I see a lot these days from medical professionals and different health coaches touting all the rage of the miracles that the Ketogenic diet gives. I will admit it sounds all remarkable.
The list of benefits are all wonderful.
The Keto diet show to:
-Keep blood glucose in control
-Rapid weight loss
-Reduce fasting glucose
-Reduce post meal glucose
-Reduce Total Cholesterol
-Reduce LDL Cholesterol
-Flatline blood glucose
This list looks very appealing for those who wish for weight loss and reduce diabetes symptoms. However, the reasoning the the ketogenic diet was originally developed for people with epilepsy and the diet was found to be effective at reducing seizures.
However, I cannot help but cringe at the lack of understanding the medical community and keto fans have when it comes to understanding the foundations of the human biochemistry and how it processes food.
But, before I dive into giving you the basics of how your body is processes food on the keto diet and how it is SUPPOSED to run. It’s best to know first what a Ketogenic Diet is.
What is the Ketogenic Diet?
A Ketogenic Diet is a very low carbohydrate containing a maximum of 30 grams of dietary carbohydrate per day. It is a high fat/ high protein diet.
The base of the diet foods consist of eggs, dairy, meat, oil, and fish. These foods are the bulk of the daily calorie intake. There is absolutely no starchy vegetables allowed because they contain too many carbohydrates. The diet allows most non-starchy vegetables, especially leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and very minimal amounts of fruit, mostly berries. No grains are allowed in the diet. Even whole grains, pasta, refined sugar, milk, corn, legumes, lentils, peas, and rice are off limits.
What happens when your body is on the Keto Diet?
When the body is under a Ketogenic Diet, the body goes into a state called ketosis. This is when the muscles and liver switch from oxidizing glucose (aka breakdown of Carbohydrates) as its primary fuel source and starts to use fatty acids (aka breakdown of fats). This is a very basic understanding of how the body processes on Keto, there is definitely more to it, but I will try to make it easier on the eyes for those who are unfamiliar of understanding nutritional biochemistry.
In order for the body to withstand the low carbohydrate diet, the liver manufactures ketone bodies as an emergency backup fuel for your brain when in the state of ketosis. Your brain does not prefer this process, but it will survive.
However, the problem with eating a Ketogenic Diet is it increases your risk for chronic disease and premature death in the long term.
Let’s go more in depth as to why, shall we, by addressing some of the ketogenic world’s claims.
Claim #1: Eating carbohydrates spikes your blood glucose
What people in ketosis don’t understand is that the amount of glucose in your blood is not only determined by the carbohydrate that you eat. Instead, blood glucose is a reflection of both the dietary carbohydrate intake AND the dietary fat intake.
Carbs are not the only reason for creating blood glucose. The reality is your blood glucose is determined by how much fat you eat and secondarily determined by how much carbohydrates you eat.
For example, we’ll compare the Keto Diet, the Standard American Diet, and the Plant-based Diet.
Keto- The reason blood glucose remains flat is because of very little to no carbohydrates. As long as the carbs are under 30 grams or less, the blood glucose will stay flatlined. Yet, the minute you eat a carbohydrate rich food, like a sweet potato or banana, your blood glucose spikes up due to a hidden state of fatty acid insulin resistance.
Standard American- A high carb and high fat diet that produces high blood glucose, high insulin resistance, diabetes, and a whole host of dietary related diseases.
Plant-based diet- A low-fat diet with whole plant-based foods. The low fat with overall whole carbohydrates increase the tolerance for the body to process carbohydrates. Results show maximum insulin sensitivity and gives the opportunity to reverse insulin resistance all together. It is possible to achieve a flatline glucose level on a plant-based diet as long as you can achieve less than 30 grams of fat and your carbohydrates come from whole foods such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, and not from products containing refined sugars.
When you drop fat intake, you gain the ability to accept more carbohydrate rich foods.
Insulin resistance is a carbohydrate intolerance first created by the consumption of excess dietary fat.
Claim #2 Carbs are not an essential nutrient.
This one is probably the most disturbing myth being thrown around. The truth is the body needs carbs. Why do you think it processes it first before all other nutrients? Because the body is designed to use it as it’s primary source.
The liver, muscles, and peripheral tissues are capable of oxidizing glucose (carbs), amino acids (protein), and fatty acids (fats) for energy. Your brain cannot oxidize amino acids or fatty acids for energy. Your brain can only run off of glucose for energy and does not possess the biological capability to store glucose. Therefore, your brain must oxidize glucose constantly on demand 24 hours a day.
Carbs is the brain’s primary source for fuel.
When you consume a low carb diet you force your liver to process its emergency store of fuel known as ketone bodies. This is your body’s evolutionary response for when you go into starvation. Pretty helpful if you’re in a desert or trapped location where there is no access to food for days. When the body has low carbs it uses the ketone bodies to prevent the brain from starvation and enters into the body state called ketosis in which the ketone bodies become the brain’s primary fuel. Ketosis is your body’s last line of defense before it completely shuts down, aka death.
Claim #3: The Keto Diet is not a high protein diet
Scientifically speaking, eating more than 10-15% of total calories of protein is a high protein diet. Since the bulk of calories come from meats in keto it scientifically is considered a high protein diet.
There are many studies that have shown protein intake that is more than 15% of total calories, it then increases your risk for heart disease, high cholesterol, atherosclerosis, diabetes, various forms of cancer, and premature death.
Claim #4: Just look at the research, it shows that it is good
Ketosis and the ketogenic diet claims in research are gleaned from small population studies that are short term trials measured in weeks or months. While this research is helpful in assessing short term benefits, it fails to document long-term effects.
When looking for viable diet studies be sure to take note that the number of participants is in the tens of hundreds and thousands of people over a span of 5 or more years.
Looking for a viable diet study check out The China Study based off of the China-Cornell-Oxford Project. The study analyzes over 6,500 people throughout the country of China over a span of 20 years.
What are the side effects of ketosis?
Here are some of the known side effect of the Ketogenic Diet:
Inability to concentrate
Stunted growth in children
Increase risk for bone fractures
Menstrual irregularities and loss of periods
Increase risk for premature death from any cause
Low carbohydrate diets, such as the Ketogenic diet, show many risks to overall human health in the long term. Low carb diets put the human body into the starvation and survival state of ketosis that stresses the immune response making people who eat low carb diets die sooner and suffer more disease in the long term.
So I’m not a fan of manipulating the body’s natural response for survival when there are ways to understand the body’s mechanisms to make it thrive.
Our bodies are smart and were designed to function a certain way, we as a population have become so disconnected from life and our own bodies that we distract ourselves so much with overcoming symptoms rather than putting effort into overcoming the root cause.
I ask you, are the long term effects really worth the short term benefits?
In my opinion, as a person who already has an incurable chronic health condition, I think not.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:Ariel Zimmerlein is a Holistic Health Coach and Farmer. She uses her B.S. in Human Nutrition and Dietetics and her lifetime learning and experience with chronic illness and childhood trauma to empower others to live life fully regardless of the circumstances they have been given. She runs her farm, AZ Farm and Wellness, and loves to grow food for its inner and outer healing benefits.
She focuses her practice on nutrition, stress, with special interest in mental/emotional health. She serves those with chronic health conditions who are challenged by pain, isolation, depression, and anxiety. Visit her at www.azfarmwellness.com to learn more.