants and essential oils.
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