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The Ketogenic Diet: try it, or walk on by it?

At Urban Wellness Clinic we’ve tried all of the major diets and most of the minor ones in search of dietary wisdom. The Ketogenic Diet is hot right now, but it’s not a new fad. Here’s our breakdown.

Mini timeline

Ketogenic diets are not new. Ketogenic nutrition experiments with epileptic children in the 1920s revealed the diet could improve epilepsy. In the 80s and 90s, physique athletes and bodybuilders developed an interest in the diet, mostly in efforts to be more spectacularly muscular. And then, no more than 2 years ago, experts starting extoling the benefits of this high-fat, near-zero carb diet. Today, there’s mounting evidence of people with neurodegenerative disorders like multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s, or with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) benefiting from the diet. Even for those without specific conditions, a ketogenic diet seems like a blessed loophole allowing you to eat lots of butter and bacon and still be healthy. Right?

Benefits of a ketogenic diet

In addition to these impressive neuroprotective qualities, what other possible benefits are there to following a ketogenic diet?

Even though fat was once-upon-a-time associated with, well, fat, there has been evidence of the diet’s benefit in tackling type 2 diabetes (if you’re on insulin, you may need your dosage adjusted when making this change), high cholesterol (low carbs often mean optimal cholesterol), and obesity (due to lowered insulin levels and the body’s ability to burn stored fat). Following a ketogenic diet can also help prevent and kill cancer cells, in large part due to its elimination of sugar.

How does it work? 

Ketones are a group of organic compounds your body produces when conditions are ripe—when you’re fasting, starving, or your carb intake is really low. Your liver releases ketones into your blood, and nearly any cell lacking energy can nab it, brain cells often being the hungriest. Ketosis occurs when you’ve got more ketones in your blood than normal (either because you’re fasting, dieting, or because you’re taking exogenous ketone). Research on ketone supplements is still sort of inconclusive, though. But by cutting sugar while welcoming fat and a wee bit o’ protein, you can achieve ketosis and still get your nutrients.

The Ketogenic diet looks to fat for up to 90% of total daily calorie intake

To eat and not to eat

The ketogenic meal looks to fat for up to 90% of total daily calorie intake, protein for 10 to 20%, and carbs for close to nada. Even though the ketogenic diet is high in fat, it won’t raise your risk of heart disease, which is caused mostly by trans fat and sugar-induced inflammation, and not by the heart-healthy fat you’ll be eating. So if you want to lose weight, reduce your risk of cancer, and improve your blood sugar, a ketogenic diet might be right for you. But admittedly, it’s pretty limiting.

You can eat:

  • A bit of protein, in the form of meat, seafood, or eggs
  • A lot of fatty yet healthy food, like avocado, coconut and coconut milk or oil, olive oil and other oils, nuts and nut butters, bacon, egg yolks, butter, and some cheese
  • A very small amount of low-carb veggies, including leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, asparagus, cucumber, mushrooms, zucchini, and tomato

You can’t eat:

  • Most dairy (except butter and certain cheeses)
  • Fruit
  • Grains
  • Beans and legumes
  • Starchy veggies, like yams
  • Sorta-sweet veggies, like squash, beets, or carrots
  • Processed food

Is this worth it to you?

On the one hand, ketosis doesn’t seem to do much for some. It might be more useful to those with specific needs and conditions. It’s also possible it’ll take too long to work. Not to mention, many find a ketogenic diet very challenging.

On the other hand, getting your ketones to jive by observing a somewhat modified ketogenic diet can likely benefit most healthy adults, especially those trying to drop the pounds.

If you just want to be healthy and fit, and are curious, try it out. There are many ways to get on the right health track for you, and a ketogenic diet may or may not be a key piece. If you’re an athlete, understand the demands on your body before going ketogenic.

And, if you feel like a bit of individual assessment and guidance may be in order, seeking a nutritional therapy, the likes of which we offer at UWC, can change your world!

Best in health,

Dr Emily Kiberd