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The keto diet (which is short for ketogenic diet) is everywhere you look right now.
Want to lose weight? Try keto!
Want to get rid of brain fog? Keto can help!
Want to get off our blood pressure or blood sugar meds, or at least lower the dosage? Keto is your answer!
Want to heal your autoimmune disease? Eat the keto way!
But Is The Keto Diet Everything They Say It Is?
I had heard about the keto diet quite a while ago but became interested when a few friends tried it, lost weight, and said they felt great.
Since I wouldn’t mind losing a few pounds myself (and who doesn’t want to feel great?!), I thought I would look into it. After all, I love foods like veggies, bacon, butter, and avocado.
What Is The Keto Diet?
The keto diet isn’t new, its been used since the 1920s to treat people with epilepsy.
While many still believe the keto diet can help manage epilepsy for some, a number of those following this diet today are looking to lose weight, lower blood sugar, or become healthier by changing their eating habits.
By eating a keto diet they are trying to get into ketosis. That is when your body uses fat for energy instead of sugar or protein.
*This is not the same as ketoacidosis which is a dangerous health problem that diabetics can experience where insulin level is low but blood sugar levels are high.
Keto Basics- How Does It Work?
Dr. Sara Gottfried explains ketosis well. She says, ” Ketosis refers to a metabolic state in which most of your body’s energy comes from ketones in the blood, as opposed to glycolysis, in which energy supply comes from blood glucose. Ketones are made in the liver when there are not enough carbohydrates to be burned for energy demand, so the body turns to fat for energy. The body enters ketosis when blood sugar levels are below a certain level, and liver glycogen is no longer available to produce glucose for energy”.
Reaching ketosis can take two to four days, but this is different for every person.
To know for sure that you have reached ketosis you can buy a ketone monitor and check blood levels. It is also possible to buy testing strips for urine or a breath monitor.
What Exactly Do You Eat?
Keto is a high fat, moderate protein, and low carbohydrate diet.
Here are a few basic guidelines:
- 60-80% of your daily diet should consist of healthy fats (avocado, butter, cream, eggs, coconut oil, cheese, greek yogurt, cottage cheese)
- 20% (or somewhere near that)should be healthy protein sources (wild-caught fish, grass-fed beef, organic and free-range chicken, and wild game)
- 5-10% of what you eat would be carbohydrates. This should be in the range of 20-50 grams of carbs per day. Ideally, these would be healthy carbs that come from fruit and vegetables.
The keto diet has been praised by many as a cure for everything from brain fog to cancer. Since ketones are great fuel for the brain, there is some evidence to suggest that this way of eating could be beneficial for neurodegenerative diseases.
Keto Benefits May Include:
- lower blood sugar levels
- fat loss
- reduction or elimination of seizures
- helps eliminate brain fog
- slowing of Multiple Sclerosis progression (as in the case of Dr. Terry Wahls)
- slows the advancement of Alzheimer’s (which is now sometimes called Type 3 Diabetes)
Some doctors and scientists even believe the keto diet should be studied for the treatment of cancer. Since it is known that cancers have different causes and some are more sensitive to sugar, the keto diet may be of help to people in conjunction with other treatment.
Risks Of The Keto Diet
With so many people reporting such great results it’s easy to forget that no one way of eating is good for everyone.
And the keto diet isn’t without risks.
For women especially, very low carb diets, like this one, can wreak havoc on hormones.
Some people experience a rise in cholesterol numbers and inflammation.
Some have also had side effects such as blood sugar numbers not improving but getting worse, abnormal mineral or electrolyte levels, or an actual increase in fat.
*It should also be pointed out that the length this diet is considered safe is up for debate.*
Some doctors believe that as long as you monitor your health numbers, a person could stay on this diet for quite a long time. Others do not believe it is safe to stay on for more than 6 months unless you are under a doctor’s close observation.
Still Interested In Trying It Out?
So you’ve read about the benefits and risks associated with the keto diet along with the basic guidelines. If you’re still interested in giving it a try there are a few tips for success that I thought you might find helpful!
5 Tips For Success
1. Safety First
If you are changing your diet, for whatever reason, the main goal needs to be safety!
To stay safe and achieve your goals it would be a great idea to get baseline lab work done before you begin and then again after 2-3 months.
This way you can keep track of cholesterol numbers, inflammation, blood sugar, thyroid, adrenal, electrolyte, and mineral levels. If numbers start to go in the wrong direction, adjustments should be made.
You can ask your doctor for these tests or you can even self-order them. Whichever way you choose, just make sure you monitor your numbers!
2. Remember: High Fat, Moderate Protein
One of the mistakes people commonly make when following this diet is that they eat too much protein. The focus of meals should be on a large amount of vegetables, a good amount of fat, and low carb.
Protein intake should be moderate (and from healthy sources!) meaning it should not make up more than 20% of the calories you eat.
There are a few reasons experts warn about eating too much protein. First, if you eat too much protein your body will convert the amino acids into glucose and use that for fuel instead of ketones.
Second, for some, too much protein can be hard on the kidneys.
3. Avoid Alcohol
Certain kinds of alcohol in moderation is probably fine for a healthy person.
But, if you have blood sugar issues, a liver that doesn’t work optimally, inflammation, SIBO, an autoimmune disease, or are just not as healthy as you’d like to be- alcohol isn’t your friend.
