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The Ketogenic Diet

keto-2019I don’t know if you’re like me, but I start to get confused and overwhelmed with all of the diets out there, each one the BEST, and all of the others HORRIBLE. I mean, it’s hard to figure out what’s actually healthy with so much noise. I’m going to break down the basic elements of keto to demystify and provide clarity about this way of eating.

The ketogenic diet has gained so much popularity and appeal, it’s spreading like wildfire.

I’m not totally surprised, it boasts some pretty incredible benefits:

It’s anti-inflammatory (and since chronic inflammation is the root of chronic disease – this is a BIG deal)

It burns body fat and turns down feelings of hunger (hello weight loss)

It turns on genes that increase mitochondria in the brain – that means more energy, more brain power and better memory (yes, please!)

Can help some types of cancer (cancer cells like glucose, so keto starves them)

Helps prevent heart disease

For more information on the benefits, check out this (awesome article – https://ketoschool.com/the-43-health-benefits-of-ketogenic-dieting-in-addition-to-weight-loss-1e4ee4743f1f) from KetoSchool

The problem with this, is that many people are adopting the diet without knowing what keto really is. The ketogenic approach involves an intense metabolic shift, and this is why adopting the wrong practices around keto can be devastating to your health.

There are way too many people posting junk “keto foods” and spewing intense dietary dogma, and frankly – it’s frustrating to watch. I want to break down the diet for you, and talk about my favorite healthful ways to approach keto.

What is keto?

The ketogenic diet is not new It has been around since the 1920’s. It was introduced to the world as a treatment for children with epilepsy. In fact, it was so effective that it was a widely used, standard treatment for epilepsy.

So why did it seemingly disappear until recent years?

Pharmaceuticals companies came up with a much more lucrative method to treat seizure disorders – DRUGS.

Over the past few decades, the diet has regained its popularity, though the scope of its use has widened significantly.

Many patients with neurological disorders from seizures to multiple sclerosis still benefit greatly from the effect of a keto diet, though keto is now being praised for its therapeutic effects in weight loss, insulin resistance, and a multitude of other clinical disorders.

The ketogenic diet is a way of eating that promotes a metabolic shift from burning glucose (sugar/carbs) for fuel, to burning ketones (fat) for fuel. This process is called ketosis, and is the goal of switching to a keto way of eating.

The diet involves eating high levels of fat, moderate levels of protein, and keeping carbohydrates low – below 50 g/day.

Here’s the deal – our body prefers to burn glucose for efficiency’s sake. This is why we don’t automatically use ketones for energy when we have adequate carbs in our system. The same goes for protein – if you eat more than “moderate” protein, you’re not going to switch into the fat burning metabolic pathway.

This is why measuring your food and balancing your macros is important when you’re following the ketogenic diet. In its purest form – the ketogenic diet is less a way of eating, and more a way of measurably changing your physiology.

Starting the Ketogenic Diet

Typically, when you start the keto diet, it is recommended that you use intermittent fasting (IF) and MCT oil to get into ketosis.

Intermittent fasting involves a narrowed eating window, and an extended fasting window. This can be done in different ways (read more about IF here – https://www.ballardfunctionalhealth.com/intermittent-fasting-everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-basics/) but helps kick start the process by allowing the storage of glucose to diminish – shifting our metabolism to burn fat.

MCT oil (or medium chain triglycerides) are typically derived from coconut oil, and sometimes from palm oil. Their structure is short, allowing them to be quickly absorbed and used for energy, unlike other forms of fat.

This is why they help speed up the process and get you into ketosis faster than say, just eating a stick of butter. The two best MCTs you want in your MCT oil are caprylic acid (C8) and capric acid (C10).

There are other “keto boosters” like exogenous ketones – but the research is unclear at best, so I urge you to look into the evidence before investing in these products.

Aside from using tools like IF and MCT oil, starting keto means kicking most carbohydrates (think bread, rice, quinoa, fruit, sugar, processed food, juice…you get the idea,) minimizing your protein to the appropriate amount (this calculator makes figuring your macros out super easy! – https://www.ruled.me/keto-calculator/,) and upping your fat to be the majority of your food intake.

