A Protein-Heavy Keto Diet: You’re (Likely) Setting Yourself Up For Failure

What do you picture when you hear someone say they’re doing the keto diet?

Is it a juicy double bacon cheeseburger sans-bun? Or, maybe a big medium-rare cooked steak. Or, alternatively, you may assume that they’re constantly in a fasting state because the body “has to” be starving to burn ketones (the latter is one I get mainly from people trained in the medical field).

I’ll start by saying that it’s not that these assumptions are incorrect. Both eating a lettuce wrapped double bacon cheeseburger and entering into a fasting state can put you in a state of ketosis. The problem I see with these assumptions is that eating that way is very dangerous, toxic, and pro-inflammatory when done long-term (or short-term depending on your current state of health), and fasting ketosis is a different state of ketosis than (what I like to call) dietary or nutritional ketosis. 

The DL on Dietary Ketosis

Dietary ketosis occurs when one is consuming ketones, or fat, as their primary fuel source. In order for the body to adequately use the ketones one is consuming as it’s fuel, there has to be very minimal carbohydrate consumption. Why? Because given the chance, the body will ALWAYS choose to burn carbs over fats for energy purposes. It’s what it’s been trained to do and, as we all know, old habits are hard to break! 

You see, the body can run off of one of two fuels: oxygen and ketones (fats), or or oxygen and glucose (carbs)., but it can’t run off of both at the same time.  Carbohydrates require insulin to get into our cells to be used as fuel, whereas ketones do not. The problem with an insulin dependent fuel system is that most of us have overburdened and, subsequently, burnt out our insulin receptors by the time we’re in our 20’s (sometimes we see this now in teens!). This is what happens when we follow the SAD – Standard American Diet – which is carb driven. And, when this happens, the carbs we consume can no longer get into our cells to be used as fuel. 

** Fun Fact: high cortisol (stress) levels over time have the SAME EFFECT on our insulin receptors as eating a high carb-diet does! 

What’s the implication of excess carbs in the system? When are insulin receptors go kaput, the carbs we consume continue to cycle throughout the body with nowhere to call home. The body’s only recourse is to (1) store them as fat – think that spare tire around the midsection – or (2) they get shunted off into ammonia by the liver. 

And what does all this have to do with eating a high-protein diet? 

High Protein Diet = High Carb Diet

Circling back to my main point: when people lead ketosis with protein, as opposed to healthy (plant-based) fats, they tend to increase their intake of animal products.  This can be the double bacon cheeseburger sans bun, the big juicy steak with no sides, or those fat bombs made from cream cheese and bacon. This is protein overload. And eating this way has a variety of negative impacts, some of which I’ve listed out for you below:

High levels of protein get shunted off into ammonia which, in large quantities, is toxic to the body and can lead to inflammation. When our body has toxic levels of ammonia we tend to get achey, foggy brained, fatigued, nauseous, experience joint pain, etc.

Excessive protein in the body gets converted into carbohydrates. Stored as fat. Blood sugar mismanagement. Symptoms such brain fog, fatigue, bloating, joint pain, and urinary tract infections, kidney stones, and over prolonged periods can cause liver and/or kidney damage.

A diet high in animal products puts you at an increased risk of developing coronary artery disease. A report from the American Heart Association notes that middle-aged men on a high-protein diet have a 33 percent higher risk of developing heart failure from all protein sources.

Eating a diet high in protein will allow you to test in ketosis, yes, but overtime is so hard on your insulin receptors and your body as a whole.

How To Obtain (Healthy!) Dietary Ketosis

To safely obtain dietary ketosis, it’s recommended to eat a diet that is high in plant-based fats (think avocado, coconut, hemp seeds, etc) and greens, moderate in protein, and very minimal in carbohydrates. To imagine that in macro ratios, it would be: 60-80% – 20-30% – 5-10%, respectively.

What’s super important to understand is that the ratios it takes to get into ketosis vary person by person. When attempting to get into ketosis it’s necessary to be testing your ketone bodies so that you can identify the ratios that work for you. You can do this via your urine or your breath, though I’ve found urine to be most effective.

Lastly, to combat arguments that ketosis as a whole is dangerous: there have been absolutely NO studies showing that a diet high in healthy fats, moderate in protein, and low in carbohydrate is dangerous or toxic. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The only results that we see from studies involving this type of diet are positive – better mental clarity, better energy, lower cholesterol, lower all-over inflammation leading to lower risk of disease, brain-preservation – which includes the prevention and reversal of Alzheimer’s and dementia, and a decrease in occurrence of seizures and strokes. When people state that ketosis is dangerous they’re referring to a high-protein ketogenic diet or to being in a state of fasting ketosis for prolonged periods of time.

Interested in learning more about dietary ketosis, or just obtaining a list of my favorite anti-inflammatory, keto-friendly fats? Send me an email via my contact page so we can connect!

Happy Eating! 

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