When any patient seeks out the advice of a Naturopathic Doctor, you can safely assume that at some point, we will discuss diet.
We truly are what we eat, but food has a larger impact on our health than we sometimes realize. So how do we navigate the many different dietary fads and recommendations out there? And how do we know which habitual way of eating is “best” for us?
My primary role in the practice of Naturopathic Medicine is educator, and in that spirit, I will address and assess one extremely popular example of these diet fads that I’m sure you are seeing EVERYWHERE: The Ketogenic Diet.
(I always begin with a caveat: Always see your Naturopath before making any big dietary changes—it’s always a good idea to have the support of a professional.)
What is the ketogenic diet?
The Ketogenic (aka “keto”) Diet is a high fat, sufficient protein and low carb focused diet. It is best studied and researched for people with epilepsy and other idiopathic seizure-related conditions. When we restrict carbohydrates in the diet, our body is eventually forced into using fat as energy. When fat is burned as energy, the liver breaks it into fatty acids and ketone bodies. Ketones can pass into the brain, replacing the typical energy source of the brain (glucose i.e. sugar) and have been shown to reduce the occurrence of seizures, specifically in children.
That said, the Keto Diet has become popular among the general population for a number of different reasons. Carbohydrates have been vilified for some time, but the notion of “low-carb diets” really took off in the early 70s when Dr. Robert Atkins came up with the Atkins diet. Many who pursued it witnessed the benefits: weight loss, namely. But MORE importantly and impactful, patients were seeing the stabilization of their blood glucose levels—specifically those suffering from type II diabetes (some of whom experienced a full reversal of their diagnoses).
All good things, right? BUT there are also some reasons why this diet should only be used under the supervision of a physician and only for short periods of time.
How does the Keto Diet acidify the body?
If you are not in the habit of eating lots of alkaline fruits and veggies, your diet can quickly become overloaded with high fat proteins.
When you’re focused on keto-friendly foods, it’s easy to focus on dairy and meat because they’re easy and lots of our (read: MY) favourite foods happen to be derived from those two food groups. The problem with these convenience foods, despite their supporting the conversion of fat into fuel, is that over time they create an acidic environment in the body.
Plus, neglecting fresh fruits and vegetables pushes the body into a further state of acidic pH.
When the pH of our bodies shifts even slightly, it will draw from our resources to swiftly correct the pH imbalance.
When we get into this state of metabolic acidosis, we lose very important minerals such as calcium, magnesium and potassium, most often lost from our bones, which is often why we see bone density loss and an overly acidic diet going hand-in-hand. This acidosis can also lead to inflammation and chronic illness. There are also fatigue and emotional and mood factors that come into play when adhering to the keto diet that can be attributed to its acid-forming tendencies.
Interestingly, a recent study published in Frontiers in Endocrinology found that athletes following a ketogenic diet developed early signs of bone loss. In this study, researchers divided a group of 30 racewalkers into two groups—one group followed a high fat, typical ketogenic diet while the other group followed a higher carbohydrate (non-ketogenic) diet. At the end of the study, the group following the ketogenic diet had higher markers of bone breakdown, while the group following the higher carbohydrate diet did not (1).
The bottom line: You need to provide the body with plenty of alkalizing foods to counter the acidic tendencies of the Keto diet.
Supporting your body when you’re on the Keto Diet
One sure-fire way to protect your bones – and your whole body – from the effects of a high-acidity diet is with alkalizing plant foods. I get that munching on 8 cups of kale doesn’t always fit in to everybody’s schedule, so I always advise people to take an excellent quality greens supplement to support their goals while protecting and nourishing their body.
The green food supplement that I like to recommend is greens+. It has an amazing formulation of grasses, herbs and superfoods, and is well-established and thoroughly researched. In fact, there have been studies on the product that review its effects on countering acidity on the body. One serving of greens+ over 14 days resulted in a two-fold difference overall in the alkalinity of the urine, confirming without doubt that greens+ is making a difference in improving human alkalinity (2). Such effects provide the body with the alkaline support a body needs when eating Keto.
A high Keto diet that loses sight of fruit and vegetable intake also puts the gut environment as risk of dysbiosis—an imbalance in the healthy bacteria residing in the intestinal tract. fermented organic gut superfoods+ provides alkalizing phytonutrient support, from 22 fully-fermented plant-based organic superfoods and includes prebiotics to nourish a healthy gut ecology.
So Keto-away but keep most of your plate vegetables. Get your protein, eat your avocado, but ensure that your diet and supplements address the importance of a healthy pH, phytonutrients and support the gut health balance. What else do I recommend to my patients? All I will say is that my practice mantra is: everything in moderation.
Information provided by Dr. Katherine Kremblewski, ND is intended to be general in nature, and should not be used as a substitute for a visit with a Naturopathic Doctor or Family Doctor. The advice is intended to offer only a general basis for individuals to discuss their medical condition with their health care provider. Always consult your licensed Naturopathic Doctor or health care provider.
- Berardi JB, Logan AC, Rao V. Plant-based dietary supplement increases urinary pH. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 2008 Nov 6;5:20-7.