So, you want to go on a High Fat/Low Carb Diet? It seems as though the Ketogenic Diet (aka ‘Keto Diet) is enjoying a resurgence in popularity. There are articles, trainers and lay people extolling it’s virtues nearly every day. Could this be the solution for your dieting needs? In the article that follows, Ashley and Andrea present some of the little-discussed considerations that people may not think about enough, or at all, before they take the plunge. Take a look at what we consider to be important factors to figure out if the Keto Diet is for you.
We’ve come up with three important considerations that probably aren’t getting enough press.
1. WHAT are you going to eat?
Ashley: In order to be truly ‘Keto’ there are still numbers (macronutrients) you have to hit every.single.day. Let me tell you, it will not be easy. The ideal percentages for a true Keto diet are Protein-20%, Carbs- 5%, and Fat-75%. For example, if you are consuming an average of 1,600 calories a day that will break down to 1,200 calories from fat alone, which is roughly 133g of fat a day. Protein would be 80g and no more than 20-25g net Carbs (this is key to the effectiveness of this diet).
So, where are you going to get all that fat?
-Bacon- but not too much because your protein isn’t as high
-Full Fat Cheese- but this also has protein
Andrea: In keeping with what Ashley said, this is truly the most basic of considerations. Most people are quite used to running on easy sources of energy (cheap, processed carbs). Even if this is not you and you prefer unrefined carb sources and lots of vegetables, these are still carbohydrate!
Think of all the bread, pasta, cookies and other desserts, cereal, low-fat yogurt, bagels, muffins, jams/jellies, crackers, chips, rice, beans, hummus, quinoa, fruit, salads and other veggies etc that you fuel yourself with – does this list look familiar? For most people, this is a fairly comprehensive list of the majority of their caloric intake for the day! All of these, regardless their nutritional value, are sources of carbohydrate and have to be either completely banished or greatly curtailed (i.e. veggies) in a low-carb/keto diet.
And please do not think that you will make up the caloric shortfall with lots of meat. Protein, in high quantities, can also cause a spike in insulin (which is what we are avoiding in a ketogenic diet). So, quite literally, most of what you eat will be fat. And ideally, it’s not garbage fat.
I’ll add my list to Ashley’s above:
-Ghee or grass-fed butter (higher in omega 3 fats than conventional, dairy butter)
-Full-fat, grass-fed dairy (cheese, sour cream, heavy whipping cream, plain yogurt)
-Grass-fed or pastured meats (just careful of the protein!)
-Nuts and Nut Butters (again, careful of the protein and carbs also contained in nuts)
-Non-Vegetable Oils (Avocado, Olive, Coconut, Red Palm, Lard)
-Coconut (medium chain triglycerides are a really good source of fat for many reasons)
-Seeds (Chia, Flax, Sunflower, Hemp, etc)
2. Energy Levels
Ashley: One of the key side effects in going keto is the inevitable Keto Flu. What?! Yup, you’re gonna feel like you have the flu for a while. For some, this could take a few days, others it could take several weeks. When the glycogen stores in your body are gone (because they are naturally carb fed) this is when the feeling of having the flu takes place. It is possible to advance the glycogen stores by doing forms of HIIT cardio as well as continuing to train, even though you will feel like it is counterintuitive.
Once the body has converted to burning predominantly ketones instead of glucose the flu-like symptoms will go away. But as we’ll discuss in the next consideration, it’s very important to stay in ketosis in order for this diet to work.
Andrea: Keto flu is for real. There are people who adapt more quickly and more readily without the myriad side effects, but this is not true of most people. As your body burns through the available glucose and the stores that exist in your liver (in the form of glycogen), there is a period where your physiology is switching from one, primary fuel source (carbohydrate which is the ready source of fast-burning glucose) to another (ketones). In this transition phase, your body engages in gluconeogenesis to try to make up for the shortfall in dietary carbohydrate by converting proteins to glucose. During this period, your skeletal muscles and brain are becoming adapted to burning ketones and this adaptation can come with some fairly profound side effects: keto flu.
