We recommend a low-carb ketogenic diet both as a short-term intervention for weight loss and a long-term treatment for patients struggling with a range of conditions from neurological conditions and cancer to hormonal imbalances.
While we’ve seen great success in our patients who follow this approach, we also know that limiting carbohydrates can seem a little intimidating. Most of us LOVE our carbs!
I want to explore the benefits of a ketogenic diet and show you how a balanced day of ketogenic eating might look.
What is a Ketogenic Diet?
The ketogenic diet’s recent popularity can probably be attributed to its powerful benefits for weight loss and insulin management. But the ketogenic diet isn’t new. Known clinically as a very low carb ketogenic diet (VLCKD), it’s been used therapeutically to treat childhood epilepsy since the 1920’s.
Since then, researchers have explored the benefits of very low carb diets for cancer, obesity, Type 2 Diabetes, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and neurological diseases like multiple sclerosis and traumatic brain injury (TBI). This type of dietary intervention shows promising results for all these conditions, and we’ve certainly seen its broad therapeutic benefits within our practice.
When patients are following a ketogenic (‘keto’) diet, foods high in carbohydrates are generally restricted in an effort to keep overall carbs to less than 30-50 grams per day. Normally, our bodies burn glucose (which comes from carbohydrates) for fuel whenever it’s available, but when we keep dietary carbohydrate low, our bodies turn to fat for energy. The byproducts of this process are called ketone bodies. When a person is effectively burning this alternate energy source and producing excess ketone bodies, we say they are in ketosis.
Given the ketogenic diet’s healing potential for a wide range of conditions, we think it’s certainly worth exploring.
To learn more about ketosis, watch this simple yet informative video.
How Can It Help?
Research indicates a ketogenic diet helps induce weight loss in obese patients, and does so at a faster rate than other dietary interventions. Researchers have also linked ketogenic diets with lower levels of fasting glucose and the reversal of insulin resistance. We’ve certainly seen this in our practice! It’s one of the reasons we recommend a short ketogenic intervention to clients with any sort of metabolic dysfunction, blood sugar regulation problems or weight loss resistance.
Therapeutic ketogenic diets have been used to treat neurological conditions for nearly a century, though researchers still don’t understand quite how these positive results are achieved. Some scientists believe ketosis improves mitochondrial function and regulates the synapses in our brains, resulting in positive improvements for cases of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, traumatic brain injury (TBI) and more.
Since ketogenic diets are both well-researched and significantly less invasive than the pharmaceutical interventions often prescribed for these diseases, they’re one of our first lines of defense for patients struggling with neurological conditions and hoping to become Fully Functional™.
Cancer patients may also benefit from a ketogenic diet. A collection of studies in mice demonstrated positive results ranging from longer life and slowed tumor growth to an actual reduction in tumor size. The metabolic theory of cancer holds that cancer is not just the result of genetic factors, but of an inability to process glucose (are you seeing a pattern here?). While the body can burn fat for fuel, cancer cells can’t. A keto approach can greatly improve quality of life for cancer patients when combined with other conventional or nonconventional therapies.
Finally, a collection of additional research indicates a ketogenic approach is often a helpful intervention for those struggling with acne, PCOS and other conditions of hormonal dysregulation, since glucose metabolism is intricately tied to our hormonal balance. We always recommend you consider reducing your carbohydrate intake if you’re struggling with one of these conditions.
What Does It Look Like?
Limiting our intake of carbohydrates to less than 50 g per day might sound simple, but when we consider that the Standard American Diet might soar to more than 300 g per day, we can see that it represents a pretty significant departure from our previous “normal.”
A well-built ketogenic diet plan is usually described as high in fat, low in carbs and moderate in protein. It does NOT have to mean eating only bacon, high-fat cheeses and butter. In fact, we still recommend that you focus on the principles of a Paleo or grain-free Mediterranean diet, i.e., eliminating dairy and focusing on high-quality meats, fats and vegetables.
A few other key recommendations:
- Track your daily food intake with an app like MyFitnessPal. A few days of tracking should help you comfortably estimate portion sizes and macronutrient goals. You won’t have to track every bite forever!
- Focus on adding calories in the form of high-quality fats: olive, avocado or coconut oils, butter or ghee, if tolerated, and fat from grass-fed or pastured animals.
- Consume carbohydrates from lower-carb vegetables (for example: leafy greens, peppers, cucumbers, summer squash) to make sure you are still including fiber and micronutrients in your diet. Often referred to as a vegetable but technically a fruit, avocado, is a great source of micronutrients and healthy fats while being a lower carbohydrate choice.
- Keep protein at a moderate level. Excess amino acids (from protein) must be converted into other storage products or oxidized as fuel and therefore excess protein may be converted into glucose by a process called gluconeogenesis, sabotaging your efforts to lower glucose in your bloodstream.
- MCT (medium chain triglyceride) oil can be helpful for neurological function and weight loss and promotes ketosis.
- Getting into a state of ketosis can take several days and is often the most discouraging for people. Once in ketosis, people don’t typically experience hunger and cravings but until this achieved, it is not uncommon to feel fatigued, have headaches, and be hungry. We recommend a product with therapeutic ketones to be used during this transition as well as ongoing on a ketogenic diet.
A typical day of meals on a ketogenic diet might look like:
- Breakfast: 3 pastured eggs cooked in olive oil or ghee and served over sautéed greens OR Vine’s Toasted Coconut “GranoLESS” Cereal
- Lunch: a salad with leafy greens, avocado, herbs, chopped nuts and grass-fed steak or salmon with an avocado oil-based dressing like our Sun-Dried Tomato Vinaigrette.
- Snack: cucumber slices with our Cashew-Avocado Spread
- Dinner: Baked Turkey Meatballs, a small serving of homemade marinara sauce and olive oil-dressed “zoodles” made from zucchini (see recipe below)
We often recommend a ketogenic approach to our clients because it’s minimally invasive and powerful, whether they’re struggling with weight management, blood sugar imbalance, Type 2 Diabetes, neurological disorders, hormonal imbalance or a cancer diagnosis. We’ve seen impressive results even when this approach is only used as a brief intervention.
With our supervision, the ketogenic diet can be powerfully healing. We offer an easy, five week ketogenic diet plan that involves everything you need to be successful and to get started. It includes weekly Health Coaching appointments, weigh-ins and measurements, body composition analysis (BIA) before and after completion of the program, and a personalized supplement regimen. While we know it represents a departure from your Standard American Diet, we know the many healthier-happier, Fully Functional™ patients who’ve discovered relief with this way of eating would say it’s well worth any hassle!