WHAT IS THE KETO DIET AND IS IT RIGHT FOR ME?
(Part One in a Two Part Series)
Read Part Two Here
BY DR. TARA DUNNE, BS, MA, ND
We’ve all heard the word “keto” floating around in very recent times. In fact, “the keto diet” was one of the most googled phrases in 2017. This popular diet has received a lot of credit for the weight loss successes and energy boosts of celebrities, high performance athletes, and probably even your neighbor down the street. But what exactly is the keto diet and is it a good option for you?
The keto diet has actually been around for centuries. There are many great articles in the literature from decades of clinical research. This can be attributed to the many health benefits of the ketogenic diet, including, but not limited to, weight loss, disease prevention and treatment, enhanced energy, enhanced brain function, and the list goes on.
But since it has caught on and is pretty trendy right now, there is a lot of information out there on the web to try to navigate through (both good and bad). Let’s try to balance that all out, dive in and see what exactly keto is and what it can do for you.
WHAT IS THE KETOGENIC DIET?
The ketogenic diet is essentially a way to change your body’s fuel source. Let me explain. The energy we use on a daily basis to perform all basic functions in the body (all the way down to the cellular level) needs to come from some fuel source. Classically, the body uses carbohydrates (aka blood sugar aka glucose) FIRST to fulfill those fuel needs. Once all our glucose sources are used up, the body will turn to using fat as its fuel source. But as soon as more glucose is added back into the body via diet (or injection I suppose), there’s another shift back to using glucose instead of fat for fuel. See the cycle here? Use carbs first, then fat, then back to carbs when they become available again. And if we are constantly eating glucose sources, or eating a diet high in sugars and carbs, there’s never any need for the body to use dietary fats or stored fats for fuel.
Sometimes though, using glucose as our primary source of fuel limits our body’s ability to function optimally. Instead we feel fat and tired and sick, searching for answers and largely finding none.
Insert the keto diet. This is where we purposefully shift our body’s fuel source from carbohydrates (glucose) to fats (ketones) by changing what we eat. We encourage a new fuel source to shift towards new health. Switching to a keto diet means consuming high amounts of fat, moderate amounts of protein, and low amounts of carbohydrates (on average less than 50g a day). This helps to shift the source of energy available to your body. Shift the fuel source, shift your health. This is the keto diet’s primary goal.
WHAT ARE KETONES / KETOSIS?
When we shift to using fat for our fuel source (aka ketosis), something called “ketones” are formed. Think of ketones kind of like a by-product of ketosis. Ketones are produced by eating very few carbohydrates and moderate amounts of protein (keep in mind, high amounts of protein can still be converted into sugar aka “gluconeogenesis” so I emphasize protein amounts and being moderate here). These ketones go on to be the primary fuel source for our body. The body can’t run on fat directly but can run on either glucose or ketones.
When you decide to take the first steps towards keto, paying attention to your dietary macronutrients (macros) content throughout the day is important. A rough guideline for going Keto is to get less than 10% of your energy from carbohydrate sources, 15-25% from protein sources, and 70% or more from fat sources. There are other opinions in the literature for similar but not exact ratios I’ve outlined, but you’ll have to find what works best for you. Working with your naturopathic doctor or holistic nutritionist can help you find your optimal ratio.
WHO SHOULD OR SHOULDN'T TRY THE KETO DIET?
Using ketones as your fuel source has been linked to the following:
- Increased metabolic activity (enhanced energy and/or weight loss)
- Balanced blood sugars
- Lower blood pressure
- Balanced cholesterols
- Improved cognitive function (specifically improved memory)
One study from a clinical cardiology journal showed that the ketogenic diet significantly decreased body weight, triglycerides, and LDL (the “bad cholesterol”), while increasing HDL (the “good” cholesterol). This all took places without any significant negative side effect, unlike what you see happen with most drug interventions. If you feel stuck in a state of UN-wellness, or stuck trying to find a treatment that could work for your chronic condition, perhaps it’s time to swap out your fuel source. If you’ve been searching for answers to your health concerns, seeing practitioner after practitioner without any luck, the Keto diet could be your “key-to” finally healing (pun intended.) It’s definitely worth investigating, in my opinion.
Safety can be a concern for a few reasons when considering the ketogenic diet. Some questions have been raised about kidney health and consuming large amounts of protein. While this is true, kidney health SHOULD be taken into consideration when consuming large amounts of protein, remember what I emphasized earlier - Keto is a MODERATE protein, high FAT diet. In fact, true keto should be higher in fats and ESPECIALLY high in vegetables. So unless you have compromised kidney function, this does not need to be a concern.
What IS important to take into consideration is medication. Avoiding carbohydrates will ultimately change your blood sugar levels; therefore, anyone taking blood sugar regulation medication (for example insulin) needs to be sure to work with their doctor and monitor any dosage changes that need to happen. The same for blood pressure medication, cholesterol medication, thyroid medication, and many other medications that you take to help balance out particular systems or levels. I highly encourage medical supervision in all cases, not just for going keto, but for any dietary changes or supplement regimens (including essential oils!) you plan to try out.
If you plan to go keto, keep in mind the importance of whole foods, organic ingredients, and non-gmo sourcing. Make sure you’re using high quality fats like avocados, coconut oils and grass-fed proteins as opposed to using less clean sources of food. Quality matters when it comes to achieving optimal health!
Stay tuned for "What is the Keto Diet and is right for me? (Part Two)" when we look at exogenous ketones and their impact on health.
Dr. Tara Dunne is a licensed naturopathic doctor who received her degree from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine. She also holds a master’s degree in Health and Wellness and a bachelor’s degree in Biology. She is passionate about natural wellness and helping people achieve optimal health.
Her special medical interests include atypical neurodevelopment, pediatrics and biochemistry. Tara spent several years training under some of the world leaders in these specific topics, and she now uses that training coupled with natural therapies to help people overcome illness and achieve optimal health. She is dedicated to making sure the best possible care, outcomes and information is available to everyone. In a world of health information overload, she's committed to helping people navigate their own personal health journeys. Her other interests include caring for her family, triathlon training and fitness, volunteering for people living with special needs, major league baseball, and cooking.