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You are what you eat | Why you should think twice before ‘going keto’

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Plants vs. lipids. A look at ketogenic and vegan diets.


WORDS CAMILLE ROMERO-MONTENEGRO

The famed ketogenic diet is all the rage these days. It is a low-carb, moderate-protein and high-fat diet where the goal is to have the body enter a metabolic state called ketosis. Ketosis is where your body produces a significant amount of ketones that triggers your body to use fat as a source of energy instead of carbohydrates. This happens when you decrease the amount of carbohydrates in your diet significantly or if there is not enough insulin to help your body use sugar as energy.

Studies show that the ketogenic diet may improve symptoms for Epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and other neurological disorders because of its anti-inflammatory effects.  And although effective for weight loss for most people, there are risks that come with going low carb, as in the ketogenic diet.

Prolonged ketosis leads to ketoacidosis
When your blood sugar is consistently low due to minimal carbohydrate intake, the body tends to increase cortisol levels and therefore, there is a severe decrease in insulin levels. According to the Diabetes Teaching Center at the University of California, San Francisco, “when there is not enough insulin, the fat cells keep releasing fat into the circulation, and the liver keeps making more and more ketones and ketoacids. The rising ketoacid levels make the blood pH too low.” This state is also known as ketoacidosis. The high levels of ketones in your body or ketoacidosis makes your blood very acidic that can burden your kidneys which can lead, if untreated, to death.

Your body needs carbs
Carbohydrates, often painted the villain of macronutrients, are important for the body to function properly. They are crucial in the production of serotonin which is your mood stabilizer or your happy hormone, the regulation of cortisol levels, the energy availability for your red blood cells, tissues and brain for proper function, and your recovery after strenuous activities. Carbs are absolutely essential in a person’s daily nutrient intake. This is why the body naturally craves carbs when it gets insufficient amounts.

It’s unsustainable
It’s easy to fall into a “dirty” ketogenic diet. In the Philippines, you will hear about people who are on the ketogenic diet but are feasting on foods high in trans-fat or hydrogenated oils such as fried food, chicharon, or non-grass fed meat and dairy sources. In addition, most people who are on the ketogenic diet are actually on Atkins. On the ketogenic diet, you must be consuming 60%-75% of calories from good fat, 15%-30% from protein, and 5%-10% from carbohydrates, whereas here, when on keto, people tend to consume most of their calories from protein instead of fat.

You are what you eat | Why you should think twice before ‘going keto’

These practices have transformed the ketogenic diet into something that may be detrimental to your health. We have seen in our practice how a “dirty” ketogenic diet can lead to constipation, liver damage, high levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol and increased risk of heart disease.

Furthermore, the low blood sugar levels that come with the ketogenic diet (or any low-carb diet for that matter) inevitably causes extreme cravings. And once the craving of sugar and carbohydrates are satisfied (ex. cakes, artificial sweeteners, candy), regardless the amount, the body is instantly taken out of the state of ketosis.

Still want to try the ketogenic diet?
Consult with your doctor or nutritionist to see if the ketogenic diet is for you. And if it is, seek guidance on what to eat. “Without professional supervision, the ketogenic diet may be dangerous for your health. Consuming high amounts of food like chicharon, bacon or burgers to say that they are on a ketogenic diet can cause damage to the liver among other things. The ketogenic diet should be well thought out in terms of caloric computation and macronutrient distribution,” says Edrea Teope, Baron Method’s nutritionist dietician.

You are what you eat | Why you should think twice before ‘going keto’

It is critical to consume good fats. Stick to whole foods that are high in nutrients such as avocados, coconut or MCT (medium chain triglyceride) oil, raw nuts, organic almond butter, olive oil, organic eggs, grass-fed butter, and other similar sources.

Don’t do it long term. The ketogenic diet is best used in cycles of 8-10 weeks, once or twice a year.  Maintain a healthy eating plan for the rest of the year for best results.

Camille Romero-Montenegro is a nutrition coach at Baron Method. For more information, visit baronmethod.com.

To read the feature on the benefits of vegan diet, click here.