I'm the first one to admit that I love my fats. They are incredibly fueling and since I began to incorporate more fat into my breakfasts, I've personally experienced a huge improvement in health including weight loss, hormone balance and better sleep. You might be hearing a lot about high-fat diets since the ketogenic diet, or keto diet, has surged in popularity. And from where I stand, dropping the fear of fat and including nutritious sources of fat in our diets is a good thing.
What Is The Ketogenic Diet and How Does It Work?
The ketogenic diet is a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet. It's kind of similar to other low-carb diets like Atkins, but instead of replacing carbs with protein, you add in a ton of fat. This sends the body into ketosis, where we start burning fat as our primary source off energy.
The ketogenic diet has actually been around for almost a century. It was initially developed in the 1920s to treat epilepsy and has since been used to help with weight loss, cardiovascular health, diabetes, brain disorders and certain types of cancer.
Keto Safe Foods
- Low-carb, non-starchy veggies
- Oils like coconut and olive oil.
Non-Keto Friendly Foods Include:
- Starchy vegetables
A Quick Review of Fats
Fat is an important macronutrient that has unfortunately been vilified for decades. Emerging research shows that all of the low-fat advice we grew up with was unfounded and fat doesn't lead to obesity and heart disease.
The Role of Fat in the Body:
- Helps form our cell membranes
- Offers us a rich source of energy
- Protects our nervous system
- Helps us make hormones
- Forms our brains
- Supports effective functioning of the nervous system
- Nourishes our skin from the inside out
- Stabilizes blood sugar levels
- Lubricates our joints
All crucial stuff, right? So you can see why eliminating it could potentially cause us harm, while eating more of it can benefit our health and wellness.
How Did The Ketogenic (Keto) Diet Become Popular
As I mentioned, the keto diet was initially used by doctors to treat epilepsy, particularly in children. The diet waned from the 1970s onwards (likely due to the belief that high fat diets were at the root of heart disease- a theory that has since been disproven). The diet was brought to the forefront again in 2000 when an episode of Dateline featured the story of a little boy suffering from epilepsy - and the medications weren't working. His seizures became so bad his parents turned to the ketogenic diet as a last resort and it cured him completely. (His parents went on to found a non-profit organization and direct a TV movie about their son that starred Merryl Streep.)
After that, scientists found a renewed interest in the ketogenic diet and began to explore it in more detail through clinical studies. What they found was substantial!
The Health Benefits of The Ketogenic Diet
The ketogenic diet has a wide range of crucial health benefits, including:
- Weight Loss. Fat isn't going to make us fat. When we consume the right amount of fat for our bodies, we feel more satisfied and satiated. We don't ride on the blood sugar roller coaster. A number of singular studies (like this one) show that participants on ketogenic diets lose more weight than those on low-fat diets. And they keep it off - this meta-analysis concluded that high-fats diets were better than low-fat ones in the long run.
- Cardiovascular Disease. The weight loss studies I referred to above also examined cardiovascular risk factors. The participants didn't experience negative cardio impacts from eating fat and the meta-analysis found that the keto diet helped to lower blood pressure and raise HDL cholesterol. Another meta-analysis that focused on the keto diet and heart health concluded that very low-carb diets help to lower blood pressure and LDL cholesterol, raise HDL cholesterol, improve blood vessel function and reduce inflammation.
- Type 2 Diabetes Management + Blood Sugar Control. Eating fat stabilizes our blood sugar levels. In one study comparing the keto diet to the low glycemic index diet, the keto diet group experienced a greater improvement in glycemic control and some participants were even able to reduce their diabetes medications. Other studies show that the keto diet, when compared to low-fat eating, can lower glucose and insulin concentrations and improve insulin sensitivity. In this study of Type 2 diabetes patients, most of the participants were able to eliminate or drastically reduce their meds.
