The Ketogenic Diet is the newest trendy dietary model that has taken the country by storm! Everyone is talking about this high fat, low carb diet! As a matter of fact, keto cookbooks are the top selling cookbooks on the market! Many respected nutrition-oriented doctors like Dr. Josh Axe and Dr. Mark Hyman are advocates for the ketogenic diet. Personally, I am relatively fond of a diet that is higher in essential fatty acids and lower in processed carbohydrates. However, there is a huge nutrition mistake that I see many people making that are following a keto-based diet and it makes me CRINGE. So let's talk a minute about what the keto diet is, why it is beneficial and how you can avoid making this "Dirty Keto" mistake.
What is a Keto Diet?
In a nutshell, the ketogenic diet is a macro focused diet that is predominantly fatty acids, an adequate amount of protein, and highly restricted carbohydrate intake. On a strict keto protocol, fatty acids would make up 70% of the daily calorie intake, protein about 15% and net carbohydrate intake about 15%. These numbers are subject to vary based on individual needs but the idea is to restrict carbohydrate intake so that the body is forced to utilize fats for fuel instead of sugar.
When we think of energy, we usually think of sugar because glucose is the primary source for energy. Glucose being put into our cells to make ATP is the most common process taught in a clinical setting. But what happens when glucose runs out? Our bodies convert to using fat in the form of ketones as fuel instead. This is called being in ketosis.
We have observed that diets high in sugar increase weight, hormonal imbalances, and inflammation which also increases risk for diabetes, metabolic disorder and heart disease. By lowering our intake of sugar and giving our body an alternative fuel source for energy, we reduce our risk for all of the above!
Making sure our bodies have an adequate source of fatty acids is important. Our brain is more than 70% fat. Our hormones are fatty acid derived. Our cells have lipid layers surrounding them. Our endocannabinoids are made from fats. Now, we have determined that ketones burn more effectively as energy than sugar. When working with my clients, I make sure to emphasize the importance of healthy fatty acids, like avocados, salmon, and walnuts, to reduce inflammation and support multiple systems within the body. It is too often, though, that I see a lot of misconception with the keto diet that can do more harm than good - regardless of the weight you lose during the process.
Dirty Keto - 3 Common Misunderstandings
The first mistake that many keto followers make is choosing poor quality foods for the sake of the protocol. Examples of this include eating higher than average amounts of bacon and other processed deli meats, generic cheeses, and increased amounts of vegetables oils. Quality of the fatty acids that are put into the body still matter. Whether that means buying organic or choosing different protein sources, we need to pay attention to how clean our food choices are. Bacon that has been treated with nitrates and nitrites is still highly inflammatory and is not considered approved for the keto diet. Not all cheese is created equal. Some cheese sold on the market can barely be classified as cheese at all. From growth hormones to preservatives, there is a lot to worry about in the dairy section.
The second mistake I see a lot with keto followers is the misunderstanding that non-starchy vegetables are safe and encouraged to eat! Just as much as we have to have adequate fatty acids, we also have to have dietary fiber. The best way to get fiber is to eat your vegetables. There are so many keto-ers that pre-dominantly eat meat and cheese without paying any attention to everything else that we nutritionally need!
"But Stephanie," you may ask, " My carbohydrates are limited to 15% of my calorie intake. How can I eat vegetables and stay low?"
Easy! I mentioned previously the term net carbs. This means the amount of carbs remaining after deducting for fiber intake. Let's use this nutrition facts label for spinach as an example. Total carbohydrates in one cup fresh spinach says 1g. Dietary fiber for this same 1 cup of spinach is also 1g.
Total carbohydrate - dietary fiber = net carbs.
So eating 1 cup of fresh spinach yields zero net carbs and does not count towards you 15% carbohydrate calorie intake. Most all non-starchy vegetables are going to be higher in fiber than sugar. Eat your vegetables!
Lastly, the third mistake I commonly see people on keto making is not paying attention to how their body responds to certain food. I mentioned previously, many keto-ers load their plates with meat, cheese, and other diary products for the sake of hitting fat goals. Unfortunately, having a dairy intolerance is just as common as a gluten intolerance. Many people have a food intolerance that causes inflammation within the digestive system and can manifest into various other illnesses by causing leaky gut. If you experience increased heart burn, indigestion, diarrhea, constipation, eczema, acne, fatigue, or inflammatory pain either on or off the keto diet, there is a chance you are experiencing a food intolerance should consider consultation with a nutritional expert for further evaluation.
If you are considering a ketogenic diet, don't stumble on these mistakes. The goal is to incorporate healthy fats into the diet while reducing the high starch, high sugar foods. Fats have more calories per gram than protein and carbohydrates, so it is easier than you may think to increase the calorie percentage of healthy fats without loading our plates down with bacon, cream cheese, and vegetable oils. Adding healthy fats can be as easy as including olive oil, avocado, and walnuts on your salad or hummus and celery as a snack. The choices can be limitless. Consult with your nutrition expert today if you have further questions about how to piece together a healthy ketogenic meal plan.
Until next time, healthy blessings!