Plant Based Keto – the Dangers of Keto Diet Myths and Mistakes

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A functional health notebook with the words keto diet on it.

Ketogenic Potential Risks Due to Misinformation or Misconceptions

The ketogenic diet, also known as keto, is a low-carb, high-fat diet that has gained popularity in recent years. The plant-based keto diet combines the principles of the keto diet with a plant-based approach, replacing animal products with plant-based options.

While the keto diet has been shown to have some benefits, such as aiding in weight loss and improving certain health markers, it is not without its risks and controversies. One of the dangers of the keto diet is the spread of misinformation and myths about it.

I know I’ve said this before, but I’m reminded of it daily when I talk with people and it always leaves me with the same feelings of sadness, frustration, and borderline anger.

The U.S. has one of the most expensive healthcare systems in the world, yet provides the worst outcomes with chronic illnesses that are preventable. This is just one of the facts you can read for yourself in the 2021 Commonwealth Fund Report.

Despite the outrageous expense, people just keep getting sicker. What is going on?

In my 30 + years of clinical practice, I’ve had a lot of experience with these chronic conditions that are stealing away people’s lives, and what’s even more disturbing to me than the stories I’m told by the people who seek my help as a last resort is the needless and preventable suffering that has taken place.

I don’t have a magic wand or a magic pill. Nor do I have a secret source of information. Conventional medicine has access to the same material I do, yet why is it that countless clients have only been able to improve their lives and health outcomes after leaving conventional medicine, a system in which they have been sick and trapped for years?

More often than not I’ve worked with them to do one simple thing, stabilize their blood sugar. And yet, you would think this is a mystery if you based your interpretation on the number of healthcare professionals who still don’t seem to understand it is a root cause of countless illnesses

I’ve built my practice around the principles of blood sugar balance as well as developing the Institute of Nutritional Endocrinology, where I provide a curriculum that enables practitioners to expand their own practice to understand and incorporate these and many other principles that address root-cause, functional healthcare.

One of the tools I use to help balance blood sugar is the keto diet, but it’s not the animal fat-based diet that many think of. In fact, it’s just the opposite. And just like so many things in this day of social media, there are a lot of myths and misconceptions out there about the state of ketosis and the keto diet.

Although it’s the weight loss many people experience that gets all the attention, the real, lasting health benefits from establishing ketosis through a keto diet are rooted in metabolic flexibility and the blood sugar stability that provides.

What is metabolic flexibility and how does it relate to blood sugar and a keto diet?

Metabolic Flexibility

Simply put, metabolic flexibility is the ease with which your body can switch between burning glucose and burning fat for fuel. And metabolic flexibility drives metabolic health.

It’s now estimated over 92% of the U.S. population is metabolically unhealthy which leads to a long list of chronic health conditions that cost billions of dollars and tens of thousands of deaths each year.

In my blog post, The Pain and Glory of Metabolic Flexibility I go into much greater detail, but for my purposes here, I want to focus on how ketosis helps metabolic flexibility.

When your body burns fat, it is reflected in your blood (and to a lesser degree, urine) with ketones.  Ketones are just fatty bodies or chemicals, a by-product of your body using fat for fuel.  There are three types of ketones: acetoacetic acid, acetone, and beta-hydroxybutyric acid.

When the body burns fat instead of glucose, there are health benefits. In addition to ketones being the preferred fuel of the brain, it helps to:

As wonderful as this is, there are still myths about a keto diet that need to be debunked.

Keto Diet Myths

There are certain mainstream ideas that cause confusion about a keto diet and the state of ketosis I want to clear up.

  • The keto diet is meant to be a high-protein diet.

The keto diet is not intended to be a high-protein diet.  In fact, excess protein can stimulate insulin production which leads to insulin resistance and fat storage.  It can also convert to glucose. The point of a keto diet is to remove all the sugar sources, including flour and high-starch vegetables, so the body has no glucose to burn to force it to use fat stores.

  •  It’s good to be in ketosis all the time.

The benefit of ketosis is that it means your body is burning fat, but there is a point at which ketosis has diminishing health returns.  The real value in achieving ketosis is promoting metabolic flexibility.  You want your body to easily switch between its two fuel sources which lead to blood sugar stability and long-term health benefits.

  • You have to use animal fat to achieve ketosis.

I have developed a whole-foods, plant-based keto diet I call the Healthy Keto Challenge in which ketosis is readily achieved by using healthy plant fats such as nuts, seeds, olives, and avocados with a little bit of healthy oil if desired, but certainly not required.  

  • There are too many carbs in vegetables to achieve ketosis if they are in the diet.

Another myth about using a plant-based keto diet is the idea that vegetables are high carb, but it’s the “net” carbs that are important.  Net Carbs = Total carbs – fiber.  Many low-starch vegetables are full of fiber so their net carbs are relatively low.  You just need to choose the right ones.

Keto diet: Plant-based vs Animal fats

The type of keto diet you decide to use can make a big difference to your overall health. 

I always encourage clients to rethink the use of animal fats for very specific reasons.  When a diet consists of a large amount of protein and non-whole food fats, it can lead to the following risks:

The advantage of a plant-based ketogenic diet is:

  • Lower exposure to toxins
  • Usually more alkaline forming
  • Possibly higher in produce
  • Lower in heated fats
  • Environmentally friendly
  • Cruelty-free

 

Thyroid health and a keto diet.

In order to have success on a keto diet, it’s important that the thyroid, liver, adrenals, and kidneys are functioning properly.  It’s especially important when it comes to the thyroid.

Although using a plant-based keto diet may reduce the risks, people who are experiencing severe thyroid impairment can make their situation worse by following a keto diet. 

This also applies to intermittent fasting and thyroid health.  Some research shows the possibility of reduced calories temporarily causing enough stress to up the production of cortisol which can throw off thyroid hormone balance. When you change the way you eat too quickly or severely the same thing may happen.

Although I have found it can be helpful to those struggling with autoimmune thyroid issues – as long as they stick to the plant-based diet I teach – it’s critical you consult with your primary healthcare practitioner before changing your diet and always listen to your body! If you don’t feel well, slow down or stop until you understand the signals your body is giving you.

  

The importance of blood sugar stability.

As I work with clients to overcome health challenges and determine the diet and lifestyle that best supports their optimal health, I almost always begin with their blood sugar.  This is because it is at the root of so many health challenges. What’s remarkable is how quickly they are able to start living their best lives once this is resolved.

They begin to feel and look better, have better energy, fewer cravings, a reduced need for medications and a greater desire to find joy in their lives.

A person may respond to a keto diet or prefer intermittent fasting. They might not want to do either and instead opt for a low and slow removal of blood-spiking culprits in their diet.  Ultimately, it doesn’t matter.  What matters is knowing how to help clients get a handle on their blood sugar and in turn their metabolic health.

There is no magic pill or secret formula, but there is a program; Nutritional Endocrinology Practitioner Training (NEPT) program.

Yes, changing the disease-focused healthcare system is a big idea, a huge undertaking, but you can help bring an end to this needless suffering you may even be experiencing yourself.

A step at a time, a day at a time; we can get there.

Let us know your thoughts, and if you’d like to discuss how to use these principles with your own clients or yourself, reach out and lets talk. 

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