What is a Keto diet?
A keto diet is a diet composed of high fat, moderate protein, and very low carbohydrates.
What does this look like in terms of macronutrients?
Generally, high fat means that 60-75% of calories are coming from fat, 15-30% of calories from protein, and. 5-10% of calories from carbs.
The purpose of the ketogenic diet is to covert the body from using glucose from carbohydrates to provide energy, to ketone bodies which are supplied from breaking down fat and used as an alternative energy source.
Free fatty acids and glucose from gluconeogenesis are the main fuel sources during ketosis
Although the emphasis is placed on little to no carbohydrates during a keto diet, there is often a misconception on how much protein you can eat while sticking to the strict keto diet. A common misconception is that protein can still be eaten in high amounts, however, this is simply not true. Here’s why:
Protein can actually be converted to glucose through the process of gluconeogenesis. This is when new glucose (sugar) can be formed from substrates other than carbohydrates such as from certain amino acids (from protein), lactate and glycerol.
These metabolic pathways are used to keep blood glucose levels from dropping too low (hypoglycemia), and is triggered during periods of fasting, starvation, low carbohydrate diets and during intense exercise.
Is weight loss more effective on a keto diet?
Another important point to note is that people typically follow a keto diet because they have been told it is a quick and effective way to drop weight fast. Initially, this looks true but is often due to the body losing large amounts of water and glycogen (the storage form of carbohydrates).
Your body can typically store about 2 pounds of glycogen, and with that comes another 7-8lbs of water bound to glycogen. This can explain why people may initially experience a somewhat rapid 8-10 pound weight loss while following a ketogenic diet, however, this is not fat loss.
But won’t keeping insulin low (our fat storage hormone that is spiked when we consume carbohydrates), result in weight loss?
Unfortunately, carbohydrates are not the only macronutrient that spike insulin. Protein also has an insulin boosting effect. This is another reason protein should not be consumed in excess on a keto diet. Additionally, in terms of fat storage, a person can still gain fat on a ketogenic diet. This is due to the hormone, Acylation Stimulating Protein, or ASP. This hormone’s role is to stimulate fat storage in a caloric surplus, so if you are eating more than you are burning off on a keto diet, your body can still gain fat.
So what ARE the benefits of a ketogenic diet?
Firstly, I want to say that ketogenic diets do a good job and promoting satiety, as fat is naturally satiating. This can be a benefit of someone looking to lose weight who may have trouble in the first place with overeating and portion control. The downside is that since ketogenic diets are often limiting in carbohydrates and protein, fibre, which is abundant in fruits and vegetables, and protein, which is limited, can also do a great job an promoting satiety. This means that we can get the same satiating effects on diets that do not limit carbohydrates and protein. Protein also has the highest thermogenic effect when eaten, meaning our basal metabolic rate is actually very much increased with protein consumption and metabolism.
Another reason why a ketogenic diet may ‘work’ for weight loss is that it is very limiting. By removing foods that would typically trigger cravings and poor food choices, you will naturally put yourself in a calorie deficit resulting in weight loss.
There are, however, specific populations that have been shown to benefit from a ketogenic diet.
Literature shows that subpopulations including those with neurological conditions, those who suffer from seizures and individuals with diabetes can benefit from low insulin, ketogenic diets.
Why is a ketogenic diet not for everyone?
Firstly, I should state that I am not a fan of dietary extremes, that is on any level. I believe the best diet, for the most amount of people, is one that is balanced, rich in colours, phytonutrients, and health-boosting foods. The idea behind improved energy levels from a ketogenic diet comes from the idea that you will not have sugar crashes. However, with a proper, balanced diet this should not happen.
Secondly, Ketogenic diets limit the intake of many carbohydrate-rich foods that contain a number of benefits including vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and FIBER!
Cruciferous vegetables, for example, contain indole-3-carbinol that helps to detox our liver and remove excess hormones from the body
Sweet potatoes - rich in vitamin A and fibre to help boost the health of our eyes and skin.
Apples - contain apple pectin that helps to lower cholesterol
Blueberries - contain antioxidants that help fight free radical damage in the body, which will help slow the ageing process and wear and tear on our cells.
Thirdly, Women, in particular, need to be especially careful when following a low carb or ketogenic diet, as ketogenic diets can disrupt hormonal balance and lead to infertility.
Adequate glucose is actually needed to convert our inactive thyroid hormone T4 into the active T3 form.
Low carbohydrates available can also be seen as stress on the body, which of course will increase cortisol levels. Cortisol is the stress hormone that we try so hard to manage and decrease. Cortisol’s job is to INCREASE blood glucose levels when they are too low, or when we are in a state of stress. This places excess stress on the adrenal glands, which over time can become fatigued and disrupt our estrogen balance, which is also produced by the adrenal glands.
Lastly, Gut health is also affected, as our microbiome, or our body’s internal beneficial bacteria that keep us healthy, need a VARIETY of plant fibres and nutrients to support their biodiversity. When you limit your carbohydrate intake, this is not possible, and research has shown that high-fat diets can have a negative impact on our body’s microbiome.
If after all of these, you are going to try a ketogenic diet, there are a few things you should take into consideration:
1) Quality vs. Quantity
The problem I have with people jumping into kept diets is that some people don’t understand how the QUALITY of foods affects our health, not just the quantity. People think high fat and they immediately begin eating large amounts of butter and animal fats, without considering where their food sources are coming from and what impact this is going to have on their health. The quality of these fats is way more important than the quantity of these fats.
For my clients, I ALWAYS recommend grass-fed animals, free run, free of hormones and antibiotics. Grass-fed animals have been shown to have a much higher omega 3 content, which is one of the most potent anti-inflammatory fats that is extremely health-protective. If we are consuming stick loads of butter or pounds of meat from a cow that has been eating GMO grains, injected with antibiotics and hormones, this is going to be even more detrimental to our health than good!
2) Your Gut Health: why it is so important to overall health.
Our gut is actually our second brain. The enteric nervous system connects our gut to our central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) and is in constant communication with each other. This explains why mood and mental disorders such as depression and anxiety are actually gut-mediated, and not brain mediated. 70% of our serotonin production actually takes place in our gut. Serotonin is our body’s feel-good neurotransmitter that allows us to feel happy and satiated. If you are limiting your carbohydrate consumption, which is rich in pre-biotics, or foods that feed our gut bacteria, you may notice negative impacts on your mood and sex drive.
From a health perspective, 70% of our immune system is actually in our gut! When our gut’s beneficial bacteria are in balance, we are better able to break down and absorb the nutrients we consume and ward off harmful pathogens that lead to illness. A balanced gut flora comes from eating an abundance of fruits and vegetables, which supply those pre-biotic foods for our probiotics - beneficial bacteria.
The Take Home Message:
All in all, I am not a fan of ketogenic diets. There is simply not enough evidence to support any metabolic benefit in terms of fat loss or evidence to support that it does the best job at elevating our health, especially for women.
I think the best way to elevate health and promote fat loss is to truly address any underlying issues you may have FIRST. There is a saying that always stuck with me and it is, “get healthy to lose weight, don’t lose weight to get healthy”. Working with a health professional to ensure your hormones are in balance, your liver, gallbladder and digestive system are functioning optimally, and you’re at a good place mentally will do so much more good to your body than jumping into a limiting dietary extreme.
Eating a balanced diet, supporting your git flora, addressing any health imbalances and being in a consistent caloric deficit, is truly the best way to elevate health and lose fat.
If you are interested in working with me one-on-one to develop a diet plan that suits your health and dietary needs, check out the ‘shop’ section of my website for the various ebooks and one-on-one consultation packages I have.
Until next time,