I’m often surprised by how much (mis)information abounds about the Keto Diet. When a client tells me they are “on keto” and then I ask about their food plan, they usually describe a meal plan that is more like a Paleo Diet than a Keto Diet.
What is the difference between Keto and Paleo, by the way?
Paleo allows unlimited carbohydrates. Those carbohydrates have to be on the approved list, but they are definitely allowed. Paleo carbs generally fall into two different categories: roots and fruits. Starchy vegetables that grow under the ground are allowed on the Paleo plan. Examples include sweet potatoes, yucca, taro, turnips, onions, beets, carrots, parsnips and kohlrabi. All (whole) fruits are allowed on the Paleo Diet, including bananas, plantains, and avocados. The goal of the Paleo Diet is for you to eat what your paleolithic ancestors ate.
The Ketogenic Diet plan has very different goals. The aim is to “be in ketosis.” This means your body is being fueled by blood ketones instead of blood sugar. In order to do this, you must eat little to no carbohydrates, and at least 60% of your calories as fat. The Ketogenic Diet doesn’t focus on eating as your ancestors like the Paleo plan does. In the beginning stages of Ketosis, you must focus on avoiding/counting carbs and raising fat intake. This is where “fat bombs” have made their fortune and fame.
The Ketogenic Diet is extremely popular and trendy. You see it all over social media, Amazon, Costco, and the like. But is it really a great idea for everyone? No, nope, and not at all!
Here is why it doesn’t work as a long term solution for me.
Keto: Not for Everyone?
The main issue is my digestion. My pancreas simply can’t keep up with the enzymes that are needed to digest that much fat. In fact, my pancreas can’t seem to keep up with making enough enzymes for anything I eat. I have taken enzymes, ox bile, betaine HCL, and pepsin for years, even decades. But I still show fat malabsorption (steatorrhea) on my GI MAP test.
Besides not digesting fats, I have reactions to many of the “staple” foods in the Keto Diet. Nuts are high in lectins, so even the organic, raw, sprouted nuts don’t always work for me. I love avocados but when they are super ripe, they are high in histamine, and I can easily overdo those too. Coconut oil has been a staple in my diet for years, and while it doesn't make me feel sick, I showed a sensitivity to it on my recent food allergy panel. And MCT, which is derived from coconut oil, causes me “emergency pants” even at low doses.
The final popular Keto category is dairy. I do love me some good cheese. If you interviewed my college roommates they would say I was best known for always have a huge block of cheese in the fridge. While that doesn’t seem out of the ordinary, the teeth marks in the cheese made everyone either laugh or roll their eyes. Dairy products from factory farmed cows are full of hormones, antibiotics, and GMO Dairy products have two main components that cause digestive problems: lactose and casein. Lactose intolerance is fairly common and well known, but many people suffer from casein intolerance and don’t even recognize it. Casein is a protein in dairy products like milk, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream. If you don’t digest them properly, both casein and wheat can turn into morphine-like substances that enter your brain.
Be Cautious of Carbs
So basically, when you eat dairy or wheat, it is like you are on opiate drugs. I used to be addicted to cheese and crackers and now I know the biochemistry behind those cravings. Besides being addictive, dairy protein (casein) is difficult and even impossible for some people to digest and break down. It can cause both constipation and/or diarrhea. There are easy at-home tests that can give you conclusive evidence about why you should avoid dairy (and wheat too). So although my brain feels pretty good when I get into ketosis, my gut doesn’t agree.
If you have tried Keto and found that it isn’t a good fit for you, one of these may be the reason why:
- You have a sluggish gallbladder, which impairs your bile production and fat digestion
- You have pancreatic insufficiency, and don’t fully digest dietary fats
- You don’t make enough stomach acid to break down the proteins that are part of a Keto plan
- You are lactose intolerant
- You are sensitive to casein
- You are histamine intolerant (ripe avocados are full of histamine)
- You are sensitive to lectins which are found in nuts
- You are a woman :) with cycling hormones that make it difficult to get into ketosis
- You have adrenal fatigue
- You are average weight and BMI
I think Keto is a great fit for men or women who:
- Are insulin resistant (simple blood tests exist to find out if you are or aren’t)
- Need to lose weight (if you possess a BMI greater than 25)
- Have brain cancer (strong research exists)
The Ketogenic Dieting Plan is not an “all-or-nothing” deal. I will often push my body into ketosis 1-2 times per month by fasting for 12-16 hours and then eating a high “fat-only” meal. I want to be more metabolically flexible, and this is one strategy I use to achieve that goal. After that, I will cycle in some carbohydrates and then return to a very low carb (VLC) Paleo-style plan. That is what is working for my body right now and I will change it up when I feel like I want/need to.
One thing is for sure, high-carbohydrate diets are going out of style like those Ray Bans you still have from high school. So just let them both go the way of all the earth. Do your metabolism, heart, brain, and endocrine system a favor and retire your Doritos, Cheetos, Twinkies, and (healthy) Oatmeal because they are all loaded with carbohydrates.
If you have tried Keto and feel like you have somehow failed because you didn’t feel great, maybe you didn’t have all the information you needed. Or, maybe it just isn’t the right fit for you right now. I give you permission to do what makes you stronger, healthier, and happier.