“Not another diet,” is probably what you’re thinking! … But what if the ketognic diet is THE diet!? You know, the one that is uncomplicated and easy to follow, helps you lose weight quickly and effortlessly, doesn’t involve counting calories or starving yourself, has delicious and healthy meals that leave you satisfied rather than fantasizing about cheesecake… And, while we’re at it, actually allows you to eat cheesecake! “Nope, that diet doesn’t exist!” I hear you say… Well, maybe it does? Just maybe the ketogenic diet may finally be the answer we’ve all been searching for…
What exactly is the Ketogenic diet?
The Ketogenic diet is a high fat, moderate protein and low carbohydrate diet. Carbs are typically restricted to between 20-50g a day which puts the body into a state of ‘ketosis’. Ketosis is simply a metabolic process in which the liver converts fat into energy molecules called ketone bodies. The cells then burn the ketones for fuel, in place of glucose, transforming the body into a fat burning machine.
How do you know if you are in ketosis?
Ketone levels can be measured with urine test sticks or with a blood ketone monitor. The sticks give less reliable results compared to the monitor however, they are much cheaper. Blood ketones are best measured on a fasted stomach in the morning. If you get a result between 1.5 – 3 mmol/L then you know you are in optimal ketosis.
How is the ketogenic diet THE Diet?
1. Healthy weight loss:
Instead of losing water weight or reducing muscle mass (common in calorie controlled diets), the Ketogenic diet reduces fat mass by literally burning up unwanted fatty deposits in the body for the production of energy. What could be better? You get to drop a few dress sizes and have more energy!
2. Reduction in visceral fat:
Visceral fat is the harmful fat which is responsible for the dreaded ‘muffin top’ or ‘boep’. Having a lot of fat in that area can drive inflammation, insulin resistance and is believed to be a leading driver of metabolic dysfunction. The great news is that the ketogenic diet is very effective at reducing unwanted abdominal fat.
3. No calorie counting:
Most of the calories on a ketogenic diet come from fat (approx. 70-80%) People tend not to overeat on diets this high in fat, so calorie counting is rarely necessary. Ketone bodies dampen the appetite, and fat is very satisfying. You’ll notice at times that you may even forget to eat!
4. Helps reverse insulin resistance:
When you restrict carbohydrate intake there is a subsequent drop in fasting blood sugar. Lower blood sugar automatically lowers insulin levels. After a few months insulin resistance may be reversed and often type 2 diabetics manage to reduce or even eliminate their medication.
5. More energy:
As mentioned above you’ll be amazed at how much sustained energy you have. Even if you forget to eat for a few hours you wont experience any sudden sugar cravings or fatigue. In fact if you’re in ketosis and exercise on a fasted stomach you’ll experience an energy boost!
6. Lowers blood pressure:
Reducing carbs leads to a significant reduction in blood pressure, which lowers the risk of heart attack and stroke, as well as aneurysms, cognitive decline, and kidney failure.
7. Improved lipid profile:
As you eat less sugar creating foods, you do less damage to your arterial system and reduce inflammation. Cholesterol will drop as your body has less glucose from which to make it, and less need to repair any damage. Triglyceride levels are also reduced on a ketogenic diet, lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease. While total cholesterol may go down, HDL (good) cholesterol increases, relative to the amount of saturated fat you eat. This is a good thing as higher HDL levels are heart protective. LDL cholesterol levels drop and change in structure from small (bad) LDL particles to large (good) ‘fluffy’ particles which are harmless.
8. Brain boost:
A large part of the brain can adapt to burning ketones for energy which some argue is the preferred fuel source. This is because the brain runs at least 25% more efficiently on ketones than on glucose. Mitochondrial function improves, the production of damaging free radicals is reduced and the production of GABA increases. GABA is the major inhibitory neurotransmitter that reduces the toxic effects of excitatory pathways in the brain. Too much excitement causes neurotoxicity which manifests as seizures, depression, bipolar disorder, migraines, and dementia. In fact, the ketogenic diet originated in the 1920’s as the primary treatment for epilepsy.
9. Better digestion:
Gut health improves with the removal of sugar and grains. On a ketogenic diet, symptoms of poor digestion such as stomach pain, bloating, flatulence and heartburn are dramatically reduced.
10. Improved sleep:
The increase in the neurotransmitter GABA facilitates a good nights rest. The ketogenic diet also provides you with sustained energy throughout the day eliminating the need for afternoon naps or falling asleep at your desk.
What can I eat on a ketogenic diet?
- An abundance of healthy fats such as coconut oil, egg yolks, ghee, animal fats, butter, olive oil, olives, macadamia oil etc
- Proteins such as meat and eggs from grass-fed, pastured animals and wild caught fish.
- Non-starchy vegetables such leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, nightshades etc
- Nuts & seeds especially macadamia nuts
- Low carb fruits such as avocado, coconut, lemons, limes and berries
- Full fat dairy such as heavy cream, hard cheeses and Greek yoghurt
- Grains and sugar (bread, pasta, rice, gluten, sugary drinks & snacks, honey and other sweeteners high in carbs)
- Unhealthy fats such as vegetable oil, margarine, any processed oils and transfats
- Legumes and soy (beans, peanuts, tofu, soy milk etc)
- Conventionally raised meat (factory farmed pork, chicken, beef & fish)
- Artificial sweeteners and additives (colourings, preservatives, MSG, BPAs, sulfites etc)
- Fruit high in carbs (tropical fruits, dried fruit etc)
- Any foods marked low fat or low calorie
Do not despair at the ‘avoid’ list. Once you start eating the ketogenic diet you wont even miss those foods! To give you an example, a typical day would start off with a delicious cup of coffee and cream then some eggs, chorizo sausage and baby spinach fried in butter, topped off with homemade tomato sauce. Lunch would be a big salad with cajun chicken, cheese, avocado and a homemade mayonnaise dressing. Dinner would then be lamb chops with chermoula, cauliflower mash and a buttery grilled asparagus. How good does that sound? Note: Snacks are usually unnecessary, however a snack could be a spoon of macadamia nut butter, a handful of dried coconut flakes, olives, ½ an avocado or a wedge of cheese.
How do I get started?
- Detox your pantry, fridge and freezer of all high carbohydrate foods and restock with the ‘include’ foods mentioned above.
- Plan and think about your meals ahead of time to avoid the temptation of take-aways or 2 minute noodles!
- Get a ketogenic recipe book and learn how to cook a few delicious low carb meals until it becomes second nature.
- Stay hydrated! The kidneys begin to dump excess water as your carbohydrate intake is lowered. Make sure that you also drink plenty of bone broths to restore mineral levels that also get depleted with the water loss.
- Be consistent and patient. Weigh yourself once a week rather than everyday and track your body measurements as well.
- Include a high intensity interval training exercise program after a month or two to increase muscle insulin sensitivity and build muscle mass. This will then translate into a higher metabolic rate, lower insulin levels, and more fat burning.
- Lastly; when in doubt eat more fat. Hungry? Eat fat. Craving sugar? Eat fat. What must 80% of your diet consist of? FAT.
Achieving ketosis is undoubtedly one of the fastest and most effective ways to lose weight. Added to that I truly believe that following a ketogenic, low carb diet is one of the best ways to get as healthy as possible.