If you’ve been following the Pilates Nutritionist blog for a while, you know I’m an advocate for customized nutrition. Meaning, I don’t believe there is a one-size-fits-all diet that will work for everyone. But, there are some general nutrition principles that I circle back to time and time again.
Nutrition researchers debate a lot of things, but one thing just about everyone agrees on is this: refined carbohydrates and sugars are no bueno for your health. For most people, simply cutting back on processed high-carbohydrate foods, like bread, cereal, pasta, crackers, baked goods, and sweet drinks can be transformative.
For others, it’s simply not enough.
Those with high blood sugar (prediabetes or overt diabetes) often benefit from a diet that limits carbohydrates as a whole, even when they come from real food. (This is something I encourage for pregnant women with gestational diabetes as well.)
I know what you’re thinking: “But that’s not me.”
However, recent research into the prevalence of prediabetes found that rates are skyrocketing, and not just among people who are overweight.
“The prevalence of prediabetes among healthy-weight adults, aged 20 years and older and without diagnosed or undiagnosed diabetes, increased from 10.2% in 1988–1994 to 18.5% in 2012.” (Ann Family Medicine, 2016)
Did you catch that? Even if you’re at a healthy weight, there’s a nearly 1 in 5 chance you have high blood sugar (and probably have no idea).
Adopting a lower-carbohydrate diet lessens the blood sugar highs (and lows), making the choice to go low-carb a no-brainer.
A ketogenic diet is one type of low-carb diet that you might consider.
Louise Hendon, co-host of The Keto Summit and author of The Essential Keto Cookbook, has kindly contributed the following guest post to help you decide if a ketogenic diet is right for you (hint: lower blood sugar is not the only benefit). There are many interpretations of ketogenic diets, but luckily Louise and I are on the same page: we support a real food, nutrient-dense approach to keto.
I’m not here to convince you to try a new diet.
What I really want is to show you how thinking about your lifestyle a bit differently could dramatically improve your energy, mood, weight loss, and much more.
But to do that, I need to talk a little bit about the Ketogenic or Keto diet…
I am not a fan of the word diet (I agree with Lily), and I prefer to think of Keto more as a tool.
It’s something you can use (responsibly and with understanding) to boost fat loss and gain energy and productivity.
Plus, it’s backed by scientific research, many supporters from the medical fields, and, of course, a ton of people who love it and have benefited a lot from it.
Ketogenic diets are not just about weight loss. Keto can also help you control inflammation and potentially treat or prevent various illnesses. I’ll tell you more below.
But before we get into that, what is the Ketogenic diet?
The Ketogenic diet is an approach to force your body to burn fatty acids as its primary energy source, as opposed to burning carbohydrates.
This diet was first developed in the 1920s as a treatment for epilepsy and is still used today to reduce childhood seizures in patients who prove unresponsive to anti-seizure medications.
By limiting your intake of carbohydrates and making fat more readily available, your body enters a metabolic state known as ketosis, where the conversion of fatty acids to ketone bodies in the liver provides an alternate energy source to glucose.
Many people think about it as burning fat instead of burning sugar for energy. And to achieve that state, you typically eat foods low in carbohydrates, fairly high in fat, and moderate in protein.
I personally suggest taking a real food, nutrient-dense approach to Keto. This means no low-carb processed products, grains, soy, or artificial sweeteners. Remember, as with all approaches to improving your diet and your health, the key component is eating real food that nourishes your body.
So your meal plans on Keto will focus on non-starchy vegetables, meats, fish and seafood, organ meats, healthy fats, avocados, eggs, as well as some nuts, seeds, and berries. You can check out a complete food list here.
But why should you try Keto?
7 Reasons to Try a Ketogenic Diet
1. The Ketogenic Diet can help you lose weight
One of the main reasons why Keto has become so popular is because of how effective it is for helping people lose weight. But it’s not just anecdotal evidence.
Many studies have pointed out that low carb diets can help people lose weight. And more recently, studies are being conducted specifically on the Ketogenic diet.
