Ever heard of the keto diet?
Well it’s not really a diet at all, it’s more of a lifestyle. Keto is about optimizing your body’s potential and feeling the best you’ve ever felt in your life. It’s about real food, and only putting top quality ingredients in your body. This article is about covering the basics of a ketogenic diet and will give you a pretty good idea of what it’s all about. Let’s start by defining what ketosis means and how this all started.
What is ketosis?
“Ketosis means that the body is in a state where it doesn’t have enough glucose available to use as energy, so it switches into a state where molecules called ketones are generated during fat metabolism.” In other words, when going on an extremely low-carbohydrate diet or, when fasting for long periods of time, the body goes into a ketogenic state and starts burning fat as fuel rather than glucose. Although ketosis can be achieved with carb restriction and fasting, “ketosis is a normal metabolic process, something your body does to keep working”. It’s important to keep in mind that for people with uncontrolled diabetes (type 1 diabetes), ketosis is a sign of not using enough insulin and can become dangerous when ketones build up which is a dangerous state referred to as ketoacidosis. But for most of us who have a somewhat normal glucose utilization, ketoacidosis is not a danger.
When did this start?
The ketogenic diet was originally designed in the 1920’s as a treatment for epilepsy, and has resurfaced in the past decade in the nutrition and functional medicine world. But truly, ketosis has been man’s natural state for the majority of his existence on earth. That was, before the invention of agriculture and everything that followed. Think about it, throughout the history of mankind, when has man ever had access to so much sugar? And I’m not only referring to processed food and actual sugar, I’m talking about grains and fruits and even vegetables. Stumbling on a wheat or corn field or even a fruit orchard would have never been a possibility up until the last 10,000 years. And you might think that’s a long time, but truly 10,000 years is a very small segment of human evolution. For the majority of our existence as a species, we have lived on the meat of animals we hunted, wild fruits, vegetables and plants. And even wild fruits and vegetables were scarce. For the most part, we lived off meat.
At this point into reading this, you must be thinking this is a crazy diet that makes you eat 3 pounds of meat every day and doesn’t allow for anything else. Or, you might be wondering what’s in if for you, and why you would ever consider giving up your beloved carbs. So, in order to ensure most of you find at least one good reason to consider this lifestyle, I’m giving you a list of all of it’s mind-blowing benefits. Here are a some solid reasons why you should give keto a shot:
The health benefits of a ketogenic diet
- Eating more fat keeps you full. That’s just a fact. It’s also the reason why low-fat diets don’t work: you’re always hungry! “One of the best things about eating low-carb is that it leads to an automatic reduction in appetite. The studies consistently show that when people cut carbs and eat more protein and fat, they end up eating much fewer calories.” The reason behind this is mostly related to your hunger hormones: leptin and ghrelin. Leptin is responsible for sending the “I’m full” signal to your brain, and guess what: the more dietary fat you ingest, the more leptin is secreted (most obese people are leptin resistant). Ghrelin on the other hand, is in charge of signaling hunger, which has been shown to be less present in people eating a ketogenic diet.
- Weight Loss. Obviously, weight loss is a direct side effect of what we just talked about above, but there’s another reason why weight loss happens on keto: when you eat more fat, you burn more fat. Weight loss will (if you have weight to lose) happen naturally, without you having to restrict calories or starve yourself. Keep in mind that this only applies if you restrict carbs. If you eat a high-fat annnd a high-carb diet at the same time, you will have a disaster on your hands. “By limiting carbohydrate intake, the body exhausts its stores of muscle and liver glycogen and must break down stored fats to provide energy to support normal metabolic activity.” I don’t know about you but burning more fat sounds like a good plan to me.
