by Health By Principle

Keto Nutrition

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By Rachel Welch

You’ve probably heard the term Keto floating around as a potential breakthrough in diet culture. Keto nutrition, short for the ketogenic diet, has gained significant popularity recently as a promising approach to weight loss and overall health improvement. Rooted in the principle of drastically reducing carbohydrate intake and increasing fat consumption, the keto diet aims to shift the body's metabolism into ketosis. During ketosis, the body relies on fats as its primary energy source, producing ketones in the liver that fuel the brain and other organs instead of glucose. Let’s explore the ins and outs of the Keto diet, its pros, and cons, what current research says, what nutrition is possible with Keto, and share some recipes to get you started.

 

In this exploration of keto nutrition, we will delve into the latest research surrounding the diet's benefits and limitations. We will also discuss essential nutrients on the keto diet and ways to ensure nutritional balance while restricting carbohydrates. By the end, you will have a comprehensive understanding of keto nutrition to make informed decisions about its potential incorporation into your lifestyle.

 

What is the Purpose of Keto?

 

The primary goal of the keto diet is to induce ketosis in the body, which can lead to numerous potential benefits. One of the most well-known advantages is weight loss, as the diet encourages the body to burn stored fat for energy. Moreover, proponents claim that the keto diet may improve insulin sensitivity, making it beneficial for individuals with type 2 diabetes or prediabetes. Additionally, some studies suggest that the diet might positively affect brain health, such as reducing seizures in epilepsy patients and potentially supporting cognitive function.

 

On a chemical level, a few things occur during the practice of a keto diet. Once your carbohydrate intake reaches a low point, the body begins seeking another form of energy – fats. To accomplish this, the liver uses fatty acids to create ketone bodies (or ketones) which serve as a source of energy. This is the process of ketosis.

 

Additionally, it is helpful to understand the three major ketones which come into play.

 

  • Acetoacetate (AcAc) is the first ketone created during ketosis
  • Beta-hydroxybutyric acid (BHB) is formed from acetoacetate
  • Acetone is randomly created on its own, alongside of acetoacetate

 

Keto, in general, is a safe practice and an effective means of targeting weight loss, and has an established background of research, although perhaps not extensive enough to call it completely “foolproof.” Just like with any diet, the keto approach has its share of pros and cons.

 

Potential cons of Keto

 

The Keto “Flu”

While the keto diet has shown promise in certain areas, it may not be suitable for everyone. Some individuals find it challenging to adhere to the strict macronutrient ratios, while others experience adverse effects, commonly referred to as the "keto flu," during the initial adaptation phase. Through the reduction of carbohydrates in a person’s diet, the body is forced to limit glucose and boost the activity of ketones. In the early phases of this adjustment, many people have reported experiencing the “keto flu.” The keto flu shows itself in the form of typical flu-like symptoms, including weakness, fatigue, stomach upset, potential fever, etc. As this is a common response to starting the keto diet, the keto flu has been a source of research.

 

One study examined online discussions surrounding the keto diet and keto flu symptoms, and found that common reports included headache, fever, nausea, dizziness, and brain fog. Typically these symptoms would peak within the first week of practicing the keto diet, and would level back out after around four weeks. The researchers in this study were not able to ascertain if the commonly reported symptoms were related to psychological responses to the new diet, physiological responses, or potential nutritional or immune changes as a result of the diet’s impact.

 

Loss of Energy

 

Another potential con to the keto diet, is the initial loss of energy. Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy, which can throw your body’s normal functioning for a loop once they are removed. This is partly to blame for the keto flu, and also potential changes in gastrointestinal health and comfort, as people generally reduce their fiber intake when they reduce their intake of carbohydrates.

 

Potential Loss of Nutrition

 

The keto diet often eliminates an assortment of healthy foods, which could include whole grains, vegetables, and fruits. While these may not be keto-approved, they are significant sources of vital nutrients. So, it is important to make up these nutrients elsewhere, through supplements, or through keto-approved foods that contain them.

 

Additionally, the keto diet places a strong emphasis on the consumption of fats, but does not necessarily distinguish between healthy and unhealthy fats. This is evident, by glancing over some of the most popular keto recipes. Many of them are fat bombs made of cheese, sodium, and high cholesterol.

 

Potential Pros of Keto

 

Accessibility

 

Keto is highly accessible and provides plenty of dietary alternatives to an otherwise carb-heavy routine. In general, foods that are approved within a keto diet are also affordable and easy to find.

 

Quick Results

 

Another perk of the keto diet is that you may notice a quicker physical change than with other diets. As the body adjusts to ketosis and eliminates carbohydrates, the body often loses its water weight quickly. This can lead to quickly noticeable physical changes, and potential changes in the number on the scale as well, considering water weight is a common factor in fluctuating weight and the likelihood of bloating.

 

Blood Sugar

 

The keto diet may positively impact your blood sugar levels. Carbohydrates are known to spike and drop blood sugar rapidly, so the reduction or elimination of them can lead to more stable blood sugar levels.

 

Potential Disease Improvement

 

The keto diet has been found to help as an anticonvulsant, and has therefore been established as a beneficial option for managing diseases like epilepsy. It has also shown to be helpful with conditions related to maintaining cognition and memory, treating type 2 diabetes, along with some potential impact on cancer and mental health issues. From this library of research, we have learned that many of the diet’s potential cons can be avoided with the proper methods.

 

Keto and Nutrition

 

While the practice of keto eliminates a number of healthy foods, it is still possible to obtain adequate nutrition while practicing a ketogenic diet. The main characteristics of keto-approved foods are high fat, low carbohydrate, and moderate protein. Ideally, a keto breakfast could look like the following:

 

  • Scrambled eggs
  • Turkey bacon
  • Whole avocado

 

This would come in place of a typical carbohydrate-heavy breakfast like oatmeal with fruit, or a muffin or pastry. Unfortunately, many of the mainstream keto diet recommendations are not quite as healthy, they emphasize overly indulgent keto “treats” instead of healthy meal options.

 

One factor to consider is keto’s impact on gut health. As we know, the gut microbiome plays a pivotal role in overall health, and dietary choices directly impact how healthy the gut will be. When pursuing keto, focus on eating balanced meals that contain nutritional options. It is easy to eat simply dairy and fats, or to have a plate full of bacon for every meal, but that will not leave you or your gut feeling very well in the long run. Prioritize the inclusion of high protein, as this will be a good tactic for combating the initial hunger that comes with removing carbohydrates. Keto has proven to be an effective tool for muscle building, when used correctly.

 

As mentioned above, it is important to emphasize the consumption of healthy fats, versus unhealthy fats. Here are some examples of foods to include and to exclude.

 

Include:

  • Organic meats
  • Fish
  • Vegetables
  • Avocado
  • Eggs (organic, free-range)
  • Dairy products
  • Small amounts of strawberries, blueberries or raspberries
  • Broths
  • Pickles and fermented foods like sauerkraut or kimchi
  • Seeds and nuts
  • Unsweetened yogurt
  • Unsweetened almond or coconut milk
  • Avocado oil
  • Plenty of water, teas, and/or coffee
  • Non-starchy vegetables
  • Asparagus
  • Onions
  • Lettuce
  • Cauliflower
  • Tomatoes
  • Garlic
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Zucchini
  • Mushrooms
  • Peppers

 

Exclude:

 

  • Low fat dairy products: these often come with sugar as a substitute for fat
  • Cereal
  • Pasta
  • Bread
  • Rice
  • Potatoes
  • Corn
  • Oats
  • Quinoa
  • Flour
  • Bagels
  • Rolls
  • Croissants
  • Tortillas
  • Products with refined sugar
  • Fruit
  • Fruit juices
  • Sodas
  • Chocolate
  • Candy
  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Lentils
  • Legumes (no peanuts)
  • Vegetable oils (sunflower, safflower, grapeseed, canola, soybean, corn)
  • Margarine and trans fats

 

 

While these lists may seem overwhelming, if you focus on the items to include, and double check the nutrition information, it is completely manageable, and gets easier with practice. Also, meal prepping is an excellent way to launch into a keto diet. Find some great keto recipes that focus on filling, well-balanced ingredients, and plan your week. Then you have some great meals to look forward to, also!

 

Keto Recipes

 

There are millions of keto cheesecake, brownie, cookie, and dessert recipes out there. While those are lovely every now and then, it is more important to have a recipe file of wholesome, nutritious meals to refer back to. Here are some basics that are beginner friendly and balanced from a nutritional standpoint.

 

Breakfast: Remember that eggs are a keto-approved and highly nutritious option. Also, they are highly versatile! Here are some amazing egg-based breakfast recipes that are diverse in flavor, while remaining nutritious.

 

 

Lunch:

 

 

Dinner:

 

 

For snack and dessert options, there are ample resources available online, but these recipes should be a helpful and diverse assortment of options to get you started on your keto meal planning journey.

 

Keto: Is it for you?

 

The keto diet can be very effective at targeting weight loss and can also provide some immediately noticeable benefits. Of course, there is also the risk of losing out on nutrition or suffering through a month-long keto flu. Nevertheless, if you choose to give keto a try, remember to prioritize your nutrition. Focus on consuming healthy fats, along with a balanced diet of keto-approved vegetables and sources of protein. Drink plenty of water and be gentle with yourself throughout the process.

 

While every diet has its pros and cons, the keto diet is supported by research as a viable option for weight management and may assist with other health conditions as well. As always, consult your trusted physician before making any significant dietary changes. Otherwise, enjoy keto, and live healthfully!

 

To learn more about ketogenic diet and how it relates to migraine, checkout Ketogenic: The Science of Therapeutic Carbohydrate Restriction in Human Health, featuring Health by Principle’s Dr. Angela Stanton

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