Dieting fads date back centuries. In 1820 Lord Byron popularized the Vinegar and Water diet of drinking water mixed with apple cider vinegar. In 1925, Lucky Strike cigarettes made a huge marketing push to convince people to “Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet”. In the 1950s, the Cabbage Soup diet promised rapid weight loss to people who ate cabbage soup for almost every meal. Slim Fast hit the scene in 1977, encouraging dieters to replace meals with shakes. In 1992, the Atkins diet promoted high-protein and very low-carb intake. In 2003 the South Beach diet offered a more palatable ratio of protein to carbs than the Atkins diet.
Now, here we are in 2016 the Ketogenic diet reigning as one of the most popular diets in America. Clearly, some of the earlier fads were just that: fads, with no basis in physiology or nutrition science. So, does the Ketogenic diet fall into that category? Is it just a fad that will come and go once something better comes along?
Maybe not. There is something unique about the Ketogenic diet that has staying power, with iconic endorsements from celebrities like Tim Ferriss and a huge cult following from the paleo diet community, endurance athletes, bodybuilders, and fitness enthusiasts nationwide.
So what does the diet entail, exactly?
Simply put, a Ketogenic diet is very low in carbs and very high in fats. It shares similarities with the Atkins diet and South Beach Diet, however features a distinctive emphasis on replacing almost all carbs with fats. This reduction in carbs triggers the body to enter a state of ketosis.
Ketosis is a metabolic state where the body becomes efficient at converting fat into energy. In the liver, fat is turned into ketones, which are water-soluble molecules that provide energy to the brain.
The exact ratio of macros in ketogenic diets vary. The most common version is 75% fat, 20% protein, and 5% carbohydrates.
So what’s so beneficial about entering ketosis? Primarily, blood sugar and insulin levels are greatly reduced in this type of diet. Secondarily, increased ketones lower the risk factor for many diseases. The impact of a ketogenic diet is:
- Effective weight loss. A strictly adhered-to ketogenic diet can yield 2.2 times more weight loss than a standard, calorie-restricted diet.
- It starves cancer cells. Since cancer cells feed off of sugar, drastically reducing carbohydrate intake can deprive cancer cells of their fuel. While other cells can use fat for energy, cancer cells cannot.
- It treats Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease effectively is a degeneration of the nerve system in the brain. Since healthy fats support a healthy brain, that 70% ratio of fats can reduce symptoms and damage from this debilitating disease.
- Visceral fat is shredded. Visceral fat refers to fat that accumulates in the abdomen. In other words: it’s the fat everybody wants to lose first! Ketosis is the most effective way to trigger a reduction in this type of fat.
- It raises the GOOD cholesterol. Cholesterol gets a bad rap, but the nutritionally-educated know that HDL is the good kind of cholesterol, versus LDL. Ketogenic dieting raises HDL while lowering triglycerides. This lowers the risk of heart disease, the number one killer in the United States.
This list continues on, including the fact that ketogenic diets are great therapy for kids with epilepsy. The benefits are clear as day. However, actually executing a strict ketogenic diet can be a challenge. It is a major change to the way most people eat. With the abundance of carbohydrates in many foods and the challenge of eating the right kind of fats, switching to this diet can be a challenge.
Guide to Switching to a Ketogenic Diet
- Don’t try to switch overnight. Adjust your ratio of macros gradually until you are at 75% fats, 20% protein, and 5% carbohydrates. Don’t try to make the switch overnight as it might be overwhelming. Begin with replacements: carbs you currently eat for fats you don’t.
- Focus on eating healthy fats in these categories:
- Healthy Saturated Fats: coconut oil, grass fed butter, ghee (clarified butter from India)
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids: chia seeds, flax seeds, and salmon
- Omega 9 Fatty Acids: avocados, olive oil, almonds, sprouted nuts, and seeds.
- Download a food tracking app. But don’t get carried away with needing to track everything. Just focus on the ratio of macros at first and use it to plan your shopping trips accordingly. Check out this page of apps to choose one that works for you.