Once you have the purpose for a low-carb diet fixed firmly in your mind -- that the aim is to lower your basal insulin levels and thereby make your fat stores more readily available for energy -- it's easier to understand the true role of ketosis in a low-carb diet. Ketosis isn't magic. It isn't a state that automatically makes you well again. Nor does it mean you will always lose body fat. Ketosis is a "sign" or a byproduct of the fat burning process.
When you are in ketosis, it means you are burning fat for energy.
|Some of the Daily Fat We Need Must Come From Our Diet|
That fat can come from the fatty acids in your diet, or it can come from your fat stores. Obviously, we want it come from our bodies, but it isn't practical for all of your fat needs to come from the fat stored in your body. It takes time to break down adipose tissue and convert it into a form that the body can use, so some of the fat you need every day must come from your diet. How much dietary fat you need depends on how well your body can convert fat into energy efficiently. Everyone is not efficient at burning fat.
Ketosis Myth: More Dietary Fat = Deep Ketosis
Before we delve into the true role of ketosis in a low-carb diet, I want to take a minute and debunk a myth that keeps circulating through low-carb groups and forums. This myth says that the more dietary fat you eat, the deeper the state of ketosis you will be in. That is not true. The reason why a lot of people believe that -- and I mean a lot -- is because dietary fat can turn the Ketostix that you use to measure the amount of beta-hydroxybutyric ketones in the urine a deeper shade of purple. The darker the color of the sticks after testing, the deeper the state of ketosis -- they think.
That's a false assumption.
Ketostix measure the amount of B-hydroxybutyric ketones you are dumping into the urine. They do NOT measure the state of Ketosis! The dark color on the sticks does mean you are dumping more B-hydroxybutyric ketones, but if you are eating a high-fat diet, then those ketones can come from the breakdown of dietary fat into energy, and not necessarily from your fat stores. There is some correlation between the color on the sticks and ketosis, but that depends on your caloric needs for the day.
Although one doesn't initially count calories on a low-carb diet, since hunger reduction from being in ketosis is often enough to make the diet work, calories count. Even Dr. Atkins said that!
Getting Into the State of Ketosis
To get into the state of ketosis, we cut back on the carbohydrates in our diet. If you're on Atkins Induction or the Protein Power Life Plan, that means you are only eating about 20 to 30 net carbs per day.
|Low-Carb Diet Starts Out at 20 to 30 Net Grams|
A drastic reduction in carbohydrates will initially cause the body to use its carbohydrate stores known as glycogen. Those glycogen stores can be found in the liver and muscles. We use up our muscle glycogen by moving our body. We use up our liver glycogen (and the water stored to process that glycogen) when the amount of carbohydrates we eat falls below our energy needs.
If carbohydrate restriction continues for more than a day or two, the glycogen level in the liver will get to the point where the body begins to panic. That happens within 2 to 4 days, once liver glycogen drops to about half full. Since liver glycogen is used to maintain a stable blood glucose level, it's essential for the body to have a ready fuel source it can use to maintain blood sugar. Otherwise, blood sugar would drop too low, and we'd pass out.
So the liver sends out a distress signal. It tells the brain that we are low on glycogen. We're in a famine situation. In response to that distress signal, the body secretes cortisol and other stress hormones to save us from starvation.
Initially, cortisol clears the bloodstream. It stores blood fats in the form of triglycerides in the fat cells, locks down our fat stores, and gets working on finding alternative glucose sources. It doesn't automatically turn to predominantly burning fats. This is generally the point in your Atkins Induction diet where you become ravenous and begin craving sugar, starches, and other carbohydrates.
It is cortisol that is making you do that. Not carbohydrate addiction. Cravings are a normal physical response to a lack of available glucose. Cortisol is trying to tell you that you are low on glycogen and need carbohydrates, so the liver can refill its glycogen stores.
On a low-carb diet, you don't want your liver glycogen stores to be full because the idea is to trick the body into believing that we are going through a famine. If you ignore the hunger and cravings and continue feeding the body non-carbohydrate foods and vegetables instead, within a day or two more, cortisol will give up trying to convince you to eat sugar and the body will switch metabolic pathways. The alternative pathway predominantly uses fats for energy, rather than glucose. In that alternative state, the body doesn't expect a large amount of carbohydrates to come in for fuel, so it keeps the body primed to burn fats instead.
That is the state of ketosis.
The True Role of Ketosis
Now, the purpose of a low-carb diet is to fix metabolic imbalances. It does that by lowering your basal insulin levels -- the amount of insulin the body squirts into the bloodstream every few seconds; not the amount of insulin it produces, stores, and dumps into the blood as a response to what you eat. Lowering your basal insulin level consistently is done by putting you in a state of dietary ketosis, what some people are now referring to as Nutritional Ketosis.
The state of ketosis is a method that helps to lower basal insulin levels, so the body can access and use body fat for fuel. It's not the purpose of a low-carb diet, but it is a good TOOL, especially if your higher-than-normal insulin levels are a result of overeating carbohydrates -- very typical in a standard American diet. The amount of glycogen storage the average person has is about 300 grams of carbohydrates. If you eat more than what you body can use and store in a 24-hour period, it ends up stored as body fat. For most people, it's the overeating that causes the problem, not carbohydrates themselves, but going into the state of ketosis can help us reverse the tendency to overeat.
The true role of ketosis is to keep the body primed to burn fatty acids for energy, rather than glucose.
|Calories Still Count: You can GAIN Weight Eating High Fat|
However, that state of being doesn't mean you will always burn body fat. If you eat a low-carb high-fat diet, and your calories are at your current maintenance level or more, the body won't need to withdraw any stored body fat, as you are supplying all of the calories the body needs. In fact, you can even gain weight on a low-carb high-fat diet if you are eating more calories than the body can use in day.
Being in ketosis isn't a guarantee that you will lose weight. It's simply an alternative metabolic pathway that encourages the body to burn fats for energy. Nothing more.