The Right Way to do the Keto Diet

June 30, 2019

It’s pretty much impossible to search for weight loss or nutrition on the internet without encountering articles about the ketogenic (keto) diet. This latest diet trend has been gaining a lot of attention for its purported ability to help people lose weight by eating lots of delicious, but typically high-fat foods. Sounds too good to be true, right?

Well there is a right and a wrong way to do keto. That’s because there are ways to do the keto diet where you end up consuming excess high fat foods, which can increase inflammation in the body. The typical keto diet can be very anti-inflammatory if you focus on eating the wrong types of foods to stay within your macro ranges for the day. So, let’s learn a little more about the keto diet, its health benefits, potential health consequences when done the wrong way, and how done the right it can be healthy. 

What is the keto diet?

The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, low-carbohydrate, and moderate protein diet regimen that was originally used to reduce the frequency of seizures in children. This diet works by training your body to use fat as a fuel source instead of carbohydrates. It does this by limiting carbohydrates to less than 10-percent of your total calories for the day, so your body goes into what is called ketosis. Ketosis occurs when your ketone bodies replace glucose as the primary source of energy for the body. 

There are many forms of the keto diet, but the common macro breakdown is:

  • 55 to 60% of calories from fat
  • 25 to 35% of calories from protein
  • 5 to 10% of calories from carbohydrates

However, some people may follow a more extreme form of this diet that includes (3):

  • 70 to 80% of calories from fat
  • 20% of calories from protein
  • 5% of calories from carbohydrates

For a 2,000-calorie diet, 5% of calories from carbohydrate comes out to less than 25 grams of carbohydrates per day, which is equivalent to about 1.5 slices of bread or one-half cup of cooked pasta.

Health benefits of the Keto diet

Besides helping to induce weight loss, the ketone bodies used as energy on the keto diet are thought to help reduce oxidative stress and related inflammation. This in turn, is believed to help those with inflammatory conditions like type 2 diabetes and obesity. The keto diet is also being studied currently to see if it may help those with thyroid diseases, sleep issues, and cognitive health issues too. 

The downside of the Keto diet

However, along with the benefits of the keto diet there can be some associated risks and downsides. First, experts suggest that there are certain groups of people who should avoid the ketogenic diet for safety reasons. These groups of people include:

  • Those with certain metabolic issues
  • Those who are very thin and/or underweight
  • Those with eating disorders
  • Children (unless they suffer from seizures or another health condition in which a qualified healthcare provider recommends the diet regimen and will supervise its implementation)
  • Those with fat malabsorption issues
  • Those with liver conditions

Secondly, research shows that dietary fat, especially saturated and trans fats, may induce minor effects on inflammation in those who are overweight or obese.  This increase in inflammatory markers can lead to increased risk of inflammatory conditions like type 2 diabetes and heart disease. It’s thought that this inflammation may be triggered by alterations in the gut microbiome, caused by intake of such dietary fats. 

Outside of inflammation, a lack of fruits and vegetables in the diet can lead to such health risks, such as nutrient deficiencies and constipation. This is due to lack of fiber in the diet and lack of nutrients like selenium, magnesium, and vitamins B and C found in such plant-based foods. 

It’s also important to note that when you first start the keto diet, you may experience symptoms that are collectively known as the “keto flu”. Such symptoms include nausea, vomiting, headache, fatigue, dizziness, insomnia, difficulty in exercise tolerance, and constipation. 

The healthy way to follow the Keto diet 

Although the keto diet may sound like the ideal excuse to eat bacon and burgers all day, that would be the perfect example of doing keto in an inflammatory and wrong way, adding to your inflammatory load. If you follow the keto diet this way and forget about other important nutrients like fiber, then your body could suffer. Your bowels will be “stuck” and it will probably not be as healthy as if you did eat a balanced diet of protein and fiber-rich foods. Therefore, if you choose to follow the keto diet, it’s important to plan meals properly to make sure you fit in plenty of plant-based foods.

This is because plant-based foods, which are full of fiber and antioxidants, have been shown to reduce the risk of inflammation and heart health risk factors. Not to mention that a plant-based diet has been shown to improve such health factors as psychological health, quality of life, weight, HbA1C levels, and type 2 diabetes risk.

You may be wondering how you can fit enough of such nutrient-dense, plant-based foods on the carbohydrate-restricted ketogenic diet. Although it may be challenging, it’s possible to eat plenty of gut-friendly foods on the ketogenic diet and still stay within your macros. Plant-based foods that are lower in carbohydrates and could fit into the tight carbohydrate macros of the ketogenic include:

  • Broccoli (3.6 net carbs per cup)
  • Kale (5.4 grams net carbs per cup chopped)
  • Swiss chard (.7 grams net carbs per cup, raw)
  • Spinach (.6 grams net carbs per cup, raw)
  • Cauliflower (2.9 grams net carbs per cup chopped)
  • Brussels sprouts (4.7 grams net carbs per cup)
  • Asparagus (.3 grams net carbs per spear)
  • Bell peppers (5.9 grams net carbs per ½ cup chopped)
  • Onions (6.1 grams net carbs per ½ cup chopped)
  • Garlic (.9 grams net carbs per clove)
  • Mushrooms (1.4 grams net carbs per cup chopped)
  • Cucumber (3.2 grams net carbs per cup sliced)
  • Celery (1.9 grams net carbs per cup chopped)
  • Summer squash (2.6 grams net carbs per cup sliced)
  • Strawberries (9 grams net carbs per cup sliced)
  • Raspberries (7 grams net carbs per cup)
  • Blueberries (8.7 grams net carbs per ½ cup)
  • Walnuts (2 grams net carbs per ounce)
  • Pistachios (5.1 grams net carbs per ounce)
  • Almonds (2.5 grams net carbs per ounce)
  • Peanuts (2.2 grams net carbs per ounce)
  • Chia seeds 92 grams net carbs per ounce)
  • Flax seeds (.2 grams net carbs per tablespoon)
  • Sunflower seeds (8 grams net carbs per ½ cup hulled)
  • Pumpkin seeds (5 grams net carbs per ½ ounce)

You may notice that the nutrition information listed above tells you the net carbs per serving size of the plant-based foods listed. Since fiber is not technically digested in the body, the net carbs tell you what portion of the carbs in each food is used by the body. Net carbs are calculated by subtracting grams of fiber by total carbohydrates.

Bottom line

A ketogenic diet may be popular to help you shed those unwanted pounds. However, in order to be your healthiest on this trendy diet plan, it’s important to plan your meals and snacks carefully. This is because if you just jump into such a diet without planning and focus mainly on eating meat and fat, then you’ll be depriving your body of important nutrients. Therefore, if you follow the keto diet, be sure to include low-carbohydrate, plant-based foods that can provide your body with the antioxidants and fiber your body needs to reduce inflammation and promote gut health. Avoiding too much saturated fats that come from processed meats is also a good general rule. Before starting the ketogenic diet, be sure to talk with a qualified healthcare provider to see if this diet is best for you and your overall health. Making sure you follow an anti-inflammatory diet with high quality meats and abundant greens is also a great habit to form on the keto diet.  

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