It’s Been Around Since The 1920s
Food trends come and go, but high-fat diets – rated for their weight-loss potential and brain-boosting abilities – have real staying power. The keto diet is constantly making headlines – LeBron James recently tried it and lost 20 pounds – but versions of the low-carb plan have been used since the 1920s to help treat patients with conditions like diabetes, epilepsy and other neurological disorders. The keto diet was successful in treating epilepsy, but dietary solutions were soon replaced by pharmaceutical drugs. The diet re-emerged in the early 90s amid increased medical research and continues to soar in popularity today. “Given the challenges of the last 18 months, people are starting to look at ways to be healthy, and the keto diet provides both health benefits and a simple way to manage weight without calorie counting,” says Victoria Jain Hamilton, registered nutritional therapist. “It can help reduce hunger, stabilise energy and support blood sugar regulation.”
It’s All About Ketosis
The theory goes that a keto diet triggers ketosis (and by-products in the body called ketones), a state in which your body has burned through its carbohydrate stores and begins burning fat for energy. As Mike Murphy, nutritional therapist with the Institute for Optimum Nutrition, explains, “When you restrict carbs for a period of time, the body is forced to shift its metabolism to burning fat in the absence of glucose. When ketone production reaches a certain level, you enter a state of ketosis. The main health benefit of going into ketosis is that it acts as a metabolic tune-up. The more you rely on carbs for energy, the harder it is for you to burn fat. Going ‘keto’ now and again can help create what we call metabolic flexibility in the body – i.e. the ability to use glucose when it’s available and fats when not. One of the other USPs of going keto is that it puts the body into fat-burning mode without having to restrict calories. In other words, you can eat fat to burn fat.”
It’ll Give Your Hormones A Boost
As well as impressive weight loss results – it’s not uncommon to lose a stone in the first month of the diet – and enhanced mental clarity, the keto diet can also give male hormones a helping hand. “Men tend to carry more fat around their belly and ketogenic diets are better at targeting fat in this area,” says Mike. “Research has also shown that obese men with low testosterone not only lost weight following a ketogenic diet but also saw an increase in testosterone levels.” Victoria adds that the combination of age and weight gain can also cause testosterone levels to plummet. “Symptoms of low testosterone include a low sex drive, fatigue and erectile dysfunction. Early research suggests a keto diet can help with testosterone levels.”
It’s A Proven Way To Support Brain Health
Advocates of the diet say it also enhances mental wellbeing. Studies have suggested burning ketones is a cleaner way to stay energised than running on carbs. By forcing the brain to burn fat instead of glucose, you avoid blood-sugar spikes, resulting in heightened concentration. Plus, ketones have been shown to suppress appetite and stave off cravings.
You’ll Need To Track Macros, Not Calories
“The trick to doing keto properly is getting your macronutrients right,” says Mike. “You should aim to get most of your calories (at least 70%) from healthy fats – think nuts and seeds, avocados, olives, full-fat dairy, organic meat, egg, oily fish and healthy oils. Consuming too many carbs will take you out of ketosis, so carb restriction is paramount. For an average-sized man consuming 2,500 calories per day, aim for at least 200g of fats and less than 60g of carbs. Aim to get most of your carbs from vegetables that grow above ground – think spinach, kale and broccoli.” If you’re unsure where to start, you could enlist the support of an app. “MyFitnessPal can help you monitor macro ratios to see whether you’re hitting these parameters,” says Victoria.
Getting The Protein Balance Right Is Key
It’s a common misconception that keto equals high fat and high protein. In fact, it’s a delicate balance, and you should be aiming to get around 20% of your calories from protein. The emphasis is very much on fat as opposed to protein, says Hana Mustafa, co-founder of Keto Hana. “Guys often assume a keto diet is high in protein but eating too much can prevent ketosis. The body can convert some of the amino acids in protein into glucose, so a keto diet aims to include enough protein to preserve muscle, but still allow ketosis.” Hana explains that protein is still important, just in moderate portions. Victoria says a typical breakfast could be scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and avocado; lunch could be chicken thighs or smoked mackerel with a mixed leaf salad, olives, feta and pine nuts, topped with extra virgin olive oil; and dinner could be a coconut prawn curry with cauliflower rice, or a courgetti carbonara with bacon and mushrooms topped with coconut cream.
Be Prepared For Some Side Effects
A diet of bacon, burgers and cheese may sound perfect, but you should be prepared for some side-effects as your body transitions from burning carbs to fats. “As your body gets accustomed to eating fewer carbs, you may experience headaches, fatigue, brain fog, irritability and difficulty sleeping,” says Mike. “But as the body adapts, these symptoms will fade and many then experience an increase in energy and mental clarity. Longer term, there are some reports that a keto diet can have a negative impact on the gut microbiome due to the reduced fibre intake, but more research is needed in this area.”
Dipping In And Out Is Fine
The keto diet may sound extreme, but as we become increasingly aware of the negative impacts of refined sugars, it could be worth dipping your toe in. “If you don’t want to commit to keto full time, you can just have the odd keto meal here and there,” adds Hana. “Since the keto way of eating is fairly strict, people on other diets are usually able to eat this way too. For example, if something is keto friendly, it is probably also Paleo, low carb and sugar free. So, while the keto diet can be limiting, a keto meal can often be flexible.” Mike is also a fan of this approach. “If you’re a first timer with the ketogenic diet, consider having an extra serving of carbs one day a week – this is called cyclical ketosis and it can help ease you in a little more gently.”
It’s Not Suitable For Everyone
Before you jump in, be aware the keto diet isn’t right for you if you’ve had a kidney stone in the past or have had your gall bladder removed, which plays a crucial role in fat digestion. “On the flip side, individuals with metabolic syndrome, type-2 diabetes and excessive abdominal fat are likely to benefit the most,” says Victoria. “You may also struggle with the keto diet if you follow a vegan diet, as many of the nutrient-dense foods recommended on the diet are animal-based. It’s tricky for those on a vegan diet to follow a ketogenic diet without developing nutrient deficiencies,” she adds. “If you want to give the keto diet a go, do your research and make sure you plan ahead to ensure you’re eating a variety of foods and don’t develop any nutrient deficiencies. Consider starting gradually to see how your body adapts and then taking it from there.”
For more information, head to TheAutoimmunityNutritionist.com, ION.ac.uk and KetoHana.co.uk
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