Feeling the lure of the keto diet?
Two big reasons people try it are because they hope to drop weight or to heal from health issues. Getting into a ketotic state can provide better clarity and mental energy, resolve some chronic neurological and energy disorders, and can even havemetabolic advantages.
While there are potential benefits, ‘going keto’ is not foolproof. It is often misunderstood and can create problems. The greater and swifter the diet change, the more the adjustments can pose a challenge.
There are many variations of keto, but properly executed, keto is a lifestyle, not just a diet.
Keto involves either consistently or intermittently getting into a state where the body breaks down fatty acids to produce ketone bodies that it can use for fuel. This requires restricting sugars and carbohydrates while keeping a high intake of fat. Done right, it can be a low inflammatory diet and can help correct fatty acid deficiencies or symptoms of starch overabundance.
Done wrong, it can deplete the microbiome and have drawbacks likenutritional deficiencies, reductions in physical or cognitive performance, painful symptoms and hormonal imbalances.It is easy to make mistakes that might prevent or delay your entry into a state of ketosis, rob your workouts of energy, diminish your gut bacteria, and trigger hypothyroidism or sugar withdrawal. This can stall weight loss, cause unintended weight gain, or create new health issues, too.
Let’s look at some of the most common pitfalls and, more importantly, lay out how some strategies for doing a very low carb or ketogenic diet with the most benefits and fewest drawbacks.
Consume veggies liberally (also called doing ‘green’ or ‘clean’ keto)
Contrary to what some might think, many plant foodsare keto-friendly. While following a ketogenic lifestyle does mean avoiding processed and refined carbohydrates, it is not synonymous with avoidance of vegetables, which are carbohydrates. Veggies can be eaten in small quantities and occasionally in larger quantities (called ‘carb re-feeds’, ‘carbing up’ or ‘carb cycling’, which we will discuss later).
Doing a green or clean version of keto has multiple benefits.
- It can prevent the microbiome depletion that can easily occur on keto if it is not done mindfully because it provides the fiber that acts as a prebiotic, or potential food for good gut microbes.
- It also provides dietary diversity, which, unless counter-indicated, provides enjoyment, adaptability/flexibility, and long-term benefits to human health.
- This offers more phytonutrients and antioxidants than doing a dirty keto approach.
- Finally, this approach maintains a moderate level of dietary minerals and oxalate. This prevents the painful symptoms that can be triggered by rapid decreases in electrolytes and oxalate in the diet that cutting out veggies abruptly can induce. Veggies supply electrolyte minerals potassium and magnesium, to offset some symptoms of keto flu, like twitching or cramping muscles, or heart palpitations.
A ketogenic plant-based diet can be filling and have a decent variety, by favoring the detoxifying cruciferous family veggies like bok choy, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, collards, and Brussels sprouts. You can have high-fiber friends like flax and chia; liberally eat salads of low-glycemic index, high-nutrient sprouts, and microgreens; and enjoy lettuces and arugula.
You can enjoy nuts and seeds, cucumber, zucchini and squash, flavorful ginger and spices, alliums like green onion, shallots, onions, garlic and leeks, all varieties of fresh herbs, mushrooms, tomatoes and avocadoes, celery, peppers, asparagus, radishes, artichokes, citrus like lemon and lime, and berries like blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries.
Considering that North Americans eat about 30 different foods and less than 13 different vegetables, on average, this diversity represents something better than what the average person eats.
Consume More MCT Oil and Better Fats
Consuming more of the right types of fat may
- accelerate your adaptation to a ketogenic diet at the outset and
- make it more comfortable and healthier and
- provide cognitive benefits
One way to reduce keto flu, or the terrible feeling triggered initially by sugar restriction, is to get fat-adapted faster. Adding fats to meals can help to do this; Udo’s Oil, EVOO, and Omega Sport+ can be drizzled liberally into/over anything cold or already cooked!
MCTs, or medium-chain triglycerides, like those in Omega Sport +, are particularly powerful at helping avoid keto flu. They go straight to the liver to be metabolized immediately for energy. All other fats go first through the lymph system, the muscles (including your heart), and adipose tissues!
Most people start keto with bacon and cream cheese. While things like eggs or butter do provide some benefits, choosing high-quality plant and animal foods helps keep the diet clean with fewer potential negatives. Making a sauce with avocado and flax oil in place of cream cheese; and choosing organic grass-fed and finished (not conventional) meat are two less-inflammatory, cleaner fat upgrades.
