What is the Ketogenic Diet?
Epilepsy…Metabolic Syndrome…Polycystic Ovary Syndrome…Diabetes…Alzheimer ’s disease…Multiple Sclerosis…Cancer.
All different conditions yet sharing two common factors—insulin and leptin resistance.
What is the role of insulin and leptin in the body and how do the terms relate to the ketogenic diet?
Well, insulin, a hormone made in the pancreas, is responsible for converting sugar from carbohydrates into energy and helping the body store for future use; while leptin, on the other hand, helps control appetite by communicating to the brain how much fat is stored and how and when to use for energy. Therefore, an imbalance of one or both eventually leads to (a) inflammation in the body and (b) damage to cells, thus creating the perfect combination for developing chronic disease.
It is here that achieving a state of ketosis and adapting a ketogenic diet becomes the key to disease prevention and improving health.
And What is Ketosis?
Ketosis is the end result after training the body to rely on using fat as its fuel source and therefore leading to a healthy and stable body weight. You may ask, well, how do I get there?
First, it’s important to begin by reducing consumption of sugars (processed and natural) from foods such as grains, starchy vegetables and fruits, with the intention of training your body to seek an alternative fuel source: fat. Keep in mind that this refers to GOOD fats such as that in avocados, coconut oil, salmon, or grass-fed butter and NOT fats from hamburgers, a milk chocolate bar, or a Starbucks coffee.
Once the body realizes that that glucose is absent, the body begins to use the digested fats to burn off fat and leading to production of ketones, molecules produced by the liver that circulate in the body. As the level of ketones rises, the body enters into ketosis and therefore producing more energy while altering the body’s metabolism to burn fat more easily.
Unsure if you have reached a state of ketosis? An easy and reliable option is to purchase urine test strips (no prescription necessary) to measure ketone levels in the urine. When in doubt, a blood test may also confirm ketone levels to ensure a favorable response to diet changes.
The secret to achieving ketosis however, lies in eating the right foods and avoiding foods that are unfavorable.
What Can You Eat While on the Keto Diet?
Contemplating on starting the keto diet? Creating a food list of best keto foods to eat and foods that can set you back will be an essential part of the process.
Eat lots of healthy fats at each meal
Cold-pressed coconut oil
Grass-fed meats (beef, lamb, goat, veal, venison)
Poultry (chicken, turkey, quail, pheasant, hen, goose, duck)
Organ meats such as liver
Cage free eggs and yolk
Fish (tuna, trout, anchovies, bass, flounder, mackerel, salmon, sardines)
Leafy greens (dandelion, beet greens, collards, mustard, turnip, arugula, chicory, fennel, romaine, spinach, kale, chard)
Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower)
Celery, cucumber, zucchini, chives, leeks
Fat based fruit
Beef or turkey jerky
Spices and herbs
Apples cider vinegar
Water (80-96 oz. a day)
Please avoid these food for best results!
Sugar. That includes syrups maple, carob, corn, caramel, fruit; natural sweeteners such as honey and agave; and foods with fructose, glucose, maltose, dextrose, and lactose, and all processed sugars.
Grains. Wheat, oats, rice, quinoa, couscous, pilaf; corn products like popcorn, tortillas, grits, and cornmeal; all flour products such as bread, bagels, rolls, muffins, and pasta.
Most processed foods such as crackers, chips, pretzels; candy; desserts such as ice cream, cookies, cakes; pancakes, waffles, and baked breakfast goods; oatmeal and cereals; snacks such as granola bars, most protein bars, and meal replacement items; canned and boxed foods; and foods with artificial ingredients such as artificial sweeteners (sucralose, aspartame), dyes, and added flavors.
Drinks such as soda, alcohol, sweetened tea, coffee drinks, milk and milk replacements (cow, soy, coconut, lactaid, cream, half & half) and fruit juices.
Basically, the more natural and unpackaged your food, the better!
Although it may be overwhelming at first, there are many food options to enjoy. And like any new diet, unpleasant side effects can follow the first week. Bear in mind however, that it is only temporary and there are workarounds to help alleviate the effects.
Week One and the Keto Flu
Upon starting the ketogenic diet, your body may feel the results of adapting to a new diet. Remember, you are training your body and mind to a new way of eating. Therefore, the first week may be a bit difficult as the body transitions from the typical sugar-burning process for energy to reliance on fat. Symptoms such as hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), constipation, diarrhea, frequent urination, drowsiness, dizziness, muscle cramps, sugar cravings, sleep problems, heart palpitations, reduced strength and physical performance are common and are typically referred to as the keto flu. Most often, the symptoms are a result of one or all three common underlying issues: hypoglycemia, HPA Axis Dysfunction, and electrolyte imbalance.
The good news is that there are several ways to help prevent or lessen the symptoms by doing the following:
Reduce carbs slowly
Increase fat intake
Increase mineral intake
Drink lots of water
Do exercise as tolerable
And if the symptoms are too severe, add more carbs at one of the meals until the body begins to adapt to the diet (modified keto diet)
Take into account that the symptoms are the body’s way of communicating that something is happening or changing and it’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Still Unsure of Trying the Keto Diet? Here are Some Added Benefits.
Less inflammation. Less inflammation in the body means more energy production and boosts the body’s ability to heal faster. Not to mention that stabilizing insulin relieves the body’s reliance on using sugar for energy.
Say goodbye to that extra weight. Aside from issues such as hormone imbalances and toxin accumulation, weight loss helps reduce the risk of cardiac disease, diabetes, and other chronic conditions.
A clearer mental state. Depression, anxiety, and poor cognitive function are only a few of the neurological conditions that have been linked to inflammation in the brain. Therefore, the keto diet can be beneficial to control the disorders and improve mental performance.
Heightened energy levels. Lower inflammation levels, a stable blood sugar, mitochondrial biogenesis (reproduction or division of new and stronger mitochondrial cells), and higher ketone use over glucose molecules, all help increase energy levels in the body, allowing the body to achieve its potential.
And those cravings. Well, when achieving a state of ketosis, the body no longer feels the constant hunger pangs and mood changes that come when the brain is in constant state of starvation, allowing for more control of what and when you eat.
Slows the aging process. Happy, healthy mitochondria have better overall function as there is less stress on the cells (lessened deterioration of cells).
Now that you have learned the basics on the ketogenic diet, time to put your creativity to work!
Adapting a new diet shouldn’t be stressful or overwhelming. In the next part of this series, we will offer a sample meal plan, share delicious and simple recipes, and provide tools that help track portions and nutrient levels to ensure you get the best out of this diet.