By now you have probably heard of the Ketogenic diet.. Whether it’s because of bullet proof coffees, Keto dip-sticks or documentaries, it is a pretty big buzz word in the world of nutrition and health at the moment.
Diets come and go and people can never seem to agree ‘on the one’. Everyone has a different approach to wellness and there own idea of what the ‘secret’ is to optimal health. Let’s face it, most things the strict dietary advocates can’t agree on. But the one thing (thankfully) most can seem to agree on is that our diets should be rich in plants, specifically vegetables.
For many people the Ketogenic diet makes them think of meat, butter and not a lot else. Which seems to miss the brief for achieving nutritionally balanced dietary success for most people. But the high fat, low carb diets have come a long way since Atkins and it’s time to start looking at the Ketogenic diet in a new light. A light that is filling the diet with a ton more plants and changing the type of fats that take centre stage.
I think it’s important to understand that as with most things, not all Ketogenic diets are created equal. There are various different approaches to inducing and maintaining ketosis and yes, there are many out there that are still approaching ketosis in an unhealthy way, which is unfortunately quite easily done.
What is Ketosis?
Our bodies have two different options for fuel: glucose or fat. In normal circumstances your body uses glucose (from carbohydrates) as its preferred form of energy. Glucose can either be used to fuel the body or be stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen.
If there is not enough glucose available to meet energy demands, the body will turn to stored fats and break those down instead. Ketones are a by-product of this process and are acids that build up in the blood and are removed from the body via urine.
So ‘Ketosis’ is the aim of the Ketogenic diet and basically describes the metabolic state where the body converts fat stores into energy, releasing ketones in the process.
Benefits of The Ketogenic Diet
Originally designed back in the 1920s, the Ketogenic diet was a way of controlling epilepsy symptoms in children. There is still some uncertainty over the exact mechanism of this, but it is thought that the shift in metabolism from carbohydrates to fatty acids and resultant use of ketones for energy has an anticonvulsant effects.
Since the 1920s there has been growing interest and substantial evidence into the positive effects of a well managed Ketogenic diet on number of other conditions including weight loss, Cancer, PCOS, Type 2 Diabetes, Hypertension, Autism, and Alzheimers.
It comes as no surprise that the possibility of therapeutic benefits that the Ketogenic diet could achieve on specific medical conditions is now starting to find it’s way into the mainstream and be promoted as a good option for us all.
But there are a few common pitfalls of a poorly done Ketogenic diet that I see time and time again in clinic:
Too much meat: as people restrict carbohydrates, they tend to over-consume protein. An assortment of meat begins to find its way on their plate, replacing old favourites, like breads and pasta. Excess protein cause the body to convert the amino acids found in protein to sugar, stopping you from entering ketosis. Too much meat also places a lot of strain on the digestive system.
A lack of fibre: from people placing too greater emphasise on protein and fat, and neglecting fibrous veggies, which can have a range of systemic affects such as constipation, poor gut diversity, bowel problems and cardiovascular health.
Most ketogenic plans are meat and dairy heavy, creating a host of other problems, especially for those who prefer plants at the centre of the plate.
My favourite approach, and I feel the most nutritionally beneficial form of ketogenic diet is the plant-based take on it.
So, What Does a Plant-based Ketogenic Diet Look Like?
Everyone will have slightly different thresholds for ketosis, and it can take time to find a balance between the amount of protein, carbohydrates and fat that works best for you. But in a plant-based Ketogenic diet you are looking at roughly:
Getting between 55-75% of your calories from plant-based fats.
Consuming around 15-20% of your calories from plant-based proteins (approximately 1 gram of protein per 1kg of body weight).
Limiting your total carbohydrate consumption to about 10-15% of your calories.
The plant-based Ketogenic diet encourages a large variety of lower carbohydrate vegetables, plant-based fats and protein from plant-based sources and good quality animal products in moderation. The table below shows the foods that make up the foundations of the plant-based Ketogenic diet:
Should You Try a Ketogenic Diet?
One size does not fit all, and the same is very much true for the ketogenic diet. While it can be a wonderful therapeutic diet for some people, it can also have undesirable and adverse affects in others. Pregnant women, women with amenorrhea and anyone with a history of disordered eating should not be following a ketogenic diet.
If you are considering a ketogenic diet for yourself or a family member please reach out for guidance. The ketogenic diet is a therapeutic diet and you want to make sure you are meeting all your nutritional requirements and are doing it in the healthiest way possible.
While a strict plant-based ketogenic diet may not be for everyone, there are certainly elements of the diet that I believe we could all try to implement:
Including as many green leafy vegetables as possible.
Consuming high quality fats such as extra virgin olive oil, avocado and nuts/seeds on a daily basis.
Giving your digestion a break by eating 3 meals per day instead of constantly ‘grazing’
Fasting from around 7.30pm until you rise the following day.