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The ketogenic diet: can high fat really equal healthy?

May 31st 2016 / Anna Hunter

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Could you consume less than 50g of carbohydrates a day? We explore the pros and cons of getting your fuel almost exclusively from fats…

You’ve overcome 80s ‘lite’ brainwashing and have gone ‘avo-crazy’ at the news that news that fat does not, as its name implies, necessarily make us fat (as long as it’s the ‘good kind’), but would you eliminate your beloved bread from the avocado toast equation to achieve a 4:1 ratio of fats to protein and carbohydrates combined? It’s certainly not an easy sacrifice to make, and as such the ketogenic diet is not an eating plan to be embarked upon flippantly. We quizzed fitness and nutrition expert, founder of The Library Gym and author of The High Fat Diet Zana Morris on what exactly makes a diet ‘ketogenic’, what the benefits are and how limiting large food groups has the potential to backfire...

Get The Gloss: What constitutes a ketogenic diet?

Zana Morris: A ketogenic diet is one that’s very low in sugar and carbohydrates, has medium to low protein intake and is very high in fat. If you’re strictly adhering to a ketogenic diet, you eat no bread, rice, pasta, milk, fruit or coloured vegetables, and if you’re on a very rigorous plan, not even green vegetables. Fish, red meat, white meat, cheese and eggs are allowed. Oils and fats, from butter to cream, olive oil to coconut cream, are in, as are high fat nuts such as walnuts and macadamias as well as, of course, avocados.

GTG: What are the pros and cons of a high fat diet?

ZM:

Pros

  • Rapid fat loss

  • Increased energy

  • A decrease in food cravings and hunger, as insulin is stabilised

  • Improved sleep patterns, thanks to the stabilising effect of the diet on insulin

Cons

  • It’s extremely restrictive - in its strictest format there aren’t even healthy greens!

  • It can cause bad breath

  • It can cause constipation for some

GTG: Who is the ketogenic diet most suited to?

ZM: Fish and meat eaters, as vegetarians will have difficulty with the lack of choice. It could prove beneficial for anyone with fat around the abdomen which they would like to lose rapidly. A ketogenic diet could also help those who may be insulin resistant or wishing to stabilise blood glucose levels, for instance anyone with sugar and carbohydrate dependencies. It’s important to highlight that the diet has also been recommended as a means by which to improve epilepsy that is otherwise difficult to treat.

The ancient Greeks were the first to discover that fasting reduced the incidence of epileptic seizures, and given that the ketogenic diet mimics the effects of starvation, forcing the body to use fat (ketones) rather than glucose for energy, it can lead to a reduction in seizures for epilepsy sufferers. A study by the University of York in 2013 also found that following a low carbohydrate ketogenic diet resulted in greater long term reductions in body weight amongst overweight and obese individuals than adhering to a low fat diet.

The fact that there’s no calorie counting, meals feel satiating and satisfying (despite smaller portion sizes) and, let’s face it, you can eat butter, cream, eggs, nuts, cheese and full fat yoghurt, to name just a few high fat goodies, and still lose weight, might make the ketogenic diet seem a golden ticket, but with even less protein and more fat than the Atkins diet, not to mention limitations on the consumption of vitamin packed fruit and vegetables and healthy carbs, it’s anything but balanced. Sticking to the diet in the long run requires steely willpower, not to mention constant monitoring of cholesterol levels, and if the diet isn’t meticulously calculated by a dietician (as it is for epilepsy sufferers), it can be very difficult to get it exactly right in the real world.

A better way of incorporating the positive elements of the ketogenic diet into your lifestyle is likely to add beneficial fats to your meals, avoiding the likes of processed fatty foods, and swapping sugary, refined carbohydrates for complex carbs such as sweet potato and rye breads, not to mention a rainbow of fruit and veg. So basically, a healthy, sensible diet. That one keeps cropping up…

Have you tried the ketogenic diet? We’d love to hear about your experiences. Comment below or tweet us @GetTheGloss.

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