In 2017, more and more people turned to the ketogenic diet, particularly for weight-loss purposes. While it can be effective for weight-loss, there are some watch-outs with this way of eating. Today I’m going to share what exactly the ketogenic diet is, what the pros and cons are and whether it’s a fit for you!
What Is The Ketogenic (or Keto) Diet?
The ketogenic diet is a way of eating where your primary source of calories is from fat. In addition to a high-fat diet, you eat moderate protein and very low carbohydrates. In fact, 70% of your calories should come from good sources of fat, 20-25% protein and only 5-10% carbs, which tends to be about 20-30g of net carbohydrates per day.
The definition of net carbohydrates is the total grams of carbohydrates, less the grams of fiber. For context, an apple has 25g carbs and 4.5g fiber, so its net carbs would be 20.5g.
By eating this way, your body enters a state of ketosis, where your liver produces ketones for energy through the break down of fat. When you’re not in ketosis (or following a regular diet) your body produces energy primarily from glucose.
What Are The Benefits of Going Keto?
I see cancer as being one of the most useful areas of interest for the ketogenic diet, ideally when done in conjunction with chemo/radiation.
According to Chris Kresser, “If we limit the fuels available for this process of fermentation, and the fuels are glucose, which is derived from carbohydrate in the diet, and glutamine, which is derived from protein in the diet, then we can actually starve cancer cells and either improve the results of conventional treatment or perhaps even address some cancers independently without conventional treatment.”
Why this is so effective with cancer is that cancer cells feed off glucose. When you shift your energy production to ketones, vs glucose, cancer cells cannot utilize ketones as fuel, but our healthy cells still can. So, effectively you are starving the cancer cells while feeding your healthy cells. It’s a win-win!
2. Weight-Loss, Diabetes and Insulin Resistance
Low carbohydrate diets are proven to work effectively for weight-loss, particularly if you carry weight in your midsection – which is a sign of poor blood sugar management. Those with type II diabetes or insulin resistance can also benefit from a low carb diet. The ketogenic diet can decrease triglyceride levels, LDL cholesterol, and blood glucose, and increase the level of HDL (good) cholesterol.
Treating epilepsy was where the ketogenic diet first originated. In fact, the ketogenic diet isn’t actually new – it’s been around for decades for its effectiveness in treating epilepsy. Doctors noticed that when children with epilepsy were put on a ketogenic diet, their seizures immediately stopped.
What Are The Watch-Outs of Going Keto?
Ketosis is not a natural state to be in and not one that you want to stay in long-term. Most traditional hunter-gatherer societies were at about 30-40% carbohydrate intake, even if they were grain-free and getting their carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables.
There isn’t a lot of research on doing ketosis long term. Also, for certain groups of people, ketosis could actually cause more harm than good. For example, someone with adrenal fatigue may actually worsen their symptoms by increasing cortisol when following a low carbohydrate diet.
For pregnant women, carbohydrates are actually critical, particularly in the first trimester for adequate fetal brain development and growth. Also, you know how important gut health is to your overall health, and when you eat very low carbohydrates, you’re often restricting the food that your good bacteria feed on.
I’ve had clients come to me with seriously irritated digestive tracts after following the ketogenic diet for too long because they’ve actually starved the good bacteria because the diet is so low carb. This can potentially do as much damage as antibiotics!
Finally, in order to make a diet (way of eating) work long term, I really believe it has to be possible to live your life and still be on the diet. AKA – you’re not going into hibernation because you can’t eat a single thing out at a restaurant or at your friend’s house for dinner. Eating out keto is not impossible, but is definitely not easy.
My Overall Recommendations:
- Don’t start the ketogenic diet without the guidance of a qualified medical / healthcare practitioner.
- If you are want to do the ketogenic diet for weight-loss, start with a paleo style diet for a few months as it’s much less extreme, and still has the same health benefits.
- If you’re looking for a plan to lose weight, improve blood markers of cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar, AND a plan that makes healthy eating easy, quick and enjoyable, you can always check out the HEAL Weekly Meal Planning Program.
Mandy King is a holistic nutritionist and the founder of HEAL, a wellness company that provides corporate wellness, 1:1 nutrition coaching and weekly meal planning. Mandy leads corporate workshops for Canada’s top companies, including Google, Facebook & PwC, and helps health-conscious clients looking to heal their digestion, boost their energy and shed excess weight through healthy, delicious food. A self-proclaimed gluten-free guru, all of Mandy’s recipes are gluten-free and Celiac friendly.