Should you try a ketogenic diet?

For several decades, we’ve all been told that carbohydrates should be the foundation of our diet and our primary source of energy, while dietary fats (the fats found in food) are bad for us. It all started when some scientists studied the effects of different types of fats on health, and determined that some fats — such as trans fats — are bad for us, and that other types of fats are actually healthy and necessary for proper bodily functions.

However, the message to the general public got oversimplified, and nutrition experts starting telling us to cut all fats out of our diets. As a result, low-fat, reduced fat, and fat-free foods started lining the supermarket shelves. The low-fat message is now so ingrained in our culture that many of us reach for these foods without even thinking about it. After all, it sounds reasonable: if we don’t want to be fat, we shouldn’t eat fat.

Unfortunately, it isn’t really that simple. When fat is removed from food, a lot of the flavor is lost. To compensate for this, food manufacturers typically add more sugar or artificial food additives. And it’s these types of ingredients — not fat — that play a large role in weight gain and many other health problems facing Americans today.

Did you know …

Health conditions such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer are virtually unseen in parts of the world that follow a more traditional hunter-gatherer diet. In fact, these diseases are so closely linked to the modern Western diet (high in carbohydrates and processed foods) that they are often referred to as diseases of civilization. Our diet is without a doubt the biggest determinant of our overall health.

What if everything we’ve been told about carbohydrates and fat is wrong?

Recent research indicates that there is no association between dietary fat and the risk of heart disease. There is, however, a link between simple carbohydrate consumption and health issues such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and cancer. And yet refined carbohydrates like bread and pasta continue to occupy the widest space at the bottom of the food pyramid (or a full quarter of the more recent MyPlate model). Health and nutrition experts like the Institutes of Medicine continue to tell us that 45-65% of our energy should come from carbohydrates.

Meanwhile, emerging research on low-carbohydrate, high-fat diets has shown that they lead to greater weight loss, help regulate hormones and improve insulin sensitivity, and are linked to lower rates of mortality and cardiovascular disease when the low-carb diet is vegetable based.

Benefits of a ketogenic diet

Low-carb, ketogenic diets can lead to numerous health benefits, including:

  • Weight loss
  • Increased energy
  • Better sleep
  • Clearer skin
  • Increased mental clarity
  • Improved sinus health
  • A more stable appetite and decreased food cravings
  • More stable emotional health and fewer mood swings
  • Decreased LDL (bad) cholesterol
  • Increased HDL (good) cholesterol
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improved blood sugar control

 

Ketogenic diets have also been used to treat health conditions such as epilepsy and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

A caveat about ketogenic diets

Research is increasingly indicating that there is no one-size-fits-all diet that works for everyone. Your individual genetics play a huge role in how your body processes and responds to different foods. (That’s why the same type of diet can lead to improved health in some studies and greater health risks in other studies.) Some people thrive on a raw food diet, while others (myself included) get shaky and hangry without animal protein. Just because something works for your friend or coworker or spouse, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for you. I started my ketogenic diet only after a DNA fitness test reported that my ideal diet type was low-carb. It’s important to listen to your body and do what works best for you.

What can you eat on a ketogenic diet?

You might be surprised to learn just how diverse and delicious a ketogenic diet can be. Depending on the state of your current diet, it may take a little getting used to, but a ketogenic diet shouldn’t feel like deprivation.

A ketogenic diet is typically characterized by consuming very low carbohydrate levels with the intent of achieving nutritional ketosis — a state where your body shifts from using carbohydrates as its primary form of energy to using fat.

A ketogenic diet consists of low carbs, high fat, and moderate protein. The typical macronutrient breakdown for a ketogenic diet is 5% carbohydrates, 75% fat, and 20% protein.

  • Carbohydrates: Most of your carbohydrates should come from leafy greens and green vegetables.
  • Fat: Healthy fats include meat, nuts, seeds, fatty fish, olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado.
  • Protein: Aim for healthy sources such as grass-fed beef, organic chicken, and wild-caught seafood.

 

Following the guidelines for low carb / high fat / moderate protein, you can create a nearly infinite array of meals consisting of meat (including beef, poultry, and seafood), leafy greens, non-starchy vegetables, healthy oils, nuts, seeds, some fruit, and spices.

When you’re just starting out, don’t make things overly complicated. Once you get more comfortable figuring out your macros, you can get more creative with your meals. There are a lot of delicious low-carb recipes out there, but many of them are low on veggies. A good general rule is to always include a salad with your dinner. Check out my list of keto diet foods for your best sources of macronutrients.

Once you start getting adapted to the diet, you will likely find that your appetite levels off and you don’t need to eat as much. Keep your protein portions on the smaller side. Contrary to popular belief, the ketogenic diet is not high-protein.

This article first appeared on Low Carb Soul. Reposted with permission.