Keto is all the rage in America over the last few years. The name given to followers of the Ketogenic Diet. It, and its sibling, “Paleo” are popping up everywhere on social media.
So, what are they? And, more importantly are they any good?
The premise of the paleo diet is that it follows a diet similar to one of ages past, specifically the Paleolithic era. It focusses on lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. It excludes anything that has been produced through farming traditions over the last 10,000 years, such as dairy, grains and legumes. Many will talk about the new found energy and lack of bloating etc. There will also be a number of people speaking of weight loss.
Paleo is based on fundamental premise that our bodies cannot cope with the rapid changes to our diets. People following the diet may be interested in loosing weight, tackling diabetes, or heart disease and certainly there are research studies demonstrating support for such conclusions. Crucially one of the reasons the diet is so successful hones in on the abstinence of both dairy and grains, the two of which have been directly linked to many of societies modern day chronic illnesses. Casein (in dairy) and Glutamine (in grains) are two of the pro-inflammatory big hitters in the world today.
Taking these out of your diet, irrespective of allergies or food intolerances, will have a dramatic impact on your health and with positive changes to in the gut microbiome and to mental health.
The Keto Diet is similar to Paleo in that it limits the amount of grains a person consumes. Keto goes a little further in this regard as it also banishes potatoes and any other carb you can think of, at least in the short term. The initial recommendation is to limit the amount of carbs to 30-60g a day. This makes fruit a luxury instead of a staple!
So what do you eat?
Ketogenic diets replace carbohydrates with fat. The diet, if following it properly, will suggest up to 70% fat, a relatively small amount of protein and lots of vegetables – specifically those with lots of colour. Be warned though. The temptation with Keto is to fill up with protein but that would lead you down the path of the treacherous Atkins diet which carries a number of health concerns. Keto does not recommend that. Whilst it may be the #1 diet in America at the moment, the diet itself is nothing new. In the 1970's it became a very valuable way to help treat people suffering from schizophrenia.
Keto has since emerged from the medical rooms in a number of dietary protocols specific to things as diverse as heart health, mental health, Austism, MS etc,. The question we really should be asking is, “Why?”
Keto encourages the body to move away from feeding the sugar monster within and begin metabolising fat. The medical term for this state is, “Ketosis”. A person is in ketosis when they have a slightly fruity odour to their breath. This signifies that the body has begun breaking down fat for energy and it releases Ketones which are detected in the breath. Anyone familiar with fasting will be familiar with this experience. It denotes that the body is in a state of detox. Further, it also means your body has begun fighting inflammation.
There are kits available to tell you if, and when, you are in ketosis but the breath test after a few days of starting the diet will also confirm you have reached a Ketogenic state. Other side effects that occur include; weight loss, less (but a better quality) sleep, more energy and reduction in inflammatory disorders. There will, fore the first few weeks, be food cravings for sugar as the carb monster starts screaming out for food... Resist! Resist! Resist! The Fat burner within is much kinder once its given freedom to rule the terrain.
What? Fat? Really!
We all know that Fat is bad, right? Northern Ireland has a high level of CVD (cardio-vascular disease). Suggesting that people should consider a high fat diet is surely just irresponsible. What of Health Agency’s darling food pyramid recommending a low fat, high fiber diet based on Carbs?
Without getting into the whole conspiracy factor: books have been written this very subject. Let me just say that the current advice is good for business, good for government and really, really, bad for your health!
Refined, unsaturated oils should indeed be banned from your dietary intake completely and forever. There is no merit at all to them despite any health claims to the contrary. The oil is refined, heated, extracted with all the nutrients depleted to increase shelf-life. You are, in essence, just eating rancid oil that is carcinogenic.
“What? But I thought these were the healthy fats?”
I know! So did I! I had to concede upon reading copious amounts of material that I was in error this whole time. If you want to find out more I recommend "Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill" by Udo Erasmus.
By all means drizzle olive oil, avocado oil or rapeseed over your salads but you daren’t cook with it, and even then, only use it if it is cold pressed and unfiltered. To fry anything, I’d recommend butter (ideally ghee), coconut oil or lard. Yes, that’s right, lard. Long distained by cardiologists globally, Lard is now making a comeback. It seems our elders and forefathers knew what they were doing with this prized ingredient. Buying lard from a farmer that can ensure the produce is organic and pasture fed is, without doubt, the best way to consume saturated fat for your health.
The polyunsaturated fats that are excellent for your health are the essential fatty acids that you can’t generate internally. Omega 3’s and 6’s but specifically the Omega 3’s are crucial to reduce inflammation and help restore the body to health. Fish oil with a high proportion of DHA is a highly sought-after ingredient for many people seeking to support their body in re-couperating from chronic ill-health. Flax seed oil and hemp oil are similarly rich in Omega 3’s and essential for an anti-inflammatory diet but as with any polyunsaturated oil, you really do need to pay attention to the detail as it will oxidise rapidly and go rancid. Small bottles with a short shelf-life (that are kept in the fridge) are essential. If you can buy it directly from the farmer upon pressing it, that is what I'd would recommend. Alternatively, buy the whole flax seeds (not milled) and mill them at home in the food processor and add them to your salads, or use the milled seed as thickeners in sauces – just being careful to not overheat the seed.
