FOOD, NUTRITION 19th October 2016

The problem with keto (and it’s not the fat)


Despite its growing popularity in the health and wellness community, uptake of the ketogenic diet remains low amongst the general public. Based on extremely high levels of fat intake, it has been shown to play a pivotal role treating conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Autism and MS. A ketogenic diet is also known to regulate our insulin sensitivity, aid in weight loss and decrease the risk of heart disease. Perhaps the most compelling of all: ketogenic diets hold a clue in the fight against cancer. So why are we not going keto?

Background reading

A ketogenic diet is essentially one that replaces carbohydrates with fats as your body’s primary source of energy. When blood sugar is restricted the body produces fuel molecules called “ketones”. This is an alternative fuel for the body. Ketones are produced if you eat very few carbs (that are broken down into blood sugar) and only moderate amounts of protein (excess protein can be converted into blood sugar too). The majority of the diet (around 80%) comes from good fats.

The dilemma

The caveat of a keto diet is not the copious amounts of good fats you eat, but the availability of those fats. To illustrate my point consider the following:

You are into week two of your keto diet and notice a flatter tummy, clearer skin and increased energy. You have been strict in your adherence to it and sing its praises to anyone who will listen. One day, you were running late for work so you didn’t have time to make your breakfast eggs or the lunchtime salmon. Now what?  You pick up an avocado or a hard boiled egg at the office vending machine?

Last week

I was running late to my evening class. Although I am not a fulltime keto dieter, two days a week I up my fat intake and lower my carbs in accordance with my workout routine. I had three hours of class to get through with only one twelve minute break.  I didn’t have time to make dinner because a chance encounter with a friend at the gym meant I was discussing the upcoming Kanye West sneaker release instead of pan frying chicken thighs.    

Sugar is a preservative, fat is not

As I scavenged through my kitchen searching high and low, all I found was a bag of cashew nuts and walnuts my mom had left me. I tossed them into a small tupperware container and headed out. Hardly a suitable dinner. During our generous twelve minute break I walked over to the vending machine and was not surprised to see sugary snacks of all shapes and sizes: chips, cookies and soft drinks.

Vending machines are not there for your health and nothing in a vending machine is perishable since there’s no profit in that. Sugar is a preservative, it keeps food edible for months, fat does not. This explains why anyone on a strict keto diet must always consider leaving the house with something prepared in advance.

To that end, I took the liberty to outline what a typical keto week looks like in case you were curious.

MONDAY: Breakfast three egg omelet with spinach, cheese & sausage, Lunch BLT salad, Dinner baked salmon with asparagus. Snacks raw nuts or nut butters

TUESDAY: Breakfast bacon and eggs, Lunch spinach salad with bacon, Dinner cheese-stuffed bunless burgers. Snacks: raw nuts or nut butters

WEDNESDAY: Breakfast eggs and avocado, Lunch kale salad with salmon, Dinner chicken thighs and dark leafy greens drenched in olive oil. Snacks: raw nuts or nut butters.

Nut butters: Doesn't get any more American than peanut!

Nut butters: Doesn’t get any more American than peanut!

I could go on, but I think you get the point. Aside from the nuts everything else requires cooking and preparation, which requires time and effort. It is almost impossible to walk into any mainstream chain restaurant or fast food spot (though I do not recommend the latter) and find these options on a menu. At most, you could ask for a side of bacon or a hard boiled egg if you went to somewhere like Panera (Panera Bread that is). Worse still, air travel. Anyone who has ever flown is familiar with the ubiquitous dinner tray: pasta, rice, potatoes. We live in a world where carbs still rule – food companies have long profited from our addiction to sugar.

Still willing to try keto? Here’s how

If you’re still curious and intrigued by the world of keto, here are a few suggestions (put together with the help of my sister, another part time keto dieter).

  • Keep a steady supply of seeds and nuts, cheese and olives. As snacks come, these are big wins on a keto diet. Good quality cheese is fine to keep at room temperature and is easy to consume on the go if you cut it into bite size pieces. Olives often come mixed with a cheese and in oil.
  • Nut butters: As my co-worker Joe will attest, two tablespoons of peanut butter is enough to keep you full for hours. He even has it for lunch some days!
  • Wake up earlier and cook!! Yes it’s a burden but like anything worth having you have to work for it. Eggs are extremely versatile and quick, so you don’t have to sacrifice hours of sleep. My breakfast meals are 95% egg based and I alternate between, scrambled, boiled, sunny side up (shown below) or omelets.

A sample breakfast I make: fats and proteins and a tiny amount of carbs. Not a true keto meal but it’s close

  • Meal Prep for tomorrow: I am not an advocate of meal prepping in general due to the loss of nutrients in stale food. At most I am willing to make lunch the night before. This is critical if you are someone with a family, long commute or just too short on time to make breakfast and lunch in the morning.
  • If you get caught out on time, don’t fret. Life happens, there will always be a time (as with my evening class dilemma) where you become stuck for something viable to eat. If you absolutely need a full meal don’t deprive yourself of carbs. Eating something is better than passing out!
  • Experiment: search recipes on pinterest, join a support group (plenty online) and delve into new ways to cook. You never know, it may become a passion.

The final word

Yes, going keto is difficult. It requires a lot of thought, time and effort but the health benefits are significant. It is also worth noting that fat keeps you fuller for longer and doesn’t lead to the infamous sugar crash associated with a carb heavy meal. Even when you are out and about, you quite often just expect you won’t eat and use that as a fast period, which your gut will thank you for.   Going full keto is a lifestyle, not a fad diet. But even if you implement some of the practices (a high fat breakfast for example) you are still doing your body a huge favor. The less we rely on carbs, the less vending machines there are, and that can only be a good thing.

As always, pushing for health.

A wonderful keto salad at a local restaurant. Amazing!

A wonderful keto salad at a local restaurant. Amazing!

Disclaimer: This is not medical advice and I am not a doctor.

If you have a nut allergy, do not consume any products outlined here which contain nuts.