Much of the focus on weight loss and preventing heart disease has been on reducing dietary fat which has proven to be an utter failure. Obesity and inflammation as a result of obesity are at epidemic rates and with good reason. With over 200 million men and nearly 300 million women classified as being obese worldwide in 2008, it is safe to say, the dietary advice warning us to avoid fat has been way off.
In this article we’re going to explore how eating healthy fat as a part of a ketogenic diet can benefit your weight loss and pain reducing efforts.
What is a ketogenic diet? And how can it benefit your weight loss efforts?
The basics of a ketogenic diet are to eat lots of good fats, moderate amounts of protein and very little carbohydrate. When we do this on a regular basis, our bodies switch from burning sugar to burning fat for fuel which allows the liver to create “ketones” as a result of the body burning stored fat (triglycerides). Now, what exactly is a ketone you ask? A ketone is a by-product formed during the conversion of fats to fuel. Once achieving ketosis, our body starts to become really efficient at burning our excess fat for fuel in order to perform everyday functions, which on a high carb diet becomes lazy. Hence that stubborn weight that just won’t budge.
Studies have proven that ketogenic diets improve on weight loss, improve cholesterol as well as lipid panels, decrease BMI, increase insulin sensitivity, normalize blood sugar levels and increase HDL cholesterol. Lower insulin levels mean lower inflammation. A win-win indeed.
What is the science behind ketones? By limiting ourselves to very little carbohydrate, our body switches to burning fat and uses very little insulin. Insulin has a fat-burning blocking mechanism which inhibits fat burning. When we achieve ketosis we can essentially turn this fat-burning switch on and turn the insulin switch off. Another portion of the ketogenic diet involves intake of quality protein and healthy fat which both support satiety, as opposed to a high carb diet which promotes hunger. Ketones can be used by every tissue in the human body that contains mitochondria (little powerhouse factories of our cells that basically do everything), which include muscle and the brain. In fact, many people have reported improved mood while on a ketogenic diet. When done correctly, a ketogenic diet has proven to deliver amazing weight loss results as well as deliver some very impressive health benefits. Once in ketosis, the body will actually prefer fat rather than glucose as fuel, without the expense of muscle protein granted you are eating sufficient amounts of protein (0.7 grams per pound of body weight).
How is ketosis accomplished? What do I eat?
Ultimately, you want your macronutrient range to look something like this: Fats should make up the majority of your calories at around 60 to 70% of your daily total calorie intake, protein intake should be around 20 to 30%, and carbs should not exceed 50 grams per day. Fats like grass-fed butter, macadamia nuts, whole pastured eggs, avocado, and coconut oil are going to be key as these are very stable and therefore non-inflammatory fats. Also, raw nuts like walnuts, cashews, Brazil nuts, pistachios almonds. Seeds like chia, pumpkin, and hemp will provide healthy omega 3 fats and plenty of vitamins and minerals. Protein sources like grass-fed beef, wild-caught salmon, sardines, mackerel, and shellfish can also provide healthy omega-3 fats which promote healthy weight loss, keep you full and satisfied as well as fight inflammation. Avoid pro-inflammatory omega 6 oils like safflower, corn, and soybean. Instead go with cold-pressed, extra virgin, organic coconut oil, sesame oil, avocado, walnut and olive oil. Add them to dips, salad dressings or drizzles to foods. Veggies that are the best on a ketogenic diet are going to be ones that are lower glycemic, non-starchy and lower in carbs. Dark, green leafy veggies like chard, spinach, kale, collards and others are great choices. Broccoli, cauliflower, and all of the many different colors can be chosen. Fruits you want to have sparingly, and your best bets are berries of all kinds, which are both low-glycemic and packed with nutrition.
You’ll want to avoid all processed foods, artificial sweeteners, high glycemic fruits, all grains, refined fats/oils, milk, soy products and alcohol.
Ketogenic Diets for Inflammation and Pain
Pain is one of the most common health-related problems associated with a poor quality of life. Let’s face it, when you’re in pain you can’t be in a good mood and you really can’t enjoy living life. Studies have looked at the effectiveness of ketogenic diets on improving pain and inflammation. Proven for healthy weight loss, decreased risk of cancer and other diseases like diabetes, ketogenic diets can also help fan the flames of chronic inflammation, which many argue is the true culprit behind every disease. This is due mostly to the fat content, namely the high amounts of omega 3 rich foods that are consumed on a ketogenic diet. The fatty acid composition of those enjoying a ketogenic diet causes inhibition of many problematic inflammatory pathways allowing the flames to be put out. Also due to the decrease in insulin production (because of the carb intake drastically being lowered) and the highly nutritious, non-processed foods eaten this makes our liver extremely happy.
A ketogenic diet provides a healthy dose of antioxidant-rich foods which help to combat free radicals further helping with chronic pain and inflammation. Another physiological change that has been noted is that when ketones are elevated so is the neuro-signal adenosine. Studies have proven adenosine’s anti-inflammatory abilities.
Hormesis: Beneficial healing as a result of change through a Ketogenic Diet
The idea behind hormesis is quite simple. It is the same as explaining the benefit of weightlifting to enhance strength as more demand is placed on your muscle fibers or as in the case of ketones, changing the environment inside our body by restricting carbs, increasing fat intake and healing oxidative stress, pain and inflammation. You see, the change allows for the adaptive response and ultimately healing is accomplished. The body is always pushing to reach balance or homeostasis. The change (considered a beneficial stressor) is healthy and allows our body to become healthier, stronger. We don’t just compensate for the stressor, we super-compensate. That is it. Simple.
There are many benefits to going on a ketogenic diet. If weight loss, living pain-free and achieving better health are among your top priorities I would definitely give it a go.
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Joe Tatta, DPT, CCN