The effects of a 4-day isocaloric isoprotenic dietary replacement of carbohydrate by fats were studied in six healthy subjects, the experimental diet being preceded and followed by a 3-day period of balanced diet. During the ketogenic regimen, the concentrations of fat derived substrates (free fatty acids, glycerol and 3-hydroxybutyrate) rose significantly and glucose levels decreased by 16.5 +/- 3.2% (mean +/- SEM). The hormonal pattern switched towards a catabolic mode with a fall in insulin levels (-44.0 +/- 6.3%) and a rise in glucagon concentration (+39.0 +/- 10.4%). A significant fall in triiodothyronine and rise in reverse triiodothyronine were observed, while thyroxine levels remained unchanged. The average levels of the most important gluconeogenic amino acids (alanine, glutamine, glycine, serine and threonine) were reduced by 8-34% while those of the branched chain amino acids increased by more than 50%. Since these changes reproduce those observed after a few days of total fasting, we suggest that it is the carbohydrate restriction itself which is responsible for the metabolic and hormonal adaptations of brief fasting.