Is the Keto Diet Right for You?

The Atkins diet introduced back in the 80’s by Robert Atkins was the first ketogenic eating plan intended as a weight loss diet. It was essentially a meat and fat diet broken ever so slightly by a few green leafy carbohydrate vegetables. It pretty much guaranteed weight loss and the absence of hunger.

Atkins ideas were before their time and he was heavily criticized. In recent years, however, much of the value in his diet premise has become quite mainstream. It was the absence of hunger that made it initially successful. However, it was boring and frequently abandoned once the desired weight was achieved – the problem with weight loss diets.

Here is how it worked. You cut your carbohydrate levels to almost nothing. Then when you lost most of the weight you wanted, you started adding back more carbs until weight loss stopped and then you were supposed to stop and eat that forever. This is where the trouble starts. We humans tend to add back in the wrong carbs.

The word “Keto” comes from the liver process that converts body fat into “ketone bodies.” The ketones are then used by the body for energy in lieu of the carbohydrate sugar that isn’t allowed.  When fasting (as in while sleeping or other long periods of not eating) body fat is converted to ketones for energy.  A steady maintenance of low carbohydrate over longer periods of time allows a person to achieve an ongoing production of ketones and weight loss.

The lower the carbs in the diet, the higher the fat in the diet. The calories from fat are supposed to be adjusted downward (lower) as the carbs are allowed to go higher. What frequently happened with Atkins diet folks is they added carbohydrates back into their diet but didn’t change the higher fat consumption.  Oops!

The pattern of percentages allocated to carbs, protein, and fat is referred to by Keto geeks as macros.

From the voice of experience I suggest that counting macros is every bit as hard as counting calories. And in fact you really can’t calculate your macros without first determining how many calories you should be eating. Lots of counting going on.

An intense Ketogenic diet frequently has body composition and health treatment applications beyond any issues of weight loss. At its most intense, the diet usually includes a very small number of vegetable carbohydrates, like maybe 20-30 carbs per day, and LOTS of fat. There will be no fruit, no potatoes, no grains (processed or otherwise.), no beans.

At the grand level, the differences between Paleo and Keto are minor and those differences tend to be “intent” oriented. Paleo intends to prescribe what you can eat based solely on what the paleolithic folks ate. Keto prescribes what you can eat based on the amount of insulin the diet requires for energy digestion and storage.

The minimization of insulin creates the opportunity for body fat to burn and ketones to be created.  Paleo also minimizes insulin but usually doesn’t talk about it. If you need to understand this insulin thing better, read an earlier blog of mine,  The Human Body Design is Magical – Plan B, providing a pretty simple explanation.

Thus Paleo does not do cheese but does allow fruit. Keto is fine for cheese but would really restrict fruit. Otherwise both limit and allow the same foods, just for different reasons. For example, both instruct avoiding commercial grain oils and focusing on olive oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil.

It is important to remember that an intense ketogenic diet can be very nutrient deficient due to the very low levels of vegetables. Managing those deficiencies needs to be met with supplements. The trick is knowing which supplements. For this reason, the best idea is eating a lot of non-starchy vegetables and eliminating processed foods which are contributing minimal nutrition.

In its simplest form most people can have great Keto success without worrying about macros, calories, fat or nutrient deficiency. I have had conversations with eight people in the last week that simply eliminated sugar and processed food and starches including pasta, bread, all things sweet, minimizing starchy foods like potatoes and rice and eating lots of vegetables.  They report that the weight just seems to melt away with essentially no effort.

A friend just said yesterday that he had figured out that the pasta he had formerly eaten as a base for a shrimp stir-fry was just filler. The part that tastes fabulous is the stir-fry.

Pasta, rice, and potatoes have essentially no flavor of their own. Cauliflower can become faux mashed potatoes or rice. Zucchini can become “zoodles” for zoodles and meatballs or sauce. A tad of creativity can work a miracle. In other words, use whole food vegetables in your diet instead of processed foods. It is within those vegetables that nutrient density resides.

Several things happen with this simple Keto change. The weight starts to come off in a reasonable, paced way. The goal is not quick loss; the goal is losing slowly but surely. Symptoms (aches, bloating, joint pain, etc.) start to disappear. Energy is restored.

Diet change will be easier if you can recruit somebody else to join in the effort. Between the two of you a lot of good recipes can be created and enjoyed. Everyone else will be pretty convinced that life cannot go on without chips, pasta, and French fries.

When your body reaches the right body fat threshold for YOU, you simply stop losing weight. Your body is really pretty smart. You don’t have to think about it. You don’t adjust your diet. Just continue eating a healthy, nutritious diet for the rest of your life.

At the grand level, the differences between Paleo and Keto are minor. Paleo does not allow cheese, Keto does. Paleo allows fruit, Keto doesn’t. Like the Paleo diet, a good case can be made for the Keto diet if you have digestive issues or autoimmune disease(s). Read more about autoimmune disease here.

The high carbohydrate (and calorie) processed foods that generate hunger (a primary cause of overeating) and a source of autoimmune reaction are absent in the Keto diet.The foods included are nutrient dense. One could comfortably eat a simple Keto diet for the rest of their life.

My next column will be around the Mediterranean diet.

Pat Smith is the author of “It’s All about the Food,” a book that guides nutritious food choices as the way to avoid illness and maintain a healthy weight. Pat is a resident of Montgomery County, AR, president of Ouachita Village, Inc. board of directors (Montgomery County Food Pantry); chairman of the Tasty Acre project; and member of the Mount Ida Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors. Her Facebook page is www.facebook.com/patsmithbooks.  Her website is http://allaboutthefood.org/

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