Co-authored by Peter Foley, Family Physician, U.K.
As doctors, we often see patients who use January to kick-start their health with a change in lifestyle. This often means trying a new diet. The internet and social media platforms are bursting with advice for every kind of diet, each one claiming superiority over the other. The juice diet. The detox diet. The cabbage soup diet... the list goes on.
Unfortunately, it doesn't take long for hunger, temptation and frustration to kick in. These feelings beat most people's willpower, so within weeks the diet is gone and the old habits are back.
Most people assume they have failed. They must lack willpower. They must have something not working right in their bodies. They blame themselves, their doctors blame them, society blames them. Eventually, many stop trying.
Consider this: it was never you who failed. It was the diet that failed you.
Because certain types of food, through their hormonal effects on the body, can trigger hunger and fat storage. You cannot fight hormones with willpower.
But it is not your failure. It's the diet's failure.
Because thinking that it's all a matter of calories ingested versus calories spent is an old, simplistic model that doesn't work.
Because if you don't like what you eat, if you don't feel good, and if you don't see real results, you won't stick to it. And you shouldn't. But it is not your failure. It's the diet's failure.
We almost never prescribe a "diet" to our patients. But we do prescribe a keto/low-carb lifestyle to them for the long term.
The results with our patients are usually beyond our expectations in terms of weight loss, but also in improved biomarkers of health (cholesterol, blood sugar levels, inflammation, liver enzymes, etc.).
What is the keto/low-carb diet?
The food we eat can be divided into three categories of macronutrients: protein, lipids and carbohydrates. Inside the body, proteins turn into amino acids, lipids turn into fatty acids, and carbohydrates turn into sugars, like glucose or fructose.
The keto/low-carb diet entails:
- A significant reduction of all sources of sugar, including processed and ultra-processed foods, pasta, bread, breakfast cereal, rice, desserts, soda, sugary treats.
- A moderate intake of protein, such as is currently advised by our Canadian Food Guide.
- An increased intake of healthy fats.
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Current nutritional guidelines in most countries suggest a 40 to 60 per cent intake of carbohydrates per day, with a strong emphasis on minimizing fat intake (usually to less than 30 per cent). Despite these universally accepted guidelines — which we are generally pretty good at following — we are living in the midst of a global obesity and metabolic health epidemic.
As much as we'd like to blame it all on our sedentary lifestyle, inactivity quite simply cannot explain the whole picture.
Consider this: if you've been following the guidelines and eating low fat, but are gaining weight and feeling tired, you could try a different diet to get different results.
Why does keto/low-carb bring on better results?
Our bodies need energy to function, which we mainly get from carbohydrates and fats. When we eat sugar (carbohydrates), even from a natural source such as honey or bananas, we secrete a hormone called insulin. One of insulin's roles is to trigger fat storage.
When we eat plenty of carbohydrates all the time, in quantity and frequency, our bodies secrete a lot of insulin. Our bodies think it's harvest season: time to store fat, because winter must be coming.
Another role of insulin is to block the access to the fat reserves. So, the more insulin we have in circulation, the harder it will be to lose weight.
One of the goals of reducing carbohydrate intake is to reduce insulin secretion in order to allow our bodies to start accessing our fat stores.
This low-cost lifestyle intervention can be fun, tasty, satisfying.
What are the benefits of the keto/low-carb diet?
This low-cost lifestyle intervention can be fun, tasty, satisfying and can improve several aspects of your health. Many patients report improvements in conditions such as obesity, type-2 diabetes, acne, polycystic ovary syndrome, epilepsy, heartburn, hypertension, gout, etc.
You do not need to have an underlying medical condition in order to benefit from a keto/low-carb diet, with many people feeling more mentally alert, with improved and more stable energy throughout the day.
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, or if you have health problems for which you take medication, we strongly advise you to seek medical attention prior to changing your diet.
What can you eat on the keto/low-carb diet?
The key to successfully adopting a keto/low-carb diet is to eat in the 20 to 100 grams a day range, consume a moderate amount of protein, and to add healthy fat to satiety. Eat real, wholesome food, not processed food.
When you reduce your intake of carbohydrates to around 20 grams per day, your liver will start producing ketones (hence the name keto diet). We used to think ketones were a toxic waste product. We now know that it's actually a cleaner source of energy.
When you reduce your intake of carbohydrates to less than 100 grams per day, your diet is considered low-carb. This is significantly lower than the recommended 200 to 300 grams based on most nutritional guidelines.
A day on the keto diet can look like this (18 grams of carbs):
- Breakfast: Fried eggs with bacon and tomatoes + coffee with 35 per cent cream [2 grams carb]
- Lunch: Chicken caesar salad [5 grams carb]
- Dinner: Pork chops with cabbage casserole [11 grams carb]
How do I get started?
When you begin a keto/low-carb diet, you may experience some side effects such as dry mouth, constipation and lethargy. These usually last only a few days and can be managed easily with extra water and added salt.
If you've tried quite a number of diets over the years that have not helped you improve your general health, weight and energy level, but have rather left you feeling like a failure, it might be time to try an approach based on physiology — one supported by plenty of scientific evidence and by hundreds of doctors across the country, and one that actually gives real clinical results.
To conclude, I'll leave you with my own personal results after losing 32 pounds, hoping they will inspire you.
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