Ketogenic diets are designed around macronutrient composition where followers eat a higher fat, moderate protein and lower carb dietary profile. The keto diet is typically 75-80% fat,15-20% protein and around 5% or less of carbs from low glycemic sources. The ketogenic diet goal is to lower blood glucose levels to allow for the production of “ketones” via the liver.
Ketones are a byproduct of fat burning that the body can use for energy. So, by reducing your carbohydrates, the body is forced to increase reliance on body fat for energy!
This makes the ketogenic diet an effective tool for reducing body-fat and improving overall metabolic functions, such as:
- Restoring insulin sensitivity and help overcome diabetes
- Counteract epilepsy and other brain disorders
- Support improved cognitive brain function
- Support body composition goals by reducing body fat and improving lean mass
- Increases the body’s ability to burn fat and raises total energy expenditure, thereby improving one’s overall metabolism
- Supports improved gut health, along with additional anti-inflammatory benefits
While results will vary for everyone, it’s hard not to be drawn to all these possible benefits! However, we can only experience these gains if our body is able to process the food and utilize all the nutrients provided.
Let’s go deep
Your gut may take some time getting used to the macronutrient portfolio of the ketogenic diet. The type and amount of bacteria exposed to our gastrointestinal tract (GI tract) greatly affects our overall gut health. And certain foods fuel the proliferation of good bacteria, while others feed bad bacteria that cause GI inflammation.
Because the ketogenic diet removes many of the typical carbohydrate sources, switching to this regimen can greatly impact the health and function of the GI tract. When going keto many people tend to eliminate all carbs effectively removing fiber from their diet. The fiber in low-carb plants is a crucial source of fuel for good, anti-inflammatory gut bacteria; therefore, including leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables and other low-carb plants will have a healing effect on the gut and help overcome some of the issues of lower-carb ketogenic diets.
The high-fat requirements of the diet (which are necessary to induce ketone production and ultimately shift the body into a fat-burning mode) may also have negative effects on the gut microbiome when combined with low-carbs and low-fiber. Some studies have shown a reduction in short-chain fatty acids (a crucial source of fuel for good gut bacteria) and antioxidant levels.. Subsequently, this could cause increased inflammation, insulin resistance, diabetes, aging and even DNA damage.
Further, the higher animal protein content of some ketogenic diets may promote bad bacteria that ultimately harm the gut lining. Researchers recommend that anyone with high intake of animal protein should also include protective low-carb plants. This will feed the good gut bacteria and prevent inflammation.
Yes, lot’s to pay attention to!
But with such a drastic transition of diets, we really must be mindful of how to properly implement the diet so as not to hurt our bodies and biological functions.
Here are some steps you can take to ensure you don’t put your gut at risk when going keto:
- Include adequate amounts of fiber from low-carb sources. This will take a little planning on your part, but find those fruits and vegetables that will provide you with close to 20g of fiber per day.
- Eat low-carb veggies with every meal: This will support your digestion and reduce the inflammatory effect of high protein consumption. Some low-carb veggies are eggplant, zucchini, asparagus, cucumber, celery, and mushrooms. Also go for leafy-greens and cruciferous veggies such as collards, kale, arugula, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts.
- Eat healthy fats that are also high in fiber: Again, eat more fiber! Some good examples of these foods are olives, avocado, coconut, nuts, seeds (chia, flax).
- Increase Omega-3 and decrease Omega-6 intake: The goal is to have a balance between Omega-3 (fish, wild or pasture-raised meat) and omega-6’s (seeds and nuts). Most processed foods are high in omega-6. Consider eliminating those processed foods altogether, and just stick to natural foods.
- Include resistant starch: This fiber breaks down slowly and feeds good gut bacteria. You get this from whole grains (oats, barley), legumes, cooked & cooled rice and potatoes, potato starch, plantains & green bananas, sun-chokes, and cashews. But keep an eye on the carb levels with these foods and consider supplementing when possible.
- Eat unprocessed meat and fish: Processed meat contains nitrates, antibiotics and other compounds that feed the bad bacteria. Look for wild, pastured-raised, cage-free, and grass-fed.
- Give your good bacteria a boost with probiotics: I prefer supplementing with probiotics since live bacteria are unlikely to survive the food production and storage processes.
- Consider having a high-carb re-feed meal every 5-7 days. Don’t under-estimate the power of planned ‘cheat days’! Not only does this support your fiber needs but you may also get some mental relief from the strict carb restrictions the diet imposes.
The Last Drop
You can set yourself up for improved overall health and success with a ketogenic diet when you design your nutrition plan around a balanced array of whole foods in their most natural state. Just remember to give special attention to your sources and amounts of fiber, because a healthy GI tract leads to a healthier you.