Have you been curious about what all the hype is regarding a low carbohydrate, or ketogenic diet? Is it safe and effective?
Perhaps you're already following one of these eating styles for weight loss or blood sugar control.
Are you curious about what other benefits you may be reaping?
What does low carb actually mean, and how does it affect our cardiovascular system? These are questions I aim to answer for you!
A low carbohydrate diet or lifestyle as I prefer to call it, is commonly defined as one that limits carbohydrate intake to below 130g per day.
In comparison, some studies show that an average North American eats upwards of 250g per day, coming from breads, pastas, sweets and other refined carbs. Personally I feel the average total intake of carbohydrates far exceeds 250g, especially when you also factor in the consumption of fruits, high carbohydrate vegetables and starches.
Turning back to a low carbohydrate lifestyle, Diet Doctor, simply and concisely describes three distinct categories of low carb:
liberal low carb: 50g-100g per day
moderate low carb: under 50g per day
strict ketogenic: under 20g per day
Depending on where you're personal history and your individual lifestyle factors (athlete, pregnant or breastfeeding, multiple co-morbidities) will dictate where you start with your low carb approach.
For details on what this might look like, visit Diet Doctor for a host of resources, information, and recipes!
In regards to cardiovascular health, there have been dozens of studies showing the benefits to cardiovascular health for those following a low carb eating style. More recently, Virta Health, a company that is an innovator of nutrition science and technology, published a study that demonstrated that 22 out of 26 markers for cardiovascular disease risk improved in a study of diabetic patients following a ketogenic diet. As I discussed earlier this month, diabetes and cardiovascular disease are closely tied.
Some improvements they saw included reduction in the need for insulin and other medications such as blood pressure medications. The patients also saw decreases in their blood sugar levels, decreases in obesity, lowered inflammation, improved liver function and a decrease in insulin resistance.
In the long run, this means that patients' medical costs decrease, side effects from taking multiple medications are reversed, as well as their risk for requiring medical procedures from long term complications such as on-going wound care or amputations.
Now some of you may be wondering about the dreaded "keto flu". The keto flu is the experience of flu-like symptoms one might have in the first week or two of starting a keto diet. This happens because your body is going through the temporary adjustment of burning carbs for energy to burning fat for energy.
These symptoms you may experience include:
Now, the keto flu isn't dangerous, doesn't typically last more than two weeks and not everyone will experience it.
Fortunately, there are actions you can take to diminish or even avoid it. Reasons for these symptoms most often include dehydration/electrolyte imbalances, and not eating enough. Therefore it's important to make sure you're taking in plenty of water, eating nutritious protein & fat coming from whole foods, and consider taking an electrolyte supplement such as homemade sole, which is just sea salt infused water (click here for the recipe from Wellness Mama) or purchase a product such as Drink LMNT.
If you are interested in making the amazing change to low carb, do your research first and/or find someone who can help you make the transition!
***As always, consult your primary medical provider before embarking on major changes to your health. If your medical provider is not educated in low carb, seek one out that is!
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