Using MCT oil may have other benefits as well. A randomized, controlled trial in cognitively impaired humans on a keto diet consuming MCTs showed that higher ketone levels were associated with better paragraph recall. Research into MCTs show potential for improvements in memory, cognition, and processing speed, especially for those with some degree of Alzheimer’s or insulin resistance.
Besides supplementing with fats, you might want to supplement what you might otherwise get more of if your daily energy needs were not coming primarily from fats. Plants are a great source of phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. Adding a bit of this or that may help rebalance your body.
- For long-term health, ground flax or psyllium can be taken as prebiotics to ensure you are providing enough to feed your gut bacteria.
- If you have already gone a week or more on a carb-restricted diet, the bacteria are probably already affected and diminished, in which case, supplemental probiotics are a must.
- If you have symptoms of ‘keto flu’, such as fatigue or headaches or difficulty concentrating, that could respond very well to sodium. Try adding extra salt or drinking bouillon or salted broth. Cutting carbs signals insulin levels to drop, which tells your kidneys to flush sodium out, resulting in “cutting”, or loss of water weight, but often also nasty symptoms and weakness.
- If you are lacking in vegetables, Green Blend / Beyond Greens can nicely fill in some gaps.
- Other good add-ins include spirulinaand chlorella, green supplements well known for being cleansing. Speaking of which…
Our body fat aka adipose tissue can act as a storage place for toxins, sequestering metabolism-resistant POPs (like dioxins and PCBs), molds, and more. This is both protective and dangerous.
During a state of ketosis, the body can burn stored body fat, which is great, but stored toxins can be released into the bloodstream and can be reabsorbed. If left alone, vital and sensitive organs like the brain are at risk of long-term damage.
Embracing a healthy keto lifestyle may mean making consumption of psyllium, which binds to toxins, or Flor-Essence, which will help your body flush toxins out, a regular part of your routine. Since ketogenesis (producing ketones) occurs principally in the mitochondrial matrix in the liver, it stands to reason that maintaining optimal liver function is vital to a good experience on keto.
Carb Cycle, Manage Stress, Rest and Repair
If you are a busy lady who juggles stress and struggles with her weight, do not be afraid. However, you will likely need to adapt the keto diet and lifestyle to your needs. That is because carbohydrate restriction can trigger lowered metabolism.
That happens because metabolic hormones from the thyroid can drop in response to “starvation”. This, in turn, may trigger the stress hormones from the adrenal glands to rise to compensate. These stress hormones, in turn, are associated with weight gain around the middle, and if combined with a now-lowered metabolism, weight loss can grind to a stop.
- What this means is, unless you are treating a legitimate health condition, such as Parkinson’s or epilepsy, with your ketogenic diet, you don’t necessarily want to remain in a state of ketosis indefinitely.
- Brain fog and fatigue may be signs that levels of thyroid hormones have fallen from a lack of carbs. Females tend to have larger thyroids that are easily thrown out of whack. Especially for any who have ever yo-yo dieted or calorie-restricted, weekly carb-cycling or carb re-feeds can be a helpful strategy to re-boot the thyroid and offset the body’s urge to go into storage mode. (Note: I am suggesting eating some sweet potato or rice, not candy.)
- Recognize that unless you exercise, and burn up glucose, you may NEED to carb cycle to get the veggies in, as you may otherwise find that eating them in any quantity on sedentary days brings you out of ketosis anyway. Speaking of exercise…
- Exercise appropriately. Try short, hard, weight-lifting workouts, or long, gentle yoga sessions, but not long, intense sessions of any kind. Hard exercise elevates cortisol which can already be elevated by the ketogenic diet as your body tries to bring glucose levels up using stress hormones (like cortisol). Exercise can deplete the thyroid too, so if you are depleting it of carbs, take extra care not to trigger burnout. Feeling irritable and sleeping badly are tell-tale signs. Speaking of which…
- Sleep is another great tool – it can offset stress-related weight gain by raising appetite-stabilizing, fat-burning hormones (leptin and adiponectin) which also improves your adaptation to a fat-based diet. Try for 7.5 hours.
- Athletes may benefit from having the option of more fuel types for optimal performance and may profit from carb-ups as frequent as their training!
With these five strategies, you are ready to avoid the most common keto pitfalls!
Get out there and eat your veggies! If you are not confident or are unsure if you can do keto in a healthful way, be sure to get a coach to help you. Getting professional help is not something you’ll likely regret.
Dana Green Remedios, RHN, RNCP, NNCP, is a Vancouver-based educator and coach. She is a regular contributor to the FloraHealthy blog and can answer your questions in English, French, and Spanish as a Product Information Specialist at Flora.