Dr. Marc Bubbs, N.D, CISSN, CSCS
The ketogenic diet exploded on to the mainstream diet scene last year, with people posting personal anecdotes of terrific weight loss, fantastic appetite control and improved well-being. In the New Year, it looks like the ketogenic diet will continue to grow and spread across blogs, social media and news outlets. Should you go “keto” in the New Year? Is it just the latest fad diet or is it rooted in sound principles? Will it help you lose weight and improve your health? Let’s dive in and take a look.
First, let’s define a keto diet. A ketogenic diet is a very-low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet. You reduce your total carbohydrate intake down to about 50g (or less) per day. What do you eat in its place? Lots of traditional and healthy fats – like butter, coconut oil, olive oil, avocados, nuts, cream, and your omegas. – and modest amounts of protein. When you dramatically reduce your carb intake, your body switches to burning more of your body-fat as a fuel source. (Major win if you’re trying to lose weight!) These fats are converted into ketones in your liver (thus the “keto” in ketogenic diet) which provide fuel for your brain.
Today almost 70% of the population is overweight or obese, and rates of type-2 diabetes are hitting records highs, making the ketogenic diet a potentially powerful tool for its ability to lower blood sugar and insulin levels.(1, 2)Chronically high levels are major risk factors for all chronic diseases. (3) That means if you’ve got significant belly-fat – or a beer-belly in “man-speak” – then you’re at risk! Another major benefit of ketogenic diets is they also help to keep satiated so that you can go longer between meals (and not succumb to being “hangry” at 3:00 pm at work!). (4)Experts believe this might be due to the elevated ketones in the bloodstream or a reduction in your blood triglycerides. Reducing blood triglycerides is a sign of good heart health (another major benefit). (5) To sum up; better blood sugar control, superior weight loss and improved satiety compared to a standard diet. That’s a pretty nice combination!
Almost 70% of the population is overweight or obese, and rates of type-2 diabetes are hitting records highs…
First, reduce your carbohydrate intake. This is the most important aspect of the keto approach. To simplify things, on a keto diet you omit all starchy carbs; no bread, no rice, no pasta, etc. Why? They contain a lot of carbohydrates; a slice of bread 25g of carbs and a cup of pasta or rice approximately 40-45g. You can include very small portions, but you can see how these complex starches add up quickly to your daily carb count.
Next, fruits and vegetables are also carbohydrates. Avoid or be cautious with fruits like apples and bananas, which provide 25-30g of carb each. The best fruits to start with are berries; blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries. They’re lower in total carbs and higher in fibre.
As for veggies, lots of leafy greens and cooked cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, etc. Go for it! Algae’s are another excellent source of trace nutrients, algae’s such as Spirulina and Chlorella are bioavailable and packed full of goodness. The veggies to watch out for are root vegetables – potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, beets, etc. – as they’ll be higher in total carbs. As long as you stay under 50g, you should be fine.
On the protein front, aim for 1-1.5 “palms” per meal (the size of your palm), and if you’re active, you can increase the portion size.
Lastly, alcohol is limited to a keto diet. You can have modest amounts of dry red or white wine or spirits mixed with water or soda water. (Sorry fellas, you’ll have to say goodbye to beer for a little while!)
Before you start doing ‘keto-cartwheels’ and jumping in with both feet, it’s important to consider a few things. First, the major principles of successful weight loss programs; achieving a caloric deficit and compliance. The keto diet naturally puts you into a caloric deficit without having to think about calories. That’s a good thing. But the drop-in calories can be pretty dramatic for some people, which will make your life miserable and cravings unbearable. A better option for you is a low-carb approach (which also omits the majority of processed carbs and sugars, a secret weapon of both diets). You’ll reap most all of the benefits of going keto, without the risk of energy highs and lows as your body adapts.
It’s also important to remember your body will take time to adapt to using more fat to fuel your daily activity. The transition takes time, and during this period you might feel more tired, cranky, struggle with brain fog or even light-headedness. This is known as the “keto-flu” and can be pretty uncomfortable (to downright unpleasant or even agonizing) for some people. If it’s too intense, back off a little.
Minerals are also crucial on a keto diet. As you lose weight and insulin levels drop, you’ll lose precious sodium stores from your body. Be sure to salt food liberally and consider drinking bone broth, and products like Active Oxygen, to get your intake up.
Finally, if you’re active and doing a lot of sports, the keto diet might not be for you. Carbohydrates are key for fueling more intense-forms of exercise. Thus a very-low-carb diet risks compromising your performance. (This is why it’s not a great choice for youth athletes). If you’re really into the ketogenic lifestyle and want to find a middle ground, check out more advanced versions called Targeted Ketogenic Diet (TKD) or Cyclical Ketogenic Diet (CKD).
The ketogenic diet is a very low-carb, high fat diet. It can be a great tool to lose weight and improve blood sugar control, likely due to reducing caloric intake (from cutting out processed foods and alcohol) and improved satiety. Remember to allow yourself a few weeks to adapt, be prepared for some adverse symptoms, and ensure adequate sodium and mineral intake. (If it sounds a little too daunting, you can achieve a lot of the benefits by simply cutting out processed foods and alcohol.)
The courage to try something new can make you proud.
In this New Year the Keto Diet will be front and centre again in blogs, media and the news. If it sounds like the right diet for you, by all means, jump in with both feet and test-drive it yourself.
If you enjoy it, keep it up and start to individualize your approach. If after a month or so you find it too restrictive, then loosen the rules and add more carbs back into your diet (just make sure they’re whole food “healthy” carbs!). Either way, great job taking an active role in your health. Enjoy the journey!