- It reduces your blood sugar and insulin levels. “When we eat carbs, they are broken down into simple sugars (mostly glucose) in the digestive tract. From there, they enter the bloodstream and elevate blood sugar levels. Because high blood sugars are toxic, the body responds with a hormone called insulin, which tells the cells to bring the glucose into the cells and to start burning or storing it. For people who are healthy, the quick insulin response tends to minimize the blood sugar “spike” in order to prevent it from harming us. However… many, many people have major problems with this system. They have what is called insulin resistance, which means that the cells don’t “see” the insulin and therefore it is harder for the body to bring the blood sugar into the cells. This can lead to a disease called type 2 diabetes, when the body fails to secrete enough insulin to lower the blood sugar after meals. This disease is very common today, afflicting about 300 million people worldwide. There is actually a very simple solution to this problem… by cutting carbohydrates, you remove the need for all of that insulin. Both blood sugars and insulin go way down. According to Dr. Eric Westman, who has treated many diabetics using a low-carb approach, he needs to reduce their insulin dosage by 50% on the first day. In one study in type 2 diabetics, 95.2% had managed to reduce or eliminate their glucose-lowering medication within 6 months. If you are currently on blood sugar lowering medication, then talk to your doctor before making changes to your carbohydrate intake, because your dosage may need to be adjusted in order to prevent hypoglycemia.” To summarize this, eating a keto diet will not only keep type 2 diabetes at bay, but it will reduce your fasting blood sugar, which in itself will protect you from countless illnesses and disorders.
- It protects your brain. “It is often claimed that glucose is necessary for the brain… and it’s true. Some parts of the brain can only burn glucose. That’s why the liver produces glucose out of protein if we don’t eat any carbs. But a large part of the brain can also burn ketones, which are formed during starvation or when carbohydrate intake is very low. This is the mechanism behind the ketogenic diet, which has been used for decades to treat epilepsy in children who don’t respond to drug treatment. (In many cases, this diet can cure children of epilepsy: In one study, over half of children on a ketogenic diet had a greater than 50% reduction in seizures. 16% of the children became seizure free.) Very low-carb/ketogenic diets are now being studied for other brain disorders as well, including Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.” Did you know that some researchers and doctors are now calling Alzheimer’s disease “Type 3 Diabetes”? Why? “In type 1 or 2 diabetes, not enough insulin (or none at all) is produced to process glucose (sugar) correctly or the body no longer responds to insulin, and it affects the functioning of the whole body. In Alzheimer’s disease, it appears that a similar problem is occurring, but instead of causing problems in the entire body’s functioning, the effects occur in the brain.” In other words: “People with diabetes are much more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than the general population, and it’s likely that this is a consequence of the diabetes itself (not just an association). Diabetes is primarily a disease of glucose (carbohydrate) metabolism, and there’s strong evidence that impaired glucose metabolism in the brain plays a role in the development of Alzheimer’s by depriving cells of energy. If your brain cells are dependent on carbs for energy, but your ability to metabolize carbs is compromised, your brain cells aren’t going to do very well. What’s more, some initial research suggests that ketogenic diets (which provide the brain with fat instead of glucose as fuel) may be helpful as a therapy.” So if you have no interest in going keto from a weight loss standpoint or even a nutrition standpoint, maybe keeping your brain healthy and disease free will be a good incentive ;).
- Add years to your life. “Numerous studies have shown that lowering your caloric intake may slow down aging, help prevent age-related chronic diseases, and extend your life. A 2010 study examined the effects of a high-fat diet on typical markers of aging. Study participants were given a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet with adequate protein, and the results were health improvements across the board. Serum leptin decreased by an average of eight percent, insulin by 48 percent, fasting glucose by 40 percent, triglycerides by nearly eight percent, and free T3 (thyroid hormone) by almost six percent.”
- It keeps your liver healthy. “Insulin, the hormone needed to digest carbohydrates and use them for energy, has a very important effect on liver health. Basically, insulin resistance is a physiological inability to handle eating carbs. And although it’s not totally clear which one is the cause and which one is the effect, insulin resistance and NAFLD/NASH go hand in hand.” It was found that “obesity-related nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a condition in which the liver becomes congested with excess fat. Untreated it can lead to liver damage and/or cancer. The standard recommendation for treating NAFLD is weight loss. Though the mechanism is poorly understood, short term adherence to the ketogenic diet has been shown to be highly effective in reversing NAFLD.”
- Prevent/Fight Cancer. “We know that cancer cells feed off of sugar. Therefore, a diet that eliminates sugar and other carbohydrates may be effective in preventing or fighting cancer. The regular cells found in our bodies are able to use fat for energy, but cancer cells cannot metabolically shift to use fat.” In other words, a ketogenic diet would literally starve off cancer cells.
