Keto is a real hot topic at the moment.
While most people have heard of ketosis and keto, what may be unclear is what these terms actually mean.
As a health coach, you’ve probably been asked about low carb, paleo, primal, and keto diets, and whether they are all the same thing. We know they aren’t, but are they closely related? Definitely.
With all the hype surrounding keto diets, the question that needs to be addressed is whether the ketogenic diet is just a fad, or whether it has genuine health benefits.
What is the Ketogenic Diet?
The ketogenic diet is a diet that is high in fat, moderate in protein, and low in carbs.
Ketosis (fat metabolism) occurs when carbohydrate availability is low. Fat (stored or consumed) is converted to fatty acids and energy through the formation of ketone bodies (ketones).
Consequently, ketones can act as an alternative energy source to glucose and carbohydrates.
The Ketogenic Diet and Disease
The ketogenic diet has been around since 1920, and has seen huge success for the treatment and management of many clinical conditions, including:
- Neurological disorders such as epilepsy, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and age-related cognitive degeneration
- Traumatic brain injury
- Metabolic disorders such as diabetes and obesity
With all this exciting data on the benefits of a ketogenic diet in regards to diseases, what we as health coaches additionally want to know is whether a ketogenic diet will be beneficial for our clients who may be on the path to chronic disease, but are willing to make the changes required for a healthier life.
In this post we’ll discuss which of your clients would be best suited for keto, and which may not be.
Before we delve any further, it’s imperative that we are clearly define the role of a health coach when providing nutrition advice.
As a health coach, it is not our job to diagnose, treat, or prescribe, but rather to coach and guide our clients to a healthier, happier life.
Only a medical professional such as medical doctor or a registered dietitian can provide a patient with dietary advice to treat or manage a disease.
However, as the prevalence of chronic metabolic disease continues to escalate, medical practices and health insurers are looking for more cost effective strategies to combat disease.
As part of a health care team consisting of other allied health professionals including medical doctors, registered dietitians, and nurses, health coaches can play an essential role in the management of diagnosed conditions.
1. Clients Looking to Improve Cognitive Function
Since 2011, there has been substantial growth in the percentage of clients over the age of 45 who are seeking the services of a health coach.
We, as a population, are not just looking for longevity, we are searching for ways to enhance our quality of life as we age.
Clients who fall into the over-45 age bracket are more likely to be looking at health coaching as an investment into their future. They want to be able to keep up with their grandchildren, reduce the pain in their joints, and for many people, they are looking to sharpen their cognitive function.
The ketogenic diet has the potential to improve memory in those with mild cognitive impairment.
How is this possible?
There is a misconception that our brains are fueled purely by glucose. With proper adaptation, the brain can derive up to 75% of its energy from ketone bodies.
People with neurodegeneration (including Parkinson’s, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, and age-related cognitive decline) commonly display impaired glucose utilization, despite high glucose availability.
Fat burning and ketone production provide an alternative fuel source to glucose for powering our brains.
Your clients who fall into the 45-and-over age group who are looking to maintain or even improve their cognitive function would be perfect candidates for a ketogenic diet.
2. Clients With Insulin Resistance
Insulin is a hormone that controls the transport and storage of blood glucose to the liver and muscles.
Inactivity and poor eating habits can lead to the development of insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance is the term used to describe when your body is no longer sensitive to insulin signals, and despite high insulin levels in the blood (hyperinsulinemia), the cells within the liver and muscles are not able to store the glucose within the blood. This is known as hyperglycemia.
If left unchecked, excessively high levels of glucose within the blood can lead to more serious health complications, including:
Insulin resistance can be a wake up call for many people. It’s the first indication of poor metabolic health.
We know as health coaches that insulin resistance does not necessarily have to lead to further metabolic disease.
Insulin resistant clients are perfect candidates for a ketogenic diet for so many reasons.
A ketogenic diet can:
- Lower blood gluocose levels
- Lower blood insulin levels
- Provide an alternative energy source in the form of fat and ketones
- Reduce body fat
- Enhance metabolic flexibility
3. Athletes Looking for a Competitive Edge
If you’re working with athletes, a ketogenic diet can provide your clients with a competitive edge.
Here are three benefits that a keto-adapted athlete is likely to experience:
- The ability to burn fat and ketones provides an athlete with more stored fuel than their sugar-burning competitors. It also spares stored glucose (glucogen) for super intense bursts when they’re really needed.
- The generating of new mitochondria. Mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cell. The more mitochondria you have, the more energy you’ll have at your disposal.
- Enhanced energy efficiency. At any given intensity, a keto-adapted athlete will burn more fat and ketones, and less glucogen than a sugar-burning athlete.
4. Clients Looking to Burn Fat
Many of your clients will be looking to burn fat, lose weight, and most importantly, keep it off.
Ketogenic diets have a good track record when it comes to long-term weight loss.
A ketogenic diet, much like a low carb primal diet, can be highly effective for weight loss as it:
- Reduces insulin levels
- Increases mobilization of stored body fat
- Decreases appetite by suppressing hunger hormones
A ketogenic diet would suit a client that has a lot of body fat to lose.
Clients Who Should Avoid Keto
Whilst many of your clients will fall into one of the previously mentioned categories and are likely to thrive on a ketogenic diet, it’s important to remember that not all your clients will be suited for it.
So who are the people that should take caution, or even avoid keto?
- Pregnant women are growing a little person inside their bodies, so it’s essential that they eat a well-rounded diet consisting of all macronutrients. Pregnancy is not the best time to try a new diet.
- Breastfeeding women require oxaloacetate to produce lactose (the milk sugar that fuels a baby’s energy needs). Oxaloacetate is derived from carbohydrates and dietary protein, therefore it may be best for breastfeeding women to avoid a ketogenic diet.
- Adolescents require all the energy they can get to fuel their growing bodies. As a ketogenic diet slows growth, it seems less than ideal for an actively growing body.
- Athletes about to head into competition season should avoid starting a ketogenic diet at this juncture, because it can take between 4-6 weeks before your mitochondria have fully adapted to their new energy source. Whilst ketogenic athletes are likely to experience huge advantages over their sugar-burning competitors, it’s important to remember adaptation for optimal fat burning and ketone production takes time.
- Type 2 diabetics should also take caution when undergoing a ketogenic diet. Whilst there has been promising research indicating that Type 2 diabetics fair extremely well under ketogenic and low carb diets, there is also evidence showing that complications may arise if a diabetic’s blood sugar levels become too low. Because of this, it is recommended that you refer any diabetic clients to a registered dietitian.
Make Keto Nutritious
As a health coach, it’s fundamental to emphasize the importance of eating nutritious foods while on a ketogenic diet. This should include the consumption of whole foods such as grass-fed meat, eggs, and vegetables.
Avoiding “real” foods and consuming most of your calories drinking bulletproof coffees and spoonfuls of coconut oil will get you into ketosis, but is not a healthy or sustainable way to do so.
Think of Keto as a Metabolic Reset
It’s important to consider the length of time your clients would like to be in ketosis for. This will depend on how they handle a low carb diet as well as their health goals.
Mark Sisson believes that keto is a great way to reset your metabolism, as discussed in his latest book, The Keto Reset Diet. Mark believes that short-term keto bursts can provide an individual with greater metabolic flexibility. Or, in other words, ketosis can help your clients transition from carb-burning to fat-burning with ease.
In summary, keto is not a fad.
With decades of ketogenic diet research behind it, it’s clear that ketogenic diets are a great option for specific people.
It’s also important to be aware that keto is not suitable for everyone, and as a health coach, being aware of who should or shouldn’t consider this low carb diet is essential.