Lessons We Can Learn From the Keto Diet

Much like the Atkin’s diet, the keto diet involves significantly reducing carbohydrate intake and replacing it with fat.  It is thought that this reduction in reliance on carbs puts your body into a state known as ketosis, becoming more efficient at burning fat for energy.

There have been many suggestions why keto may be good for you, so let’s take a look in a little more detail.

The Keto Diet

There are a few versions of the keto diet:

Standard ketogenic diet (SKD): This is a very low carb, moderate protein and high fat diet. It typically contains 70% fat, 20% protein, and only 10% carbs.

Cyclical ketogenic diet (CKD): This diet involves periods of higher carb refeeds, such as 5 ketogenic days followed by 2 high carb days.

Targeted ketogenic diet (TKD): This diet allows you to add carbs around workouts.

High protein ketogenic diet: This is similar to a standard ketogenic diet but includes more protein.  The ratio is often 60% fat, 35% protein, and 5% carbs.

But it is the standard keto diet that most people are familiar with.

To understand the mechanism behind the keto diet, let’s explore metabolism briefly.

The human body requires energy to function, for the most part this is provided by glucose.  When carbohydrates are eaten, they are absorbed into the blood stream, increasing the glucose content of the blood.  This makes its way around the body, fueling cells and functions as it needs.  If glucose isn’t used, it is stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen.  If these stores are full, then it is converted into fat as another storage mechanism.  When the body requires energy again, it taps into its liver and muscle stores, if these are exhausted, fat is liberated, and the constituent parts are converted into glucose.  Here you can see that carbohydrates provide energy.

When you limit your intake of carbohydrates, the body still needs energy, so it turns straight to fat.  As the liver breaks down fat, it produces ketones which can then be used as fuel.

Everyone has ketones, but usually they are in low numbers, this is because in high numbers they can upset the chemical balance of the blood resulting in ketoacidosis.

The Benefits of Keto

There are a number of touted benefits to the keto diet including a reduced risk of:

  • cardiovascular disease,
  • diabetes,
  • metabolic syndrome.

But for the most part, the literature highlights that this is likely due to the associated weight loss and the inclusion of more healthful foods in the diet due to the restriction in carbohydrates.

There is some data highlighting keto is beneficial in cases of epilepsy, but due to the restrictive nature, many do not continue with the diet.

In addition, keto has been favoured in cancer cases.  Being in a state of ketosis has seen a decrease in glucose uptake at tumour sites and demonstrated no evidence of progression.

That said, the ketogenic diet has been seen to cause some potential side effects.  The acute side effects of high fat intake are typically lethargy, nausea, and vomiting.  There are also reports of some deficiencies in trace minerals like selenium, copper, and zinc.   There are reports of elevated LDL cholesterol and kidney stones in those consuming a ketogenic diet long term too.

For the most part, the keto diet isn’t generally advised for the majority of the population, but we can take some great lessons from the diet design. 

In the keto diet, it is generally advised to avoid the following foods:

  • sugary foods including fizzy drinks, cake, ice cream.
  • starches including wheat-based products like white rice, white pasta, cereal, etc.
  • unhealthy fats: processed vegetable oils
  • alcohol
  • sugar-free diet foods: sugar-free sweets, syrups, puddings, sweeteners, desserts, etc.

The issue with many high-sugar foods is that they are nutrient deplete; other than the sugar and fat content, you find few other nutrients.  Whilst you may get the reward in your brain, your body’s cells aren’t getting any sort of reward at all.

Many starchy foods also have all their nutrients processed out of them too.   They tend to have low fibre content which means your blood sugar can spike soon after eating them.

Lastly, alcohol ranks high in terms of caloric intake.  Where carbohydrates and protein contain 4kcal per gram and fat contains 9kcal per gram, alcohol sits in the middle at 7kcal per gram!  If you are trying to tackle your caloric intake, alcohol may be a consideration to make.

Processed vegetable oils can also cause more problems than we thought too – when they are heated to high temperatures, they oxidise and can cause damage to body tissues.

The other lesson we can take from the keto diet is to include the following foods in our diets:

  • meat
  • fatty fish: salmon, trout, tuna, and mackerel
  • eggs
  • butter and cream: grass-fed butter
  • cheese: unprocessed cheeses like cheddar, goat or blue
  • nuts and seeds: almonds, walnuts, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds
  • healthy oils like extra virgin olive oil, and avocado oil
  • avocados: whole avocados or freshly made guacamole
  • low carb veggies: green veggies, tomatoes, onions, peppers
  • condiments: salt, pepper, herbs, and spices

If you were tempted to try the keto, perhaps opt for a lower carb design than usual – opt for complex carbs with your meals, but remove simple carbs as snacks etc.

The weight loss associated with keto is generally thanks to a lower caloric intake – so try creating a calorie deficit if weight loss is your goal.

And remember, before attempting any new diet, speak with your healthcare provider.