One of the most power pieces of science to understand on a ketogenic diet is oxidative priority. Oxidative priority simply means the order in which our bodies use the macronutrients from the foods we eat for fuel. Macronutrients are carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and alcohol.
Because our bodies have no process for storing alcohol, alcohol becomes our bodies’ first priority. The importance here is that everything we ate with the alcohol will be stored as fat. Just the opposite of why we chose the ketogenic diet in the first place, to burn fat. The amount of time we need to break down alcohol depends on how much alcohol we drank. A shot of bandy (1.25 ounces) will take a little more than one hour to break down and a 5 oz. glass of wine 3 hours.
The next macronutrient to be used by our body is carbohydrates. Most of the foods in the standard American diet are rich in carbohydrates (55%) and fats (35%) with little protein (15%). As with alcohol, while our bodies are breaking down carbohydrates to be used as fuel, the protein and fats we enjoyed along with it are stored as fat. What carbohydrates our body cannot use are also moved into our fat cells. Fat cells have an infinite capacity to expand and store the extra fuel we’ve consumed from carbohydrates. If fat cells die, they are replaced. If we need more than we have, our bodies will make more. This is often why for some of us it is hard to sustain our weight loss and this is the reason why keto is a lifestyle rather than a diet.
After carbohydrates, the body uses proteins followed by fats for energy. If the body has what it needs for fuel from carbohydrates, it will not need to burn proteins and fats. Instead these macronutrients will be stored for times when carbohydrate fuel sources are scarce.
The Keto Diet
The average keto diet is 5% total carbohydrates, 70% fat, and 20% protein. With fat and protein such a major part of the keto diet, how do we get other micronutrients such as vitamin C, potassium and calcium? Animal proteins are macronutrient dense, but they also excellent sources for micronutrients packaged in just the right quantities. For example, beef is a rich source for vitamin B12, zinc, selenium, iron, niacin, vitamin B6 and phosphorus along with many other vitamins and minerals.
The amounts of micronutrients we need is in part related to how much we eat. Protein is more digestible than carbohydrates. Because proteins are nutrient rich and dense, we reach satiety sooner when we eat proteins and fat. And therefore, we need to eat a lot less protein to get the required nutrients.
Everyone on a diet that severely restricts the amount of carbohydrates will go through sugar withdrawal, also known as Keto Flu. It has nothing to do specifically with the keto diet. It has to do more with kicking sugar and the carbohydrates found in sodas, snacks, desserts, breads, pasta, potatoes, fruits and vegetables.
The keto flu generally happens sometime in the first two weeks when ours bodies are shifting from burning carbs to burning ketones. Our bodies require a lot of energy to switch fuel sources so we need to be kind to ourselves as our bodies are shifting processes. The symptoms feel like the flu: lack of energy, tiredness, moody, feeling hot, brain fog, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, headache, and body aches.
We can support ourselves during this time by staying hydrated and keeping our electrolytes up. Because we are releasing so much water and electrolytes during the first 2 weeks, it’s a good idea to replace the water and electrolytes lost by drinking spring water with micronutrients such as sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium. We also may find that on a ketogenic diet, it is helpful to add upwards of 2.5 teaspoons of sodium to our daily food.
The keto flu passes in a few days. If we reintroduce large amounts of carbohydrates again and then go back to a keto lifestyle, it is likely that we will experience the keto flu again.
While the keto diet restricts the number of carbs, we can still be social. Perhaps even more social now that the focus is off food and instead is on enjoying times with friends and family. Once we kick the sugar and restrict carbs, we feel so much better and alive in ways we did not understand when we were dependent on carbs. If you are curious about keto and would like to learn more, check out MJ the Keto Coach website. Continued blessings.