There has been a lot of negative news in the media over the last 30 years about fat and how fat is bad for you. Let me explain this in detail and put some of the common misconceptions to bed in this week's blog.
To start with, consuming the right fats does not make you fat, consuming high amounts of carbohydrates and the wrong fats makes you fat. Carbs can cause weight gain as they cause your blood sugar to cycle up and down. Please note that carbs alone cannot make you gain weight, unless you consume more calories from carbs than you can burn off in a day .
After carbohydrates are digested into glucose, sugar goes to the cells that need it for energy. If the blood levels of sugar are too high, sugar goes to the liver where it’s converted into a storage form of glucose called glycogen. Glycogen is stored in the liver and skeletal muscles, so they will have an immediate source of energy when your activity level increases. The body can only store a limited amount of glycogen, although endurance training enhances the amount of storage. Depending on your body’s capacity and the intensity of activity, glycogen can be depleted in about 20 to 90 minutes .
Glycogen molecules hold a significant amount of water. Each gram of glycogen that’s stored in your body is attached to 2.7 grams of water, reports the American Council on Exercise. This isn’t the same as water retention. When you retain water, the water is held between cells and makes you feel bloated. The water in glycogen is part of its molecular structure. But water still adds weight, so as you load up on carbs and refill your glycogen stores, it can increase your weight by as much as 3 to 5 pounds .
So what could be the alternative if consuming too many of the wrong carbohydrates can contribute to weight gain? Well let’s look at the other other two main food groups, protein and fats.
Protein, in all its essence is the building block for our body. It's not only used for muscle growth. Protein is used to make organs, tissues, hormones as well as muscles in the human body. The protein found in foods is used by every part of the body to develop, grow and function properly. It can be argued that nothing is more important than consuming protein foods, and because proteins are involved in just about every body function, it’s important that you consume foods high in protein every day, during every meal to prevent protein deficiency, which can wreak havoc on the body .
Studies show that eating a high-protein diet has a number of health benefits. Not only does it help you maintain and lose weight, but it also works to stabilize your blood sugar levels, improve your ability to learn and concentrate, reduce brain fog, boost your energy levels, support your muscles and bones and support the absorption of important nutrients .
This brings us nicely onto the main topic of this blog, fats! There are ‘good’ fats and ‘bad’ fats. You still have to watch how much of these fats you consume, as an excessive intake of any food group will contribute to weight gain if you cannot burn off more calories than you consume.
‘Good’ fats are unrefined animal fats, fat from fish, some fats from plants such as avocado, nuts, olive and some tropical oils. These fats tend to include a higher proportion of saturated and monounsaturated fats or be higher in omega-3’s. ‘Bad’ fats are vegetable fats, such as soy, peanut, corn, sunflower and canola oils that have been refined. They tend to be high in omega-6 fats and are highly susceptible to oxidation during processing, which makes them reactive and damaging to the body .
You’ll generally get greater benefits from eating good fats when you limit your carbohydrate intake. A good and way to do this is to adapt a ketogenic diet. Also referred to as a keto diet, it has become very popular of the last few years, but has actually been around for almost 100 years! It was originally introduced as a potential treatment for epilepsy in the 1920’s .
The way a ketogenic diet works is to ensure that the body goes into ‘fat’ burning mode and using fat for energy rather than carbohydrates. Ketones are produced if you eat very few carbs (that are quickly broken down into blood sugar) and only moderate amounts of protein (excess protein can also be converted to blood sugar). Ketones are produced in the liver, from fat. They are then used as fuel throughout the body, including the brain. The brain is a hungry organ that consumes lots of energy every day, and it can’t run on fat directly. It can only run on glucose or ketones .
On a ketogenic diet your entire body switches its fuel supply to run almost entirely on fat. Insulin levels become very low and fat burning increases dramatically. It becomes easy to access your fat stores to burn them off. This is obviously great if you’re trying to lose weight, but there are also other less obvious benefits, like for example less hunger and a steady supply of energy. When the body produces ketones it’s said to be in ketosis. The fastest way to get there is by fasting, not eating anything, but obviously it’s not possible to fast forever. A ketogenic diet, on the other hand, can be eaten indefinitely and also results in ketosis. It has many of the benefits of fasting, including weight loss without having to fast .
