Today’s post was written by Kendra Perry. Kendra is an functional diagnostic nutritionist (FDN) and also has a B.Sc. in environmental science, she blogs about real food and helps people get to the bottom of their chronic health conditions on her website CrazyHappyHealthy. Her blog also contains tons of valuable information on nutrition, healthy living, and delicious recipes as well! Today she is discussing the ketogenic diet which is a high fat, low carbohydrate diet. Read on to find out why you might consider following this diet, and how you can get started.
We have been told that to be healthy we need to restrict dietary fat. Most people believe eating a diet more than 30% fat is dangerous. Not only will it greatly increase your risk for heart disease but it will make you gain weight, right? If you were to follow exactly what the Canadian Government told you regarding nutrition, you would dutifully eat 6-8 servings of grain products a day and 7-10 servings of fruits and vegetables. You would likely limit fat intake since it doesn’t even count as a food group in the Canadian Food Guide. If you noticed the small print on fat you might include 2-3 tbsp of unsaturated oil a day.
How is that low-fat, high carbohydrate working for you? Maybe it is working for you, but for many people it is not. Most people on this diet struggle with weight gain, low energy, dry skin, and poor sleep.
What would you have if you took the Canadian Food Guide and flipped it on its head? You would have a very high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet and it might actually do you some good. This diet is known as the ketogenic diet. These days the diet is gaining interest for weight-loss, brain function, and increasing energy.
What is a Ketogenic diet?
The ketogenic diet has been around for over 90 years. It was designed in 1924 by Dr. Russel Wilder at the Mayo Clinic. It was found to be an effective treatment for children with epilepsy and other seizure disorders. It fell out of favour in the 1940’s when anti seizure medications gained popularity.
It is a high-fat, low carbohydrate, moderate protein diet. This combination of macronutrients changes the way energy is used in the body. When carbohydrates are limited, you body switches over to burning ketones, either from dietary fat or from stored body fat. Most people walking around these days are sugar burners meaning they burn glucose for fuel. We are told that the body needs glucose for energy and so does the brain. We obtain glucose from dietary carbohydrate which is broken down to give us glucose. But the body is capable of using another fuel source known as ketones. Ketones are manufactured from the breakdown of fat. The brain can also use ketones to fuel itself.
Here’s an anaolgy. Think of your body like a house. Glucose would be like putting sticks on the fire to heat your house. It doesn’t last very long and it requires you tending to the fire all day long. Glucose for fuel isn’t long lasting. If you are a sugar burner than you have to continuously feed yourself to keep from crashing. If you eat a muffin for breakfast then you will likely be starving a couple hours later. Ketones are analogous to putting a log on your fire to heat your house. It lasts a long time. You can get up and walk away and do other things besides tend to the fire. If you eat a breakfast high in fat, it lasts you many hours.
Humans evolved in a state of ketosis. Humans have survived through many different climates. During ice ages, there was limited or zero access to plants (carbohydrates). Humans survived on their hunting skills. Some humans may have even spent their entire existence in ketosis. Ketosis has allowed humans to survive through times of low food availability.
Ketosis should not be confused with Ketoacidosis. Many people get the two confused. Ketoacidosis is a unregulated state which occurs in type 1 diabetics who are irresponsible with their insulin therapy. When insulin is not present, ketones can build up in the blood causing acidosis. If you have any amount of insulin (which all people do) or are responsible with your insulin injections, then ketoacidosis should not be a worry.
What are benefits of a Ketogenic diet?
You can eat less food.
Hunger is the most common reason people give up on their diets. Carbohydrates do not keep you full for very long. Fat is incredibly satiating, which means it keeps you satisfied longer. A little fat goes a long way. You will no longer be a slave to your growling stomach and will be able to get by on fewer meals a day.
When you burn glucose, you need to use the hormone insulin in order for glucose to enter the cell. Insulin is a fat storage hormone which means many of these carbohydrates will get stored as fat. Ketones do not require insulin. Without carbohydrates and insulin, you won’t gain the weight.
