Is The Keto
Good For You?
The keto diet is hot news at the moment, and chances are you know someone on it, either a hard core gym goer or someone that’s trying to lose weight. But did you know that ketosis, the act of burning fat for fuel, is actually just a metabolic state? And that babies are born in ketosis?
I always like to start any exploration into the keto diet with that nugget of info as I think it explains really well how burning fat for fuel is natural, safe and not to be feared. I’ll caveat that with the fact that I personally try to approach diet with quite a lot of flexibility, so as to include the broadest range of foods, variety and colour as I possibly can - but there’s one reason in particular that I’m fond of a keto-esque approach to diet: Managing a sugar addition.
So often these days we disguise a sugar addiction as a “sweet tooth” and I really feel that this is totally part of our problem when it comes to the white stuff: We familiarise it, make it less threatening, “cuter” and ultimately an addiction becomes an acceptable weak spot, just a “sweet tooth,” nothing to worry about...
Why are we all addicted to sugar?
So as I mentioned, babies are born in ketosis but not long after that we start getting a real taste for the sweet stuff: Breast milk is sweet, baby food is generally pureed sweet potato, carrots, mashed banana and baby oats (all very sweet), and at no point in our early years are we commonly exposed to the more bitter flavours in foods. So of course, we grow up completely accustomed to having sugar all day long.
Add onto that the culture of treat and reward (be good at school and you can have a biscuit etc), our stressful lives and the energy injection that sugar gives us and it’s easy to see how we’re all so hooked.
What is a keto diet?
A Keto diet is a high fat, high protein diet that’s low in carbohydrates, i.e. sugar. It’s been proven to be a very effective weight loss tool but the principles of a ketogenic approach are also useful for those suffering with imbalanced blood sugar. Here’s why…
When we eat food it breaks down into its constituent parts and causes a rise in our blood sugar - the amount of sugar in our circulating blood stream. When this spike in blood sugar occurs our bodies cleverly secrete insulin which brings our blood sugar level back down into a normal range. Having elevated blood sugar for too long is risky, and repeatedly stimulating this response is how we end up insulin resistant and ultimately diabetic.
When we consume lots of sugar containing carbohydrates, grains, fruit, sugary snacks etc, more sugar enters our bloodstream and we need more insulin to bring it back down. We also get a lovely hit of dopamine, the feel good hormone, that makes us crave that same feeling over and over again. This is why sugar is so unbelievably addictive and why it’s so hard to break the habit.
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Should we be strictly keto?
You’ll get some practitioners that are really pro a strict ketogenic diet but I personally am not one of them. I follow a low sugar diet on the whole, but don’t limit myself when it comes to the high sugar vegetables: squash, sweet potato, carrots etc. If you’re struggling with a serious sugar addiction then it might be worth trying a strict keto approach for a week or so, a ‘circuit breaker,’ if you will (hello Covid terminology)!
In my view as a Nutritional Therapist, our best bet for long term health is variety, colour and abundance of foods, and restrictive diets often don’t provide that. It is possible to do keto really well (check out the book ‘Ketotarian by Dr Will Cole), but most of the time I see ‘keto’ being interpreted as a lot of protein and high fat foods, with less emphasis on vegetables, a.k.a actually what’s actually necessary to sustain good health.
As ever with health matters, the conversation is nuanced and you’ve got to tune into your body and take the right approach for you personally. It is true, however, that lowering our sugar intake in general will undoubtedly improve our mental and physical health on a huge scale.
Time to ditch the sweet stuff for good!