Implications of A Protein-Heavy ‘Keto’ Diet

What do you picture when you hear someone say they’re doing the keto diet?

Is it a juicy double bacon cheeseburger sans-bun? A big medium-rare cooked steak, no sides? An omelette with cheese and bacon?

Or, alternatively, you may assume that they’re constantly in a fasting state because the body “has to” be starving to burn ketones (the latter is one I get mainly from people trained in the medical field).

None of these views of ketosis are incorrect – both eating the foods listed above and entering into a fasting state can put you in a state of ketosis. The problem with the first scenario (heavy consumption of meat/animal products) is that eating that way is dangerous, toxic, and pro-inflammatory when done long-term (or short-term depending on your current state of health). The latter, fasting ketosis, is a different state of ketosis than (what I like to call) dietary or nutritional ketosis. I’ll save that one for another post.

A Detour Into Glucose

Dietary ketosis occurs when one is consuming ketones, or fat, as their primary fuel source. In order for the body to adequately use the ketones one is consuming as it’s fuel, there has to be very minimal carbohydrate consumption. Why? Because given the chance, the body will ALWAYS choose to burn carbs over fats for energy purposes. It’s what it’s been trained to do and, as the saying goes, old habits die hard! 

You see, the body can run off of one of two fuels: oxygen and ketones (fats), or or oxygen and glucose (carbs), but it can’t run off of both at the same time.  Glucose requires insulin to get into our cells to be used as fuel, whereas are insulin INDEPENDENT. Aka they can walk right into our cells to deliver fuel sans insulin receptors. The problem with an insulin dependent fuel system is that due to a high consumption of carbohydrates most of us have overburdened and, subsequently, burnt out our insulin receptors by the time we’re in our 20’s (sometimes we see this now in teens!). This is what happens when we follow the SAD – Standard American Diet – which is carb driven. And, when this happens, the carbs we consume can no longer get into our cells to be used as fuel, causing glucose to remain cycling, homeless, around in the blood system.

** Fun Fact: high cortisol (stress) levels over time have the SAME EFFECT on our insulin receptors as eating a high carb-diet does! 

What’s the implication of excess glucose cycling through the system? The body’s only recourse is to (1) store them as fat – think that spare tire around the midsection – or (2) they get shunted off into ammonia by the liver.  You’re probably wondering what this has to do with eating a high-protein diet? 

Elevated Protein Intake = Elevated Blood Glucose Levels

Circling back to my main point: when people lead ketosis with protein, as opposed to healthy (plant-based) fats, they tend to increase their intake of animal products (protein).  This can be the double bacon cheeseburger sans bun, the big juicy steak with no sides, or those decadent fat bombs made from cream cheese and bacon. This is protein overload. And eating this way has a variety of negative impacts, some of which I’ve listed out for you below:

High levels of protein get shunted off into ammonia which, in large quantities, is toxic to the body and can lead to inflammation. When our body has toxic levels of ammonia we tend to get achey, foggy brained, fatigued, nauseous, experience joint pain, etc.

Excessive protein in the body gets converted into carbohydrates and stored as fat. This leads to blood sugar mismanagement, hormonal dysfunction, and symptoms. such brain fog, fatigue, headaches, bloating, joint pain, and urinary tract infections, kidney stones, and over prolonged periods can cause liver and/or kidney damage.

A diet high in animal products puts you at an increased risk of developing coronary artery disease. A report from the American Heart Association notes that middle-aged men on a high-protein diet have a 33 percent higher risk of developing heart failure.

So, will eating a diet high in protein will allow you to test in ketosis? Absolutely. But you’ll quickly enter into a state of ketoacidosis which is toxic to the body as a whole. And ketoacidosis (let’s now call this protein-derived ketosis) is VERY different from a healthy dietary ketosis. Ketoacidosis is a dangerous state to live in, ESPECIALLY for diabetics.

How To Obtain (Healthy!) Dietary Ketosis

First, I want to make sure you understand the difference between ketosis and ketoacidosis.

Ketoacidosis, by definition: dangerously high levels of ketones and blood sugar – a combination which makes your blood too acidic, which can change the normal functioning of internal organs like your liver and kidneys

Ketosis, by definition: higher than usual level of ketones in your blood or urine, but not high enough to cause acidosis. Ketones are a chemical your body produces when it burns stored fat.

Ketones are a chemical that the body produces when it burns stored fat, but can also be consumed dietarily via healthy fats. To safely obtain dietary ketosis, it’s recommended to eat a diet that is high in plant-based fats (think avocado, coconut, hemp seeds, tahini, cold-pressed organic oils, fresh-caught fish, etc) and greens, moderate in protein, and very minimal in carbohydrates. To imagine that in macro ratios, it would be: 60-80% – 20-30% – 5-10%, respectively.

What’s super important to understand is that the ratios it takes to get into ketosis vary person by person. When attempting to get into ketosis it’s necessary to be testing your ketone bodies so that you can identify the ratios that work for you. You can do this via your urine or your breath, though my experience has shown testing via urine to be most effective.

Healthy Fats = Healthy Brain

Lastly, to address the arguments that ketosis as a whole is dangerous: there have been absolutely NO studies showing that a diet high in healthy fats, moderate in protein, and low in carbohydrate is dangerous or toxic. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The only results that we see from studies involving this type of diet are positive and include better mental clarity, better energy, better sleep, lower cholesterol, lower all-over inflammation leading to lower risk of dis-ease, and increased brain health and preservation.

Multiple studies have linked dietary ketosis to the prevention and REVERSAL of Alzheimer’s and dementia (if caught early enough), a decrease in occurrence of seizures and strokes, and an increase in chances of warding off cognitive decline.

So, when you hear someone say that dietary ketosis is dangerous, recognize that they are likely referring to a high-protein ketogenic diet which puts someone in a prolonged state of ketoacidosis.

Interested in learning more about dietary ketosis, or just obtaining a list of my favorite anti-inflammatory, keto-friendly fats? Send me an email via my contact page so we can connect!

Referenced Articles/Sources:

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