HDL has been described in the media as the “good” cholesterol. High HDL cholesterol is associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. It turns out that dietary fat actually raises your HDL and reduces your risk of heart attack (source).
Reduced blood sugar and insulin.
High blood sugar and high insulin is not a good thing. Continuously high blood sugar is damaging and causes the constant output of insulin to keep levels down. Excessively high insulin levels can seriously hurt your health. They are associated with non alcoholic fatty liver, obesity, high blood pressure, polycystic ovarian syndrome, acne, heart attacks and cancer. Fat has a minimal effect on your blood sugar levels. High fat = Lower blood sugar = less insulin. Less insulin is better for your health.
Improvements in LDL Pattern.
Most people know LDL as the bad cholesterol. This is only half true. There are two types of LDL cholesterol, the small, dense kind and the light, fluffy kind. The small, dense kind is comparable to little hard pellets. These pellets have the ability to rupture the arterial walls and cause a blockage or heart attack. The light, fluffy kind are harmless. They just bounce around minding their own business. A ketogenic diet has been shown to increase your light, fluffy LDL while decreasing your small ones at the same time (source).
The brain runs at least 25% for efficiently on ketones as it does on glucose. The result is that many people experience improved cognitive function. Many people describe a ketogenic diet as “having the lights turned on.”
How do you Burn Ketones?
If you eat too many carbohydrates, your body will always choose to burn glucose. This is because it is the easier to use of the two fuel sources.The goal is to reduce dietary carbohydrates as much as possible so that your body is forced to burn ketones. This means eating a lot of fat! It can take some time to become keto-adapted. During the transition period (2 weeks to 2 months) you may experienced what is called, “keto flu.” As your body adapts you may experience low energy, headaches or constipation. This can usually be remedied with increased water and salt consumption.
Eat Moderate Protein. You body has the ability to break down protein into glucose via a process called gluconeogenesis. If you eat too much protein, your body will be unable to burn ketones. The key is to eat moderate protein or around 0.4-0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight. How much you eat in that range will depend on your level of activity.
Eat High Fat. You will need to obtain 60-80% of your daily calories from fat. This involves eating a lot of healthy fats, especially the saturated kind. Grass-fed butter, coconut oil, beef tallow, lard, dairy, red palm oil, avocado oil and extra virgin olive oil are all great choices.You should always avoid the industrialized vegetable oils like canola oil, soybean oil, corn oil, safflower oil, grapeseed oil and sunflower oil.
Eat Low Carbohydrate. This will vary for each person. Everyone is different and has a different carbohydrate tolerance. Some people, especially those with metabolic disorders, may need to keep there carbs below 20 grams per day. Other people may stay ketotic on 50 grams or less a day. Some people may be able to tolerate as much as 100 grams a day.
Testing your Ketones
Testing your ketones will let you know whether you are in a state of ketosis or not. There are three options. One is blood ketones, which is expensive and invasive. Urine strips are available but these are notoriously unreliable and a bad indicator once you have been in ketosis longer term. The best option, in my opinion, is the Ketonix Standard.
Should you try a ketogenic diet?
It depends. Everyone is different and what works for me might not work for you. If you have any sort of brain condition or symptoms, this diet may be extremely therapeutic. I know many people who thrive on this sort of diet but I also know some who didn’t like it. The only way to know is to give it a try and determine whether it can support your long-term health goals.
Note from Tawny:
Please keep in mind that if you are suffering from an autoimmune condition, the ketogenic diet is not recommended. There is not sufficient scientific data to suggest that the ketogenic diet is helpful for autoimmune conditions. If you would like to learn more, check out this article.
Thank you for reading this guest post from Kendra Perry. If you liked this article you should head on over to her website CrazyHappyHealthy and read more of her work. You can also like her facebook page to keep up to date with all her articles.
Have you tried the ketogenic diet?
I would love to hear your experiences in the comments below!