Written by Abbe Ciulla @mightyyogini
“If medicine wants to focus on prevention, there’s no better tool than nutrition.”
Ante up. This year's nutrition challenge: KETO
As you may remember, around this time last year I had just finished my 30 Days Sugar Free Diet. The benefits proved to be far more than firming up a few jiggles, which is why it ultimately. went from being a 30 day diet to becoming a full on life style change.
Keto is another form of low-glycemic or "Sugar Free" dieting, but with more restrictions (yay) and life style changes. After living a year successfully sugar free, I though I would up the ante and try the Ketogenic Diet.
Following a lifestyle guru: Tim Ferriss
I can't very well write an article about Keto without a nod to one of my heroes Tim Ferriss and his nutrition guru Dom D'Agostino. Tim has been called “a cross between Jack Welch and a Buddhist monk” by The New York Times and I couldn't agree more. Tim Ferriss is the millennial generation's self-help guru. Move aside Tony Robbins.
Tim has released several "self help" best-sellers. My personal favorite being "Tools of Titans". The book's content consists of tactics, tips and routines from some of the world's most inspiring and successful self-made titans such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Wim Hoff the Iceman, Rhonda Patrick, Tony Robbins (obv), even comedians like Rainn Wilson. Each chapters features a play-by-play success outline with one of these kick-ass "titans". And within this book he has an entire chapter on Keto, which was how I first discovered the diet. (*Tools of Titans is a must-read if you haven't already, I literally own it on every format- audio, kindle, hard cover.)
Why Tim reps Keto:
While in the peak of his career, Ferriss was diagnosed with Lyme disease. It completely decimated him, knocking him down to 10% capacity (and this guy is a fitness rockstar). He suffered from constant joint pain, inflammation, memory loss and extreme mental fog.
I was also diagnosed with Lyme about two years ago. Although I was able to manage flare ups, I was beginning to feel the effects in my joints, low back and with my day to day energy. What does this have to do with Keto? Keep reading.
One fateful morning, when I was having a flare up and feeling particularly achey and foggy, I opened up Tim's the chapter on Keto, this was the preface:
"This profile is one of several that might save your life, and it has certainly changed mine. ...[Ketogenic Dieting] completely eradicated symptoms of Lyme disease when all else had failed. It was the only thing that helped after my first course of antibiotics. It produced a night and day difference: a 10-time improvement on performance and mental clarity."
Needless to say, after reading that glowing endorsement on the potential benefits of Ketogenic Dieting, I was ready to give it a try.
What is the Ketogenic Diet?
The Keto Diet has picked up a lot of steam these past few years, although relatively speaking is not a new diet concept considering Ketogenic dieting has been around for almost a hundred years! Long before Tasty was posting 15 second bacon-porn recipes.
The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, adequate-protein, low-carbohydrate diet that was introduced in the 1920s medicine to treat epilepsy in children. Now, emerging evidence from animal models (I know, ick) and clinical trials suggest Keto may be therapeutically used in many other neurological disorders, including head ache, neurodegenerative diseases, sleep disorders, bipolar disorder, autism and brain cancer. With no apparent side effects?
Sound too good to be true? I feel ya. Where are these neuroprotective effects coming from? What’s going on in the brain on a ketogenic diet?
The diet forces the body to burn fats rather than carbohydrates. Normally, the carbohydrates contained in food are converted into glucose, which is then transported around the body, fueling brain-function. If you've ever carb-loaded for a race or a tough workout, you know carbs are key for boosting your energy. Eating carbohydrates also signals for your brain to produce serotonin, a hormone that's involved in mood regulation, appetite control and the sleep cycle. That may be one reason that carbs are considered "comfort food" and why you might crave sugary and carby eats when you're emotional or stressed. Pass the chocolate-covered pretzel icecream please.
So, what happens if we eliminate the carb intake? If there is little carbohydrate consumption, as in Keto diets, the liver converts fat into fatty acids and ketone bodies. The ketone bodies are released into the bloodstream, taken up by the brain and other organs, shuttled into the “energy factory” mitochondria and used up as fuel.. This process creates elevated level of ketone bodies in the blood, a state known as ketosis.
Besides eating very low carb, during Keto dieting you also must keep the fat intake is HIGH and that you’re getting enough calories. It’s important to eat enough calories on the ketogenic diet to avoid any metabolic or thyroid problems that are associated with a low calorie intake- trust me, your body will know how to efficiently use the added fat calories. Especially if you are active.
