Many of today’s popular diets suggest cutting carbs, but opt for higher proteins and lower fats.
However, a diet rising in popularity aims for low carbs, but higher fats with the idea that “fat burns fat.”
If you love eating seafood, vegetables and even dark chocolate, the ketogenic diet may be for you.
The “keto” diet offers low-carb clean eating that claims followers will lose weight, stay full longer and get healthy.
In laymen’s terms, ketosis is cutting carbohydrates to the point your body burns fat as its primary fuel source, says dietitian Carrie Loughran.
“You can slide your way into ketosis just a little bit at a time,” says Loughran, a ketogenic diet specialist for the Center for Neuro-Nutrition in Astoria. “Eating 60 grams of carbs is a great launching point. Divide it up any way you want, but not by eating all 60 carbs at one time. You want to keep your blood sugar steady.”
As with most diets, it’s important to get your doctor’s OK before starting, she advises.
“Ketosis is a chronic state of hypoglycemia balanced with elevated blood ketone levels,” Loughran says. “Putting a body into ketosis is easy. Keeping the body in a healthy state of ketosis is more difficult and not well understood. It takes experience to interpret lab results, blood glucose and blood ketone levels along with growth parameters.”
A member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and licensed in Oregon, Loughran developed the KetoCare protocol based on her more than 20 years of experience in endocrinology, neurology and feeding/eating disorders. Her protocol eliminates the opportunity for ketosis to develop into ketoacidosis, a dangerous condition, especially for those with diabetes.
“I had two insulin-dependent diabetics who followed this way of eating for a year,” she says. “All their side effects went away. There are a lot of places you can go wrong, but it’s worth looking into. Basically, it gets you to a better place.”
Loughran lists ketogenic diet candidates as those of all ages with diagnoses of seizure disorder, infantile spasms, autism, glut-1 deficiency and more. A list of conditions can be found at ketocare.com.
She also provides treatments for the following diets: low-glycemic index, modified Atkins, MCT Oil, gluten-free and casein-free, and Fiengold.
“Talk to someone who is well-educated about ketosis, especially if you have a chronic disease,” she says. “You will need someone specially trained in the subject.”
Agreeing with Loughran is Dr. Angela Cortal, a neuropathic physician with Heart Spring Health in Portland and Natural Physicians in Salem.
“This diet works best with some guidance and support,” says Cortal, who blends naturopathic medicine with regenerative injection therapies for chronic arthritis and pain. “I tell patients the diet has a learning curve, so it takes some working through at the beginning to get all the details hammered out. But that said, I think that it is the most efficient diet for diabetics and others with chronic health conditions to really address the root of those diseases in order to reverse the process, from the ground up.”
Cortal uses the diet as “a metabolic intervention, to improve one’s ability to handle blood sugar and insulin response.”
“Some of the main conditions I use this diet with are diabetes and pre-diabetes, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, polycystic ovary syndrome, and cognitive impairments, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease,” she says of the diet with “pronounced health benefits.”
“There are potential negative side effects, particularly early in the transition as one’s metabolic pathways are shifting and what people describe as the ‘keto flu’ are usually due to electrolyte imbalances that can be easily assessed and corrected,” Cortal says. “I find it very important to closely track my patients’ initiation of this diet, in order to help mitigate any of those issues and set them up for success.”
The main desired side effect, she says, is weight loss.
“With transitioning one’s metabolism from sugar-burning to fat-burning, it’s a very efficient way to lose fat for those who desire,” Cortal says. “The ketogenic diet restricts carbohydrates, so most carbohydrate-dominant foods are minimized – wheat and other grains, beans, some dairy, sugary foods. The bulk of the diet is food that contains fat, protein and fiber.”
Cortal advises eating nutrient-dense foods with regular intake of healthy sources of protein, fats and fiber.
“As a country, there is an excess of refined and processed foods eaten, which are nutrient-poor and often carbohydrate-excessive,” she says. “Nationally what we’ve been doing isn’t working. Obesity is sky-rocketing, and diabetes, heart disease, cancer and dementia are also exploding in prevalence. Big changes in our nutrition are needed to combat this.”
Both Cortal and Loughran agree that people deserve to be able to make informed decisions about their health.
“With a recent surge in research over the past few years, it does seem to be becoming a lot more popular, but I would not say that it’s mainstream yet,” Cortal says of the ketogenic diet. “There are still many, many people — and healthcare providers — who are not familiar with the diet.”
According to HealthPrep. com, despite its tempting weight loss promises, there are certain situations in which the keto diet may do more harm than good. Along with being high in meat, the keto diet only allows for non-starchy carbs such as spinach and kale to be eaten and limits grains and other starches that are high in fiber, worsening conditions such as Crohn’s disease.
Following the diet may adversely affect those with cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome, skin diseases, if pregnant or breastfeeding, having mineral or vitamin deficiencies, and conditions that don’t tolerate high fat, such as gallbladder, kidney and metabolic diseases, the site claims.
“The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics lists the keto diet for treatment of epilepsy and reducing seizure activity,” says Leslie Belfanti, a registered dietitian with Kaiser Permanente’s Keizer Station Medical Office. “It’s not medically indicated for anyone else.”
Like some health care professionals, Belfanti considers the ketogenic diet to be just the latest on a list of diets that typically reduce or eliminate a food or food group.
“Healthy diets allow for all foods and never eliminate an entire food group,” she says.