There has been a lot of buzz about the ketogenic diet or the “keto” diet lately. So what exactly is the keto diet and is it the right diet for you?
What is the ‘Keto” diet?
Keto diet is actually not just the latest fad diet, it has been around since 1924, when it was developed by Russell Wilder at the Mayo Clinic as a treatment of childhood epilepsy.
The Ketogenic diet is based on macronutrient ratios and is referred to as the Low Carb/ High Fat diet. It is low in carbohydrates (5-10% of calories), high in fats (60-85%) and moderate in proteins (15-30%).
Your body’s preferred energy source is glucose, which we easily get from sugar and simple carbohydrates. Both have a high glycemic index, meaning the body can turn carbs and sugar into glucose rapidly. However, when glucose is not available, the body will break down fat stores and create ketone bodies, which are used as an energy source. To reach ketosis for optimal fat burning and weight loss, it is critical to minimize carbs (25-50 grams per day) and increase fat intake.
How do you know when you are in Ketosis?
The most reliable way to determine if you are in the fat burning state (ketosis) is through a blood spot test. There are also urine and breath tests, however, they don’t give accurate depictions of your blood-ketone levels and don’t measure the right kind of ketones. It may take 2 to 3 weeks for ketosis to optimize (ketones 1.5-3.0 mmol/L). Ketosis is also associated with the following symptoms;
- Increased urination
- Increased thirst and dry mouth
- Appetite suppression and weight loss
- Increased focus and energy
- Bad breath
What to eat & what NOT to eat:
Avoid: foods with a high glycemic index (i.e. juice, sweets, cereals, white rice/pasta). Beans, legumes, and root vegetables are too starchy and should be avoided as well. Fruit is typically avoided, except for occasional berries, which are lowest in sugar.
Allowed foods (focus on organic and grass-fed):
- Dairy (plain high fat yogurt, cottage cheese, cheese)
- Meat and poultry
- Nuts & seeds
- Healthy oils (i.e. coconut, avocado, extra virgin olive oil)
- Veggies above ground (i.e. leafy greens, cruciferous, nightshades)
- Butter and cream
- Coffee and tea (unsweetened)
The keto diet is not only effective for weight loss and insulin resistance, it has been used to prevent and treat the following conditions:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
- Some cancers (i.e. brain tumor)
Possible adverse effects:
At the beginning of the diet, one may experience adverse effects, also referred to as the “keto flu”. A lot of the symptoms are similar to the flu symptoms, and are caused by the body adapting to the new diet consisting of minimal carbohydrates; less than 50 grams per day. This drastic reduction can come as a shock to the body and may cause withdrawal-like symptoms, similarly to when weaning off an addictive substance, such as caffeine. A lot of the symptoms are also due to electrolyte imbalance and dehydration, and they usually resolve within a week or two.
The following are ‘keto flu’ symptoms, and they can vary in intensity;
- Digestive concerns (i.e. constipation, diarrhea, heartburn, nausea)
- Muscle cramps
- Heart palpitations
- Reduced stamina and fitness
- Hair loss – likely due to nutrient deficiencies. Make sure to eat a good variety of foods and enough protein, without restricting calories too much.
- ‘Keto rash’ – this itchy skin may be due to ketone bodies excreted in sweat. Taking showers immediately after sweating or wearing sweat absorbent clothes can help.
The good news is that there are ways to minimize these flu-like symptoms and support your body through the transition period.
– Ensure you are drinking lots of water and getting in enough electrolytes, which can be found in leafy greens, avocados, nuts and seeds. Coconut water is a great way to keep you hydrated and replenish your electrolytes. It is especially important to rehydrate if you are experiencing diarrhea.
– Avoid strenuous exercise and get good quality sleep, aiming for at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night. Your body is using up a lot of energy in this transition period and if you are feeling exhausted, then listen to your body and get as much rest as possible. However, light activity such as; yoga, leisure walking, biking or swimming may actually improve symptoms by increasing circulation.
If you are having a hard time adapting to the Keto diet, then you can try cutting back on the carbohydrates gradually, while increasing fat and protein in your diet.
The ketogenic diet is a popular and effective way in shedding those extra pounds. However, this diet is not for everyone. There are risks associated with it, especially if used long term. Stay-tuned for the next article to learn more.
Request a consultation with Dr. Tatiana, ND for more personalized guidance.