By Brianna Hoge
February 14, 2022
Ketones, ketogenic diet, ketosis — what does it all mean? UAB expert Eric Plaisance, Ph.D., explains the ketogenic diet and the known health benefits it produces. (Getty Images)
Ketones are among the most underappreciated byproducts of human metabolism – they play a vital role in extending the survival of humans in the absence of food. Additionally, ketones have emerged as a practical and effective dietary approach to weight loss and maintenance. UAB’s Eric Plaisance, chair of the Department of Human Studies in the School of Education, explains how the ketogenic diet produces health benefits.
What are ketones?
Ketones decrease reliance on muscle proteins for glucose production in the body and provide an alternative energy source, particularly in the brain, where fats cannot be used directly for energy production. The production of ketones is critical for extending survival in humans during starvation.
“On average, humans store approximately 50,000 calories as fat and only 2,000 calories as carbohydrates,” Plaisance said. “During long periods of starvation, stored fats are mobilized to the liver and then metabolized into ketones.”
How do you increase ketones without going into extreme starvation mode?
There are several approaches to achieve this, and they have all shown to be quite effective, Plaisance said. However, the most common practice is restriction of carbohydrates in the diet.
“The overall concept focuses on mobilizing fats, producing ketones and maintaining low circulating levels of the hormone insulin,” he said. “To do this requires a significant restriction of carbohydrates to no more than approximately 5% of your diet while also limiting protein intake to no more than 20%.”
Ultimately, this translates to a diet high in fats and a metabolic state that allows the production of ketones.
Foods commonly found in ketogenic diets include eggs, berries, nuts, olives, avocados, cottage cheese, peppers, many types of seafood, green leafy vegetables and nonstarchy vegetables.
The biggest argument against the ketogenic diet is difficulty maintaining a healthy lifestyle because of its effects on cholesterol. However, an overwhelming majority of studies demonstrate strong palatability and potential health benefits with a high risk-to-reward ratio.
As in all cases, ketogenic diets are not for everyone, and Plaisance recommends consulting with a physician or an expert in the field before starting a ketogenic diet – or any diet – to ensure proper nutrition.
“The overwhelming majority of evidence indicates that ketogenic diets and high levels of circulating ketones are more effective at producing fat loss and maintaining lean mass than low-fat diets in animals and humans,” Plaisance said.
Plaisance notes that ketones produced from ketogenic diets and supplements have shown potential as a treatment for several chronic disease conditions, including some forms of cancer, metabolic and cardiovascular disease, and a host of neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
The effectiveness of a ketogenic diet may be different for each person, but the most significant contribution could be a gained strength against the barrage of foods and unhealthy lifestyles that plague the world today.
This story originally appeared on the UAB News website.