The Ketogenic Diet: Fueling the Body with Fat

keto diet ingredients

If you are an avid D2D reader, you know by now that our team is not a fan of crash diets, extreme weight loss programs, or the elimination of whole food groups. But, when a reader approached us with his success on the ketogenic program, we took pause. Like D2D, a ketogenic diet values the importance of healthy fat! (You may recall: Fat is our Friend). And since the ketogenic diet is less about crash dieting and more about achieving the state of ketosis, we were intrigued…

The ketogenic diet was first introduced in the 1920s to help treat epilepsy in children after several studies indicated that the ketone chemical could help to reduce seizures. However, it wasn’t until much later that it was developed into a weight loss program for adults. In 2012, Dr. Gianfranco Cappello, an associate professor of surgery at the Sapienza University in Rome, Italy, researched the effect ketosis could have on weight loss. He found that ketosis could help overweight patients with both fast and significant weight loss (with very few side effects) when they were given a healthy, full-fat diet. His research, which included 19,000 participants, was particularly effective in very overweight or obese patients and demonstrated successful one-year weight management in ‘long term’ participants.

So, we wondered if a ketogenic diet is healthy for those just trying to maintain a well-balanced lifestyle? And is there any research that supports following this program over a long period of time?

“Being in a state of ketosis forces a physiological shift from a sugar-based metabolism to a fatty acid and ketone-based metabolism. Nutritional ketosis suppresses insulin and forces a ‘fat adaptive state.’” (Keto Clarity)

Ketosis: using fat for energy

This diet program focuses on what fuel source the body uses for energy. The true purpose of the ketogenic diet is to enter a state called ketosis. Ketosis occurs when your body has successfully switched from using glucose for energy to using fat for energy. It takes at least three days to enter into ketosis. When you have entered ketosis and your body is burning your fat for fuel, ketone bodies, “ketones,” are created and used for energy. A ketone is a chemical that is inevitably turned into energy by the mitochondria in your cells.

There are three different types of ketone bodies, acetoacetate, beta-hydroxybutyric acid, and acetone. They vary in structure and can perform different roles within your body. Acetoacetate and beta-hydroxybutyrate, for example, take the energy from your liver and transport it to different organs in your body. Acetone is the least used ketone and will be eliminated quickly if it is not used. If you are practicing a ketogenic diet, you can test your urine to see if ketone bodies are being released. This is called “ketonuria.”
(Image source: Perfect Keto

Entering a state of ketosis has been studied for its ability to possibly improve both mental and physical performance. In addition to the reduction of seizures, the ketogenic diet has also been associated with restful sleep, stabilized blood sugar levels, decreased inflammation, and increased HDL (“good”) cholesterol— however, many of these claims remain unproven.

Your body is programmed to use glucose for energy

ATP (adenosine triphosphate) is a high-energy molecule that is considered the “energy currency of life.” This energy molecule is created by glucose, fats, and proteins. Through evolution, your body is programmed to fuel itself on glucose. The benefits of glucose are twofold: it doesn’t require digestion and it yields 45-50% more energy than a ketone body.

Fat, on the other hand, takes energy to digest and does not produce as much energy for your body to use. So why switch? The purpose of this is, of course, to burn up fat stores.

In ketosis, fat is being burned for energy— but your brain cannot fuel itself on fat directly. So, the liver processes the fat and creates ketone bodies which are able to fuel your brain when glucose is not available. The rest of your body, like your muscles, can utilize the full fat for fuel.
(Source: Diet Doctor)

When the glucose from your diet is metabolized in the cell, it releases ATP that provides energy to the body. If you are consuming more glucose than is needed for energy, the excess glucose is stored in the liver as glycogen. When energy is needed glycogen is used first as a glucose source. However, for longer energy supply needs (especially in the brain) if the glycogen stored in your liver is depleted your body starts to convert fat to energy, which that can result in weight loss. This is the premise of the ketogenic diet.

Low-Carbohydrate, Moderate Protein, High Fat

At its core, the ketogenic diet pushes your body to switch from burning glucose as its primary energy source to burning fat. This is done by strictly limiting the amount of carbohydrates, sugar, and even protein you are allowed to eat during the day.

