by Alex Del Duca, Naturopathic Graduate
What is the Ketogenic Diet?
The ketogenic diet was first developed in 1924 by Dr.Russell Wilder of the Mayo Clinic as a treatment for epilepsy. This diet is about managing and manipulating your macronutrients. This entails restricting carbohydrates and emphasizing most calories from fat and some calories from protein. A standard Ketogenic diet consists of: 60% of calories from fat, 35% of calories from protein and 5% of calories from carbohydrates.
How does the Keto Diet work?
Carbohydrate restriction forces our bodies to burn fat as fuel. Our bodies favour carbs as fuel because they are most easily turned into energy. Carbohydrates are found in many foods that contain grains, starch and sugar such as potatoes, rice, breads, fruit and sweets. Carbohydrates are metabolized into glucose to feed our cells. While glucose molecules are easily absorbed and used as energy, any excess molecules are stored in the form of body fat.
When we change our diet to reflect a keto meal plan we change our body to use fat as our main energy source. This puts our body into a state of ketosis. This process keeps our blood sugar and insulin levels low as we begin to burn ketones for energy instead of glucose. The deficit of carbohydrates will cause convert our fat cells into ketone bodies. The ketones fuel the many systems of our body.
How we get our bodies in ketosis?
The process can take up to 3 days while maintaining a strict ketogenic diet and can be maintained for a number of months depending on the person’s health.
Food to avoid – any foods that have high glycemic index including pasta, rice, grains, starchy vegetables (ex. potatoes) and sweets. High fiber foods such as beans and legumes are also not allowed, as the carbohydrates will also breakdown into glucose.
Foods to eat – foods that are rich in fat, moderate in protein and low in carbs. This includes meat, fish, eggs, plant based oils, nuts, seeds, dark leafy greens, avocados, some dairy foods and many more.
Supplements – There are products that can help increase variety and ensure adequate nutrition throughout the diet. MCT or Medium Chain Triglycerides, greens (veggie) powder, fibre supplements, electrolytes, probiotics and a multi-vitamin are all important considerations.
Potential Health Benefits of Keto Diet
Short term involvement in a ketogenic diet may help reduce cardiovascular risks, maintain control of blood sugar in diabetic patients and aid in weight loss. Recent studies have revealed people suffering from traumatic brain injuries (TBI) fair better on a ketogenic diet.
Is Keto Diet right for me? Things to consider!
The ketogenic diet can be very difficult to follow for some patients as it is so restrictive. Since you are putting your body through a metabolic change, a lapse in diet could kick our bodies out of ketosis and a restart would be necessary. When starting the keto diet you may experience side effects such as breath odour, urinary and digestive changes, menstruation changes and an increase in thirst.
Balancing of Omega 3, 6 and 9 fats are important to consider when consuming higher amounts of fat. Many individuals rely heavily on animal based fats and proteins which contain saturated fats. In the ketogenic diet, it is controversial about the negative impact of these fats in relation to chronic disease over time. Increased levels of saturated fats and Omega 6 oils can lead to worsening of inflammatory conditions and increase risk of chronic disease (as found in red meats, cured meats, vegetable oil, corn oil, soy oil, etc). Fish, which is higher in Omega 3 fats and plant based oils such as extra virgin olive oil are great options for people doing keto. Hydrogenated fats (ex. margarine) should be avoided completely.
Electrolytes are often overlooked by most people who are new to the diet – potassium, magnesium, calcium and sodium can all become depleted with a ketogenic diet. Supplementation may be necessary throughout the process.
Gut flora may be affected negatively throughout the process. Since we are not eating starches to feed our good gut bacteria our gut flora can have trouble thriving. Probiotics can help nourish our digestive systems.
Food sensitivities can also be a factor in this diet. Many individuals do not tolerate dairy well due to the lactose and casein. Over Consuming dairy can lead to negative digestive outcomes. If dairy is not an issue, opt for grass-fed dairy products when possible.
Your liver is responsible for making all the ketones. Therefore, in anyone with previous liver concerns – testing should be done to ensure your body can thrive on this diet.
Many healthy foods such as vegetables and fruits are neglected in the ketogenic diet due to the amount of carbohydrates and sugars amount in foods.
In the end the Keto Diet might be something to think about. Please remember though that it is ALWAYS recommended to speak to a qualified health practitioner before starting the ketogenic diet to determine if the diet is the appropriate choice for you. It is also not advised to be in a strict ketogenic diet for long lengths of time without medical supervision.
References available upon request.