An In-Depth Look At The Ketogenic Diet + Exactly How To Implement It Into Your Daily Life
In my telehealth functional medicine clinic, I have seen the fallout from trendy diets. More often than not, these diets may help you lose weight, but are unsustainable long-term resulting in added weight gain and no true healing from chronic health problems.
The ketogenic diet on the other hand has been an exception. Although it has become very popular over the recent years, the studies can’t lie. Research has shown just how beneficial this diet can be for your overall health and many of my patients have seen great success after sticking to this way of eating.
But what exactly makes this diet so special? Read on to learn more about how “going keto” can help you take back control of your health and how you can easily implement it into your daily life.
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What is the keto diet?
A ketogenic diet focuses on eating a macronutrient ratio of high fat, moderate protein, and low carbohydrates with the goal being to switch from burning glucose from sugar to burning ketones from fat as your body’s source of fuel. Becoming a fat burner rather than a sugar burner has been shown to have a variety of powerful health benefits.
Traditional keto diets are made up heavily of conventionally processed meat and dairy due to their protein and fat content, and very few fruits and vegetables. However, as a functional medicine practitioner, I have seen the pitfalls of traditional keto diets and developed my own plant-based version in my book, Ketotarian.
At its essence, a ketotarian diet takes the benefits of the ketogenic diet, but emphasizes natural whole plant foods instead of meat and dairy. While I don’t think meat and dairy are necessarily bad, a traditional keto diet doesn’t take into account the sensitivities that many people have to these foods—not to mention, it can ostracize anyone who would rather follow a more plant-based diet. Also, too much meat and dairy, especially lower quality or industrially produced versions, can be inflammatory. The ketotarian diet, on the other hand, leverages all of the benefits of eating a high-fat diet without the often-inflammatory effects of dairy and conventional, processed meats (which have been linked (2) to cancer when consumed in high amounts). It’s keto for everyone.
What is the keto diet for?
The keto diet has a surprising amount of health benefits - and they all stem from becoming a fat burner rather than a sugar burner. But before we dive into the benefits, let’s take a look at the mechanisms behind why saying goodbye to sugar can be so beneficial for your health.
When glucose from sugar or carbohydrates hit your bloodstream, you release insulin to help carry the glucose around your body and deliver it where it is needed. While that isn’t bad in theory, the problem is that most people today eat so much sugar and so many carbohydrates that we end up with blood glucose levels that are dangerously high, since our body doesn’t need nearly that much fuel.
High blood sugar is toxic and it can lead to serious health issues, but in addition, any sugar the body can’t burn gets stored as fat around your liver, stomach, and in circulating fat (known as triglycerides). On top of all that, the by-products of glucose metabolism are inflammatory to the body, especially when there is an excess of glucose. Look at it this way: Burning sugar as your primary source of energy is like using dirty fuel: You have to refuel often (or you will get “hangry” on that blood sugar roller coaster), and the burning of the fuel leaves behind pollution in the form of inflammation.
This is where a keto diet comes in. Ultimately, fat-burning is a more efficient fuel source for your metabolism. This allows you to consume far fewer carbohydrates while simultaneously increasing your energy. Less blood sugar means less insulin, and as insulin levels fall and your body requires energy, your liver produces ketones to fuel your body and deliver some seriously next-level health benefits:
1. Weight loss
Multiple studies have shown that a keto diet helps people lose weight (2) and lower feelings of hunger, with dieters maintaining a better mood (3) than when following other diets - increasing the likelihood you’ll stick with it and see further weight loss.
2. Protects brain function
Unlike glucose, ketones are able to cross the blood-brain barrier and have been shown to have neuroprotective properties. (4) A ketogenic diet can also enhance cognitive function and memory, even in those with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
3. Improves heart health
You wouldn’t be alone in thinking that eating this much fat would be bad for your health, especially the health of your heart. But studies have shown that it can actually improve (5) your cardiovascular health! By lowering triglycerides and small dense, oxidized LDL, a high-healthy fat diet can actually lower your risk of heart disease by decreasing arterial plaque caused by a buildup of lipoproteins.
4. Lowers inflammation
Ketosis is able to activate the anti-inflammatory Nrf-2 pathway (6) in your body that drives down inflammatory cytokines and activates the anti-inflammatory cytokine, IL-10 throughout. A ketogenic diet also activates (7) the important AMPK pathway in your body that inhibits Nf-kB pathways that drive inflammation.
5. Improves acne
By lowering overall inflammation through reducing sugar intake, a keto diet has been shown to improve (8) the appearance of acne over time.
6. Stabilizes blood sugar
By reducing sugar intake, your body’s insulin levels automatically start to lower over time with studies showing that type 2 diabetes symptoms can be reversed (9) after just 10 weeks on a ketogenic diet.
Difficulties with keto
Without a doubt, a keto diet has its impressive share of benefits. But that doesn’t mean it’s as easy to implement. While I do believe keto doesn’t have to be complicated and that you can keep it simple - if you are new to the diet or like more elaborate meals, here are some problems you might run into.
1. Difficult to meal prep
Because this diet is based upon a specific macronutrient ratio, it can take a lot of careful planning to ensure you have meals prepped that fit within your particular daily requirements. Additionally, if you are choosing to go the Ketotarian route that focuses on more fresh vegetables, you might not be meal prepping as far out to ensure your vegetables are still good.
2. Takes a lot of time
Chances are you aren’t going out or grabbing takeout as much anymore. Therefore, all those hours spent cooking meals from scratch can really add up. And once you factor in prep time and time spent cleaning up, a good chunk of your week is taken up just in the kitchen.