If you are thinking that this sounds similar to the Atkins Diet or High Fat Low Carb (HFLC) diet— you are correct! The keto approach is similar to these more mainstream programs; however, the ketogenic diet goes even further by limiting protein intake as well.

As a rule of thumb, a proper ketogenic diet should contain roughly 70% healthy fats, 20% protein, and 10% carbs. There is no strict limitation on the number of calories you can consume per day on this program. However, based on this percentage breakdown, most ketosis followers will actually consume less than on a traditional diet because of the satiety they experience when consuming higher volumes of fat. Unlike carbohydrates, fat takes longer for your body to digest and will keep you feeling full.

The ketogenic diet: 70% healthy fats, 20% protein, and 10% carbs

According to the ketogenic method, reducing protein intake (in addition to restricting carbohydrates and sugar) further forces your body into a state of starvation and enables it to utilize fat as fuel. The human body considers its fat stores to be a “last resort” in terms of fuel— glucose is its preferred fuel, with protein falling in second place. Because of this, if you are consuming normal levels of protein, it will use the protein as fuel as opposed to your fat stores. A Keto-approved meal indicates that roughly 3-6 ounces of meat per meal is acceptable.

On the Ketogenic Diet, your protein serving size should be the size on your old iPhone!

Carbohydrates, on the other hand, should barely touch your plate! On average, ketogenic dieters consume between 20-50 grams of carbohydrates per day. The maximum amount of carbohydrates allowed per day on this program is 100 grams, however, most followers have reported that they reach optimum ketosis when they maintain their carbs in the 20-50g range.

Blood Sugar = 100

Innately, your body is programmed to have a blood sugar level of 100. When you hear of a drastically dropping or spiking blood sugar level, that means it is varying from the baseline of 100. To put this into perspective, a normal blood sugar level of 100 is equal to 2 teaspoons (or 8 grams) of sugar in your blood! In order to stabilize your blood sugar levels, your body secretes insulin.

Insulin is a hormone that acts as a key for your cell. It attaches to the cell wall and allows glucose to enter in order to provide energy. Insulin works to lower your blood sugar levels by converting sugar to fat.

Regulating your insulin levels is one of the key components to the ketogenic diet as you are effectively eliminating sugar, including naturally occurring sugar from fruit. By preventing major spikes in your blood sugar levels, ketosis helps to stabilize your appetite and your body cravings. Low insulin levels can also help with weight management.

Be warned, however, when you enter into a ketogenic program, you might experience the “ketogenic flu.” Due to the absence of carbohydrates and sugar in your diet, your body goes into a state of shock. In the beginning, the lack of glucose will make you feel sick, sluggish, and dizzy. Not to mention you are also losing a lot of water very quickly because every gram of glycogen (aka the storage of excess glucose) contains 2.7 grams of water! In order to fight these symptoms, you must be diligent about drinking water and replenishing electrolytes!

Ketogenics is redefining the food pyramid and telling you to embrace the fat!

The Research

While there are promising studies on ketosis and your body’s use of ketones, the body of research that exists today is inconclusive. Unfortunately, there is a lack of depth in the research that makes many positive claims for the benefits of ketosis. As we discussed in When is Science Truly Sciencein order for a scientific study to be credible it must meet a host of qualifications. For example: Has it been peer-reviewed?Has it been replicated? Was it performed by scientists who are unbiased?

And while some of the important criteria may have been met, there has not been enough replicated research to make any claims definitively. Additionally, this program and its research are in its infancy as it was only first introduced as a weight loss program in 2012.

One particularly noteworthy growing body of research is the link between cancer and a state of ketosis.

There are a few dynamic areas, however, that require further exploration. One particularly noteworthy growing body of research is the link between cancer and a state of ketosis. Science has proven that cancer cells hate fat and love sugar.

When a cancer cell needs to feed itself it turns directly to glucose. So, by effectively eliminating the sources of glucose in your diet, the cancer cell would starve. Is that to say that keeping a ketogenic diet will make you cancer-immune— no! But, there is a need for more research in this space.

Additionally, there have been a few stand-alone studies that discuss the ability for ketones to demonstrate disease-fighting abilities, specifically neurologically. For these reasons, the ketogenic diet has also been positively linked to reducing some of the symptoms of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. And while maintaining a state of ketosis is by no means a cure for neurological diseases, it is an exciting avenue to be explored.

