If you are new to the keto community or have dabbled in the ketogenic diet, you’ve probably come across the terms “ketones” and “ketosis” a number of times. But how well do you really understand ketosis? Here are 6 things you should know about ketones, ketosis and health benefits:
1. KETONES ARE THE "FOURTH FUEL":
Cells all over the body use glucose and most use fat as fuel to function. But what happens when people consume less than a normal amount of carbs? Protein becomes the next go-to fuel. But protein isn’t an ideal energy source as the main function of body proteins is to help create everything from antibodies to hormones to hair, skin and muscle.
So the body has developed a mechanism to avoid excess protein loss: it metabolizes fat. Normally when fat is “burned” or broken down for fuel, it needs glucose to complete that cycle. But if glucose is in short supply, some of that fat is broken down into another compound: ketones or “ketone bodies.”
Compounds produced by the liver when the body’s primary fuel source is in short supply. This “back-up” fuel can help power the body when needed.
2. HEALTHY PEOPLE HAVE LOW-LEVELS OF KETONES:
When glucose is in short supply, a metabolic switch occurs and fat is broken down and converted to ketone bodies. During times of starvation or fasting, ketones can supply a high proportion of the body’s basic energy needs and up to 70 % of the brain’s energy. But most cells in our body can burn ketones for energy in more ways than just during a starvation state.
Ketones generated by the body are known as endogenous ketones and these ketones are present in low-levels in healthy people, particularly after an overnight fast or following a vigorous workout. Ketones can also be synthesized in a supplemental form and these exogenous ketones (“exo” means from “outside”) mimic the molecular structure of endogenous ketones made by your liver.
So Ketosis, once thought of as just a starvation response, can also be achieved through certain dietary regimens and supplements, many of which provide additional health benefits.
3. KETOSIS OCCURS WHEN KETONE LEVELS ARE MILD OR MODERATELY ELEVATED
People are generally considered to be in “ketosis” when ketones in the blood reach certain mild or moderately elevated levels above 0.5 millimoles/liter and up to 3.0-4.0 mm/l. To put this in perspective, after eating a meal, the body may only have a tiny trace of ketones. But in the morning if one has not had food or drink since dinner the night before, ketone levels may reach 0.25-0.5 um/l.
You are considered to be in ketosis, when ketone levels in the blood are elevated. This is a normal process that happens in your body whenever you don’t have enough sugars (carbohydrates) to burn for energy.
Most regular people eating three meals a day don’t enter a state of ketosis. But a person can trigger ketosis, by fasting or consuming a very low calorie and very low carbohydrate diet.
4. NUTRITIONAL SUPPLEMENTS RAISE BLOOD LEVELS OF KETONES WITHOUT NEEDING TO “STARVE” OR FAST:
Nutritional supplements provide exogenous ketones in the form of liquids, capsules, tablets or powder. These ketones can put people in a state of ketosis even when they continue to eat normally and consume normal amounts of fat, protein and carbohydrates instead of starving or fasting.
People can measure ketones in their blood using a blood test in a lab or using a hand-held portable monitor that uses a pinprick of blood, similar to the way a glucometer measures a person’s blood glucose. The most economical and least invasive method is to use ketone sticks that measure ketones in urine.
5. EMERGING RESEARCH SHOWS THAT KETOGENIC DIETS AND KETONES MAY BENEFIT IMMUNE HEALTH AND COGNITION AND MAY EVEN ONE DAY DELAY AGING.
Researchers are currently uncovering many ways that ketones can benefit health and delay aging. In healthy, non-diabetic people, inducing ketosis may help improve immune health. Other studies have found ketosis improves cognition and brain function. Some elite cyclists have found that taking a form of exogenous ketones called ketone esters boosted their performance.
Fasting and caloric reduction have already shown beneficial effects on aging so researchers are now also studying the effect of ketosis on aging.
6. KETONES CAN BE LEVERAGED FOR WEIGHT LOSS:
The “Keto diet” can be an easy way to lose weight since being in ketosis can suppress your appetite. And if it’s easier to consume less calories, carbs, and glucose, it’s usually easier to lose weight.
To trigger ketosis, people’s daily energy intake should consist of 60-80% fat, 10% or more of protein and a small amount of carbohydrates. While traditionally people have chosen to eat more animal-based foods to achieve this ratio, an increasing number of people now achieve this balance with plant-based diets that incorporate more low carbohydrate plant sources that provide healthy fats.