Most of what we eat goes to supplying our bodies with energy—and we need a lot of energy. More specifically, our brains need a lot of energy. While our brains only make up 2% of our body’s mass, they consume 20% of our total energy requirement.
All the foods we eat have some combination of these three components:
- Proteins – When proteins are digested, they’re turned into a variety of amino acids (there are nine types of amino acids). Depending on what the body needs, the amino acids are turned back into specific proteins, which are used to build and repair tissue—bones muscles, cartilage, skin, blood—and fight infection. Extra protein can beconverted to glucose to be used for energy, but it takes twice as much effort for that conversion than it does to convert carbohydrates or fats into glucose. The body doesn’t store protein, and the body’s supply must be constantly replenished.
- Fats – Energy-giving fats also help the body absorb certain vitamins. We all need essential fatty acids to function. However, the body doesn’t make fatty acids; they must be consumed for us to use. Some fats are better than others. Saturated and trans fats are bad; monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are good.
Carbohydrates – There are three types of carbohydrates: sugar, starch, and fiber.
- Sugars – During digestion, the body breaks down complex sugars (disaccharides) such as sucrose and lactose into simple sugars (monosaccharides) such as glucose and fructose. Simple sugars are small molecules that can be absorbed directly by the body and used as a source of quick energy.
- Starches – Starches are large complex molecular chains (polysaccharides), and the body must break them down into simple sugars to make use of them.
- Fiber – The body has nothing it can extract from fiber. Since it can’t be broken down during digestion, it passes through.
Ketones and Ketosis
The human body uses sugar for energy. What does the body do if it has no ready supply of sugar? It finds an alternative fuel source in molecules called ketones. Ketones are produced by the liver from fat that the body and—most importantly—the brain can use as an energy source. (The ketogenic diet was originally used to treat epilepsy because it greatly reduced epileptic seizures in children.)
Once the body stops using sugar for energy and starts producing ketones for the body to burn, it enters a metabolic state known as ketosis, in which the body uses fat as its primary fuel supply.
With the keto diet, food intake is restricted to low- or no-carbohydrate items—foods such as meat, fish, eggs, nuts, berries, some vegetables, and some dairy products. Ideally, carb intake should be below 20 grams per day. As the body begins using fat as an energy source, all the benefits of eliminating dietary sugars—weight loss, reduced risk of heart disease—will begin.
The keto diet sounds great, with meals containing meat, eggs, avocados, olive oil and butter; many people would happily give up bread and pasta to eat like that. If the keto diet sounds right for you, It’s important to stick to these suggested percentages: 75% fat, 20% protein, 5% carbs/sugars, making sure to keep carbs at around 30 grams per day.
Health Benefits of the Keto Diet
The elimination of sugar is the main benefit of eating keto diet foods. The American Heart Association has found sugars to be detrimental to cardiovascular health and recommends no more than 9 teaspoons of sugar per day for men and 6 teaspoons for women. Harvard Health Publishing confirms the danger of sugars in an article published in JAMA Internal Medicine.
Besides cardiovascular events, excessive dietary sugars can create the following health issues:
- Inflammation, which affects one’s joints and skin.
- Fatty liver, which makes the liver resistant to insulin, leading to type 2 diabetes.
- Breaking down of the pancreas.
- Kidney failure in diabetics.
With all those looming health problems, why don’t people just quit eating sugar?
One of sugar’s qualities is that, over time, it becomes addictive. Sugar gives the brain a surge of dopamine, which is released in the nucleus accumbens; the same area of the brain that responds to cocaine and heroin. Like other addictive substances, the brain gradually requires more and more sugar to achieve the same level of pleasure.
The keto diet cuts down or eliminates the intake of sugars by not just cutting sugars out of one’s diet, but by also cutting down or eliminating carbohydrates.