I’ve listed several sources for you at the bottom of this article, so that you can do your own research and see that the ketogenic diet is not a diet but a lifestyle that is endorsed by many reputable doctors and health professionals. If you are a curious person like me and want to find out more, here are a few of my favorite websites that relate to the ketogenic diet:
- High Intensity Health is an amazing site where you can find a number of interviews with doctors and other health specialists, most of which pertain to a ketogenic diet
- Dr Perlmutter is a great source of information on brain health, diet and lifestyle
- BulletProof is basically the ketogenic hub, where you can find everything from recipes to podcasts to keto products
- Fatburningman is another site full of resources for anyone that’s curious about the keto lifestyle
There’s one more thing about the keto diet we need to touch on. Like any other diet (although I don’t like the word diet because it implies deprivation), the keto lifestyle can be done many different ways, and how you decide to approach it will be completely up to you, Here are some guidelines to get you on the right track:
Things you should eat when going keto: these are foods that nourish and heal your body and feed your gut microbiome.
- 100% grass-fed beef. Grass-fed beef contains so many important nutrients and has multiple health benefits
- organ meats. Liver, heart, kidneys, again, be sure the animal was grass-fed/pasture raised
- homemade bone broth made with pasture raised animal bones
- any meat that is pasture-raised and ethically raised
- sustainably caught wild fish (especially the ones that are low in mercury, ie: salmon, sardines, cod)
- pasture raised, fresh farm eggs
- lots of non starchy vegetables, especially leafy greens, ie; swiss chard, kale, spinach, dandelion greens, arugula, etc.
- vegetables high in sulphur, ie: onions, garlic, leeks, cauliflower, broccoli, etc.
- good quality fats: extra virgin olive oil, virgin coconut oil, avocado oil, avocados
- fermented foods: kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, grass-fed yogurt, etc
- berries, especially when in season where you live. They are super high in anti-oxidants and low in sugar
Things to eat in moderation: these are foods that are neither extremely beneficial or extremely bad for you and should be consumed in moderation.
- starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes, parsnips, celery root, turnips, etc.
- 100% grass-fed dairy products, go for the high fat stuff like cheese, cream and butter. *dairy can raise your insulin levels so eat sparingly
- nuts and seeds, although many have health benefits, they are also loaded with phytates (anti-nutrients) and should be consumed only after soaking
- legumes and whole grains are not typically very well accepted foods among the keto community, but again if they are soaked prior to eating can be eaten in moderation
- fruits, the lower the glycemic load, the better, eat them sparingly, and only on an empty stomach
- gluten-free flour alternatives such as arrowroot and tapioca, although better than wheat flour, are still high in carbohydrates
- a few squares of dark chocolate, only buy the 80% cocoa (or higher) and read your ingredients (no soy)
- a little bit of maple sugar, coconut sugar or honey added to some recipes won’t kill you once in a while 😉
Things to avoid at all costs: these foods make you more susceptible to illness and hormonal imbalances.
- commercial meats of all kinds that are not 100% certified grass-fed and humanly raised. Not only are you contributing to the unnecessary suffering of animals, but you are eating animals that were fed a completely unnatural diet, aka, gmo, round up, corn, and soy, which are super detrimental to your health (and the planet)
- any animal products that don’t come from pasture-raised animals, remember, we have eaten animals for hundreds of thousands of years, but those animals were never meant to eat gmo grains and as such have become unfit for human consumption
- modified vegetable oils such as canola, soybean oil and safflower. These oils are not only created with gmo grains and seeds through dangerous processes but are almost purely omega 6 fatty acids which trigger inflammation in the body
- anything that comes in a box and has a list of ingredients is pretty much a no-no, unless the ingredients are clean. That means: anything your ancestors wouldn’t recognize, aka, processed “food” made with unknown ingredients
- artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, sucrose and sucralose. They have been linked to different types of cancer and are far from harmless even though they don’t spike your blood sugar as much as white sugar
- gluten, because that stuff is poison. Even for regular folks who don’t have celiac or an intolerance, gluten, especially wheat, has been linked to a massive list of long term health issues
- soy and corn., they’re awful for your health, and even worse for the environment
Use these lists as tools to stay on the right track and as daily reminders, but also remember that each individual is unique and YOUR keto might be pretty different than mine. With that in mind, experiment, notice changes and grow your self-awareness, but above all, enjoy the journey to feeling the best you’ve ever felt in your life!