Ketogenic Diets: What's Up with Low Carb High Fat?

Raise your hand if you’ve heard of the Ketogenic (or Keto for short), diet. Anyone? Everyone? 

For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, I’ll give you a quick overview of what it is. For those of you who are already familiar with this dietary approach, go a head and skip this part. 

A Little History
Although it seems at first glance to be a newcomer on the dietary scene, Ketogenic diets have been around for quite a long time. As early as Hippocrates, the benefits of incorporating fasting into the diet and limiting or eliminating refined grains, as means of curing illness have been known. In the early 1900s, during America’s heyday of Health Retreats and Sanatoriums, particularly in Battle Creek Michigan, high fat, low carbohydrate diets in conjunction with periods of fasting, light exercise, and sunbathing, began to reemerge as a treatment for various health issues. Eventually, the connection was made between eating a ketogenic diet and the alleviation of epileptic seizures in those suffering from the disease. However with the development of effective anti-seizure medications in the mid-1920s ketogenic diets began to fall out of favor. Interestingly, they began to make a come back in the 1990s as a way to manage severe epilepsy in children who did not respond well to medications, and as a way to help control blood glucose levels, improve cholesterol, and lower body fat percentages in adults. 

But what exactly IS a ketogenic diet? What does that mean? 
The basic description of a ketogenic diet is a High Fat, Low Carbohydrate, Moderate Protein diet. In general, the bulk of dietary calories will come from fats, with enough dietary protein intake to prevent the loss of lean muscle, and very low carbohydrate intake. Net Carbohydrate (total carbs minus fiber) intake is generally kept between 20- 60 grams/day, in order to force the body to burn stored fats as fuel. Dietary Carbohydrate levels are dependent on activity level, but as most Americans are fairly sedentary the usual daily carb intake should skew to the lower end of the acceptable scale. 

Why Eat a Keto Diet? 
In addition to being helpful for epileptics, this diet has been shown to be effective for reducing weight in obese adults, and for helping to alleviate symptoms of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, and Menopause in women. After all, our hormonal system NEEDS fats in order to work properly, and high carbohydrate diets are linked to the development of insulin resistance/metabolic disorder/TypeII Diabetes, and a host of inflammatory conditions. It is also being studied in the treatment of Parkinson's Disease, Alzheimers, Depression, Bi-Polar Disorder, Auto Immune Diseases, IBS, Crohns, and Leaky Gut. 

Ketogenesis and Fat Loss
By limiting carbohydrates, the Keto diet puts the body into a state of ketogenesis. 
Ketogenesis is the process by which the body switches from using dietary carbohydrate (glucose) as fuel and instead uses fats to fuel the body’s functions. By burning fats  the body creates Ketones, which can then be used in place of glucose to fuel the brain, and fulfill the body’s energy needs. Please bear in mind, I’m giving you a very simplified explanation of this process. If you’d like to read more scientific explanations I suggest you check out http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19049574 for a more detailed report. 

Is Keto Right for YOU?
Should everyone go on a Ketogenic diet? No. As I've said before, there is no one right way to eat. Some people need more carbohydrates that are typically allowed on a Keto diet, some people may have health conditions that would be adversely affected by a Keto approach, some people may not tolerate a high fat diet very well. However, if you are struggling with trying to lose weight, are dealing with blood sugar issues, menopausal (or peri-menopausal) symptoms, or PCOS, you may benefit from exploring this dietary approach. Many people who have been unsuccessful in achieving their health goals using more mainstream approaches have seen success when adopting a ketogenic eating style, incorporating more healthy fats, restricting carbohydrates, and maintaining adequate protein intake. Additionally, most Keto dieters incorporate modified or intermittent fasting, limiting their eating to specific time windows. Some women seem to have a negative response to intermittent fasting, and so you will need to pay attention to your personal responses to IF. 

Monitoring Ketosis
How do you know if you have reached a state of ketosis i.e. Fat Burning Mode? At the start of the process most people use urine test strips to measure the presence and amount of Ketones in their urine. As the body becomes more Keto-adapted urine ketones will decline and blood tests (similar to blood glucose tests) may be used. However many people learn to recognize and rely on their bodies’ unique signals for when they are burning fat vs glucose for energy. 

N=1
Because I like to experiment, and because I generally feel like I benefit from knowing how I respond to any particular dietary approach, I will be embarking on a 30 day Ketogenic journey starting June 1st. During the month I will logging my daily food intake and macro breakdowns. I am aiming for 25 grams of net carbs per day (100 kcal). I plan to keep my protein intake to 56 grams per day,(224 kcal) and my fat intake at 105 grams per day (945 kcal). I will be using Keto urine strips to measure ketones. I will also be weighing myself weekly using an Atria scale which also measures body fat percentage. I will post changes, but probably not the actual numbers to avoid feeding into the hyper-focus on weight and body fat so many of us deal with.
 
I’ll be perfectly honest about my experience whether it’s positive or negative. I do have a few concerns, mainly involving carb flu. Although by general standards I eat a low to moderate carb diet (100-125 grams/day) I will be making a significant reduction in my carbohydrate consumption and thus may experience the headaches, body aches, and brain fog often associated with a sudden drastic reduction in carb levels. I'm also a little wary of how my digestive tract will handle 105 grams of fat. I know from experience that high added fat breakfasts don't always agree with me, so I may need to get creative in my approach to incorporating fatty foods in my morning meal. Avocados and Salmon may be my new best friends! 

Finding my Why
Whenever we make a big change, or set a new goal it is imperative that we ask (and answer!) WHY? Why is this important? Why do I really want to do this? I have a couple of WHYs. Besides wanting to have first hand experience with this diet so I can more effectively coach clients who may be interested in using it to attain their goals, I have a few personal reasons. First, I’m entering my late 40s, and am beginning to feel the first changes that come along with peri-menopause. I’ve noticed a shift in how and where my body holds weight, changes in my sleep and energy levels, and have been experiencing some mood swings. Second, Type II Diabetes affects several of my family members and I’d like to avoid that in my own life. Third, I would like to reduce my body fat percentage. While I’m still in the healthy range for my age, sex, and height, I feel that losing some excess body fat will benefit my goals of living to be very old and very active.

I invite all of you to follow along on this experiment. The recipes I post during this time will be Low Carb, High Fat, Moderate Protein friendly, and I’ll still be following a primal approach as far what fats I include, and my choices in dairy and carbohydrates, and as always choosing real foods NOT processed convenience foods. I’m very nervous, but also really interested to see how I respond to this approach. I know from experience (I’m looking at you Engine2) that a High Carb/Low Fat/Low Protein Diet is the absolute WORST choice for me….so let’s see how the exact opposite does. 

Accountability and Tracking
I'm using MyFitnessPal to track my food and Macros, FitBit Aria Scale to track my weight and Body Fat,  FitBit One activity tracker for step/fitness tracking, and SleepBot to track my sleep. I’ll keep my data update posts to once a week, probably Fridays, so don’t worry about being inundated with daily food logs and such. But be ready for honest reports and possibly TMI. You know how we wellness folks love to talk about bodily functions! 

That’s it for now….I’m off to buy my Keto Urine Strips! 

*I thought I should mention, I had originally planned to also track my blood glucose levels, but quickly discovered that the cost of the test strips is outrageous! So I won’t have that data point to share with you. I will be using Walgreens brand Keto urine testing strips (50 count/10.99$USD) and testing once a day. 

Have you or are you currently following a Ketogenic diet? Let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear about your experiences!