Despite public health advice, scientific research confirms that fat is the preferential food source of the body – it certainly is the preferred food source of the brain and testes. Similarly butyrate (found in butter) is an energy source for the good bacteria in your gut which in turn play a critical role in your own physical and mental health. Yes, that’s right, bacteria in your gut affects your mood! Crazy, right?
Sorry, I’ve gone off on a tangent. Back to the Keto diet. Does it work?
Many doctors taking a functional approach to medicine have started using the Keto diet to start fighting inflammation. Again, the question we should be asking is, “why?” What is it that makes this such a significant diet. Why do people following a ketogenic diet, which is high in fat reduce cholesterol, blood pressure and loose weight with many adherents even being cured of diabetes. One of the fastest growing health concerns could be controlled if diet was changed as opposed to insulin administered as a drug.
Omega 3 fats support the body in releasing hormones such as resolvin which act as an anti-inflammatory. The fat and fiber in the diet, along with the absence of grains allows the gut to heal. Both diets feed the good bacteria in the digestive tract whilst also starving those sugar craving bad bacteria – thus transforming your microbiome to one that is healthier and offers you free energy in return for your kindness. Healing the gut reduces many, many auto-immune diseases. The fats help restore cell tissue fluidity, brain tissue and permits the body to start fighting real health problems such as pre-cancerous cells which feed on sugar.
The evidence is very convincing in supporting the argument that fat-based diets are BIG HITTERS in reducing inflammation and disease in the body. You can do a quick search on PubMED or science direct for connections between Ketogenic diet its use Brain & breast cancer, MS, Fibromyalgia, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Crohn’s, Autism, ADHD, Allergies, GERD, osteoarthritis, irritable bowel disease, Diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Dementia, Ischaemic heart disease, coeliac and thyroid disease. Is there a danger of stroke or athlersclerosis? Well, research seems to suggest the opposite but again, it would take your doctor to be fully up to speed on the roll of HDL, LDL and VLDL within the blood. Essentially, cholesterol is critical for cell membrane life. Being without it is not good. There are numerous books to consult on this. May I suggest “The Great Cholesterol Con” as a light-hearted slightly irreverent read. Its not a scientific as some of the better books but it certainly rams the point home in an easy to understand manner. Other books include, "Brain Drain", "Wheat Belly" & "Gut & Psychology Syndrome"
With this in mind one might well begin asking another pertinent question, “Why on earth has my health practitioner not suggested I look at this?” I guess the only answer to that question is that health practitioners are busy and they work in extremely stressful environments. Certainly, drug companies don’t want the word to get out that there are anti-flammatory diets out there that might make it unnecessary to take their tablets. I don’t have any time at all for drug companies but I do have sympathy for people trained in medicine. Diet wasn’t a major part of a doctors training – think a matter of days as opposed it being part of their core training and you won’t go far wrong. Further, dieticians are required to follow Health Agency guidelines even if they are up to speed on the latest research.
That said, things are changing fast. If you have been reading health books with a publishing date before 2010 I’d recommend recycling it as the newest text books in health care provision (specifically 2014 – present) are all pointing to a more holistic approach to treating the body. Diet is no longer a side-line matter but at the root and branch of systemic chronic disease. Most books will now be published with dietary protocols and very very few will have any objections to a Ketogenic diet.
Herbalists and nutritionists look at the whole person. Assessing a clients diet is an integral factor to a patients first consultation. There is no doubt that Ketogenic and Paleo diets may have a role to play in therapeutic intervention but it must also be used in the knowledge that like all new fads there can be unforeseen consequences and it isn't a panacea for everyone.
I started Keto back in October and lost just over 2 stone in a matter of 5-6 weeks. I couldn’t believe how much more energy I had. The diet was expensive but given that I’d stopped wanting food all the time and was only eating once or twice a day I found that the cost wasn’t all that different. I’m a bread lover and I thought the transition was going to be terrible but after the first 5 days those cravings disappeared. My love affair with bread is forever changed. Within 3 months I re-introduced potatoes and rice and now eat carbs in small amounts throughout the week but easily transition in and out of ketosis without much thought. I’m amazed at how my blood pressure dropped whilst fitness levels have rose despite the lack of much exercise.
Is it right for everyone? – No. But for many people, it is an absolutely great diet to be on, at least temporarily, to get your body back into a healthy cycle. One GP recently told me that if they could suggest just two changes for every person entering her practice it would be banishing refined cooking oils from their diet completely and forever as well as abstaining from grains. That’s a big statement to make, and whilst it isn’t a cure-all by any means the implications are huge.
So, a word to the wise. Everything in moderation. Dairy and Wheat as we currently buy them are not doing our bodies any favours, but nor do we have to throw the baby out with the bath water (unless of course we are chronically sick in which case you might wish to consider it). Your body is amazing and will generally heal itself provided it is not abused. All things in moderation and once you have detoxed from sugar it becomes increasingly easy to listen to the guts need for nutrition and what the body is telling you it needs.
As for the vegetarian and vegan amongst us... It is very difficult to maintain a keto diet and remain a true vegan. Its difficult for the vegetarian but possible for a pescatarian. That said, 'healthy' vegetarians and vegans are unlike to need such an anti-inflammatory diet in the first place.
I realise it was long post. Hopefully you were able to stick with it and find it both useful and interesting.