Keto meal delivery
This is where a keto meal delivery service can be so beneficial. If you are someone who doesn’t like to cook, doesn’t have the time to cook, or just wants to make keto as simple as possible, keto meal delivery can help make keto easy enough to ensure long-term success.
What to look for when choosing a keto meal plan
With the rise of on-demand delivery, there has been an increase in meal plan subscription services that are tailored to specific diets - including a keto diet. When choosing what keto meal delivery service to go with, ask the following questions:
- Is it keto friendly?
- Does it fit my budget?
- Does it offer a subscription?
If you can answer yes to all three, chances are it's a good fit for you! These are my all-time favorite keto meal delivery services currently on the market:
Not only does Green Chef have a keto+paleo plan, every ingredient is certified organic. With meals like creamy paprika shrimp, Puruvean beef bowls, and almond-crusted pork chops, this is a great choice for meat lovers who want to do keto in a cleaner way.
Price: $12.99 per serving for 2 people
This is another great choice for omnivores as they offer organic meals like pesto salmon, chorizo chili, and mushroom burgers. Their service works a little differently than most in that you choose anywhere between 4-18 servings per week and they are packaged individually, fully prepared, and ready to eat. Unlike most subscriptions that require you still to assemble and cook the meal, all you have to do is heat and eat.
Price: $11.00-$15.00 per meal depending on how many you select
Fresh N’ Lean
Like Factor, Fresh N’ Lean’s meals are organic and are delivered ready to eat for those who are choosing to eat meat. Plus, you get a dish for every meal of the day including breakfast, lunch, and dinner unlike other meal delivery services that just have one meal - usually dinner.
Price: $9.97-$10.63 per meal for 5 or 7 days
Made from fresh, local ingredients, Territory’s keto plan has lunch and dinner options like korean style beef, red chimichurri chicken, and a few breakfast options. They also offer some alacarte choices like cooked chicken, steak, and salmon to add to your own meals. Territory is only available in certain locations like DC, NYC, and San Francisco.
Price: $9.95-$12.95 per meal based on portion size
In order to fill the gap for anyone following a plant-based keto diet like Ketotarian, I partnered with Daily Dose to provide ready-to-eat Ketotarian-friendly meals delivered right to your door. All meals are organic, gluten-free, dairy-free, non-GMO, and are free from refined sugar. You can choose between 2, 3, 5, and 7 day plans that cover breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with individually packaged meals that are ready to eat.
Going keto doesn’t have to be difficult. Whether you choose to subscribe to a meal plan like Daily Dose, or make all of your food from scratch, the health benefits of doing a ketogenic diet are not going to go unnoticed.
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- Jakszyn, Paula, and Carlos-Alberto Gonzalez. “Nitrosamine and related food intake and gastric and oesophageal cancer risk: a systematic review of the epidemiological evidence.” World journal of gastroenterology vol. 12,27 (2006): 4296-303. doi:10.3748/wjg.v12.i27.4296
- Dashti, Hussein M et al. “Long-term effects of a ketogenic diet in obese patients.” Experimental and clinical cardiology vol. 9,3 (2004): 200-5.
- McClernon, F Joseph et al. “The effects of a low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet and a low-fat diet on mood, hunger, and other self-reported symptoms.” Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.) vol. 15,1 (2007): 182-7. doi:10.1038/oby.2007.516
- Xu, K., LaManna, J.C., Puchowicz, M.A. (2012). Neuroprotective Properties of Ketone Bodies. In: , et al. Oxygen Transport to Tissue XXXIII. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, vol 737. Springer, New York, NY. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4614-1566-4_15
- Al-Zaid, Naji S et al. “Low carbohydrate ketogenic diet enhances cardiac tolerance to global ischaemia.” Acta cardiologica vol. 62,4 (2007): 381-9. doi:10.2143/AC.62.4.2022282
- Milder, Julie B et al. “Acute oxidative stress and systemic Nrf2 activation by the ketogenic diet.” Neurobiology of disease vol. 40,1 (2010): 238-44. doi:10.1016/j.nbd.2010.05.030
- Bae, Ha Ram et al. “β-Hydroxybutyrate suppresses inflammasome formation by ameliorating endoplasmic reticulum stress via AMPK activation.” Oncotarget vol. 7,41 (2016): 66444-66454. doi:10.18632/oncotarget.12119
- Smith, Robyn N et al. “A low-glycemic-load diet improves symptoms in acne vulgaris patients: a randomized controlled trial.” The American journal of clinical nutrition vol. 86,1 (2007): 107-15. doi:10.1093/ajcn/86.1.107
- McKenzie AL, Hallberg SJ, Creighton BC, Volk BM, Link TM, Abner MK, Glon RM, McCarter JP, Volek JS, Phinney SD A Novel Intervention Including Individualized Nutritional Recommendations Reduces Hemoglobin A1c Level, Medication Use, and Weight in Type 2 Diabetes JMIR Diabetes 2017;2(1):e5 doi: 10.2196/diabetes.6981
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BY DR. WILL COLE
Dr. Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, DC, leading functional medicine expert, consults people around the world via webcam and locally in Pittsburgh. He received his doctorate from Southern California University of Health Sciences and post doctorate education and training in functional medicine and clinical nutrition. He specializes in clinically researching underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. Dr. Cole was named one of the top 50 functional medicine and integrative doctors in the nation and is the best selling author of Ketotarian and The Inflammation Spectrum.
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