If we go without food for a long time, the body goes into a normal alternative process of metabolism by creating ketones to keep us alive. Ketosis is a process in which body uses alternative fuel to provide energy to the brain and muscles when glucose availability or supply goes low. For example, when we are fasting or when on a reduced carbohydrate diet, body switches to ketosis mode.
When we deliberately switch to a diet that is low in carb and higher in fat, it enhances the process of ketosis without the gnawing hunger of fasting. It keeps you feeling fulfilled with the food that you eat, as well as helps in weight loss. Next you will want to know why ketones are better than glucose for cellular fuel needs.
Basic Body Fuels
During cellular respiration, body cells metabolize food nutrients and oxygen, to create energy. Most of this energy production happens in tiny cell parts which act as powerhouses or fuelling stations, the mitochondria. There are two primary types of food-based fuel that our cells can use to produce energy- glucose and ketones.
This is a cellular fuel that comes from the metabolism of fat in the body. The average sized human body can store hundreds of thousands of calories in the form of fat, hence, this system of energy is almost unlimited. I say ‘almost’ because it also depends on how long one goes without food. Eventually, it would get used up, but people have been known to fast for months and live through it.
This is also commonly known as blood sugar. Starches, sugars and protein break down during the process of metabolism to form glucose. While glucose is a necessary fuel for the body, it is required only in limited amount. Normally, a human body can store only about 1000-1600 calories of glucose in the form of glycogen in our muscles and liver. The amounts stored depend on the gender and muscle mass. Men store more glycogen because they have a greater muscle mass. Since most people burn up about 2000 calories a day even without workout, just doing normal stuff, it is clear that if the human body depended on only sugar to fuel itself, and food weren’t available for more than a day, the body would run out of energy. Not good for continuing life.
Ketones allow cells to be metabolically flexible. When glucose levels are low, especially over time, most cells will switch to using ketone bodies for fuel. This ability of most normal cells to use ketones when glucose is unavailable indicates that their cellular mitochondria are healthy and functioning properly. Even the brain and nerve cells, which are heavily dependent on glucose can utilize ketone bodies for fuel. In addition, ketones have some unique properties which make them a better fuel for our cells to use. Burning fat for fuel causes less oxidative damage to the cells, and actually makes it possible for the cell to create much more energy than it can from glucose.
Ketosis is the presence of ketone bodies in the urine has commonly been confused with ketoacidosis by researchers who don’t actually treat patients. Ketoacidosis is a life-threatening build-up of ketone bodies due to muscle wasting and dehydration as in states of shock or uncontrolled Type 1 diabetes. Due to this, dietary ketosis is among the most maligned and misunderstood concepts in nutrition medicine. In the Type 1 diabetic, the absence of insulin leads to a toxic build-up of blood glucose and an extreme break-down of fat and muscle tissue. This condition doesn’t occur in individuals who have even a small amount of insulin, whether from natural production or artificially administered. Whereas patients in ketoacidosis are closely monitored in Intensive Care Units, individuals in ketosis are amongst the healthy, active population.
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