The body is always burning a mix of sugar (glucose) and fat as fuel. But the standard-American-diet (SAD) of highly refined oils, grains, and sugar has hampered the body’s ability to burn fat for fuel. Many people are turning to the Ketogenic diet to lose weight. But, what makes this way of eating work and is it sustainable?
What makes this diet work?
Think of it this way, cows are fed grains so they can be fattened up. These grains and starchy carbs do the same to humans! For decades we’ve been taught that fat is bad and getting past that is hard for those of us who have heard this message for years. But, newer scientific studies are proving those misguided hypothesis wrong. Eating less sugar and refined grains (aka packaged and baked goods), and eating more fat actually leads to:
- feeling less hungry
- having more energy
- better focus and brain function
- reduces chronic inflammation and pain
- aids in losing weight
- helps with type-2 diabetes, seizures, fatty liver disease and more.
What is ketosis?
The brain can use either glucose or ketones as fuel. Glucose is primarily sugars from carbohydrates. Generally, excess carbs are processed by the liver and sent in the form of glucose to the brain or stored as fat for later use. Muscles will first use glucose for energy but they can also use fat as energy pretty easily. Ketosis is where the body and brain relies on ketones for energy. These ketones are created in the liver and sent to the brain to be used as fuel, especially when glucose is not available.
Usually, this means that after the body has adjusted to burning ketones as fuel, we have to be fanatical about limiting carb intake. On the flip side, if we are too loose with ingesting carbs and fat, weight will increase. We must think of ketosis as a pendulum. It is not necessary to stay in a constant state of ketosis in order to burn fat. The key is finding a reasonable amount where the body burns ketones for energy without excessive restriction. This allows weight to come off slow and steady, without depriving oneself of valuable nutrition, and creating sustainability.
Everywhere you turn, you hear about the keto diet and the great results people are seeing on this diet. The problem is that typically people see it as a temporary diet to lose weight and not a long-term philosophy of eating. Once people lose the weight, they allow too many refined foods back into their diet and end up back where they started, or worse.
If you are considering the keto lifestyle, here are a few things to keep in mind.
The keto diet strictly limits carbohydrates including all industrialized refined carbs, like bread, cookies, crackers, cakes – all baked goods, anything with flour or sugar, sweets, and pasta, other packaged goods. But, it also significantly cuts back on beans, legumes, rice, potatoes, starchy veggies like winter squash, beets, even carrots, and fruit. These foods spike blood sugar. The goal is convert the body from burning glucose (sugar) to burning stored fat as fuel.
Drastically reducing carbs and throwing the body into a state of ketosis too quickly can bring on the “keto-flu.” The keto-flu is where the body is switching between fuel burning systems. Dramatic shifts can cause nausea, muscle aches, headache, chills, brain fog, trouble sleeping and an over all sick feeling. It only lasts a few days but it isn’t necessary to put so much stress on the body. It can be eased into without such drastic measures.
The key for sustaining of this method of eating is getting enough micronutrients from vegetables. Sometimes people eat plenty of meat and healthy fats but don’t get enough nutrient dense vegetables because they start to fear carbs altogether. The good news is that the fiber in vegetables helps offset the carb count in them, allowing a person to eat more healthy vegetables.
For example, a medium carrot has about 6 grams of carbs, 3 grams are sugar, but that carrot also has 1.5 grams fiber. So, there is a 4.5 net grams of carbs for that carrot. A strict low-carb diet would be below 20 grams per day where a moderate or liberal low-carb diet would stay below 50-100 grams per day. So, sitting down and mindlessly eating a bunch of baby carrots will probably be too much. However, a few colorful slices in a stir-fry isn’t going kick a person out of ketosis and supplies beta-carotene and other important phytochemicals the body needs.
Each person has to find their own point where they feel good and can still accomplish their goal of weight loss. Yet, they also need to get the micronutrients and fiber their body needs from veggies. If not, they can end up worse in the end, struggling with gut microbe imbalances, constipation, and micronutrient deficiencies. For those with adrenal or thyroid issues, caution should also be used with this way of eating as it can worsen symptoms. Consult your doctor prior to jumping on the keto-bandwagon.
What in the world do I eat?
People are so used to eating packaged and convenience foods, switching can feel daunting. But it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Click here to get a handy list of breakfast, lunch and dinner ideas and to see what that might look like for you.
Remember, keto is not a high protein diet. More focus is on healthy fats like olives, olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds. However, people have been told that saturated fat in meat causes heart disease. Actually, the saturated fats that cause heart disease are stearic and palmitic acid. These don’t come from meat. Rather, the liver produces these two fatty acids when sugar and refined carbs are consumed. And, stearic acid has no impact on blood cholesterol. It is actually processed refined carbs, starches and sugar that raises bad cholesterol and bad saturated fat. So, much of what we thought about fat has been proven incorrect. Ultimately, inflammatory processed foods and sugars are to blame. The whole picture needs to be considered.
The keto diet can be sustainable if one is getting enough fiber and nutrients from vegetables. Hitting the upper limit of carbs to remain in slight ketosis keeps weight coming off slowly while still getting adequate nutrients. Variety in food choices is important because different nutrients are in different vegetables. Plus, variety staves off food boredom making it more sustainable.
Be sure to check out the list of meal ideas here whether or not you are doing keto you’ll get new meal inspiration.