...the possibility that we can reduce symptoms of untreatable neurological disorders through modifying dietary composition is quite incredible; that a ketogenic diet may benefit physical and cognitive performance in healthy individuals is an even more tantalizing idea."
After about 6 months of following the Keto Diet, here are the benefits I have noticed.
Keto for cancer
I debated on whether to put this section in, considering research with cancer and nutrition is so widespread and often opposing. But when it comes to cancer, flighting it means having all the tools and options at the ready.
If you are over the age of 40, whether you're healthy and active or not, cancer is one of the four types of diseases that will kill you with 80% certainty. With ketogenic diets, lowering carbohydrates will reduce your levels of glucose, the fuel that feeds cancer cells. This will put your body into ketosis and will assist in depleting cancer cells of their energy supply. While it is unlikely that this will cure cancers, Keto paired with treatment could drastically reduced reoccurrence, and help the treatment be far more effective.
"Cancer cells are unlike normal cells in many ways, but one of their traits that is most unique regards insulin receptors. They have ten times more insulin receptors on their cellular surface. This enables cancer cells to gorge themselves in glucose and nutrients coming from the bloodstream at a very high rate. As you continue to consume glucose as your primary diet source, cancer cells will continue to thrive and spread. It is no surprise that the lowest survival rate in cancer patients is among those with the highest blood sugar levels." Dr. David Jocers
Keto is definitely not for everyone. While there appears to be some potentially life-saving benefits, there are some very real drawbacks, bummers and precautions.
The details on Keto
Why all the fat?
Dietary fat is the cornerstone of the ketogenic diet. It’s the high fat intake and low carb intake that makes the diet “work” and keeps your body in ketosis — using those ketones for fuel and burning through fat. When fat is removed from our diet, it is usually replaced with carbohydrates. As I said before, eating fat allows you to feel full, fat is full of Vitamins A,D,E and K, and good cholesterol is the basis of our hormones.
An important distinction to make is good fat vs bad fat and good cholesterol vs bad cholesterol.
Good Fat vs. Bad Fat
Whether your following a Keto diet or not, we need fats. We can't live without them, in fact. They provide essential fatty acids, remove metabolic waste, keep our skin soft, deliver fat-soluble vitamins, and are a great source of energizing fuel. But it's easy to get confused about good fats vs. bad fats, how to avoid artery-clogging trans fats, and the role omega-3 fatty acids play in heart health.
Guys, low carb diets aren't an excuse to gorge yourself on bacon, cheese and fried foods. Like any diet choice, the foods you choose should be regarded as medicine. Everything that goes into your body should have the intention of healing. Don't get me wrong, you gotta live. But keep the fats healthy on the regular.
Part II: Good vs Bad Cholesterol
This is usually the part where I hear "wait, there is good cholesterol?"
YES. And just like good fats, we can't live without it.
For decades we have been told to reduce our fat intake, especially saturated fats to reduce cholesterol and our risk of cardiovascular disease. While reducing saturated fats and butter etc from your diet will reduce your cholesterol, but it mainly reduces HDL which is your good cholesterol and makes smaller LDL (bad cholesterol) which is more damaging.
LDL (bad) carries cholesterol and other lipids from the liver to the body and the organs.
HDL (good) carries cholesterol and lipids from the body back to the liver for disposal.
Was Keto right for me?
After six months of following Keto, I ultimately decided to return to my original nutrition plan set forth by my personal nutritionist Shiela Zitano- one I have been following for almost 5 years (article on my personal diet plan to come out soon!). I still plan on cycling in and out of Keto periodically to manage my Lyme symptoms, 4 months on during the summer, 8 months while I work toward building muscle.
While I can't deny the amazing benefits for Ketogenics, ultimately it did not align with my goals enough to keep with it as a primary plan. My goals are: Strength Building, Muscle Retention, Biomechanic Mobility and diet flexibility. For my personal goals, my body requires a high protein diet more the majority of my building season (Fall-Spring). For my lifestyle, I require a flexible diet plan where the macros can shift according to my travel and workout regiment.
Is Keto right for you?
For anyone interested in trying Ketogenic Dieting I would recommend first consulting your doctor or a nutritionist. And then I would have a good look at your goals. If you don't have any defined goals, then make that step one. Write down, what are your goals for your body, lifestyle and moving forward. Which ever nutrition regiment you choose should align as seamlessly as possible with those goals, otherwise you will forever be trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.
“People have been recommending low fat diets for 30 years, and then it turns out to be completely wrong. There is no proven correlation between saturated fats and Cardio Vascular Disease”.