Other benefits of the ketogenic diet are reduced dependence on medication, improvement on blood glucose control, improvements in insulin sensitivity, lower blood pressure and usually improvements in cholesterol levels . It's common to experience improvements in your skin when you switch to a ketogenic diet. One study that showed drops in lesions and skin inflammation when switching to a low-carb diet. Another study that shows a probable connection between high-carb eating and increased acne, so it’s likely that keto can help. For acne, it may be beneficial to reduce dairy intake and follow a strict skin cleaning regimen .
So what can be eaten on the ketogenic diet? Here is a list of foods that can be eaten:
What foods need to be avoided:
For liquids, water and herbal teas can be consumed freely. Coffee and dry wines should be consumed moderately and spirits, beers and other alcohols should be consumed rarely .
Whilst the medium to long term benefits of the ketogenic diet for most people will have very good implications for their health and lifestyle, the short term side effects of the ketogenic diet can be off putting and annoying whilst they last.
Within the first couple of weeks, the loss of salts whilst the body adjusts can take its toll. This happens as the body uses up its stored sugar (glycogen) which releases water into the blood that gets passed out of the body through urine. As fluid is passed out of the body, salts in the body can get depleted too. Make sure you keep yourself hydrated through the day. Water is the best drink for hydration but herbal teas are also fine. Ensure you have enough salt as this can prevent side effects such as headaches and dizziness. You are free to add sea salt to your food and can take salts by drinking vegetable or bone broths and bouillons too. Potassium and magnesium are other important salts. As long as you are eating healthy, natural foods (such as nuts, meat, fish and a range of vegetables), you shouldn’t have a problem getting enough magnesium and potassium . Electrolytes can also be added to your water to ensure you stay hydrated.
‘Keto-flu’ can also be an issue. The first few weeks of transitioning to a ketogenic diet can be challenging for some people. Whereas others adapt to it more easily. Your body may be used to relying mainly on glucose for energy and so it will need to switch to using ketones for fuel. This adaptation process is known as keto-adaption.
Keto-adaption may result in some initial ‘brain fog’, but this will disappear once the body has fully adapted and some people feel sharper at this point. It is estimated that keto-adaption takes around four weeks on average but the side effects themselves often disappear sooner. During that time, and especially at the end of the first week, it is likely that you may feel some symptoms that are similar to the flu, such as:
Brain fog / slow thinkingDizziness
Racing heart rate when lying down
You may find that allowing your body to ease into ketosis helps to lessen the effect of side effects. This can be done by gradually lowering carbohydrate intake over a few weeks .
Other short term side effects of adapting a ketosis diet can be frequent urination, dizziness, drowsiness, cravings for sugar, constipation, muscle cramps and smelly breath . However by ensuring you have enough sea salt, fluids and the correct ‘keto’ balance of protein, fats and vegetables these side effects can be limited to a few weeks, days for some people. I would not let these short term side effects deter you from the long term benefits of the keto diet.
I have personally done the ketosis diet for weight loss and it did amazing things for me. Over 12 months I lost over 4 stone, gained about 4kg of muscle and had so much energy. I had clarity of thought and had the most amazing sleep! After a hard 3 weeks of side effects I started to see the benefits and for my lifestyle at the time was the perfect diet for me. I would encourage anyone that is serious about losing weight and keeping it off long term to try the ketosis diet.
Of course exercise is important for weight loss. By combining cardio and resistance exercise with a keto diet and ensuring you get 7-9 of sleep a night and stay properly hydrated will dow wonders for weight loss. Lastly for all you sweet tooth lovers out there, having dark chocolate that is 80% or above dark chocolate will be high in fat naturally and can be used as a snack when on a ketosis diet!
If you think you can benefit from a ketosis diet for weight loss or require general guidance on nutritional support and how to live a balanced lifestyle please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit my website by going to www.urbanplatehealth.com