This 2004 study concluded that: “[The Ketogenic diet] significantly reduced the body weight and body mass index of patients.”
So, if you’re looking to shed some extra pounds, then definitely keep on reading.
2. Curb hunger and cravings
No one likes being hungry. In fact, we’re biologically designed to dislike hunger and to want to eat.
However, while certain foods can trigger those hunger pangs, other foods can make us feel full for longer.
Luckily, most foods on the Ketogenic diet fall into that latter category.
In a recent study from the Division of Obesity and Metabolic Health in the UK, Ketogenic diets were found to reduce hunger and food intake more than traditional high-protein diets.
While it’s always crucial to listen to your body and practice mindful eating, it’s nice to also have your food help you out.
3. Increase mental clarity and alertness
Another reason why people fall in love with Keto is because it gets rid of brain fog.
Sometimes you might not even realize you have mental fogginess, but once it’s cleared up, you’ll suddenly feel like your brain is a super computer.
You can think through problems, work more efficiently and effectively, not get as upset when things go wrong, and make better food choices throughout the day.
4. Stabilize blood sugar levels
Our bodies are designed to work best with stable blood sugar levels.
That’s one of the reasons why our bodies make insulin…to decrease our blood sugar levels when we eat sugary or starchy foods.
As anyone with diabetes will know, having high blood sugar levels or low blood sugar levels are both very dangerous.
Because a Ketogenic diet removes sugary and starchy foods, you don’t get a spike in blood sugar levels when you eat and you also don’t get that corresponding sugar crash half an hour later.
5. Gain energy
Another benefit of having stable blood sugar levels is that you’ll enjoy more energy.
You won’t have mid-morning or afternoon crashes, and you’ll be able to sustain your energy levels even when you have to skip a meal!
6. Have more stable moods
Don’t want so many mood swings anymore? Keto can also help with that.
Research is showing that Keto can actually improve your mood. (This could be tied to stable blood glucose levels; a drop in blood sugar can be accompanied by a short depressive state.)
7. Focus on eating nutrient-dense foods rather than calories
Food is designed to nourish our bodies. We need certain essential nutrients like vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and amino acids.
And it’s important to eat food that will supply you with those nutrients rather than just empty calories.
Keto emphasizes eating a lot of foods that are nutrient-dense (like seafood, green leafy vegetables, and fatty meats).
Plus, as Lily points out in this article, counting calories is not all it’s cracked up to be.
Bonus Reason to Try Keto
As I hinted at above, there’s growing research suggesting that Keto may have additional therapeutic benefits like healing Alzheimer’s disease and even cancer.
In a recent literature review from the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the authors concluded that: “There are new and exciting scenarios about the use of ketogenic diets…in cancer, T2D [Type 2 diabetes], PCOS [Polycystic ovary syndrome], cardiovascular and neurological diseases.”
How to incorporate Keto into your lifestyle
Personally, I believe that you should always try to eat a real food diet with high quality ingredients. That’s your baseline diet (or lifestyle).
Then when you want an extra boost to lose more weight and get rid of sugar cravings, do Keto for 1-2 months.
It can be a difficult transition at first, especially if you’re very reliant on high-carbohydrate foods in your diet.
But that initial transition period can help you learn more about your body. For example, it taught me just how dependent I had been on carbohydrates.
I hope this post encourages you to give Keto a try when the time is right for you. And even if you don’t try Keto, I hope this post makes you more cognizant in the future about how sugary and starchy foods affect your energy levels and moods.
A big thank you to Louise for detailing 7 reasons to try a ketogenic diet. Now I’d love to hear from you:
- Have you ever tried a low carb or ketogenic diet?
- If so, what was your reason for going keto? Did you stick to it long-term, ease back into a more moderate low-carb diet, or something else?
I’d love to hear your experience in the comments below.
Until next week,
PS – If you’re curious to try a ketogenic diet and need some guidance and recipes to make it easy, check out The Essential Keto Cookbook.