Eating “keto” is a dietary trend that has recently exploded in popularity. Does it have its health benefits? You bet. It was initially developed as an effective way to reduce epileptic seizures in children. But reasons for following a strict ketogenic diet are limited and not without risk — in fact, following it without medical supervision can be downright dangerous.
When exploring diets, the majority of my patients are looking for one that will improve their overall health and wellness, reduce their risk of chronic disease, and perhaps help them shed a few pounds. As a doctor, the Mediterranean diet still tops my list. After all, it’s backed by the most evidence when it comes to health and longevity benefits. However, there are some keto concepts that can be easily adopted by anyone looking to eat healthier and reap the benefits. Here’s what to try — and what to skip.
KETO CONCEPTS TO KEEP
1. Increase your intake of healthy fats
With a ketogenic diet, 90% of your calories come from fats. Many of us skimp on healthy plant-based fats that provide us with essential vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. And when we’re talking healthy fats, nothing beats fish as a source of omega-3s. These plant (and marine) fats are essential for optimal functioning of our hearts, brains, joints (to name just a few body systems!) So, up your fat intake as recommended by the keto diet, by including more:
- nuts and nut butters (eg. almonds, macadamia nuts, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, brazil nuts)
- avocados and avocado oil
- olive oil (this key component of the Mediterranean Diet has longevity benefits)
- wild salmon, rainbow trout, mackerel, sardines
2. Increase your intake of healthy proteins
Protein is essential for growth, repair and maintenance of healthy muscles, organs and bones, as well as hormones. Although the ketogenic diet focuses more on fats than protein, many people who go keto realize they’ve been falling short on this essential macronutrient. As a general rule, adults should aim for 0.8 grams of protein/kilogram of body weight/day (athletes and pregnant/breastfeeding women need more). Boost your protein intake by including more of these in your diet:
- hemp hearts
- chia seeds
- nuts (above) and seeds (sunflower, pumpkin)
- fish (above)
- healthier animal proteins such as lean chicken, and natural cheese and yogurts
3. Reduce your intake of refined grains and processed carbohydrates
Ketogenics and Mediterranean-diet followers agree on this one. Nobody needs these “foods” in their diet. Avoid:
- non whole-grain breads and cereals
- cakes, cookies, pastries, baked goods (especially ones with a glaze or that come in a plastic wrapper and have a far-off expiry date)
- processed foods including store-bought granola bars and energy bars which are often high in sugar
4. Eat more (low-carb) veggies
Vegetables are superstars when it comes to using food as medicine. Their phytonutrients help reduce inflammation and battle a number of chronic conditions, including those in the brain, gut, joints, heart, lungs, skin — you name it! From a keto perspective, those found “above ground” are lower in carbohydrates than those you have to dig for (think root vegetables). Include lots of these lower carb veggies in your diet:
- leafy greens (lettuce, spinach, kale, swiss chard, bok choy)
- cucumbers and zucchini
- cauliflower and broccoli
- green beans
- brussels sprouts
5. Fast (intermittently)
The ketogenic diet aims to achieve a state of ketosis, and intermittent fasting and time-restricted feeding are often incorporated to help expedite this process. Fasting may help with weight loss, longevity and improved mental energy and concentration. You don’t need to adopt a full ketogenic plan to reap its benefits.
SKIP THIS KETO CONCEPT
1. Load up on animal fats and proteins
Although it’s possible to eat a vegetarian or vegan ketogenic diet, this isn’t the norm. I often see patients on ketogenic diets who load up on red and processed meats. However, evidence suggests these animal products increase your risk of chronic disease, especially colorectal cancer. The World Health Organization classifies processed and red meats as carcinogens (keeping company with cigarettes).
In addition, eating too much animal protein has been associated with a host of other adverse effects, including reduced bone health and an increased risk of osteoporosis, kidney stones, fatty liver, and a rise in LDL or “bad” cholesterol which is a risk factor for heart attack and stroke.
Finally, favouring these foods happens at the expense of healthy plant foods (whole grains, veggies, fruits) and their phytonutrients.This imbalance may prove to be the most important health risk of all. So until more evidence is available to back keto health claims, stick with the above “keep” concepts and hold the bacon.
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