- Epilepsy. The keto diet is considered a valid option as part of treatment for epilepsy, though more so in children than adults. In this study of children with challenging seizures, the kids followed the keto diet for a year. Researchers followed up with the families three years and six years later, discovering that many of the children either decreased or eliminated their medications.
- Brain Health. Our brains are about 60% fat. Emerging evidence indicates that ketone bodies can help improve memory and can potentially treat Alzheimer's disease.
Other areas of research indicate that ketogenic diets may be able to improve acne, symptoms of Parkinson's disease, suppress or reduce cancer tumors, diminish PCOS symptoms, and help heal brain trauma.
Is The Ketogenic Diet Right For You?
We are all biochemically unique, which is why I recommend people work with their favourite natural health care practitioner (this is mine) to ensure they are following a safe ketogenic diet, especially if you have metabolic conditions where medications are concerned.
If you are interested in experimenting with the ketogenic diet, try it for a couple of weeks and see if you notice a difference in your health. We all have different metabolic types, and some of us will feel better than others on a high-fat diet.
This may be stating the obvious, but it's virtually impossible to do this safely if you're vegan. There is only so many nuts, seeds and coconut you can eat, and you probably won't feel satiated or vibrant without the animal side of things. But if you've done it successfully, then let me know!
Why I Am Not "Going Keto"
As I was working on this post, my husband asked me if I would ever have any interest in trying the ketogenic diet. My response: "If it's ever indicated, then yes." The ketogenic diet is one that would fall into the "therapeutic diets" category for me. This means that it can be incredibly effective for some people with specific health needs, for a period of time.
The thing with these diet trends is when a therapeutic diet falls into the mainstream, (and currently Keto is a trend) is that most often they are not sustainable as an ongoing lifestyle. And way too often, they are taken on willy nilly and not followed effectively, which can result in a further decline of health. If my health needs ever indicated that keto was the optimal way for me to eat and live to reverse or prevent a specific condition, I absolutely would give it a try.
What I'm not interested in, is constantly experimenting with every new diet we learn about just because it's gained popularity. I would encourage you to be just as mindful. As we know, there is no quick fix ever and one diet does not suit all. There are seven billion people on the planet and that means there are seven billion optimal diets.
There are 7 billion people on the planet, that require 7 billion different diets.
And if you just want to eat some deliciously fat-fueled recipes, I have a few awesome things for you to try.
10 Awesome Ketogenic Diet Recipes
Keto Diet Salmon Sushi Bowl
Make yourself some cauli rice, salmon and spiralized noodles and you're golden.
Lazy Grain-Free Chicken Nuggets
Skip the complicated dredging process and make this quick and easy recipe instead. I like to serve things like this with a big green salad or a pile of roasted veg.
Low Carb Keto Spring Rolls
This keto spring roll uses cooked cabbage for the wraps instead of the traditional rice paper wraps.
Low Carb Green Smoothie
You can still drink smoothies on a keto diet - you just need to be mindful of which fruits you use.
Fudge Fat Bombs
No keto diet roundup would be complete without a 'fat bomb' recipe. These chocolatey nuggets are perfect for a mid-morning or mid-afternoon energy boost, or a nutritious dessert.
Paleo Sardine-Stuffed Avocados
This meal is rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3s and gets an amazing boost with the addition of turmeric.
Cashew Nut Soup
A creamy and luxurious soup packed with veggies, nuts and spices. You can use water or veggie broth to make it vegan, or amp up the power with homemade bone broth.
Avocado-Stuffed Low Carb Meatballs
by The Iron You
Bite into a wonderfully creamy surprise with these avocado-stuffed meatballs. You won't regret the extra effort.
Crunchy Grain-Free Granola
Granola isn't off the table on a keto diet - simply use nuts and seeds instead, and use your favourite dairy-free nut/seed milk.
Lemongrass Coconut Soup
I love this simple nut-free, vegan and Paleo-friendly soup because it's full on flavour and light on work!