Keto flu can last anywhere from several days to several weeks. It depends heavily on the amount of metabolic flexibility built into your physiology and also specific lifestyle factors. There are ways to mitigate the effects and length of keto flu but they really should be done under the supervision of a trainer or nutritionist that is well-versed in both your history and ketogenic diets.
Ashley: I saved this for last because I feel this is the absolute most critical point to consider when going on any diet. Let me crush some hopes right now in saying… THERE IS NO MAGIC DIET. Whether you choose to do Paleo, Whole30, Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, Flexible Dieting, Ketogenic, Atkins… you name it, the one thing all of them require for success is adherence.
Why is adherence so important with the diet plan you choose? Let’s talk a minute about our bodies. Can I tell you, male or female, our bodies are amazing machines. I probably didn’t need to tell you that, but this is something I feel we tend to forget. We treat them like they’re supposed to magically work when we begin a diet. Then we get upset with them (or more so the coach or diet) when we do not see progress in the first week or two. When we shock the body into doing something new, our hormones and metabolism have to get in sync to figure out what we’re trying to accomplish. It is not going to magically get fit with the new magic diet plan if you are not consistent. One reason a lot of these diets listed above work at first is because most are reducing caloric intake or they’re requiring a more balanced approach to your day. Most of these diets, with the exception of Flexible Dieting, do not necessarily teach you why you are making progress and most do not teach you how to sustain the results.
Another consideration that most people do not take into account when trying the Ketogenic diet is that it demands perfection. In other words, you cannot have an “oops” Saturday night with friends. When the body has switched over from a carb burning energy source to a fat burning energy source (ketosis) it will look for any excuse to revert back to burning carbohydrates (including a single dietary indiscretion!).
So, is this diet for you? Maybe. The beauty of any diet is that they all require certain combinations of macronutrients (‘macros’). If you’ve been wondering about the “macro diet” or “flexible dieting” but are afraid you won’t be able to eat the foods you want or you feel it is all processed junk food, think again. Every diet require macronutrients and micronutrients. Why? Because no matter what diet plan you choose food is still involved and every food is comprised of macronutrients.
Andrea: I fully agree with Ashley’s assessment that a ketogenic diet is simply one weapon in a substantial arsenal. I prescribe all manner of therapeutic diets for patients, depending on individual disease states, dietary history and presenting symptoms. There are several clinical circumstances where the clinical efficacy of the ketogenic diet has been studied and vetted. However, there are wide swaths of the population that are hearing bits and pieces about this diet and deciding that they want to wade in. I believe the primary reason for doing so is the lure of ‘quick, easy’ weight loss. And for most people, if you are actually sticking to this diet, you will lose weight. However, the frustration comes when you simply cannot adhere to this way of eating any longer and the weight comes roaring back after a disorganized approach to carbohydrate reintroduction.
There are many subtle, biochemical processes involved in this diet and it can be used quite effectively in certain people. However, there are many, many people with chronic diseases or conditions that absolutely should not attempt this because of the potential for damage to an already stressed system.
Long-term adherence and maintenance is difficult and most people don’t know what it should look like. From my perspective, the dangers are two-fold. First, the stress this diet puts on the system must be weighed against any potential therapeutic benefit. Second, there are profound nutrient deficiencies that occur as a result of improper planning and instruction.
Before turning to another eating plan that seems to be popular at the moment, consider the above and what will work best for your lifestyle long term, not just for today. And as well, consider getting appropriate help with meeting your goals. There are long-term consequences, both good and bad, for how you choose to feed your body today!
Have questions about nutrition, health or how to meet your goals in these areas? Contact us!
Andrea Crane is a Functional Medicine Practitioner and Licensed Clinical Nutritionist currently practicing in Colorado.
Andrea Crane, M.S., B.S.
In All Your Ways Functional Medicine
Ashley Olson is a Personal Trainer who trains both online and local clients in Broomfield, Colorado. She specializes in one-on-one, small group, and bootcamp training. She is AFAA and USA Weightlifting Certified.