I’ve had a number of people reach out asking, “Is the Ketogenic Diet Good For You”? It’s high time I wrote a blog post to tell you what the ketogenic diet is, what the pros and cons are and whether it’s good for you!
The ketogenic diet is a way of eating where you consume mostly fat, moderate protein and very low carbohydrates. In fact, 70% of your calories should come from good sources of fat, 20-25% protein and only 5-10% carb, which tends to be about 20-30g of net carbohydrates per day.
Net carbohydrates are the total carbs minus the fiber. For context, a banana has 27g carbs and 3g fiber, so it’s net carbs would be 24g.
By eating this way, your body enters a state of ketosis, where your liver produces ketones for energy through the break down of fat. When you’re not in ketosis (or following a regular diet) your body produces energy from glucose.
Personally, I see this as being the most useful area of interest for the ketogenic diet, particularly when done in conjunction with chemo / radiation (and under the guidance of a trained naturopath or doctor).
According to Chris Kresser, “If we limit the fuels available for this process of fermentation, and the fuels are glucose, which is derived from carbohydrate in the diet, and glutamine, which is derived from protein in the diet, then we can actually starve cancer cells and either improve the results of conventional treatment or perhaps even address some cancers independently without conventional treatment.”
Why this is so important is that when you shift your energy production to ketones, vs glucose, cancer cells cannot utilize ketones, but our healthy cells can. So, effectively you are starving the cancer cells while feeding your healthy cells.
Low carb diets are proven to work very effectively for weight-loss, particularly if you carry weight in the belly area - which is a sign of poor blood sugar management. Those with type II diabetes or insulin resistance also benefit from a low carb diet. The keto diet is also shown to decrease the level of triglycerides, LDL cholesterol and blood glucose, and increase the level of HDL cholesterol. That's pretty good news all around!
The ketogenic diet isn’t actually new. It’s been around for decades, particularly for its effectiveness in treating epilepsy.
Ketosis is not necessarily a ‘natural state’ to be in. Most traditional hunter gatherer societies were at about 30-40% carbohydrate intake, even if they were grain free and getting their carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables.
There isn’t a lot of research on doing ketosis long term. Also, for certain groups of people, ketosis could actually cause more harm than good. For example, someone with adrenal fatigue may actually worsen their symptoms by increasing cortisol when following a low carbohydrate diet.
For pregnant women, carbohydrates are actually critical, particularly in the first trimester for adequate fetal brain development and growth. Also, you know how important gut health is to your overall health, and when you eat very low carbohydrate, you’re often restricting the food that your good bacteria feed on, which could lead to a less healthy microbiome down the road.
When you eat a ketogenic diet, you remove a lot of the carbohydrates that would be feeding the good bacteria in your gut. You'll have to be incredibly strategic about the fiber you consume, making sure you get enough prebiotics and fermentable fibers to feed the good bacteria so as not to throw off your microbiome. Anecdotally, I've had a number of clients come to me with self-induced digestive problems after going keto for a time.
Finally, in order to make a diet (way of eating) work long term, I really believe it has to be possible to live your life and still be on the diet. a.k.a. - you’re not going into hibernation because you can’t eat a darn thing out at a restaurant or at your friend’s house for dinner.