With January 1st just around the corner, I’m sure most of us are already thinking about our new year’s resolutions, which usually include a diet. Unless you live on another planet, you’ve likely heard of the Ketogenic or Keto diet, which has gained massive popularity this past year. If you’re considering this diet, or another one, read this blog first, and hopefully I’ll have persuaded you to consider another route.
Without getting into too much detail, the Keto Diet is a way of eating that includes mostly fat (70-80%), some protein (20-30%), and very little carbs and sugar (10-20g net carbs). To put that amount of carbs into perspective; one apple is 14 grams of carbs. When you limit your carb intake to that extreme (most diets consist of 50-60% carbs), your body goes into ketosis, which means it starts to burn fat instead of carbs.
There are some aspects of the keto diet that I like:
1. I think it’s important to include healthy monounsaturated (ie. olives, olive oil, avocado, almonds), and polyunsaturated fats (ie. salmon, walnuts, hemp seeds) in your diet. However, not to the extreme that keto recommends. Remember, fat has twice as many calories per gram compared to carbs and protein (even if it’s healthy fat!).
2. I don’t have a problem with eggs (1 per day maximum, and eat the yolk - it’s the best part for you!), and
3. I’m fine with dairy (ie. plain Greek yogurt, white cheeses) and saturated fats (ie. organic butter, ghee, coconut oil), but in smaller quantities (a serving of cheese is the size of 4 dice).
4. I agree that it’s better for digestive and heart health to limit animal protein (red meat is 40% saturated fat). When I say limit; ideally eating poultry 2 times a week, and red meat once a week, and keeping in mind that a portion of meat is the size of your palm, not a 12oz. strip loin.
5. I also agree with avoiding refined carbs and sugar on a regular basis, and considering sugar alternatives like Monk fruit sweetener. Surprise, surprise, it comes from monk fruit, but “it gets its intense sweetness from unique antioxidants called mogrosides. During processing, mogrosides are separated from the fresh-pressed juice. Therefore, monk fruit sweetener does not contain fructose or glucose,(1)” which means, it has no effect on blood glucose levels (see note). With the holidays coming up, you’ll likely be doing some baking. Monk fruit sweetener is a great choice, and can be used in place of regular sugar in any recipe(1:1 ratio)!
6. Limiting packaged carbs and wraps that are full of vegetable oils and preservatives, and having sprouted bread, lettuce wraps or zucchini noodles instead, which are more healthful is a great idea!
Note: When we consume regular sweeteners without fibre (ie. white sugar, fruit juice), our blood glucose levels rise, and our pancreas secretes insulin to try and deal with the sudden rush of sugar. Our pancreas can deal in small amounts, but when it’s constantly bombarded with sugar, it can’t keep up, and issues like diabetes, obesity, and chronic inflammation can result.
As you can see, I agree with some aspects of the keto diet, but I don’t think it’s necessary for the average person, or as a long-term solution for living a healthy lifestyle because it’s a DIET. It limits so many wonderful, healthful foods, like most fruits, legumes, whole grains, sweet potatoes, squash, and is just not sustainable for the average person. Early research has shown that the keto diet can be effective for treating some cancers, diabetes, epilepsy, autism, and other conditions, but none of the studies that have been done have looked at long-term effects (2). Higher quality research is required.
When it comes to my overall health philosophy, I don’t agree with extreme diets. If something seems out of balance, or too hard to maintain for longer than 6 weeks, it’s not going to work in the long term. I always say to my clients, don’t adhere to any diet that you can’t maintain for 5 years.
I believe in balance, and living a healthy lifestyle, which to me means eating mostly whole, plant-based foods, some whole grains, dairy, animal protein, healthy fats, and dessert (mostly homemade with natural sweeteners!), and also enjoying wine and eating pizza from time to time.
The trick is to learn how to control yourself with indulgences (another blog on that later). A good friend of mine used to say, “if you indulge, you bulge.” In other words, if you indulge too much, you will gain weight. However, if you indulge a little, it won’t affect your bottom line, and you’ll likely live a more balanced and enjoyable life. When you place strict restrictions on food, you’re much more likely to overdo it when given the opportunity. Michael Pollan said it best, “"Eat food, not too much, mostly plants."
Here are a few wise words from a Tibetan Proverb to keep in mind over the holidays:
“Eat half, walk double, laugh triple and love without measure.”
My version in more detail:
1. Watch your portions (ie. palm size protein, fist size healthy carbs and half plate veggies)
2. Always be moving: find time to exercise, even if it’s 15 minutes in your basement. Park your car far away from the door at the mall or grocery store - every little bit of extra movement helps. Chase your kids at the park. If they’re happy playing on their own, do some walking lunges. The winter can be especially hard to stay active. Pick up a fun winter hobby like skating, cross-country or downhill skiing. There’s no better feeling than coming into a warm house after having done something active outside in the cold. It’s invigorating, and you earn that glass of wine!
3. Laugh a lot with family and friends, and enjoy the good moments.