A couple of weeks ago I spent a quiet morning working from my favourite coffee shop in Toronto. I had my earbuds in, music playing, and the words were just flowing from my mind to laptop as I wrote A New Year, a New Bowl.
At some point, I turned to the guy beside me and asked, “can you watch my stuff while I’m in the washroom?”
Earbuds out, and in line to answer nature’s call, I overheard two friends talking about ketogenic diets.
“I lost seven lbs since I started”
“But wouldn’t eating fat, make you fat?”
“What is a ketogenic diet, even?”
- High fat
- Medium protein
- Low carb
Easy breakdown, right?
The more the two friends went back and forth on the subject, my feelings of eavesdropping aside; I couldn’t help but note the gaping lack of, and mis-information out there.
Were people adopting a ketogenic diet just because celebrities were? And does a ketogenic diet actually promote weight loss?
Since that day in the coffee shop, ketogenic “keto” diets are all I’ve been hearing about. Keto is super “trendy” right now, especially on the west coast. The diet is being positioned as a “fat burning” diet which can help train the body to burn fat versus burning carbohydrates.
While I’m sure there can be some truth to many of these diets, I can’t help but wonder, ‘is this just another fad?’
As you may know, The Low Down series on Inspired by Nick is really about me doing the research on a topic so that you don’t have to. I like sharing this food for thought in an easy to digest way, and as if you’re right there with me throughout the research process.
So here’s where I started in my lengthy Q&A on Ketogenic diets and the high fat foods that promote weight loss:
Q: What is a ketogenic diet?
A: A ketogenic diet is a nutritional regimen that is high in fat, moderate in levels of protein, and low in carbohydrates (in some cases, no carbs at all). These are the macronutrients, or “macros” of the diet (fat, protein, and carbs). It’s believed that by increasing the amounts of fat and decreasing the amounts of carbs we normally consume, the body will be trained to burn fat instead of carbs.
Typically, when we consume carbs, our bodies convert them into glucose. The side effect is the increase in insulin. And insulin of course, is a fat-storing hormone.
Conversely, when we consume healthy fats, our bodies convert them into fatty acids and ‘ketones’, which our brains use as fuel and as an important energy source.
So the benefit of a keto diet is that instead of our bodies converting carbs into glucose (which is what naturally occurs); we would convert fats into fatty acids and ketone bodies. The ketones would then pass through the body and enter the brain, while replacing glucose as an energy source.
Q: What foods are ketogenic?
A: There are no specific foods that makeup a ketogenic diet, but rather general foods that are high in fat and low in carbohydrates. Also key, is maintaining a moderate level of protein. Foods typically higher in (healthy) fats include avocado, coconut oil, almonds and almond butter, olives, walnuts, flaxseed… etc.
Q: Can you actually train your body to burn fat instead of carbs?
A: The original intent of ketogenic diets actually had nothing to do with weight loss. Doctors and scientists used ketogenic diets to treat epilepsy in children, and some adults. The elevated levels of ketones in the body from adopting a high-fat, low-carb diet was proven to reduce the frequency of epileptic seizures; an alternative to fasting or pharmaceutical treatments.
History aside, one of the effects of adopting a ketogenic diet is in fact the body’s ability to burn fat and convert it into fatty acids. Comparing this to a non-keto diet, rich in carbs, where bodies would typically convert carbs into glucose.
Q: What are the side effects of a ketogenic diet? Pros & cons?
A: A common side effect of adopting a ketogenic diet is constipation. Lipid levels in the blood typically tend to rise, though my personal concern for people considering keto, would be their source of fats. Spikes in cholesterol levels are common, even in children – depending on where you source your fats, i.e., foods high in LDLs, or ‘bad cholesterol.’
Foods like avocado and coconut have been proven to lower LDLs (bad cholesterol) and increase HDLs (good cholesterol). So as long as you do the research behind the specific foods you choose to consume, you’ll go into it informed.
Note, all animal meats contain bad cholesterol. Plant-based protein and all plants contain no LDLs or bad cholesterol.
Q: Good ketogenic diet for beginners?
A: It can be tough to find a comprehensive guide if you’re just getting started with Keto diets. Here’s one I’ve personally found online which happens to be vegan – free of meats, dairy, fish and any animal byproducts. And though it fits my personal dietary needs, it’s quite comprehensive and makes recommendations that are (legitimately) easy to implement. If vegetarian, or diets that include animal meats are more your thing, listen to your body and do what works for you.
Q: What are the negatives of ketogenic diets?
A: The real negatives of adopting a ketogenic diets are all in the potentials. By that I mean the potential for LDLs or bad cholesterol levels to increase – again, depending on where you source your proteins and fats. Constipation is another legitimate concern, though it is pretty common whenever any major changes or overhauls are made to diets. It can be expected, but as your body adapts, it’s likely to get better.
Keep in mind that ketogenic diets were initially conceived to combat and reduce the frequency of seizures in people who suffer from epilepsy. It really comes down to the body burning fat and converting it into fatty acids which make for a state of ketosis that leads to this. The so called “side effects” of adopting a ketogenic diet are different for everyone. And while you could potentially train your body to burn fat more regularly, the results aren’t a sure thing.
Yes you will be burning fats instead of carbs, leading to lower glucose levels, but likely higher lipid levels. Assess if this is really what you need. And as a an important note to add to everything I’ve shared with you in this blog post, it’s best to consult with a doctor and/or medical professional before making any major changes to your diets.
Listen to your body.
Be good to your body.
Make sure you have the right information, and do what’s right for you.
Nick Joly | Inspired by Nick