PCOS

Ketogenic Diets are back

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.

Photo by  Katherine Chase  on  Unsplash

Photo by Katherine Chase on Unsplash

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.  

 

IN

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 

Avocado

Berries – raspberries, strawberries, blueberries blackberries, and other low GL berries

Other fats – coconut oil, high-fat salad dressing, saturated fats, etc.

 

OUT

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.

 

More on Stress from the Inside

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the body’s stress response, or “fight-or-flight” response. The article described what happens inside the body in a situation of immediate danger – the alarm phase. The changes I described are mainly due to the stress hormone adrenaline. It triggers a cascade of mechanisms designed to save our life. The effects of adrenaline are very short lived.

Another stress hormone, cortisol, kicks in right after adrenaline. It is produced in order to continue fighting the effects of a stressor long after adrenaline has worn off. Cortisol stimulates the conversion of protein into glucose to ensure that the body has a sufficient supply of energy even after the emergency stores of glucose have been depleted. For the same reason, it also continues to inhibit the functioning of insulin and sustains the changes to the cardiovascular system – among others elevated blood pressure and a fast beating heart – that are designed to transport oxygen and glucose to those cells that need them most in an emergency situation. Cortisol also helps us deal with emotional crisis, performing strenuous task and fighting pain and infection.

This is all extremely useful in an actual dangerous situation. Although physical danger is undesirable, it doesn’t normally go on forever. When it is over we can start recovery – again with the help of cortisol, which stimulates appetite and has anti-inflammatory properties. Eventually, all is well again and we move on.

Yet, today’s stressors are different. We are – luckily! – rarely under physical threat these days, but most of us are stressed, some of us often, some of us all the time. What this means is that our adrenal glands, where stress hormones are made, have to continuously churn out those hormones, with hardly any break, and in the long run, this can have serious consequences. If cortisol is constantly or very frequently present in the blood stream:

  • Blood pressure is high.
  • Insulin function is impaired, which over time can lead to diabetes II.
  • The heart beats fast and works overtime.
  • We are on high alert, which interferes with concentration and can contribute to anxiety.
  • Digestion is erratic at best.
  • Fertility is on hold, because as far as the body can tell this is not a good time to procreate.

This is clearly not good! Prolonged stress really is not just tiring, unpleasant and a matter of the mind. It affects the whole body and can be at the root or at least a contributing factor to a whole host of chronic illnesses.

Stress is often seen as “busyness to an unpleasant degree”, but having to rush around all day long is not the only and not the worst stressor by far. Technically, almost any change in our environment is a stressor: hot or cold, physical trauma such as illness or injury, stimulants such as caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes and sugar, environmental toxins (including exhaust fumes, pesticides, chemical exposure from furniture, cosmetics etc.), even exercise, if excessive. Then there are emotional stressors, like bereavement, divorce, bullying, job loss, debt and more.

Apart from the effects continuous stress hormone secretion has on the body, it also affects the adrenal glands, where they are made. For one, these little glands that sit on top of each of your kidneys, have other jobs as well. They make a wide range of other hormones besides stress hormones, too. If the adrenal glands are busy making stress hormones for a long time, this takes up most of their capacity and other hormones fall by the wayside. Remember: acute stress is meant to be a priority (and short-lived), so all efforts are diverted to them.

Stress hormones also hog the “raw materials” other hormones need: Cortisol and ultimately the sex hormones progesterone, oestrogen and testosterone are made from a hormone called pregnenolone, which in turn is made from cholesterol. If all the pregnenolone is diverted towards the production of cortisol, this will have a knock-on effect on sex hormone levels: think premenstrual syndrome (PMS), polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), fertility, libido and more.

Co-factors required for other hormones, too, are going towards the production of stress hormones. Stress uses up vital vitamins and minerals that will be missing elsewhere.

If stress persists over years and years, the adrenal glands can wear out and struggle to produce any hormones at all. You’d feel very tired and exhausted to the extent where even sleep does not refresh you enough, struggle to concentrate, and might even experience depression. It is possible to recover, but it may take a long time. After all, it took a long time to get to this stage, too.

So, what to do? Watch this space! While you wait, you may want to subscribe to Nutrilicious News. Tomorrow's contains a yummy stress-busting recipe, which is easy to make, as always. There'll also be a breakdown of what it is that combats stress in this particular recipe.

If you suffer from stress and its physical manifestations, if you are suffering from stress-related illness, why not book a personal health and nutrition programme with me at The Body Matters in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex?