“Low-carb and high fat” might be an odd mix of words at first glance. After all, we’ve been conditioned to think that all kinds of fat should be avoided like the plague. Enter keto, a diet that champions fat as the answer to weight loss. We spoke to Dr. Ted Achacoso of BioBalance, a nutritional medicine expert, to share his knowledge, experience, and to answer all your questions on the biggest diet trend of the year, from the history of keto up to the food items you can eat.
What is keto?
Keto, short for ketogenic, is a diet that promotes the intake of 'good' fat and low carbohydrates. This, in turn, forces your body into a state of ketosis which makes the fat burning process faster. Ketosis is a state that our body enters on a daily basis. The process occurs when glucose availability is low, and instead, it chooses to burn stored fat. A low-carb, high-fat diet ramps up the ketosis process and produces ketones, from which the diet owes its benefits.
The ketone bodies create energy by transporting energy from the liver on to the rest of the body. There are three types of ketones that do this: acetoacetate (AcAc), beta-hydroxybutyric acid (BHB), and acetone. The first ketone, acetoacetate is formed from the breakdown of fat, and from there beta-hydroxybutyrate is produced. The third ketone, acetone is a side product that gives "ketosis breath," a fruity smell similar to nail polish. Ketones are also produced when fasting, during starvation, or through high-intensity exercise.
Aside from weight loss, ketosis gives dieters higher levels of energy and increased muscle tone. The diet was originally created in the 1920s to help epileptics control their seizures by creating a less inflamed stomach.
Dr. Achacoso shares, "[The diet's] popularity waned with the development of anticonvulsant drugs. With its resurgence in the mid-1990s, the diet is now being studied for conditions like cancers, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and chronic metabolic diseases like diabetes. Weight loss is just a beneficial side-effect of the therapy."
He adds, "The body has two main sources of fuel for energy, one is glucose derived from carbohydrates and from some building blocks of proteins called 'glucogenic amino acids.' The other is ketones derived from fats (not to be mistaken for raspberry ketones).
All organs in the body, except the liver (which produces the ketones from fatty acids), can use ketones as fuel. By forcing the body to go on a very high-fat diet–for example, 75 percent healthy fats, 20 percent protein, and 5 percent carbohydrates–the body is forced to burn fat for fuel. Note that the calories are not unrestricted. This will create a state called 'nutritional ketosis.' The ketone level is easily and accurately measurable like the blood drop test for blood sugar of diabetics. Nutritional ketosis is very different and should not be confused with the diabetic complication called 'ketoacidosis.'"
To eat or not to eat
The standard portions for keto are 80 percent fat, 15 percent protein, and five percent carbohydrates. The increased intake of food items such as meat, nuts, cream, and butter will get you to the state of ketosis, but the diet requires a complete cut out of white bread, pasta, grains, and of course, sugar.
“Initially, you can eat anything that you want while shortening the feeding window. By the time you reach eight hours, it would be best that you have your fattiest meal at noon (like bone marrow and vegetable soup), your high fiber carb meal (like green leafy salads) around 4 p.m., and finish eating your proteinaceous meal (like a well-marbleized steak) at 8 p.m.” He continues, “The longer you hold off on eating carbohydrates and proteins, the more fat can get burned. This is the reason for ordering your meals as fattiest first, then high fiber, 'carbiest' next, then proteinaceous last.”
"If you are doing resistance training, then increase your protein intake. If you are going to be running and jumping, then increase your carbohydrates. If you are going to be sitting on your duff all day doing office work, then best to burn fats. The ketogenic diet is about increasing fats and decreasing the amounts of the other two macronutrients in your diet," he advises.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the keto diet should be "patient-tailored and can include heavy cream, bacon, eggs, tuna, shrimp, vegetables, mayonnaise, sausages, and other high-fat and low-carbohydrate products. Patients are not allowed starchy fruits or vegetables; breads, pasta, or grains; or sources of simple sugars." It is also recommended to take sugar-free supplements such as vitamins and minerals as well as calcium.
Now is the perfect time to start keto with all the diet delivery services abound. But if you do decide to follow the diet, it's not at all a challenge with the already high-fat Filipino dishes we eat daily (with some minor adjustments).
Is keto for everyone?
Although bodybuilders, celebrities, and models (Bella Hadid and Adriana Lima are known fans of the diet) rely on the diet to keep fit, it may not be for everyone. Tests and blood work as well as consulting a nutritionist should be done before you embark on any lifestyle and diet changes.
"Any diet, ketogenic or not, will induce micronutrient deficiencies. Micronutrients are vitamins, minerals, and co-factors that keep the body humming in optimal health. Get your micronutrient levels tested. Get your deficiencies supplemented and optimized to healthy levels before embarking on any diet," Dr. Achacoso stipulates.
"For use in diseases like certain aggressive cancers [...] you need to do the Ketogenic Diet under strict professional supervision. For example, in these cases, I keep the net carbohydrates to 20 to 50 grams daily. I also measure the blood ketones and keep them at the higher end of the 0.5 to 3 millimolar range for nutritional ketosis," he says.
Those monitoring their blood pressure and blood sugar should be wary, as the diet's effects are unpredictable and when coupled with the dosage of maintenance medicine may bring about dangerous reactions.