During the month of October, I'm going to be exploring several different dietary strategies that seem to ebb and flow in popularity. We'll cover Paleo (or real food eating), Keto, vegetarianism/veganism, and the Standard American "Healthy" Diet. Within each category, I'll list the pros and cons, as well as give you my bottom line for each dietary approach.
Last but not least, we have the other big trendy diet of the current culture: keto.
Keto isn't new; there are indigenous peoples who have eaten a keto template for years, and it was also popularized in the 1990s by Dr. Adkins.
In the most basic sense, a keto approach is one that is high in fat, moderate in protein, and very low in carb intake. The goal is for the body to switch from using sugar (glucose) for fuel and start to utilize fat for fuel via the process of making ketones with ketosis.
With that in mind, a keto approach focuses on eating the following foods:
Protein powders/bars/shakes (most likely artificially sweetened)
Fats such as avocado, olives, or oils from those foods
Nuts & seeds
Nut & seed butters
Animal fats like tallow or lard
Low-carb products to resemble grain based foods (bread, crackers, etc)
Artificially sweetened drinks
And avoids the following foods:
Grain based products like bread, crackers, pasta, etc
Rice, oats, etc
Sweeteners such as raw honey or dates
Sweeteners such as cane sugar or HFCS
Now there are several factors that will determine whether or not the keto diet is right for you. Having tried and failed with it myself (and now I know why!), it really needs to be something that you consider completely before just jumping right in.
If you are someone who has the specific ApoE4 genetic type, which you can only know through genetic testing, you will not be someone who responds well to such an extremely high fat diet, as it might increase your susceptibility to certain health issues such as cardiovascular disease and high cholesterol.
If you are someone who does not digest fat super well, like those who do not have a gallbladder, have a family history of gallbladder issues, or have liver dysfunction (the liver makes bile which is stored in the gallbladder), you will not do well with a keto approach as your body will not be able to breakdown and utilize the fats you are eating properly.
If you are someone like me who struggles with fatty acid oxidation, which I found via the Organic Acids Test from Great Plains, a keto diet will not work for you. Basically, this means that I have a fat metabolism disorder that causes an inability to produce the right amount of enzymes needed to break down fats. This also ties in with the point above.
Lastly, if you are a cycling female, you are more likely to not tolerate keto as well as a male or menopausal female. Simply put, when you have more hormones to manage and deal with on a regular, cyclical basis, anything that might stress them out in any way (going to low carb for instance) will not be ideal. This also goes for those people who are extremely stressed, anxious, and overwhelmed. Sometimes removing all the carbs (removing the processed/refined ones is fine) make the problem worse.
With that being said, when can keto be helpful:
If you are a relatively healthy male or menopausal female who has no major health issues and hasn't struggled with hormone imbalances or large amounts of stress in their lives (wonder if those unicorns actually exist??).
Anyone with a neurological or epileptic disorder, especially in children, will benefit as the ketones produced when in ketosis have been proven to be beneficial for brain health in those instances.
For anyone with insulin resistance, a semi-keto approach might not hurt to try, as we work to reduce carb intake and start to manage blood sugar.
When experimenting with keto, it is important to keep the following in mind:
1. You must optimize digestion, especially fat digestion, FIRST. If not, you will not see any of the benefits of the keto diet. This means addressing the north to south digestive process and considering the health of your liver and gallbladder.
2. There is still a thing as too much fat; we want to focus on eating lots of real, whole foods centered around animal protein, non-starchy veggies, and then healthy fats. But it doesn't mean you need to add 1/4 cup a butter to every meal.
3. You can (and must) eat vegetables on the keto diet. No, the extra serving of carrots won't kill you.
4. Quality is still key when choosing foods, so avoiding artificial sweeteners or other keto concoctions is going to help you in the long run, rather than help you stay "keto."
5. Don't try and muster through weeks of struggling and cravings with the keto approach. If you aren't feeling like it is working and a manageable approach for you after about 2 weeks, it likely isn't for you.
As we wrap up this series on exploring different dietary strategies, I want to remind you of this: real, whole food always wins. Always. It beats out the cool bar/shake/powder every. single. time. So no matter what you choose to put on your plate, let us always ask ourselves - is this the real food version of this food or is there a better option?
If you are struggling to find the right approach for you, come seek me out at Synergy Chiropractic in Lincoln, NE, where I'll help you find a plan/template that works for you.