It is also important to note that organizations like the Mayo Clinic, the American Heart Association, and the American Medical Association believe that a state of ketosis is considered “abnormal” because you are essentially forcing your body into starvation mode in order to utilize stored fat. This side of the argument believes that your body was designed to use glucose as fuel and starving yourself to the point where you are forced to use “last ditch” energy reserves is unnatural and may put excess stress on your body.

The ketogenic diet can be very harmful to people with diabetes. Unlike people without diabetes—who have insulin to help prevent the build-up of ketone bodies in your blood— diabetics are at risk for ketone build up which can result in ketoacidosis.

Happy Ketos!

After reading a significant amount of literature on the subject, one thing is clear: a ketogenic diet is not for the faint of heart. 20-50 grams of carbs a day is next to impossible. For reference: there are 20 grams of carbs in an apple! Remember, carbs are not just in foods like rice, pizza, and pasta, they are in vegetables and fruits as well!  A D2D member even tried going “low carb high fat” for her wedding, keeping it to 90 grams of carbs a day and voiced how incredibly challenging it was.


So, we had to speak with keto followers that transitioned into this eating program and were happy about it. The recounts were astonishing. Almost unanimously, we were told “once you change your mindset about carbohydrates you will feel great.” However, we also learned that the ketogenic diet also calls for moderate exercise. If you increase your heart rate too much, your body will require more food and it will be harder to maintain a state of ketosis.

We then turned to personal trainer and ketogenic follower Chris Clarke of Tiger Fit. He indicated that he follows “keto cycling” where he incorporates carbohydrates on the days he is doing high-intensity training. Therefore, if you are intrigued by the nature of this program and you are highly active, there are ways to build ketogenics into your life.

However, ketogenics still controversial with supporters and opponents in part because its long term implications haven’t been studied. So, if you do decide to go on such a strict regime, it is best to consult with your doctor first to make sure it is the right choice for you given your weight, your genetics, and your lifestyle.

Let’s Byte into Ag

computer programming language on a computer screen

In today’s global agricultural system, we are collecting, sorting, analyzing, and acting on data. Data mining is now integral in the universal effort to improve the quantity, quality, and sustainability of our food supply—now and into the future.

Feeding the world while protecting the environment is a science— a data-driven science. Data allows us to find practical solutions that deliver better results across every segment of the food chain.  While the role of data and intelligent data management may seem to be invisible to most of us, it is essential to assuring that today’s consumers—and future generations—don’t just eat, but thrive.

Intelligent, innovative data management is already a critical core competency in feeding animals and people with wholesome, safe, and affordable food. 

Statistics on the amount of data being created every day is mind-boggling

Many data science experts support the notion that we risk “drowning in data,” when what we really want to do is “swim in knowledge.”  Data scientist Abdelbarre Chafik highlights that every day, more than 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created. (That is 2,500,000,000,000,000,000 bytes!)

AppDeveloper magazine recently stated,

More data was created in the last two years than the previous 5,000 years of humanity. In 2017, we will create even more data in one year alone, creating more challenges around consuming that data to make strategic and tactical decisions. Yet, recent research has found that less than 0.5 percent of that data is actually being analyzed for operational decision making.

Bits and Bytes and the Agricultural Sector

What has changed, however, is the sheer volume and variety of data that is now available to the agricultural sector through the emergence of new information technology. In order to use data effectively, we need to be collecting with purpose.

The value of an idea lies in the using of it.
—Thomas Edison

Collecting data is to drive better decision-making at every step along the food chain.  What’s more— this emerging focus on data management is rapidly becoming a core competency for all members of the food system.  Data holds the potential to make every segment of the food chain work better.

Because this is a new and rapidly growing market, many companies are trying to find their niche. It will be very interesting to see how this market place develops and which agriculture and data companies are able to work together in order to find the best solutions.

There are many companies competing in the agricultural data space. Source: AGC Partners

Data isn’t new to agriculture

Farm data has been collected for centuries— first as hieroglyphics etched in stone, followed by hand-written entries in dusty ledgers. Data is stored everywhere: in grain elevators, on commodity exchanges, in the basement of barns, on the rolling handwritten inventories of food stores, and countless other places along the food chain.

