A Ketogenic Diet: How To Do It Right

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Atkins, Paleo, Bernstein, Ketogenic. What do all of these diets have in common? Ketosis. Some people hear this word and think muscle growth, fat loss, fitness and others only hear the potential of impending renal failure. Overall, these types of diets are considered generally safe but what are the real risks and benefits associated with them and how do we approach the concept of ketosis without the risk of your kidneys failing? When does low carb become dangerous?

Four months ago I had an extensive physical that included a specific fasting blood and urine tests that I specifically requested to review my nutrient intake and ketones. As a nutritionist and someone who chooses not to eat dairy, meat or poultry and only the very occasional organic egg or locally caught fish, I am keen to learn about how everything from my B vitamins, omega 3s and DHA to calcium and protein levels are. This test was confirmation that I was doing things right, even with  a small amount of ketones in my urine.

Ketosis is the concept of restricting carbohydrates to the point that the body (which usually uses carbs as its main and most efficient source of fuel) begins to break down fat as its source of energy. Restricting carbohydrates and exercising regularly can initiate ketosis in the body, theoretically reducing body fat and, with adequate protein and fat intake, increasing muscle mass. Unfortunately, severe restriction of carbs can also lead to some seriously hazardous effects.

I don’t like the concept of diets. Meal planning, conscious eating and adapting your nutritional habits to a healthy, clean eating lifestyle is amazing,  but adhering to strict and unadaptable food regimens can be a dangerous and short-lived experience. Diets like Atkins and Bernstein, even strict Paleo and Ketogenic diets can cause more damage and initiate more cheating than they are worth. Eating a well balanced, whole foods diet with lots of variety and local ingredients is the most important aspect of nutrition. Once you can succeed in feeling good about what you are eating, you can consider making alterations in terms of carbohydrate intake and replacing some of your favourite recipes with more nutrient-dense (high nutrient value for the number of calories) foods. But jumping head first into strict diets is a sure fire way to fail and potentially harm yourself in the process.

Severe ketosis is viewed as extremely elevated levels of acetone in the blood or urine. Once you go beyond the sweet zone of carb-blasting, fat-destroying ketones, your body can begin wreaking havoc pretty quickly. Extreme restriction is when you reach a point of self destruction from the inside, out.

A ketogenic diet that is relatively balanced requires a significant amount of fat intake in order to make up for the body’s new use of fat as fuel. Unfortunately, for some people, high cholesterol might end up being the not-so-desirable outcome. Plus, as with a paleo diet, the increased consumption of animal products can be incredibly hard on the body. Not only do animal products contain the least desirable forms of cholesterol, but in order to digest such high levels of protein, the kidneys need to go into overdrive. This can cause a range of issues and in extreme cases can initiate kidney disease. Additionally, long term chronic depletion of carbohydrates can lead to fibre deficiency and digestive distress. As the body’s depletion continues, our metabolism will be required to find fuel elsewhere including our muscles.

How to do Ketosis Right

Rethink Your Carbs:

Low carb diets can be helpful. And choosing a wide range of healthy, carb-free or low carb alternatives is a wonderful way to encourage weight loss without total restriction. Options like brown rice, spelt, coconut and lentil flours are a nutritious and delicious way to keep your blood sugar where it needs to be and to properly fuel your body.

Eat Moderately:

Small meals, throughout the day is an amazing way to keep the body’s furnace burning. When you don’t overindulge in carbs, small portions of things like fruits, vegetables and even the occasional whole grain treat, like baked corn chips, can keep you slim and energized.

Smart Supplementation:

Rather than overdoing the whole supplementation thing, make sure to choose a small quantity of high quality supplements. The jury is still out on the real impact of supplementation, so stick to basic protein powders and super food boosters to add to your meals and smoothies.

Exercise Enough But Not Too Much:

Overexercise makes us hungry, cranky and can actually cause weight gain, not weight loss. You are bound to be craving carbohydrates if you just finished a 5 km run followed by a HIIT workout and some weight lifting. Be smart about your exercise goals and find a routine that helps you to stick to your nutritional regimen.