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November 01, 2016 / Nicole Villeneuve

Know Your Keto: A Q&A with Dr. Colin Champ

Doctor Colin Champ headshot

By day, Dr. Colin Champ is a leading oncologist and assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. But he's also the author of the Caveman Doctor, which investigates the effects of diet and nutrition in cancer care, obesity and chronic disease.

PlateJoy founder Christina Bognet caught up with Dr. Champ to ask some of PlateJoy customers' most common questions about the ketogenic diet, which has gained popularity this year for weight loss, maintenance and cancer care. Read on to see if it's right for you!

Considering going keto? Get personalized meal plans and grocery lists on PlateJoy.

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Christina: What happens to the body when you’re in ketosis and how does that relate to blood sugar?

Dr. Champ: During ketosis, the body breaks down fats and increases ketones as the primary energy source. Appetite decreases as well, and most people lose weight, not surprisingly in the form of less body fat. However, on a cellular level a lot more is happening. Cells sense the lack of carbohydrates and the increase in ketones. Mitochondria (the powerhouses of our cells) are stimulated, and old and faulty cellular parts of our cells are broken down and recycled. The body also gets much better at dealing with blood sugar and the need for insulin (a hormone that tells things to grow – i.e. fat, cancer, etc.) drops. Finally, anticancer pathways are stimulated, which is of great interest to the scientific and medical world recently.

Christina: How long do people need to stay in ketosis for it to have an effect? Are shorter periods of ketosis just as effective? Can longer term (1 month+) ketosis be detrimental?

Dr. Champ: Depends on who you ask! For weight loss in someone who doesn’t have much to lose, periodic ketosis for a couple days seems to work. For others with a lot of weight to lose and/or those that do poorly with carbohydrates, the diet may need to be maintained for several months. I personally go in and out of ketosis frequently, getting very strict every month or two for about 5 days. I have been in ketosis for 6 months and even over a year, but function and feel better when I avoid long-term ketosis. Anecdotally, it seems that when some individuals still have some fat to burn, they thrive in ketosis for longer periods of time more so than others. Some longer-term ketogenic diet followers do experience hormonal changes and probably should not be on the diet for an extended period of time.

Christina: What’s the best way to test to see whether you’re in ketosis? Urine strips are easiest - do they work?

Dr. Champ: Urine strips work great for the first 2-3 weeks then you must switch to finger sticks, which are very expensive. For those of you that go in and out of ketosis, the urine strips will work fine. However, once you start utilizing the ketones after 2-3 weeks, less will be excreted in the urine. For many of the pros out there, after a bunch of times in ketosis they can usually predict whether they are producing ketones or not.

Christina: Who should consider a ketogenic diet?

Dr. Champ: Those trying to lose weight or turn on their body’s innate recycling mechanisms to aid cellular function generally give the ketogenic a try. It takes a little work, so those willing to be stricter about the foods they eat generally are more able to thrive on a ketogenic diet. Paleoistas and those individuals out there that like to mimic the different environments that our ancestors (and bodies) have encountered over the past millions of years tend to like to hit ketosis periodically as it is part of our ancestral code.

Thanks for talking with us, Dr. Champ! 

Nicole Villeneuve

Nicole Villeneuve is a certified Diabetes Prevention Lifestyle Coach. A graduate of Yale University, she previously worked in book publishing, with a focus on cookbooks and health, and ran the food blog Paper and Salt. Her writing has been featured in Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, The New York Times Magazine, The Paris Review, and The Daily Beast. Nicole lives in San Francisco and loves cooking, reading, exploring new restaurants, and running by the ocean. You can (very occasionally) find her on Twitter.

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