Farmers used basic facts and figures about input costs, pest controls, machinery expenses, yields, market bids, etc. to help themselves better produce their crop in future seasons. Commodity merchants tracked market trends, historic demand, crop estimates, stocks and other factors important to buying and selling farm products at a profit. Food manufacturers took careful note of stocks, purchase needs, ingredient prices, market demand and more. Food consumers also had a role to play in data management, even if only to stay within their household budget.

Today, the difference is that all of this information from the farmers, merchants, distributors, food processors, and the grocery store can be loaded into algorithms to provide consolidated information from farmer to consumer.

But, at every step along the way— all the players have different objectives. The farmers want to grow their crops with the best yield and the least inputs (pesticides, herbicides, and water). The commodity traders want to buy low and sell high. The food processor wants to buy food from the farmer and efficiently process it into a different product (for example soybeans into soybean oil.) And the consumer wants affordable, healthy, and safe food that is accessible daily.

Let’s imagine a few things can be done by harvesting this volume of data

As a consumer:

  • Scan the label on your produce or fruit to learn about the farmer who grew your food.
  • Scan the label on your meat packaging and know exactly what the cow was fed throughout its life.
  • Supermarkets can manage their end of life products and notify consumers and food banks who could use them.
  • Restaurants can use Food Genius to gather the popularity of over 22 million menu items to see what sells to which type of consumer – and then tailor their own menu.

As a farmer:

  • Know the exact locations on the fields that have heavy water, normal, or drought conditions and manage pesticide applications.
  • Know the approximate yield, around the globe, of their crop so they can decide whether to sell their crop at harvest or store it on site until prices are more favorable.
  • Know the exact moment to plant their crops through weather and soil analytics.
  • Program the driver-less tractor to manage the fields.
  • Purchase the right seed each year for today’s climate and soil.
  • Use big data to provide crop insurance for farmers regarding crop yields and weather patterns.

As the food producer:

  • Be able to instantly track all the ingredients and their prices that come from around the world.
  • Have instant access to sales at the grocery store so inventory can be managed accordingly.
  • Know about every animal that is purchased for your farm and have access to what it was fed pre-purchase.
  • Streamline transportation logistics in order to get optimal pricing to send product via rail, ship, or truck.
  • Increase understanding of all food inputs to effectively manage margins.

How can we use data to improve food sustainability?

As we discussed in Farming from the Thermosphere, technology is becoming increasingly important in farming practices. Data becomes knowledge, knowledge becomes insight, and insight should inevitably become action.

But of all the data that is captured, it is important to discern what kinds of data are important to agriculture. While the internet and subsequently the Internet of Things (IoT) has allowed for better data collection, there is room for improvement. Here are some areas within the food supply chain that will benefit from improved data collection and management:

One of the most important questions to be resolved in a brave new data-driven world is— what we do with the data once we have it?

Many companies are trying to answer this question. In fact, 2016 Global Opportunity Report cited “smart farming” as the top-ranked opportunity.

The idea that agriculture is now a tech industry is firmly established. The farming community knows they have to embrace this. —Roger Royse (Silicon Valley attorney)

Farmers Edge specializes in precision agronomy and helps enable farmers to better monitor their fields and collect effective data. IBM’s artificial intelligence product, Watson (IoT), is attempting to transform precision agriculture by utilizing predictive weather analytics to help farmers. The platform also offers real-time plant and field monitoring. Bayer Digital Farming uses Amazon Web Service to help feed a growing population. In 2014, John Deere introduced SeedStar a mobile application that gives farmers a row-by-row assessment of their field and its performance. Moreover, John Deere recently (Sept 2017) acquired See and Spray Robotics, which sees, diagnoses, and executes on something as small as seedlings. Monsanto bought The Climate Corporation, which uses big data to predict weather and climate change. Cargill invested in Descartes Labs, which uses satellite imagery to help with crop forecasting. U.S. Foods bought Food Genius— and the list goes on…

Source: IBM

As technology enables the creation of larger amounts of data, determining which data is relevant, complete, and honest grows more difficult. Unfortunately, it is easy to twist data to support a pre-conceived idea, and data alone is often fuel for argument and debate.

In an age in which consensus about important issues (such as climate change, water use, and topsoil depletion) has become bogged down in rhetoric, claims, and counterclaims, objective data management enables informed decision-making. More and more effort is being devoted to sorting through competing data analysis methods and conclusions. But finding critical data— and true insights within reams of legitimate data — remains very much a work in progress.

