I have had so many people ask me about the ketogenic diet and knowing the reasons why I disagreed with it, I decided to give it a try. You see, I always try things myself before I can recommend something properly and safely to others. When I do something myself first, I am able to come up with appropriate meal plans, modifications for people, and tips.
The ketogenic diet is not a new diet, it’s been around for decades and the most common other name we know for it is the popular Atkins’ diet, however, it is a current diet “fad”. A keto diet is well known for being a low carb diet, where the body produces ketones in the liver to be used as energy. It’s referred to as many different names – ketogenic diet, low carb diet, low carb high fat (LCHF), etc. (ruled.me). Since glucose is used as your primary energy, your fats are not needed and are therefore stored to do other things for survival in your body. Typically, on a normal, higher carbohydrate diet, the body will use glucose as the main form of energy. The basis of a low carb way of eating, is to lower the intake of carbs, forcing the body into a state known as ketosis.
Ketosis is a natural process the body initiates to help us survive when food intake is low. During this state, we produce ketones, which are produced from the breakdown of fats in the liver. My opinion of this process, short term, VERY SHORT TERM this is not a big deal. However, long term, there can be some very significant health damaging issues to the body and this is why I don’t recommend the ketogenic diet. Let’s dig a little further before I tell you my personal experience…
Now, naturally, if you are eating a bunch of junk food and then eliminate it, this will dramatically lower your insulin levels and improve insulin sensitivity. One of the reasons this diet is effective at lowering insulin is because you are eating next to no carbs so your blood sugar is extremely low and there is nothing forcing your pancreas to release insulin to usher blood sugar into your cells.
Ketosis is a considered a state of medical emergency. Can the body survive without carbohydrates or very limited amounts of carbohydrates? Sure, for a time, but even still can the body truly thrive? While you may have managed to contain or even eliminate any insulin related diseases you are potentially incurring a host of other issues. (Tolman, Tyler)
The obvious is that our body needs all the vitamins and minerals it can get. When we cut out entire food groups like fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, what price are we paying? You can get a ton of fiber and phytonutrients in veggies for sure, but to cut out apples, citrus, berries, and other fruits and vegetables is absurd. Fruits, whole grains, legumes and veggies all have extremely vital minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, prebiotic fiber and other nutrients for optimal health.
The keto diet does not address what types of proteins and fats are ideal, and this is essential. Weight loss is one thing, and insulin management is another, but anti-aging, cancer prevention, auto-immune, and overall health is another. Preserving your body’s cells, telomeres, and very DNA requires a moderate fat diet of polyunsatrued and monounsaturated fats. All the current research is showing us that high fat diets, in particular diets high in unhealthy saturated fats, are shredding our telomeres (which are the little end caps on our chromosomes) that literally improve our immune response, fight aging, and protect our DNA. Plus, our cells are literally made up of macromolecules, and the four main ones are nucleic acids, carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids (fats). When we aren’t eating all the macronutrients in a balanced way, we are literally starving our cells. (Michales)
So, there’s good here and bad here. Realistically, anything you do differently your body will respond to and lose weight, for a time. Naturally, if you pull out carbs, the foods we store as sugar and then fat, you will lose weight. The studies that I have seen that show the ketogenic diet is safe for long periods, were conducted for 24 weeks and to me that is not a good indicator. Approach this diet with caution. There is not a long-lived culture on this planet that lives a ketogenic type of lifestyle. This is not a long term way of eating. Our bodies need glycogen, and our brains and muscles need healthy glucose.
So, what do we do? Can we get the benefits of a keto diet without being keto? The answer is YES. The key is managing insulin and, guess what, there are many diets that can do this. You don’t have to go keto!
Here’s what I have found out in my small journey of the ketogenic diet.
On June 1st, I set out to attempt a safe ketogenic diet. The way I ate was already really clean with no sugars, minimal fruits, and high vegetables. I ate a high amount of protein and healthy fats. My macronutrients were very balanced between protein, carbs, and fats. The only way for me to become keto was to pull out all fruits and vegetables, which, on a ketogenic diet, you do. Your carb intake on a genuine 100% ketogenic diet is roughly 20 grams of carbs. One apple is 22 grams of carbs! One slice of bread is 21 grams of carbs. This tells you how hard it is to do and really, long term, unsafe.
