The Ketogenic diet (commonly called “Keto diet”) has been used therapeutically since the 1920’s, originally as to reduce and control seizures in epileptics. During the 60’s the therapeutic potential of the ketogenic diet was recognised and expanded from a prescriptive treatment to include health conditions such as diabetes, weight-loss, acne, polycystic ovarian syndrome, neurological disorders, and some cancers.
Diets like the Atkins diet, very-low-carbohydrate ketogenic diets (VLCKD) and keto diets are commonly low in carbohydrates, pushing the body into mimicking a fasting-like state. The standard keto diet contains 80% fat, 15% protein and 5% carbohydrates.
What is ketosis?
Ketogenesis is a natural process that your body falls into when all available glucose sources (derived from carbohydrates and sugars) have been used up for energy. After about 3-4 days, these stored glucose resources become exhausted and the body is forced to find another source of energy. Once the body runs out of carbs to burn, the next resource to burn is fat. Your body then switches to an alternative metabolic process known as ketosis, whereby fat is broken down and creates ketone bodies as an energy source. This is where the common term “fat burning” is derived from.
What does the Keto diet include and exclude?
Ketogenic diets don’t just eliminate carbohydrates, but all sugars, whole grains, certain pulses, fruit and starchy vegetables. One concern with these diets are that by avoiding these foods, one misses out on all the phytonutrients, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that these foods offer. It also greatly reduces fibre which not only adds to bowel regularity and tonicity but is the main food source for one’s gut microbiome. The keto diet includes all types of fat including butter, lard, coconut oil, avocado, macadamia nut, flax, olive and hemp oil.
Keto and the Microbiome
Consuming a diet that is restrictive in fibre will in a sense, leave one’s gut bugs deprived of the foods they need to produce butyrate and short chain fatty acids, both of which reduce inflammation, support immune function and contribute to one’s overall health. Gut health is closely linked to our brain health, via a mechanism known as the microbiota-gut-brain axis which means the food that we eat will influence how the bacteria in our gut react and they will send a message to the brain about the “state” of environment they are in. If they are happy, we are happy, and vice versa.
Therapeutic uses of a keto diet
There is strong evidence that supports the keto diet as a form of rapid weight loss. Studies have also shown that ketone bodies may have appetite suppressing actions with people strictly adhering to the ketogenic diet reporting significantly less hunger and desire to eat than the control group, including significant weight loss results.
Acne has been linked to nutritional influences from certain food groups like dairy, sugar and high glycaemic foods such as refined carbohydrates. There is evidence to show that carbohydrates and glucose can affect hormones such as insulin, that are thought to be one of the underlying factors responsible for acne.
Type 2 Diabetes
Because restricting the intake of carbs has a direct impact on glucose levels, the keto diet has been shown to improve glycaemic control, haemoglobin A1c, lipid markers and may lead to a reduced need for insulin stabilising medications.
There is some evidence to suggest that, in obese people, keto-like low carb diets have a significantly positive effect on total cholesterol reduction and increases in high-density lipoproteins while not increasing the risk of cardiovascular health.
However, while low-carb diets, such as the ketogenic diet, have shown to be effective in these areas in the short term, they still raise concerns with many doctors and health professionals as the long-term effects are unclear.
It is clear that a ketogenic diet has a significant impact on the way our body functions. However, while there may be health benefits it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is the right diet for you. Some bodies may thrive on this diet, but others may gain weight or have unwanted health outcomes. There are many alternative dietary patterns such as the Mediterranean or whole food diet, that can be modified to suit your individual physiology.
It is important, as with any diet or nutritional modification, to check in with your naturopath, nutritionist or GP before altering your diet or starting new supplements. We are a diverse nation with diverse needs and there is never a one-size-fits-all approach to health and wellness.
10 Keto 'Must Haves'
If you’re prescribed the Keto Diet for therapeutic reasons, here are some great products to support your wellness:
- MCT oil: Medium chain triglycerides are types of fatty acids that are quickly digested and absorbed and used for energy. MCT have been proven to be useful in reducing waist circumference and weight.
- Non starchy vegetables: Eat these veggies in abundance: Kale, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, zucchini, leeks, cabbage, okra, mushrooms, tomatoes, beans, lettuce greens, peppers, onions, eggplants.
- Nuts, seeds and sprout mix: (Roar mix)
- Avocados: This nutritious food is high monounsaturated fatty acids, vitamins and nutrients and makes the perfect snack on keto bread.
- Keto bread (Venerdi): Low carb made with hemp and linseeds and resistant starches like konjac, psyllium and banana flower that will nourish your microbiome.
- Coconut oil (Commonsense): A good source of MCTs. MCT are used readily by the body to burn fat when in a “fat burning” state.
- Collagen (Nutraorganics or Great Lakes): Add to your “bullet proof coffee”. Add in these amino acids to elasticise skin and increase muscle recovery.
- Kelp noodles: Sea Tangle Kelp Noodles are raw, ready-to-eat noodles made of kelp, sodium extracted from a brown seaweed, and water. They are fat-free, gluten-free, and low in carbohydrates. Their neutral taste means you can use them as a pasta alternative in many dishes including salads, stir fries and soups.
- Konjac noodles, fettuccini, rice and lasagne: They're made from glucomannan, a type of fibre that comes from the root of the konjac plant. They are zero carbs and zero calories.
- Biltong (Canterbury Biltong): These high protein snacks make a great on-the-go snack. They are also one of the only preservative-free meat snacks in New Zealand.
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