What is the Keto Diet?
The ketogenic diet has exploded in popularity over the past couple of years. People are ditching carbs and sticking to a high-fat way of eating to help shed weight, but also gain control over certain health conditions. But, as with anything else, there are pros and cons of the keto diet which I am going to break down for you.
So, what exactly is the keto diet? The full name for this diet is the ketogenic diet. The goal of starting a ketogenic diet is to get your body into a state of ketosis where you are using ketone bodies for energy instead of carbs. This occurs when there is not enough glucose for the body to use, so your body will turn to an alternative fuel source, like fat. Your body will then take the fat stores, and your liver will break them down and then make glucose. During this process, ketones are formed and they can then be used as the alternative energy source your body is looking for.
The diet primarily consists of fat. You will be getting roughly 75% of your daily calories from fat, 20% from protein, and less than 5% from carbs.
Why Do People Go Keto?
Why would someone want to get into a state of ketosis? Many people start a keto diet as a way to promote weight loss. When your body is burning fat vs. glucose, your body is literally burning its own fat stores which often results in weight loss. Getting into a state of ketosis is often associated with a decrease in appetite as well which is another reason people may start this diet to help support weight loss efforts.
There are other health reasons someone may start a ketogenic diet. Blood sugar regulation is a big one. When you are eliminating most of the carbohydrates from your diet, and consuming more fat, you may have an easier time stabilizing blood sugar levels. This can be especially helpful for someone who may have been consuming lots of refined carbohydrates. However, the key here is to stick to healthy fats, clean protein, and lots of non-starchy vegetables. Ditching carbs and sticking to a high-fat diet doesn’t mean you should eat just any type of fat. Quality is a key component of properly following the ketogenic diet.
Another major reason people may go on a ketogenic diet is to help control epilepsy. In fact, this diet was created as a way to help control seizures before medications were around! The keto diet has been used to help treat epilepsy since the 1920s. (1)
I have also seen those who suffer from migraine headaches do well on a ketogenic diet.
It’s Not One Size Fits All
As with any diet, I truly do not believe there is ever a one size fits all. While the ketogenic diet may be great for some, it is not going to work for others. Those who should not follow a ketogenic diet would include pregnant and breastfeeding moms, anyone who is significantly underweight, young children, those with metabolic disorders, gallbladder disease, or those who are prone to kidney stones. Keep in mind that this is not an all-inclusive list. I encourage you to always speak with your healthcare practitioner before starting any new diet.
Since I specialize in thyroid health, I have also found that thyroid patients do not usually do well on the keto diet, as it is important for them to get enough complex carbohydrates into their diet for proper thyroid function. This is also why people have been known to experience thyroid imbalance when they first go keto. The diet can throw your thyroid balance out of whack.
Those who have the lipoprotein(a) enzyme may also not be great candidates for this diet. Having this marker in the blood may be key in determining the risk of heart disease. Following a high-fat diet like the keto diet, may increase this marker not making it an ideal option for those who already have elevated Lp(a).
There may also be some people who may do well on the diet with some modifications. The approach I happen to like is Dave Asprey’s, of Bulletproof, way to be Keto. The Bulletproof way is a cyclical keto diet and involves following a keto diet for 5-6 days a week, and then one day where you consume more carbs than usual. This helps to let your body know that it is not in a starvation mode, and refuels your body a bit. (2) I like this version of the keto diet because it also emphasizes the importance of consuming healthy fats as opposed to damaged fats. Some keto recipes you will find online are loaded with conventional dairy and damaged fats, and while they may be low in carbohydrates, these foods will still increase inflammation in the body. Instead, try consuming healthy fats like the ones listed in the chart below.
A cyclical ketogenic diet may also be very beneficial for those who are super active. When you are an athlete or have an intense workout routine, your body does well on carbs. I know there are many people that will not agree with the me on the need for carbs for athletes, but it is what I have observed with myself and with many of my patients. With that being said, I know there are also athletes that do well on a ketogenic diet, which is exactly why nothing is one size fits all.
Considerations to Keep in Mind
While the keto diet has been made to sound wonderful and a quick fix for weight loss, there are some things you will want to keep in mind. When you first start the ketogenic diet, you may go through something called the “keto flu.” This is when your body is going through a major transition from consuming carbs to significantly restricting them. Many people experience flu like symptoms, and some may even have side effects like poor sleep, extreme fatigue, and even hormone imbalances. Before you start a keto diet, work with a practitioner who can guide you in the right direction as to what you should be eating on a daily basis, and how to get through this unpleasant phase. For many, increasing their water intake, sipping on bone broth, and consuming more healthy fats can be very helpful.
Not everyone does well with this way of eating, and many people experience muscle cramping. Cramping often happens when the body is not getting what it needs. When you follow such a restrictive diet, your body may be missing vital nutrients, causing those unpleasant muscle cramps.
While there are some benefits to this diet, I do not believe it is the best long-term diet. However, with the right modifications, like the Bulletproof Keto version, it may be beneficial for some. I also want to stress that the ketogenic diet can be very dangerous if you are not getting enough of what your body needs. I encourage you to work with a Functional Medicine Practitioner and talk about how to make this diet work for you if it is something you are interested in trying. Since you are almost eliminating an entire food group, it is so important to make sure you are getting the right balance of nutrition for your body to work at an optimal level.
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I know exactly where you are because I’ve been there myself…I remember being so tired that I could barely function. I gained 30 pounds out of nowhere and had a severe case of brain fog. I also started to get severe anxiety and panic attacks. I was driven and motivated…until I wasn’t. I didn’t know what was happening to me. All I wanted was to get my life back…
Finally, I learned about functional medicine and found a practitioner that I hoped could help me. They ran specialized tests that were far different than I had ever had before. When I got the results back, it turned out I had candida, parasites, high cortisol, the Epstein Bar Virus and many food intolerances. I also had an issue with my thyroid that no one found before because they were using the conventional medicine lab ranges which are way too broad….which I now know is one of the leading causes of hypothyroid misdiagnosis.
I went through treatment of all of these things and it completely changed my life. I immediately lost the 30 pounds I had gained plus more, I had a lot more energy, and my brain fog was gone. I felt amazing and knew that I wanted to help people find the underlying causes of their symptoms and disease.
Ketogenic Diet. Epilepsy Society
Is the Full Ketogenic Diet Bulletproof? Bulletproof