Agave: Too Good to be True

creative image of agave plant

We can’t sugarcoat it— consuming excess sugar is simply not good for you! The average American eats between 80-110 grams of added sugar a day. To put that into perspective, the recommended daily amount is 24 grams of sugar for women and 38 grams of sugar for men per day.

Mintel has reported that 84% of adults have decided to limit their sugar intake. At D2D, we applaud this effort and recognize that it is no small feat! In response to the movement away from traditional sugar, many sugar tricks have made their way onto the health food market. But (for the most part) sugar is sugar is sugar— and almost all variations have the same effect on your body….

Enter: Agave

Pictured above: Agave americana. (Source: Plant Rescue)

Grown in Mexico and the U.S. Southwest, the agave plant resembles a cactus but is actually a member of the asparagus family. There are many different cultivars, and the syrup is produced from only a few of these. When in flower, the agave plant can reach a height of 25ft!

Marketing claims and excellent branding have made it easy to believe that agave used as a sugar source is “better for you.” In fact, according to Mintel Market Research, consumers rank Agave the fourth healthiest in the long list of sweeteners.

The use of this “naturally occurring sweetener” has grown exponentially in recent years. More specifically, from June 2012-2013 33% of all food and drink product launches contained agave.

Agave nectar producers claim that this syrup is healthier because it provides fewer calories per serving and has a low glycemic index, which means it won’t raise your blood sugar levels as much as other sugar and sweeteners.

However, there are some issues with these claims. The agave syrup that is sold commercially is highly processed in order for it to have a longer shelf life. While it is true that the fructans in naturally occurring agave nectar are a healthy source of sugar, when these fructans are processed (at high heat) they are turned into fructose and the healthy qualities of this nectar are eliminated.

Video: Authority Nutrition

Love Tequila? Look for 100% agave on the label!
Tequila is made by extracting and fermenting the juice from the core of the agave plant, which is high in sugar. Unlike agave syrup, which is processed, tequila is a live food and the natural sugars present in the plant are used as fuel during the fermentation process. That is not to say all tequila is sugar free! U.S. regulations allow tequila companies to add sugar to their final product, whereas Mexican tequila distributors are prevented from making tequila with anything other than the blue weber agave plant. When purchasing tequila, look for 100% agave on the label!

Let’s have a quick recap on fructose & glucose

In our previous post on sugar, we discussed the importance of fructose and glucose. Table sugar is composed of a combination of both glucose and fructose.

Glucose will give your body an energy boost. Unlike fructose, glucose is very important. It fuels your brain and muscles and helps convert food into nutrients. Fructose, on the other hand, truly serves no purpose in your body. It cannot be used as energy and can only be processed by your liver. Once it reaches your liver, it is converted into fat and sent to your body’s fat cells to be burned, or eliminated.

Fructose build up in your liver is toxic and can have the same affect on your liver as excess alcohol build up!

Most sugars have a fairly equal ratio of glucose to fructose. Table sugar, for example, is 50% glucose and 50% fructose, a 1:1 ratio. This can vary roughly 5% depending on the sugar source— however, it is safe to say that almost all sugar products will be processed by your body relatively the same.

Agave is a 2:1 ratio of fructose to glucose.

Even high fructose corn syrup contains less fructose than agave! Like most sugars, HFCS has a 1:1 ratio of fructose to glucose. HFCS is roughly 55% fructose.  Agave syrup can contain between 70-97% fructose. It is because of this increased fructose amount that agave is technically lower on the glycemic index than other traditional sugars. But that means at least 70% of the agave you are consuming is going straight to your liver!

“In theory, it’s high in fructose and low on the glycemic index, making it a better option than refined sugar. But there’s not a lot of research to back that up, and one of the studies was done in lab animals, not people. The American Diabetes Association lists agave as a sweetener to limit, along with regular table sugar, brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, and all other sugars.” (Web MD

Additionally, unlike what many agave health claims report, agave typically has more calories per serving than other sweetening products. For example, 1 tablespoon of white sugar has 48 calories, whereas a tablespoon of agave contains roughly 60 calories. Agave producers claim that because the syrup is so sweet, consumers will inevitably use less than traditional sweeteners and save calories that way.