The ketogenic diet has become wildly popular over the last year, so I decided to do my research and try it out myself. Welcome to my review and experience going keto for a week.
The ketogenic diet, also known as a low-carb, high-fat diet, gets you to switch up the macro nutrient distribution in your daily foods to eat about 80% fat, less than 5% carbohydrates with a moderate amount of protein, about 15-20%. To give you an idea of what’s usually recommended for your macros, Health Canada suggests a balanced diet of 10-35% fat, 45-65% carbohydrate and 20-35% protein.
Eating in accordance with the keto macro nutrient ratios depletes your body of glucose (digested carbs) and forces it to find another source of energy. Your liver turns fat and certain amino acids (digested protein) into ketones to fuel your body and brain. Your body can also derive some glucose from fatty acids and amino acids, if it needs to. For healthy people who don’t have diabetes and aren’t pregnant, ketosis usually kicks in after a few days of eating less than 20-50 grams of net carbohydrates per day.
What does 20 grams of carbohydrates look like in food?
20 grams of carbs is about one potato, 1/2 cup of pasta or white rice, or 1/2 of a burger bun. It won’t take much of any of these foods to exceed your daily carb limit and take you out of ketosis. There are ‘carb replacements’ such as cauliflower rice, keto bread and pasta recipes, or you could replace your grain source with more veggies. Even though fruits and vegetables contain carbohydrates, a lot of it is fibre. You subtract the fibre amount to get your net carbohydrates which actually have an impact on blood sugar and insulin levels.
Unlike other low-carb diets that have higher allowances of protein, keto is fat-centric and protein intake is kept to a moderate level. Why? Because high-protein intake, can have a similar impact to carbs which causes you to release the hormone insulin. Insulin suppresses ketone production, so if you want to get into ketosis and stay there, you want to minimize insulin as much as possible.
The evidence behind keto
The main reason a lot of people go keto is for weight management. However, the research has been building for decades on many other benefits of a ketogenic diet. It’s been proven as an effective tool in the treatment of severe childhood epilepsy, improvements were seen in cognitive function and symptoms in Alzheimer’s patients, and those with Parkinson’s Disease. Studies show positive impacts with the keto diet and heart health too. In recent years there have been an increasing number of studies published, linking improvements for people with acne, cancer and Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
My particular interest in the ketogenic diet research is the objective improvements in biomarkers of disease risk for patients with type 2 diabetes.
Keto and type 2 diabetes
Insulin resistance is the primary feature underlying type 2 diabetes. The hormone insulin, is used to transport glucose around your body, move it into cells, and sometimes stores it as fat. When a person has insulin resistance, the hormone isn’t working as well, and cells are not sensitive to react and take up circulating glucose. Insulin resistance is basically ‘carbohydrate intolerance’. When a person with insulin resistance restricts carbohydrates in their diet to a level below which it is not significantly converted to fat (a threshold that varies from person to person), signs and symptoms of insulin resistance improve or often disappear completely. Glucose control improves not only because there is less glucose coming in, but also because they become more sensitive to the insulin that is present and they use it more effectively.
In addition to research out there, I have witnessed remarkable results with my type 2 diabetes clients following a keto diet, such as complete withdrawal of insulin and major weight loss in a matter of weeks.
My experience going keto for 7 days
Grocery shopping and meal prep were the main predictors of success in my week of keto. I found recipes from here and here – there are tons of recipes and meal/snack ideas out there. I tracked my macros using a mobile app, paid attention to my net carb intake, and monitored my symptoms and weight.
My blood pressure felt low and I needed salt!
For the first couple of days, I drank a cup of bouillon. Here’s why. Under normal conditions, your kidneys tend to store and reuse a lot of sodium. When your insulin levels are very low and stable, your kidneys through various hormonal mechanisms go into a diuretic type mode, excreting lots of sodium, potassium and water. The net effect is, if you do not replace your salt your blood pressure lowers. Symptoms of low blood pressure include, dizziness, weakness and fatigue – my bouillon drinks kept those symptoms at bay.
I ate way more fat than I usually do and felt a little nauseated from it.
When you consume fat, various pancreatic enzymes and bile salts from your liver and gallbladder all work to break the fats down. It takes time to up-regulate the production of bile/enzymes in order to accommodate a large amount of fat. I jumped into ingesting a large amount of fat and my organs likely didn’t produce enough of these things to break it down fast enough, which may have lead me to feel nauseated from undigested fat.
Keto and weight loss
In 7 days, I lost 4 pounds. Here’s the likely reasons.
- Water weight. When you start a ketogenic diet, you drop quite a bit of water weight, like I mentioned you go into a diuretic type mode, excreting electrolytes and water.
- Satiety. I was eating a lot of vegetables (fibre) and fat, which made me feel full pretty quickly. The consumption of fat and protein spurs the release of CCK, which is a satiety hormone. Individuals on keto usually experience a reduction in appetite due to the higher satiety effect and possibly direct appetite-suppressant action of the ketone bodies.
- Fewer high-calorie snacks. Eliminating a major food group for me meant cutting out a lot of higher-calorie snacks and grains in my meals.
- Less fat storage. Eating a high carb diet means you’re always producing the hormone insulin, which is used to transport glucose around your body, move it into cells, and sometimes stores it as fat which leads to weight gain. In a state of ketosis, where insulin levels remain stable, it is much harder to store excess fat.
- More fat burning. A ketogenic diet uses fat for fuel, and this process is energy-intensive. Your body burns a lot more energy (around 400–600 more calories/day), so you’re essentially getting rid of the fat you’re eating and cutting into your body fat stores.
Should you try keto?
A diet as restrictive as the ketogenic diet is every Dietitian’s nightmare. That being said, should you try it? Depends on your reasoning.
If you have any of the health conditions listed above where keto has proven to be effective in treatment, then absolutely have the conversation with your Doctor and Registered Dietitian about whether keto would be a good fit for you. I’ve personally found, that when patients (with some of the above conditions) have done keto and seen incredible improvements in their symptoms, it’s a motivation to stay on it and it becomes a lifestyle versus a diet. Leanne Vogel, a keto enthusiast has a podcast where she talks to individuals with conditions such as candida and PCOS who have adopted a keto lifestyle and found it works perfectly for them.
If you’re interested in trying keto purely for weight management, you need to consider how disciplined of a person you are. Sticking to a keto diet can be tough, and often people will use it as quick fix rapid weight loss tool. The risk is once you stop your keto diet – the weight comes back, sometimes all of it, sometimes half of it, but it does come back and that can be disheartening. If you are an overall healthy person, and you just want a kick start to your weight management journey, I would say try it. Because sometimes we just need to see a small change in body composition to motivate us to keep going. But before you try it, do your research or talk to a Registered Dietitian. Going into ketosis is an intricate process that requires high attention to detail and understanding of macro nutrient distribution, what you can and can’t eat, how to get into ketosis, and preventing side effects.
If you’re against keto, refrain from passing judgement on those who follow it. There is no one right way for everyone to eat, and sometimes we have to find what works best for each of us. And keto works great for a lot of people.