What’s all the hype about “keto” these days? And, should you care?
Here’s the answer that makes the most sense…it depends.
It’s not a lazy answer. I’d never do that to you.
Let’s focus on brain health and “keto”. We’ll start by getting straight on language because if you asked 10 people walking down Main Street, “What is keto?”, you’d get 10 different answers.
Keto. Short for ketosis or ketogenic.
Ketosis. A metabolic state of being where the body burns fat for energy
Ketogenic. Actions or habits that produce a state of ketosis
Ketosis is a metabolic state where your body uses its available glucose (aka sugar or foods converted to sugar) for energy. When the sugar energy is used up, then the body burns fat to produce energy. Burning fat for energy produces chemicals: beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB), acetoacetate and acetone. Beta-hydroxybutyrate is a fuel that the brain can use very efficiently as a source of energy, especially when it cannot use glucose well to make energy. These chemicals can be measured by you, at home, with a small blood sample from a finger stick or by a special breath analyzer.
Ketogenic eating styles were first widely used in the 1920’s to reduce epileptic seizures before there were effective anti-seizure medications. This eating style is still used today often combined with anti-seizure medication to manage epilepsy.
That’s the first hint that ketosis would be helpful for the brain.
Brain Health and Ketosis
If you’re a frequent flier to my blogs, you’ll recall there are 6 types of Alzheimer’s, according to leading neurologist and Alzheimer’s researcher, Dr. Dale Bredesen.
- Type 1 – Inflammatory
- Type 1.5 – Glycotoxic (too much sugar in the bloodstream)
- Type 2 – Trophic (unbalanced hormones, including cortisol, thyroid and sex hormones)
- Type 3 – Toxic (mold, heavy metals, pesticides, endotoxins from our gut)
- Type 4 – Vascular (decreased blood flow to the brain)
- Type 5 – Trauma (injury like concussion)
Why and how does ketosis affect the brain in a positive way?
Ketosis and ketogenic lifestyles quickly does these things:
- Reduces blood sugar and keeps it well regulated for years = lower inflammation
- Produces beta-hydroxybutyrate as an alternative energy source = improves brain function
- Heals the gut when practiced in a way that focuses on vegetables as the primary source of carbohydrates = less toxins
- Helps maintain a healthy weight (for most people…more on this in the next blog post on how to implement a ketogenic lifestyle).
- Helps balance hormones
- Increased beta-hydroxybutyrate and decreased glucose have been found to provide better energy and lower the biochemical stressors at the cellular level which improved outcomes of traumatic brain injury. (Many of these studies have been conducted on rats, mice and fruit flies with small human studies showing promise for ketosis as part of a recovery plan from traumatic brain injury).
What you eat is critical to achieving a state of ketosis, but it’s not the only thing. Timing of meals, exercise, sleep and stress all work together with food to “get into” ketosis and stay there as often as possible.
Is a Ketogenic Lifestyle for You?
If you have risks for any of the Alzheimer’s types listed above or a genetic or family history, then you may benefit from a ketogenic lifestyle as Dr. Bredesen’s research and case studies show in his books, “The End of Alzheimer’s” and “The End of Alzheimer’s Program”. When clients join PreCode or ReCode programs (designed by Dr. Bredesen) to prevent or reverse cognitive decline, the first focal point he recommends is to achieve a state of ketosis.
As with any nutritional or health-related lifestyle change, you should always discuss this with your doctor and/or nutritionist or dietitian. They know your overall health best and can help you design the best approach.
Here’s what I did…I took Dr. Bredesen’s “End of Alzheimer’s” book to my doctor. Discussed the recommendations in the book that I wanted to try and told my doctor why (genetic risk, family history and lingering brain fog). Funny enough, my doc had just been to a brain health conference and had a new book of his own with lots of brain images. So, we geeked out together for a few minutes, and he gave me the thumbs’ up. Yep, I paid him a small consult fee and I was off to the races on my ketosis journey.
What Should You Eat to Achieve Ketosis?
