ROANNA MEDINA
Healthy Alternative
March 21, 2018

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE KETOGENIC DIET

KETO COVER

Title Photo by Jez Timms | Unsplash.com

With hashtags like #ketolife, #lowcarbhighfat, #losethebun and #fatadapted consistently showing up across social media among devotees and followers, spreading its growing popularity over the past few years, the Ketogenic “Keto” Diet is pushing over other weight loss fads, as it continues to gain a following for good reason: it results in rapid weight loss without the need to count calories.

However, like any new mainstream diet (it dates back to the 1920s but has only become mainstream in recent years), the scientific world doesn’t know much about its long-term effects. In addition, its rapid rise to popularity has made its basis a little more anecdotal. With people learning about it from personal success stories, the science behind it oftentimes get diluted as it gets passed on from one source to another, leaving some allowance from how it’s designed to be.

Because there’s a lot still that we don’t know, it’s best to discuss with your doctor whether the ketogenic diet is right for you. We are all unique individuals, hence a diet that works for other people may not necessarily work for you. The world of nutrition is one with a so many conflicting studies and arguments due to the fact that our bodies are all unique and different. Navigating through, and finding out what’s best for your own body comes with experimentation and practice, and taking each dietary theory as guideline rather than a guarantee.

So, what guidelines can we take away from the keto diet?

The Keto Diet is based on the process of ketosis in which the body uses ketones (a byproduct of fat metabolism) for fuel instead of glucose. Different from the Atkins Diet which only limits carbohydrate intake, the Keto Diet requires the body to reach a state of ketosis, where calorie intake must be limited and comprised of 80% fat. The remaining calories should come from low-carb vegetables and protein.

It doesn’t mean, however, that you should load up on saturated fats. Unfortunately, it doesn’t give free reign to eat all the chicharon or lechon that you can have, contrary to what a lot of people believe. Heart-healthy fats are the key to sustaining overall health. Some healthy foods that are commonly eaten in the ketogenic diet include:

  • Eggs (pastured or omega-3 whole eggs)
  • Fish such as salmon
  • Cottage cheese
  • Avocado (whole or freshly made guacamole)
  • Olives and olive oil
  • Other healthy oils (such as extra virgin coconut oil, avocado oil)
  • Nuts and nut butters (like almonds, almond butters, cashews and walnuts)
  • Seeds (flaxseeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, etc.)
  • Low-carb vegetables (such as most green vegetables, tomatoes, onions, peppers, etc)

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Photo by Charles Deluvio | Unsplash.com

Where the Keto Diet shines

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Photo by Patricia Serna | Unsplash.com

The Keto Diet helps us shift our body’s dependence on blood sugar for energy, enabling the breakdown of fat for rapid fat loss. It decreases our appetite and craving for sugar, and it has been proven in a lot of cases to reduce seizures in children, sometimes as effectively as medication. It may alleviate epilepsy, as well as boost insulin sensitivity, drastically improving type 2 diabetes and prediabetes, at least in the short-term.

Among all these, rapid weight loss is the primary reason most people use this diet. There is however some controversy when cholesterol levels are considered.

When it’s Unhealthy

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Photo by Stephanie McCabe | Unsplash.com

We have to remember that not all calories are the the same: 500 calories of grass fed meat has a different effect to our bodies compared to 500 calories of industrial farmed meat, for example. Hence our metabolic rate and our storage of fat and hunger are highly dependent on dietary composition and food quality. With a guideline that points to consumption of at least 80% fat, it could be easy to rely and be heavy on highly processed red meat and other trans and saturated fats, processed, and salty foods that are notoriously unhealthy.

Generally, food to be avoided when on this diet are:

  • High-carb vegetables
  • High-carb fruits
  • Grains
  • Beans
  • Sugar
  • Trans fats
  • Processed food

Also, there are still continuing studies being made to explore what shifting our energy dependence and cutting out certain food groups will eventually do to your body. Many dieticians and health experts therefore, don’t recommend staying on the diet permanently. 

Risks & Side Effects

A common side effect is what has been coined as the “keto flu” that includes poor energy and mental function, increased hunger, insomnia and sleep issues, nausea, digestive discomfort and decreased physical performance.

Other downsides of the diet include:

  • Unsafe for people who do not exercise because ketones need to be released as energy
  • May cause extreme fatigue during first two weeks
  • Bad breath and metallic taste is likely to occur
  • Difficult to maintain for extended periods of time due to its dietary limitations
  • Nutrient deficiencies common
  • Unsafe for people with type 1 diabetes. You may be at risk for developing diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), a life-threatening complication

As a result, individuals on this diet should be closely monitored by a health professional.

The Bottomline

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Photo by Carlo Verso | Unsplash.com

People have more control over what they eat, versus how much they eat, hence one of the key reasons the Keto Diet is greatly effective in cutting down bodily fat and weight is its removal of processed carbohydrates, processed sugars and nutrient-deficient convenience foods as options.

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Photo by Caroline Attwood | Unsplash.com

No matter what diet you end up adopting and choosing to guide your food habits, the quality and composition of the your food choices are what ultimately matter. Further, understanding how different your body is from the next and acknowledging its uniqueness allows you to trust it more than any external dietary guideline.

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Roanna Medina is an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach at The Healthy Row, the creator of SOL {Seed of Life} Spreads and an active student at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition which is considered the largest online nutrition school based in New York City. Her journey in nutrition started after being diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease which she reversed through diet and lifestyle changes. She has since made it her mission to help others live their most vibrant and healthy lives through a holistic approach to wellness.

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