Ditch the sugar and processed carbs and bring on the cream, butter, and yes, bacon! The ﬁght against fat is over if you’re following a keto diet. In fact, the point of the diet is to eat more fat to fuel your body. The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, low-carbohydrate, and moderate protein diet that trains your body to become metabolically ﬂexible. What does this mean exactly? According to keto expert, Lindsay Taylor, Ph.D., and co-author of The Keto Reset Diet Cookbook, by restricting the number of carbs you give your body, the ketogenic diet lays the groundwork to shift the body from being primarily a glucose burning machine to a fat-burning one. Developing metabolic ﬂ flexibility allows your body to become a “self-sustaining energy factory,” Taylor says.
Our bodies are always burning a mix of fat and glucose, Taylor explains, but the standard American diet (SAD) has down-regulated the system for burning fat, so we become glucose-dependent, with our bodies constantly working to burn through the excess glucose rather than fat. “Most of us spend more time storing fat rather than burning fat,” Taylor says. By restricting carb-intake, and thus reducing the availability of glucose for energy, the keto diet trains the body to begin burning fat for energy. This can come from both fat reserves in the body and fat from the diet.
Benefits of the diet include feeling less hungry, dropping pounds, and having more energy and focus. It also has shown to help with conditions like chronic pain and inflammation4, type-2 diabetes, seizures, fatty liver disease, and metabolic syndrome.
Maureen Wheeler, a holistic health coach based in Vermont, has experienced her own success with the ketogenic diet and leads online groups to help support others who are keto curious.
She started the diet in January 2017 as a New Year’s resolution after years of health issues including autoimmune problems, candida, stubborn weight, and high amounts of stress. At the time, she was struggling to walk upstairs to her bedroom at night and walk down the stairs each morning. At age 52, she says she felt like an old woman.
Within a week of eating more fat and restricting her carbohydrates she could run up and down the stairs and an undiagnosable rash on her legs disappeared. Maureen’s sleep improved and her mood lifted. To date, she’s lost more than 40 pounds. The weight was a happy side eff ect after years of healthy eating—she once gained weight during a green smoothie challenge.
“No matter how much I believe we need fat, it’s been so ingrained that fat is bad for us,” Maureen says. “It’s a hard thing to overcome, and accepting it can be tricky.”
One of the hardest parts for many people beginning to adopt the keto diet is getting used to eating more fat, as it goes against almost everything we have been taught for the past 40-plus years.
Starting in the 1950s, medical professionals and scientists began investigating the misguided lipid hypothesis in an effort to link dietary fat, particularly saturated fat, to heart disease. While the evidence was never conclusive, momentum for these theories grew, along with the advice that eating low-fat, low-cholesterol foods could help not just high-risk populations, but all Americans, improve their general health.
By 1980, public health authorities started advising Americans to reduce the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol in their diet; goodbye eggs and butter (healthy foods!), hello processed sugars and hydrogenated vegetable oils (very unhealthy foods!). The food industry took note and products like margarine and Crisco made promises like you “can’t believe it’s not butter.” By the 1990s the message expanded to say that all fats were bad and the food industry responded by creating a plethora of low-fat and fat-free foods. Unfortunately for our collective health, these low-fat, no-fat foods were replaced with industrialized refined carbohydrates, including high amounts of refined sugars.
But in recent years, fat has been vindicated, and the original research claiming that saturated fat is bad has been proven wrong.
In Eat Fat, Get Thin, functional medicine doctor Mark Hyman writes, “If you are confused, it is not hard to understand why. I was confused myself, and I recommended low-fat diets to my patients for years. For decades, the advice from pretty much every doctor, nutritionist, professional society, and government agency has been to eat less fat to lose weight and prevent disease. Not only is this advice not working—it’s actually doing us harm. It turns out that eating less fat [and too many refined carbs] results in more obesity and diabetes.”
The keto approach relies on strictly limiting carbohydrates in the diet, which means significantly cutting back or eliminating grains, beans, and other legumes, traditional flour-based baked goods and sweets, rice, most fruit, potatoes and other starchy vegetables like beets and winter squash. But Taylor warns, “A lot of keto dieters start by severely restricting carbs, sometimes as low as 10% of their total macronutrients, but there’s no reason to put your body through that stress. Ease in gracefully and help your body do what it is meant to do (i.e., burn fat).”
According to Taylor, the first step is to eliminate refined carb junk foods. “Carbs are not inherently bad, but there is a zero-tolerance policy for industrialized, refined carbs,” she says. Step two? Work to eliminate even more carbs. Taylor says it is unnecessary to “slam” your body into ketosis; the point is to train your body to be metabolically flexible. The end result (weight loss, better overall health) will be the same.
A transition period of about six weeks to start the diet will help your body adapt to burning fat for fuel and will avoid putting your body under unnecessary stress. It may also alleviate symptoms of what’s called the “keto flu,” which can set in within the first two weeks. Symptoms can feel similar to the first few days of a cleanse and include brain fog, trouble sleeping, nausea or stomach pain, muscle aches, and/or chills, but will usually only last a few days.
Some of those symptoms can be caused by increased water loss, which results in the loss of important minerals like sodium, potassium, and magnesium. Continue to drink plenty of water on the keto diet and consider adding mineral-rich sea salt (Redmond Real Salt is a good brand) to your water and taking magnesium supplements to optimize your levels. Sipping on mineral-rich bone broth can help too. Be sure to include potassium- and magnesium-rich foods in your diet such as dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and avocados as well. And finally, MCT oil can increase energy levels and help your body adapt.
If you’re not eating bread, pasta, or rice, what can you eat? Turns out, quite a lot! While some people start the diet by counting their macros using free food apps such as Cronometer, you can also focus on eating real, whole foods. Replace processed foods with pasture-raised, organic meats, an abundance of low-carbohydrate vegetables, full-fat pastured dairy products, and other healthy fats.
Think egg-and-veggie scrambles cooked with butter, ghee, or coconut oil and a side of avocado for breakfast; stir-fries with skin-on chicken and vegetables over cauliflower rice for lunch; and a lettuce-wrapped grass-fed burger paired with a big green salad for dinner. Don’t forget to generously dress your salads with a dressing made with healthy fats like avocado oil or olive oil. Leafy greens are also on the menu, along with other low-starch vegetables such as bell peppers, asparagus, and mushrooms. Add butter and a little salt to them and even the pickiest of eaters may discover that they actually like vegetables! Make sure to include healthy fats in each meal by cooking with them and/or making them a part of the menu.
One of the positive side effects of a keto diet is that you are no longer controlled by your hunger. Unlike carbohydrates, fat is very satiating, leaving you feeling fuller for longer periods of time. No more “hangry” episodes!
With a strong list of proven health benefits behind it and a plethora of resources available to help you on your journey, it’s never been easier to start the keto diet. Adopting a high-fat, low-carb ketogenic diet for about six weeks helps your body construct new metabolic machinery so you become the fat-burning machine you were meant to be!
Keto curious? Make an appointment with your local Nutritional Health Coach (NHC) to help get you started!