Does Consuming Too Much Protein Take You Out of Ketosis?

Written by Cyndi

Cyndi is about educating. Her greatest love is to teach, both in the public arena and within the large corporate food companies, to enable everyone to make better choices so they too can enjoy greater health throughout their lives. Considered one of the world's foremost experts in Nutrition, Cyndi brings over 40 years experience, research and knowledge.

December 16, 2021

The short answer is NO. Let me explain.

 

My slant on nutrition and health is based on my upbringing and my early years at university.

 

My upbringing was based on a principal philosophy that the human body is an innate intelligence. The body aims to maintain homeostasis, therefore give it the right ingredients and remove interference and it will be the healthiest it can be. Those right ingredients include; real food, sunshine, sleep, movement, oxygen, clean water, grounding and connection.

 

My first years at university were studies in science, focusing on anthropology and cultural anthropology.

 

These informative years of living and education have allowed me to understand the difference between the science that makes sense and the science that is manipulated due to financial or human bias.  And let’s face it, science can either prove or disprove theories depending on how the research is done and the way the results are analysed – a form of confirmation bias.  I’ve seen opposing research over and over again.  And as Dr Steve Myers stated; 80% of the science is not correct, but it helps to find the answer to the hypothesis we seek to understand.

 

Many diets all the way from vegan to carnivore and anything in between seem to be in vogue, and everyone and every expert seems to have the science to back up their claims.

 

No matter what diet you do, it’s imperative that it isn’t a ‘dirty’ diet.  A dirty diet is when you manipulate your food/macronutrients by using ultra-processed junk foods.

For instance, a ‘dirty’ vegan diet can consist of a bunch of ultra-processed fake meats and dairies, unlike real, traditional foods like legumes, grains, fruits, vegetables nuts and seeds.  A ‘dirty’ keto diet can consist of exogenous ketone pills, with ultra-processed ketone bars, ketone shakes and ketone ultra-processed pancake and cake mixes, unlike a keto diet based on meat, vegetables, nuts, seeds and quality dairy and fats. This we explain fully in my book The Healthy Keto Way.

 

Ultra-processed foods which contribute to ‘dirty’ diets can be manipulated for any in-vogue diet humans want to make up, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for your health or the health of the planet.

 

There is a myth in the low carb, high fat community and I’ve also seen it in the keto community, that eating too much protein contributed to a rise in glucose levels, thus it was important to limit protein intake.  I disagree with this premise.  Protein is very important for health and it is a more satiating and nutrient-rich macronutrient than fat.

 

Proteins are the building block for life and are a necessary component in any diet. They are crucial for the functioning of the brain; building skin, bone and muscle; important for biochemical reactions, hormones and so much more. This all in turn promotes health, energy, vitality and longevity.

Protein and fat are essential for life, carbohydrates the body can do without. Although consuming carbohydrates does give the body a more energy-efficient glucose – an essential nutrient for the body.  If you do not eat glucose, the body will make it via a process called gluconeogenesis.

 

Gluco – glucose

Neo – new

Genesis – beginning, creation

 

In other words, the creation of new glucose.  Or the real definition; the synthesis of glucose from non-carbohydrate sources.

 

In order to create glucose in the absence of carbohydrates, the body needs food (precursors.  This includes amino acids that create glucose (some amino acids are glucogenic – make glucose – and others are ketogenic – make ketones – and other amino acids can produce both).  Other foods that can make glucose are lactate (this is produced during anaerobic exercise) and glycerides (from fat – triglycerides).

 

In summary proteins, fats and exercise will produce the precursors for gluconeogenesis.  Being in a state of ketosis (consuming ketones for energy) enables gluconeogenesis.  However, when you consume carbohydrates, there is usually no need for the body to make glucose and gluconeogenesis will not occur.

 

Gluconeogenesis has three main purposes; to prevent hypoglycemia and keep blood sugars in a healthy range, to fuel the cells that need glucose (red blood cells, kidney medulla, testicles, parts of the brain), and to restock glycogen stores in the liver and muscles.

 

Let’s go back to anthropological times, when food didn’t come from a grocery store but rather we had to hunt, gather or grow food.  Food was seasonal, food was unpredictable, and food was real and fresh.

 

The human body adapted to an array of foods as well as an array of amounts, on any year there could be feast or famine.  The innate intelligence of the body in times of plentiful food sources, enabled fat in the form of triglycerides to be laid down for future use.  The body adapted to carbohydrates (plant-based foods) being present and or animals roaming nearby.  If there were no plants then the body could survive solely on the animals roaming with the delicacies not only being the muscle meat of the animal but organ meats as well. Within either source, fat was an integral part of the meat.