If you are trying to get into ketosis, drinking alcohol will interfere. Not to mention, many drinks have huge amounts of sugar.
A definite no-no for any healthy eating plan.
4. Add Fermented Foods
Foods that are naturally fermented like kimchi, sauerkraut, and pickles are full of good probiotics and help with digestion.
This, along with drinking enough water, can help with constipation that some people experience on the keto diet.
5. Manage Stress And Give Yourself Rest
Changing your diet can be difficult, and not just because you may be eating different foods.
As your body adjusts you want to be sure to slow down on heavy exercise if you feel too tired, allow times for rest if you need it, and find healthy ways to cope with stress.
Too often we gravitate toward comfort foods and then overeat them when we are stressed.
But if you’re trying to get or stay in ketosis, having one high carb comfort snack can move you out of ketosis and it can take a few days to a week to get back.
If you do a little research, meal planning, and have healthy stress management options in place you can really increase your chances of success!
Not Sure If Keto Is For You?
It may not be. Not every way of eating is right for every person. In fact, there are some that should not try the keto diet.
If you fall into any of these categories the keto diet is most likely not healthy for you:
- If you are underweight
- Have an eating disorder
- Are pregnant or nursing
- Have diabetes (especially type 1)
- Have kidney or liver problems
- Are on medications (this should be discussed with your doctor)
- Have hormonal problems or irregular periods
- Are dealing with adrenal fatigue or thyroid issues
- If you are recovering from any surgery or illness
Three Alternatives To Keto
If you fall into one of the previous categories or just feel that the keto diet isn’t for you, there are still changes you can consider that will make a big difference in your health and well-being.
1. Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting is pretty simple. Basically, you eat all of your food in a certain number of hours and fast the rest of the day.
There is a lot of great research that supports fasting, and many people report experiencing a number of benefits.
There are various recommendations for fasting, such as eating in a 12-hour window and fasting for 12 hours. Others recommend eating all food within 8 hours and fasting for 16.
My advice is to start with a 12/12 ratio and work up from there.
Like the keto diet, there are people who should not fast for long hours so if you have any health concern be sure to research this further before jumping in!
(Friends with adrenal fatigue- this is probably not for you just yet!)
And always, always check with your doctor or health care provider if you are unsure!
2. Adopt A Whole Foods Diet
Adopting a whole foods diet can be used in conjunction with the keto diet, intermittent fasting, or on its own.
A whole foods diet is healthy for anyone, can be very healing to a struggling body, and is safe (and recommended!) for children too.
If you’re not familiar with a whole foods diet, just think about what your great-great-grandparents would have eaten.
They ate food they could grow.
Even if you don’t grow your own, you can still buy these types of food which would include: vegetables, fruit, meat, fish, some beans and healthy grains.
Try for organic, non-GMO options and steer clear of highly processed foods.
If you’re just starting- be sure to check your labels next time you go to the grocery store. These 17 foods are ones that you should cut out right away!
3. Combine A Whole Food Diet With Lower Carb (But Not Keto Low!)
With a whole foods diet it is possible to lower carbs but not go keto low.
Dr. Sara Gottfried mentions that women actually need carbs. She gives great information about how to find the right amount for your body.
She has found that if keto is not well tolerated, a moderate level of carbs (meaning 75-150 grams per day) along with a healthy diet, may be just what is needed to see positive changes in health without causing more problems.
A Few Final Thoughts About The Keto Diet
Some people have found great success from using the keto diet. Many have experienced benefits such as better blood sugar levels, more energy, a clearer mind, and weight loss.
But just like anything else in life, the way we eat cannot be a one size fits all approach.
We are unique and our individual needs vary based on hormone levels, the amount of stress we’re under, our microbiome, fitness levels, and so much more!
If you’re thinking of starting the keto diet make sure that you do some research, have a few important lab tests done for later comparison, and take the time to plan to ensure success.
No matter which way of eating you choose, I want to wish you good luck!
Crawford, A. (2019, March 20). Increasing evidence of a strong connection between sugar and cancer. Retrieved from Medical Express: https://medicalxpress.com/news/2019-03-evidence-strong-sugar-cancer.html
Gottfried, S. M. (2011, July 18). The Ketogenic Diet in Women. Retrieved from Dr. Sara Gottfried M.D.: https://www.saragottfriedmd.com/the-ketogenic-diet-for-women/
Gottfried, S. M. (2016, January 18). Dial in the Carbs: Choosing the Right Dose for You in 3 Easy Steps. Retrieved from Dr. Sara Gottfried M.D.: https://www.saragottfriedmd.com/dial-in-the-carbs-choosing-the-right-dose-for-you-in-3-easy-steps/
Hyman, M. M. (n.d.). Alzheimers=Type 3 Diabetes. Retrieved from Dr. Hyman: https://drhyman.com/blog/2016/02/12/why-alzheimers-is-now-considered-type-3-diabetes/
Wahls, T. M. (n.d.). KETOGENIC DIETS: HOW TO AVOID PITFALLS AND MAXIMIZE BENEFITS. Retrieved from Terry Wahls M.D.: https://terrywahls.com/ketogenic-diets-how-to-avoid-pitfalls-and-maximize-benefits/
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