In one week, I lost 9 lbs! I was eating protein and fats, and I actually felt really good. The typical physical sensations during your first week is brain fog, fatigue, detox, headaches, dizziness, and aggravation.
Exactly one week into my experimental of way of eating, I was missing vegetables very badly. I wasn’t sick of eating the fats and proteins, that I already did. But my minimal amount of carbohydrates, wasn’t cutting it.
Then, it happened. My body, after one week crashed and it crashed hard. I have never been so sick in my life. One major side effect of the ketogenic diet is the ketogenic flu. I had thought I contracted food poisoning, it came on so sudden and so fast. We tested my blood sugars, and while low, they weren’t dangerously low. People who experience the “keto flu” have diarrhea or constipation and flu-like symptoms that can last up to 1-2 months (ruled.me). It’s been another week, and while I am still not normal, I am slowly better every single day. Could I have gotten a bug, yes absolutely. Did I? I personally think, that pulling out my bodies main line of defense, micronutrients, that we get from fruits and vegetables, caused me to get sick.
So, what did I learn in this two weeks and what do I want to share with you? There are ways to lose weight on a low carb style of eating without going into ketosis and pulling out our very important micronutrients. This has further driven my original stance of eating balanced, colorful, variety, and whole, real foods.
Here are some low carb (never no carb) tips
- Don’t overeat. If you are trying to lose weight women should be around 1500 calories and men should be at around 1900. If you are not trying to lose weight active woman should be around 1800 and men should be around 2200.
2. Do not eat processed grains and processed sugars and you will naturally be low carb – (bread, pasta, crackers, simple starches, juices, sodas, candies, etc.).
3. Do not drink more than 2 alcoholic drinks per week.
4. Eat consistently throughout the day to maintain blood sugars.
You’ll find my low carb meal prep below, still full of vegetables but low carb enough to lose weight the healthy long lasting way!
Turkey Meatloaf on a bed of spinach with green beans
2 lbs of ground turkey
1/3 cup egg whites or 2 eggs
1/3 cup almond milk
a dash of sage, dry mustard, garlic powder, pepper
2-3 Tablespoons ketchup
2 bags of frozen green beans
1 box of fresh baby spinach
Mix all ingredients together and cook in a loaf pan at 425 degrees for 55-60 minutes or until loaf is done.
Serve with a side of steamed green beans and baby spinach.
Per Serving (makes 6) Calories 308 Protein 33.9 grams Carbs 8.3 grams Fat 12.5 grams
Shrimp Stir Fry
2 bags of frozen 22-35 count already cooked deveined shrimp
2 bags of frozen stir fry vegetables
1 tablespoon olive oil
Mrs Dash Lemon Pepper Seasoning
Heat olive oil in pan and add shrimp and vegetables. Cook until heated through.
Per Serving (makes 5 containers) Calories 172 Protein 25.7 grams Carbs 7.7 grams Fat 3.6 grams
Tilapia over a bed of spinach and broccoli
4 Tilapia Fillets
2 bags of frozen broccoli
Mrs. Dash Lemon Pepper seasoning
If using frozen tilapia thaw first.
Place tilapia in a foil lined baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle Mrs. Dash over filets and cook at 350* for around 25-30 minutes.
Meanwhile steam broccoli.
Per serving (makes 4) Calories 177 Protein 22.2 grams Carbs 5 grams, Fat 6.4 grams
Chicken Stir-Fry over a Savory Cauliflower Rice
3 chicken breasts, cut and cubed
2 bags of frozen stir fry vegetables
2 bags of frozen savory cauliflower rice
1 tablespoon olive oil
Heat olive oil and placed cubed chicken in pan to sauté. Once chicken is almost cooked add frozen bags of vegetables and continue to cook.
Meanwhile, microwave cauliflower rice according to package directions.
Divide everything into containers.
Per serving (makes 4) Calories 463 Protein 62.3 Carbs 14.2 Fat 16.4