 

This innate intelligence including the body’s ability to make glucose from fats, exercise and protein, enabled humans to survive no matter what the seasons brought.

 

The idea that on the ketogenic diet that you must not eat too much protein and eat a ton more fat is based on faulty science when we look back at what the biochemistry of the body is capable of, as well as the history of human food consumption and culture.  Sometimes we need more common sense than another piece of research.  Having said that I do love trolling the research!

 

The body cannot do without glucose.  Red Blood Cells (RBC’s) cannot use ketones, they must have glucose to be healthy, certain parts of the brain (around 30%) need glucose, the rest of the brain can survive on ketones.  Therefore, if you are not eating glucose your body finds a way to make it.  It is based on the survival of humans.

 

Gluconeogenesis is demand-driven, if you need glucose for the RBC’s, the brain, or to produce the 8 essential sugars required for cell-to-cell communication (I talk about this in chapter 41 of my book Lab To Table), then the body requiring energy to accomplish these tasks will produce them. The key difference? It makes it only for the demands of the body, it does not produce it in excess which would result in surging blood sugar levels and cause insulin resistance and diabetes – this would have been a disaster for human survival.

 

Although the body makes its own glucose, consuming carbohydrates and foods that contain essential sugars such as mushrooms, berries, cartilage, dairy, fruits and vegetables, is a far less taxing when it comes to energy requirements by the body.  Our ancestors ate carbohydrates seasonally and in whole form including honey, it wasn’t a meal-to-meal addition creating a lifetime of refined carbohydrates.  That is something that modern eating has done.

 

There is often an obsession around having the exact amount of proteins, fats and carbohydrates when doing The Healthy Keto Way, this is not necessary and sometimes it can be confusing as to how much you should be having of each.  So, let’s set the record straight.

 

Firstly, if you need to be in ketosis for a therapeutic reason (seizures, brain tumours etc), then you must be strict with your carbohydrate intake and of course no ‘dirty’ keto only ‘clean’ keto.

 

Secondly, looking at the plate and seeing the percentage you should have of each macronutrient by look rather than by energy value can be daunting especially when you see fat as the ‘greater’ amount.

 

Let’s put it in perspective.

 

1 TBS of butter equals 15gms of fat

1 TBS of chicken mince equals .64gms of fat and 2.4gms of protein.

½ cup of broccoli delivers 1.8 gms net carbs.

 

So, when you are looking at a healthy keto way plate, you may see more cruciferous vegetables, a lesser meat portion and an even smaller fat portion.  On a percentage scale, it will look completely the opposite.

 

Look at the percentage as an energy value not a volume value.  If you look at it as a volume portion the plate may look very unappetising.

 

Many of the recipes in The Healthy Keto Way adjust for this fact.  Therefore, follow them to become familiar with what is appropriate.

 

It’s important to relax and enjoy the experience of using ketones for your energy as opposed to being stressed about the exact macro food percentages.  The Healthy Keto Way is cyclical, as the summer comes around and you’ve got the hang of this way of eating, experiment with some summer fruits- remembering everyone is an individual and what kicks one person out of using ketosis will not be the same with the next.   Testing is a way of figuring this out, but for me it’s all about how my brain is functioning and how much energy I have.

 

Using mainly glucose as an energy source will slow down the brain and make you feel less energized.  There is a good reason for that, carbohydrates signal to the brain that there is food aplenty all in one spot (the tree doesn’t move).  Using ketones for an energy source creates a more adventurous brain as this signals that the food is on the move and in order to survive you must travel and hunt.

 

I so love the innate intelligence of the human body.  Feed it the right ingredients and watch health and instinct become your abiding friends.

 

Cyndi O’Meara.

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2 Comments

  1. Anna

    Hi cyndi i am totally confused about nutrition and weight I used to b a happy vegan now a sad carnivore I am eating this way as reading on carbs fructose and fats They say arw bad for health and weight so if I only eat fish and water i feel safe and I can eat as much as I
    Like with our weight gain but desperate to eat other foods but totally scared any advice wotkd b appreciated kind regards Anna

    Reply
    • Ruth Changing Habits

      Hello Anna, what works well for your body is different for everyone. We should be able to eat a range of foods without it causing a reaction. If that is not the case it is a sign that something is going on. To work out what that is it is often best to work with a professional who can guide you.

      Reply

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