Is the Ketogenic Diet Right for You?

Joseph E. Scherger, MD, MPH

The ketogenic diet is getting a lot of attention today, and for good reason.  This diet is very low carbohydrate, moderate in protein and high in healthy fats from natural foods.  It turns out this is the diet our ancestors ate for more than 95% of human existence.  It is the diet our bodies evolved to eat. 

In a ketogenic diet we burn fat as the primary energy source resulting in a very stable blood sugar all day.  You experience none of the dizziness and hunger drives that come from an unstable blood sugar that results from eating carbohydrates.

So how does this work?  To avoid carbohydrates you do not eat grains or any food made with flour, whether it has gluten or not.  You do not eat sweets such as candy or ice cream.  You do not drink any sodas, regular or diet, and you do not drink any fruit juice or energy drinks.  You drink only water, tea or coffee without any sweetener. 

You may consume 2 or 3 whole fruit daily, especially berries that are on the superfood list.  If you have avoided carbohydrates you may have one glass of wine or other alcohol beverage in the evening.

Instead you enjoy the abundant superfoods of nature.  Raw tree nuts such as almonds, walnuts, pecans, Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, and cashews are the healthiest foods you can eat. They are high in fat with the right amount of protein.  Tree nuts are the only food proven to prevent both heart disease and cancer.  If you want to bake flour based foods you can use nut flours such as from almonds.  See our recipes from Barbara Rogers.

Seeds such as ground flaxseed or chia and hemp seeds are also superfoods with abundant omega-3 fatty acids and the right amount of protein.  Seeds can be used in many ways also in cooking instead of grains.

Vegetables of course come in next as superfoods and strive for a rainbow of colors, with an eye on green vegetables most.  Broccoli, asparagus, spinach and others provide all of the vitamins and minerals we need for good health, and have the right amount of protein. Avocadoes have the added benefit of being high in healthy fat.

Why do I keep referring to the right amount of protein?  That is because if we consume more protein than our body needs, we convert it to glucose (sugar) in our blood and we will not be ketogenic.  That is why you should avoid protein powders.  Eat the foods of nature.

Meat from healthy wild sources, and wild fish, or fish farmed organically with food the fish consume naturally are all part of a healthy ketogenic diet.  And remember eggs and high fat dairy such as cheese and full fat yogurt are healthy, especially if you use alternatives to cow’s milk such as goat milk, almond or coconut milk.

The original Atkins diet is ketogenic with less than 50 grams of carbohydrate daily.  For people who are less active or has a slower metabolism such as with seniors, a diet of 20-30 grams of carbohydrate may be necessary to be ketogenic.

The benefits of a ketogenic diet are numerous.  A stable blood sugar contributes to a stable mood and energy level.  Bouts of hunger go away.  High blood sugar and type 2 diabetes are reversed quickly, so the problem disappears in weeks to a couple months maximum.  There is much less inflammation in the body when ketones are used for fuel. The nervous system becomes healthier as do most of our organ systems.  No more belly fat so your waistline and figure return.

The ketogenic diet is proving to be great for athletic performance.  The top two finishers of the Tour de France in 2016 were on a ketogenic diet.  The top tennis plays such as Novak Djokovic follow a ketogenic diet.  No carbohydrate loading and no energy drinks with sugar, but rather water and high fat, moderate protein foods.

You can convert to a ketogenic diet gradually, but I recommend giving up 90% of the carbohydrates I mentioned first for a couple weeks.  For athletes, there is a 3 to 4 month transition to convert to being a steady fat burner for competition.  That may seem like a price to pay but the benefits are worth it.

Whenever you are losing weight by burning body fat, you are ketogenic.  You do not need to be ketogenic at all times to get the benefits of this diet plan.  However, to reap the benefits of a stable blood sugar, stable mood, limited hunger and lots of energy, you should be ketogenic as much of the time as you can.  Periodic fasting is easy with a ketogenic diet because of the stable blood sugar, and fasting for up to a day periodically is a fast way to lower elevated blood sugar and become ketogenic.

Remember, carbohydrate is the one macronutrient we do not need to eat.  The Eskimos are healthy by not eating any carbohydrates.  Our bodies are able to convert both fat and protein into the blood sugar we need, and our bodies do that at a very steady rate.  Conversely all the excess carbohydrates we eat are converted into body fat, especially around the waist and inflammation and other problems arise.

So, cut the carbs and get ketogenic for better health and greater well-being.