Not all Fats are Good Fats

Unfortunately, the dogma of the diet spread a false representation of a healthy keto lifestyle faster than health practitioners could keep up with.

An ideal keto diet is rich in healthy fats like:

  • Omega 3 fats (read more here – https://www.ballardfunctionalhealth.com/omega-3-important-facts-you-need-to-know/)
  • Wild-caught salmon
  • Sardines
  • Herring
  • Mackerel
  • Halibut
  • Pollock
  • Fish roe
  • Walnuts
  • Flax seed oil
  • Dark green leafy vegetables
  • Grass fed butter
  • Ghee
  • Grass finished meats
  • Avocados
  • Coconut products (fresh, dried – with no sugar added, coconut milk, coconut oil)
  • Olive oil
  • Nuts and seeds (though these can be high in protein so they should be used moderately)

A healthy keto diet also includes a plentiful array of low carbohydrate vegetables like leafy greens (think kale, collards, lettuce, cabbage, mustard greens, etc.), and small amounts of low carb fruits like berries (blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, etc.)

These plant foods are extremely nutrient dense, and help provide the body with an array of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. Without them, you minimize your body’s ability to function at 100%. These nutrients provide cofactors for critical pathways in the body, and help with the process of reducing free radicals, detoxifying, and reducing inflammation.

The fastest way to boost inflammation in your body, increase toxicity, and harm your overall health goals is using keto the WRONG WAY.

Healthy ketogenic diets do not eliminate or minimize plants consumption, they do not include massive amounts of processed meats and cheeses, and they do not focus on processed foods (PSA not everything that has a cauliflower base is healthy…)

You may lose weight on a processed food keto diet, but you will not gain health.

Cyclical Keto

So now that you’re familiar with a healthy way to approach a keto diet, I want to discuss my favorite way to stay metabolically flexible.

Staying in ketosis 100% of the time is not always healthy, despite what that dogmatic guy on YouTube is preaching. Ketosis is an extremely effective therapeutic diet, but staying in a glucose-starved state for months or years at a time can be unfavorable for some people.

Lower levels of insulin are an amazing part of going keto, but biochemically, it can cause problems.

When we don’t have insulin over time, the liver responds by kicking out extra glucose (gluconeogenesis). This is why you may have higher blood glucose readings when you fast or go extremely low carb.
1. It can cause hormone imbalances, especially in women.
2.It can dry out your mucous membranes (no one wants gritty, sandy eyes)
3.It can disrupt the HPA-axis (the neuroendocrine connection – think “adrenal fatigue”)

If you try going into full keto and develop these issues, or they worsen – consider adding more carbs back into your diet or try cyclical keto.

This is my favorite way of eating, and allows flexibility in a diet that makes it sustainable and guilt-free…because come on…who wants to feel guilty about the food they eat?!

Cyclical keto involves a period of time where you eat more than 50g of carbohydrates. For men, 1 day a week is sufficient, and for women (especially those who don’t tolerate keto well) 2-3 days a week seems to work.

On carb days, cyclical keto involves eating up to 150g of carbohydrates, and I prefer to eat mine at night – because hopping into bed after a carb coma is just cozy.

The glucose can actually assist in all the repair and rejuvenation that happens in our bodies overnight.

Now, I’m not one to shame people for eating the occasional dessert, and I love me some brownies, but cyclical keto is NOT binging on cake and ice cream one night a week.

When approaching carbs in this process, think about foods that will fuel your body. I generally avoid grains and legumes because they cause inflammation for me – but if you tolerate them well – unprocessed versions can serve as a great choice.

White rice is great as an occasional carb-up. If you listen to Dave Asprey, you’ll know that cooking it, cooling it down, then reheating to eat – increases the resistant starch content which is great for your gut flora!

Ideally, choose starchy vegetables like winter squash, (I’ve been loving delicata roasted with avocado oil, salt and pepper, lately!) sweet potatoes, red and gold potatoes, plantains, and fruit.

Let’s wrap things up

Look, keto is a fantastic option for many people, and I totally support it when done right. If keto isn’t for you, but you want the benefits it offers – try cyclical keto instead!

Have you experimented with a ketogenic diet? I’m curious to hear how it worked for you!

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