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Ketones, ketogenic diet, ketosis
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.

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. The University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Eric Plaisance, Ph.D., 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?

Plaisance says there are several approaches to achieve this, and they have all shown to be quite effective; however, the most common practice is the 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 percent of your diet while also limiting protein intake to no more than 20 percent.”

Ultimately, this translates to a diet high in fats and a metabolic state that allows the production of ketones.

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