There’s been a lot of buzz around the “Keto Diet” for a while now. So, what’s the skinny on “Keto?” Is it healthy? Is it not? How do I start? Let’s take a look.
Disclaimer: I’m neither a nutrition coach nor a personal trainer so any information contained herein is for “entertainment purposes” only.
On a personal note:
I came to Keto in the midst of a life crisis. My weight had ballooned to 370 lbs and I was experiencing a lot of joint issues because of the weight. A good friend had been on Keto for a while and had lost a significant amount of weight, so I approached him and he graciously helped me build a plan and I lost 100 lbs on keto + gym in about 8 months time – from 370 lbs to 270 lbs.
The aim of a Ketogenic Diet (“Keto” for short”) is to dramatically decrease the amount of carbs one takes in daily and increase the amount of fat. It sounds counter intuitive, I know.
But fat is bad for you!
Well, not so fast…
The human body, for thousands of years, has used glucose (created by the break down of carbohydrates) to power metabolism. Said another way, glucose is a fuel our body uses to walk, run, and play. It’s like the unleaded gas to our combustion engine.
However, before the advent of farming, when the human diet largely consisted of meat, fat and whatever edible plants we could find, humanity was largely powered by Ketones – like steam power before steam power was cool again.
Ketones are produced by the liver from the breakdown of fats and they are the ONLY other source of energy our bodies can use besides glucose to maintain the metabolic processes necessary to ensure you can keep reading this blog (or any blog, for that matter.)
Well, as one trades out carbs for fat, a curious thing happens – after a few sputters, the body switches from running on glucose to running on these ketones. This process, your body’s switch over to ketones as an energy source, is referred to as entering “ketosis.”
It’s no coincidence that when we settled down and started farming we also became more fat.
So what is a Ketogenic Diet?
They typical American diet consists of 55-60% Carbs,
30-35% Fat, & 15-20% Protein.
A Ketogenic Diet will reverse the Fat and Carb percentages to look something more like this:
Some Ketoers may even further increase their fat intake and drop their carbs depending on their goals.
What do I eat on a Ketogenic Diet?
Better to answer this question with what you can no longer eat. A ketogenic diet excludes foods that are high in carbohydrates such as:
- wheat flour (bread, pasta)
- other grains
- most fruits
- candy and other sugary treats
I can hear you already and trust me, I threw an ever lovin’ fit!
…It will include veggies such as:
- Leafy greens
- Bell peppers (and other peppers)
- Brussels sprouts
And healthy fats such as:
- Olive oil
- Coconut (MTC) oil
- Avocado oil
- Chia seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sesame seeds
- Natural, no-sugar-added nut butters
Your protein will come from:
- Chicken, dark meat if possible
- Turkey, dark meat if possible
- Fish and seafood, especially fatty fish like salmon, sardines, tuna and mackerel
- Natural cheeses
- Unsweetened, whole milk plain Greek yogurt
- Whole milk ricotta cheese
- Whole milk cottage cheese
As you switch over, your body, being starved of carbohydrates, has only one option and that’s to start breaking down body fat and dietary fat into “ketones” to continue metabolism.
As the body enters ketosis some people say they experience “keto flu,” a 1-2 wk period of feeling sickly. I personally didn’t experience this. It was as if my body loved jumping into ketosis but that isn’t true of everyone.
Is it healthy?
The answer to this depends entirely on who you ask. There are fitness and nutrition experts on both sides of the argument, so it’s a grab bag. However, I do know that there is a “healthy” way to do Keto and an “unhealthy” way to do it.
For example, let’s imagine you have a huge green salad with all the veggies, turkey, cheese and a full fat dressing of your choice and a bunless hamburger piled high with bacon and covered with cheese sauce in front of you…
Both options are technically “keto” but only one is the decidedly more healthy option.
….You picked the salad, right?
Our bodies need the vitamins and minerals found in veggies to function properly. That’s one of the ways ketoers get into trouble on keto is that they eat way fewer veggies than they should and opt more for the fat and meat. That’s a keto-no-no.
Delicious as it may sound, lots of people choose the hamburger/bacon, cheese sauce option daily and…they end up with gall stones, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Keto can and is frequently done wrong which gives the keto diet a bad rap.
Matter of fact, keto expert, Dr. Eric Berg, suggests no less than a daily intake of 7 cups of leafy greens a day
Who is Keto For?
My best advice is that, short of having pre-existing liver, kidney or gall bladder issues, Keto is best utilized by people needing to loose a lot of weight quickly. But…bodybuilders use keto to shred fat just before competition too.
Is it sustainable?
That’s also going to depend on the person. My buddy, the one who helped me start, is still going strong. It’s sustainability is going to largely depend on the severity of your personal addiction to carbs and sugar and any adverse health effects you might sustain from not using the keto diet properly.
On the other hand, some people do everything right and still have issues. Our bodies are different so you should monitor and adjust as necessary.
Now, since I went off keto, I’ve gained some weight back. Some of that is muscle as I’m still in the gym 3-4 days a week but some of it is fat. I allowed my sugar addiction to come roaring back to life and that’s squarely on me. But! I’m slowly getting back into the keto way of life so I can loose the rest of the weight I had intended to loose on my first round.
A Word of Caution
I allowed myself to become malnourished when I went into ketosis the first time. Because of the high fat content of the diet you remain saited for longer which causes you to eat less. As a result, there were days where I was only eating about 800 calories a day all the while working out 4 days a week. This resulted in silly muscle tears from things like: pulling the bed covers out from under me or resting a 25 lb weight on my stomach while I walked it back to the rack… so, if you do Keto you must EAT even when you don’t want to. Your body needs the calories even though you may not.
Also, keto may cause your bowels to change…so, heads up.
Will you loose weight on keto? Yes, absolutely you will! And if you are “morbidly obese” you should definitely give Keto a shot. But, as with any “diet,” you will gain weight back if you don’t have an exercise plan and a nutritional plan in place after you drop out of ketosis.
So, what it’s going to all boil down to is:
- proper intake of nutrient dense foods
- getting off and staying off sugar
- burning more calories than you eat via exercise
And that can be accomplished with or without a ketogenic diet.
So, give Keto a try. If you do try it, try it for at least a month and EAT YOUR GREENS! Give yourself enough time to get past that “keto flu” period (if you experience it) and watch the weight melt away. Or, don’t…but if you need to loose a lot of weight it’s a fantastic way to get started. And if you really want to rev up the fat burning engine look into Intermittent Fasting. We’ll be talking about it soon.
Om, Baby! Om.