Chances are that you have read about the ketogenic diet (or short keto diet), that you know someone who swears by it, that you have seen ads pop up on facebook or the internet. Maybe you have read about doctors, nutritionists and fitness enthusiasts that swear that this is the way to eat if you want to lose weight. Maybe you have been asking yourself if this is the diet that will finally get you to lose that belly and make you slim?
But What is a Keto Diet?
In short, a ketogenic diet is a diet low in carbohydrates and high in fat. The ketogenic diet was originally used to treat epilepsy. On a ketogenic diet, the macronutrients are broken up as follows:
- 70-80% fat
- 10-20% protein
- 5-10% carbohydrates
Eating such a low amount of carbohydrates (like 50g a day or less) by avoiding starches, sugar and fruit keeps insulin levels low. As per the Diet Doctor (www.dietdoctor.com), a strict or ketogenic diet contains less than 20g of carbohydrates a day. A moderate low-carb diet has between 20g and 50g of carbohydrates a day and a liberal low-carb diet between 50g and 100g of carbohydrates a day.
What is a Ketogene?
Ketones are produced in the liver, from fat. They are then used as fuel throughout the body, including the brain. The brain is a hungry organ that consumes lots of energy every day, and it can’t run on fat directly. It can only run on glucose or ketones.
On a ketogenic diet, your entire body switches its fuel supply to run almost entirely on fat. Insulin levels become very low, and fat burning increases dramatically. It becomes easy to access your fat stores to burn them off. This is obviously great if you’re trying to lose weight, but there are also other less obvious benefits, such as less hunger and a steady supply of energy. Ketones are produced if you eat very few carbs (that are quickly broken down into blood sugar) and only moderate amounts of protein (excess protein can also be converted to blood sugar). The point is not to eat less calories, but to avoid foods that trigger an insulin response.
What to Eat on a Ketogenic Diet
Ideally, you would eat the following:
- organic eggs
- wild salmon
- organic poultry
- grass fed beef
- organic and fermented dairy products, cheese
- non-starchy vegetables
- raw nuts and seeds
- oils and fats such as coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, butter, ghee
You would want to avoid the following:
- refined and processed grain based foods such as cereal, crackers, bread
As you can see, any food that raises blood glucose and insulin levels is being avoided.
Cutting out these refined and processed starches is especially beneficial for our gut as bad bacteria thrive on sugars. By avoiding these starches you can starve the bad bacteria. As a result, many people experience improved digestion.
The Keto Flu
The first few days of eating a ketogenic diet can be quite difficult on the body. As you are using up your stored carbs, your body is desperately searching out for more carbs because that’s what it’s used to consuming. You’ll feel tired, achy, irritable, weak and sleepy, and experience poor workouts, lowered libido and constipation. It’s just like having a case of the flu. You can ease the discomfort of the keto flu by increasing hydration and pumping in extra electrolytes (sodium, magnesium, potassium).
Benefits of a Ketogenic Diet
Numerous studies have demonstrated that following a ketogenic diet promotes weight loss, body fat loss, improvement in insulin sensitivity, reduction in metabolic syndrome and improved blood lipid markers. In addition, studies confirm that being in a state of ketosis reduces appetite even when following a very-low-calorie diet. Reduction in appetite leads to fewer calories being consumed, which results in weight loss.
As insulin sensitivity can be restored on this diet, people with diabetes type 2 may benefit from it as well. It is also considered as a possible treatment for people with diabetes type 1. Although not all cancer types behave equally and human studies are limited, reducing glucose may slow down cancer cell growth as these prefer glucose as a fuel source. The ketogenic diet is also showing great promise for several other conditions, like improving acne and reversing PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome).
Negative Effects of a Ketogenic Diet
Apart from the ketogenic flu there does not seem to be a lot of disadvantages with this diet.
Individuals with liver disease, gallbladder obstruction or missing a gallbladder, those who take steroids (which increase blood glucose), lactating women and some athletes should not follow a ketogenic diet.
What About Long-Term?
As with any diet, a diet is only effective if you can actually stick with it. My advice would be to try and see if you like it. If it is too difficult (and giving up sweets, bread, pasta, rice and potatoes would seem quite an undertaking for many people), see if you can reach your weightloss / body composition goals and then gradually increase the amount of carbs/starches. What I definitely think we should try long-term is to avoid sugar as much as possible. Sugar has made its way into almost every processed food that we eat and has been shown to have many detrimental effects on our health. But that is the topic for another blog….
The Diet Doctor is a great source for free recipes. All of them are gluten-free, low-carb and without artificial sweetener.
Dr Eric Berg has hundreds of videos on you tube as well.