You’ve probably read the headlines and wondered whether you should take the plunge if the results – steady and sustainable weight loss and improvement of health markers - are really that dramatic and that easy. But are they, though? This post will give you the inside line on what the diet involves, whether it’s healthy and even sustainable for ‘normal’ people. Here goes …
The ketogenic diet is the ultimate low carb diet. It advocates a moderate protein intake and is very high in fat. It is similar to the Atkins diet, but it as a more modern version of it, now with a solid scientific basis. Both are very low carbohydrate diets, but the Atkins diet tends to be higher in protein, whereas keto somewhat restricts protein in favour of fat. Recent research over the last decade or so has provided evidence of the therapeutic potential of ketogenic diets in many health conditions, including diabetes, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), acne, neurological conditions - particularly epilepsy - and the management of respiratory and cardio-vascular risk factors.
Although dieters tend to lose weight, there is more of an emphasis of the ketogenic diet as a therapeutic diet, which may improve compliance for those that follow it for health reasons.
Like the Atkins diet, the ketogenic diet aims at keeping the body in permanent ketosis. Let’s take a look at what that actually is …
Glucose is the easiest molecule for your body to convert and use as energy so that it will be chosen over any other energy source. Insulin – a hormone made in the pancreas – is produced to process the glucose in your bloodstream by taking it into the cells. It’s the fat-storage hormone produced in direct proportion to the type and quality of carbs consumed. When you lower the intake of carbs in your diet, you force the body into a state of ketosis.
Ketosis is a natural process that helps you survive when food intake is low. When in this state, you produce ketone bodies or ketones, which are produced from the breakdown of fats in the liver. They are an alternative source of energy, when glucose is not available. Energy from ketones works just as well and feels no different – better, if anything, and the brain actually prefers ketones.
What do you eat?
The ketogenic diet is largely based on protein and fat, and is filling and satisfying. This means no hunger cravings and consistent energy levels.
The downside is the diet is very strict. Cutting out carbs means more than just avoiding the bread, pasta, rice and potatoes that we think of as carbohydrates, but also other foods including many fruits and a number of starchy vegetables and even some nuts, such as cashews. What you might not be prepared for is having to cut back on alcohol. It’s not about cutting it out entirely – spirits are OK, but you have to watch the sugary mixers, and champagne and wine are not so bad in moderation, but a lot depends on your individual sensitivity to carbs. Your favourite cappuccino or latte may also be out.
Meat, fish, poultry, eggs.
Leafy Greens like spinach and kale.
Above-ground vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, leeks, peppers, etc.
High Fat Dairy like hard cheeses, cream, butter, etc.
Nuts and seeds
Berries – raspberries, strawberries, blueberries blackberries, and other low GL berries
Other fats – coconut oil, high-fat salad dressing, saturated fats, etc.
Grains like wheat, rye, oats, corn, rice, barley.
Pulses such as chickpeas, soya, kidney beans, lentils.
Sugars: honey, agave, maple syrup.
Fruit like apples, bananas, oranges.
Potato, sweet potato, carrots, beetroot, etc.
Getting into ketosis
For most people, a ketogenic diet means that carbs are restricted to no more than 20g per day, however not everyone is equally sensitive to carbohydrates and some can get away with up to 50g. You’ll have to test where your carb threshold lies by measuring ketone bodies in the urine, blood or breath.
You might be reading this thinking, ‘I can do this’, but the reality can be very testing. It can, in fact, take 4 weeks to get there and during the transition period many experience ‘keto flu’ – flu-like symptoms, headaches, tiredness, and weakness. This happens when the body runs out of glucose and has not yet learned to switch to using fat for energy – that’s because it hasn’t had to for such a long time. Until you become ‘fat adapted’ (i.e. your body has re-learned to use fat), there is a period of low energy. It is this taxing time that can put people off.
The people that do best on a ketogenic diet are those with a really compelling reason to do it, perhaps one of the chronic health conditions this diet can help. The rest of us mere mortals may struggle to be committed enough to get into and stay in ketosis. At the same time, be aware that the ketogenic diet may not be for you, for example if you are on insulin or blood pressure lowering medication. Make sure to educate yourself first to be safe.
If you are keen to find out more about ketogenic diets or if you'd like to book a complimentary call to discuss which approach to weight loss would best suit you, please do get in touch.