In general, a ketogenic eating style is low in carbohydrates, high in fat with moderate amounts of protein. I’ll go into detail about how to change eating habits toward a ketogenic lifestyle in the next blog, but here are the top 4 things you can start with:
- Keep a food journal for 7 days. Judgment-free zone here. Just write down what you eat and the time of day and let it go. After you journal for 7 days, take action from #2-4, below.
- Reduce or eliminate sugar
- Reduce or eliminate processed, fast, & packaged foods (does not include packaged vegetables)
- Eat more non-starchy vegetables. Work your way up to 5-7 cups a day
Yes, ketosis typically requires that you increase the amount of healthy fats you eat. Because #’s 2-4, above, are the HARDEST habits to change when you’re adopting a ketogenic eating style, it’s a good idea to check off some of the hard things first. Tune in next time for how to add more healthy fats to your meals.
New habits are challenging, so start small. Pick one category, and choose a small goal like, “I’ll eliminate all sweetened beverages for 1 week.”
Keep track, share your goals with a buddy, celebrate the wins and learn something from the days where you didn’t meet the goal. Make a new goal and keep trying.
Think perseverance, not perfection!
And, know that if you get stuck or don’t know where to start, you can schedule a complimentary chat with me and get jump started.
What About “Keto” Foods?
Now that you know what ketosis is, let me ask this question…
Do you think that a single food can produce ketosis in your lovely body?
You’re right! The answer is NO! You’re so smart!
Don’t get sucked in by the marketing hype that’s written on food packages. Food producers want to sell food. They’re not evil. Everyone with a business does marketing.
Your job is to be a smart consumer who makes awesome choices for your health. Read on to see how…
What types of foods typically market themselves as “keto”?
- Substitutes for sweet treats like cookies, cakes and candy
- High fat snacks like pork rinds, jerky and even bacon
- Breads, pancakes, waffles, muffins and other bread-like foods that are traditionally high carbohydrate, high sugar and not recommended for a ketogenic lifestyle.
- Granola, chip-like snacks and crackers
So, what cool marketing phrases appear on these packages?
- “Keto” – usually in giant size, capital letters
- “Fat Bomb”
- “No Sugar”
- “Low Carb”
- “High Fat”
- “Zero Net Carb”
When you analyze the nutrition label and the ingredients list, you’ll see that many of these foods still have high-ish carbohydrate ingredients like cassava flour, tapioca flour or other gluten free flours not made from nuts.
The fat sources are typically saturated which is not the best choice for APOE4 gene carriers because saturated fat can negatively affect their cholesterol. This happened to me. Examples include coconut oil and palm oil.
Some products still blatantly contain sugar in some form like dates, coconut sugar or monk fruit. Or, sugar substitutes like erythritol which is irritating to the gut. (Irritated guts leak endotoxins or “pre-poop” into the bloodstream and create inflammation. No bueno!)
Many of these “keto” snacks also include dairy in the form of butter, whey, cream cheese, and powdered milk. Dairy causes inflammation and contributes to leaky gut.
Also, these foods fit into the packaged / processed category (Scroll up and see #3, above). So, you’ll probably reduce or eliminate these “keto” packaged foods anyway, right?
Final words on foods marketed as “keto”: Make them the rare exception to your eating plan. Listen to your body when you eat them. If they don’t treat you well, try another alternative or make your own crackers, breads or treat substitutes. If you need a recipe, book a quick chat and let me know what you’re looking for. I have gobs of recipes.
Take Your First Keto Lifestyle Steps for Brain Health
- Talk to your doctor
- Keep a food journal for 7 days before you change anything
- Pick one small habit to try from the list: reduce sugar, packaged/processed foods, and/or increase your veggie intake.
- Embrace experimentation. Make your ketosis experience very personal.
Ketosis is an important tool for long term brain health. It might feel complicated. Get started. It’s totally doable.
I’ve been through it. I’m not perfect. I’ve integrated it into my life and feel 100% better for it.
Questions? Please get in touch. I’m here to help you preserve your precious brain power.