At this time, everyone and their mother has heard about the keto diet.
The ketogenic diet is one of the most popular eating patterns out right now. I can’t even count how many times I’ve been asked about my take on this diet!
Before forming a stance on this, I wanted to make sure I had done my research. I value evidence-based over emotionally-charged opinions any day. This diet seems to be quite polarizing! It tends to bring viewpoints from both ends of the spectrum. People are extremely for it or against it.
While pondering, researching and learning about this diet, there are two main questions I wanted to answer:
- Can this diet safety be used for weight loss without a hoax of negative consequences?
- What about plants? Is there a way we can still follow a keto diet, without giving up our beloved plants-based foods?
Keep reading if you want to find out the answers to these questions!
What Is Keto?
Basically, the ketogenic diet is one that promotes the use of fat for energy. What does it look like? It is a high fat diet, with moderate to low protein and very low carbohydrates. A lot of animal foods, with small amounts of non-starchy veggies are consumed. Essentially grains, legumes, dairy and fruit are eliminated on this diet.
The Science Behind Keto
The ketogenic diet emphasizes ketosis, which is a metabolic state where ketone bodies are used for energy. Ketones are produced when fat is broken down. It’s actually a direct response to starvation, as was discovered in the 1920s. Ketosis happens when serum ketone bodies exist above 0.5 mM, with stable blood glucose and insulin.
The keto diet depletes glycogen stores in the liver, which are the storage form of glucose. The depletion of glycogen stores trigger certain chemical signals in the body to start burning more fat, causing the production of more ketones. As blood glucose continues to drop, the degree of ketogenesis (aka the production of ketone bodies) becomes greater as an intermediate for the Krebs cycle (aka the TCA cycle – which is used for energy production) is removed. The intermediate is called oxaloacetate. The removal of oxaloacetate from the TCA cycle prevents acetyl-CoA (stemming from fatty acid oxidation) from entering the cycle, which results in the ketone-producing buildup of acetyl-CoA.
You may have heard of the phrase ‘fat adaption’. The fat adaption phase is essentially your body getting used to using ketones as the primary source of energy. During the phase, you may loose some muscle mass, as your body transitions from using glycogen stores for energy, to ketones.
This image from ketogenic.com nicely describes ketosis.
There are variations in the literature, as to how much carbohydrate restriction is appropriate to induce ketosis. This ranges from 20-100 g carb/day and is highly individualized. There are also variations on the keto diet, however the standard keto diet is approximately 75-80% fat, 15% protein and 5% net carbohydrates. A cyclical keto diet also exists, which would work better for athletes.
Positives of Keto
- Weight Loss Without Hunger
If you’re trying to lose weight and feel hungry, you are doing it wrong. Fat is the most long-term satiating macronutrient!
- Increase HDL (Good Cholesterol)
- More Flavourful
A diet full of eggs, bacon, etc doesn’t seem like a diet!
- Increased Leptin
Leptin is a hormone released by fat tissue, which causes us to feel full. Typically with weight loss, less leptin is produced, causing us to feel increased hunger. The keto diet actually increases leptin, causing use to feel full and satisfied!
- More Consistent Energy
With a high carbohydrate diet, we experience more blood sugar spikes. This causes us to feel more fatigued. Without the blood sugar spikes as part of the keto diet, our energy is more consistent.
Negatives of Keto
- Hard When Traveling and Eating Out
- Gastrointestinal Issues
I have seen some of my clients experiencing constipation from following a keto diet. This isn’t surprising as the keto diet can majorly lack fibre.
- LDL May Increase
There is some preliminary research stating LDL (bad cholesterol) may increase from this diet pattern.
- Potential Nutrient Deficiencies
Some nutrients that may lack on the keto diet include magnesium, potassium, calcium and more.
- Negative Impact on The Planet/Animal Rights Concern
The majority of the food acceptable on the keto diet is from animals.
Things to Consider Before Keto
The keto diet can be helpful in some situations, but not all. Here are some items to consider before starting:
- How much weight am I looking to lose? What have I tried before?
This diet works best when more significant amounts of weight loss are desired and if other diets haven’t worked.
- How will this impact my lifestyle?
Can you follow this while eating away from the home?
- Are other chronic diseases at play?
Make sure you rule out other underlying conditions such as thyroid issues as reasons for weight gain, before following this diet.
- Consider what the reason for your weight gain has been.
Perhaps you’ve gained weight recently due to not preparing your own meals and eating out often. Or perhaps you’re dealing with large amounts of stress. Look to correct these items first.
Okay so we’ve seen that the majority of the keto diet is from animal foods. Is it possible for a vegetarian or vegan to follow this diet?
The simple answer, not likely. Plant based diets are usually too high in carbohydrates to sustain ketosis.
With that said, it could than be suggested that a plant-based adjusted keto diet could be a more effective lifestyle choice. After all, there are tons of health benefits that plants bring, which we would be missing on the traditional keto diet.
In my practice, I sometimes see people following a plant-based diet gaining weight. Why? Because they’re usually eating too many carbs, not enough protein or fat and therefore not feeling full! A reason why the keto diet works is because we don’t feel hungry and we’re not experiencing large spikes in our blood sugars.
A plant-based adjusted keto lifestyle would promote healthy fat sources and high protein plant based foods for sustainability and satiety, while also enabling individuals adhere to having a mostly or entirely animal product void diet.
Afterall, it can be challenging to follow a standard ketogenic diet, but why don’t we take some of these concepts and apply it to your plant-based diet? You will feel like you’re still doing good for the planet, the animals and yourself!
Try to focus on the following foods that are low in carbs, higher in fat and protein:
Looking for recipe ideas for a plant-based adjusted keto diet? Check out this sample day of eats!
Green Breakfast Fritters
One Pan Maple Tofu
Research contributed by Chelsea Cross, BASc, MAN(C)