Tag Archives: saturated fat

Q&A: Keto diet

Q: Is the ketogenic diet safe? Does it work?

A: Thank you as always for the question. I always enjoy responding to reader questions.

The ketogenic is a popular low carb diet right now. Different from Atkins or South Beach diet, the keto diet focuses on high fat, moderate protein, and very low carbs. The diet has been used for years in neurological settings, helping with uncontrollable seizures.

The idea behind the diet is a bit complicated, but, similar to intermittent fasting, focuses on burning fat and lowering insulin. Our body wants carbs for energy. When we don’t consume them or have anymore stored, the body will break down fats into products called ketones (the source of the name ketogenic). The body then uses these ketones somewhat like carbohydrates. (This is an oversimplification, but works for our purposes). Since the body is burning fat (consumed and stored), insulin isn’t triggered.

There are some risks with this diet, like any.

-It could be lacking in vitamins and minerals. Over a very short term period, this isn’t as concerning as in the long term. Fruits and vegetables are often the most diverse sorts of micronutrients in our diets, so restricting these as strictly as many keto diets recommend could be dangerous.

-If you have liver or kidney problems, a diet very high in fat could exacerbate these problems and would not be recommended.

-This diet is low in fiber. The benefits of fullness seem to be covered by the full feeling provided by fatty foods. But you could become constipated.

-High ketones in the blood can alter neurological functions. This can be good in the case of epilepsy, and possibly Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s (there is promising research here). But for normal, healthy adults, it could lead to difficulties in memory and fuzzy thinking.

-Risks for heart health and diabetes. The keto diet is often very high in saturated fat. Some studies have even shown increases in LDL or bad cholesterol with heart health. Experts have mixed thoughts on diabetes. Very low carb diets are not recommended for those with diabetes. And people with diabetes are at increased risk of heart disease, so our previous discussion on saturated fat applies. However, some carb restriction could lead to lowered insulin. Just likely not as low as keto diets recommend.

There are not enough long term studies yet to know if the keto diet is safe and effective in the long term. Short term studies do show it is very effective at weight loss.

Personally, I would not recommend this. I doubt it is sustainable in the long term, and question it would be healthy to do so. A more mild approach would likely be fine.

Hope that helps!

Do you have a question? Comment here, on Facebook, or email me at kimberlykmarsh(at)gmail(dot)com.

Sources: Harvard Health, US News, Cleveland Clinic

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The skinny on fats

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Earlier this year, a study challenged the long-held belief that eating a diet low in saturated fats was bad. Combining the results of many previous studies, it concluded that low consumption of saturated fats and high consumption of polyunsaturated fats (the current diet recommended by the American Heart Association) did not actually lower risk of heart disease. How can that be?

First, the article was not done very well and has drawn a lot of criticism. The details are very technical and beyond the purpose of this blog. We will just leave it with the opinion that their conclusions may not be the most accurate.

But the results do remind us to look more closely at individual food choices when replacing saturated fat. Research has documented that replacing saturated fats with carbohydrates is not beneficial to health, but replacing them with mono- or polyunsaturated fats is. So, we don’t necessarily need to eat a diet lower in total fat. We need to eat a diet with a different mix of fats.

How do we do that?

-Replace butter or margarine with oils when possible. Olive oil, canola oil, and other vegetable oils are a better choice.

-Nuts can be a good choice of healthy fats. Walnuts, almonds, pecans, macadamia nuts, and hazelnuts all seem to be heart healthy.

-Avocados are a great source of monounsaturated fats. They also are great sources of fiber, antioxidants, and plant sterols which can also be beneficial for heart health.

-While eating carbohydrates is ok, try to keep it in control. I like to think of dividing the plate into quarters and keeping carbohydrates to one quarter of the plate.

The bottom line is fat in general is not as bad as we used to think. The most important thing is keeping the proportion of types of fats in balance.

Have any nutrition questions? Need help with meal planning or a special dietary need? Send your questions to me at kimberlykmarsh(at)gmail(dot)com, and I will answer them in upcoming posts!

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Coconut oil

I recently read an article that discussed some of the health ramifications of reducing saturated fat intake. The real message I took from the article is that we cannot demonize an entire nutrient, such as fat, saturated fat, or carbohydrates. Our bodies need these nutrients in an appropriate balance. Different food sources of these nutrients can also have surprisingly different health risks/benefits.

A great example of this is coconut oil. Despite the name “oil”, coconut oil is actually a solid at room temperature. This makes it a common substitute in vegetarian and vegan baking for butter. With a higher smoke point than many vegetable oils, coconut oil can also be used for frying.

When I was in school, all of my textbooks used coconut oil as the example of a vegetable oil that is not good for you. Coconut oil is 91% saturated fat, compared to olive oil which is 14%. Even compared to butter, coconut oil seems bad: 86 g of saturated fat in 100 g of coconut oil versus 51 g of saturated fat in the same amount of butter.

However, not all saturated fats are created equal. The saturated fats in coconut oil are comprised of different fatty acids than those of butter, lard, and other solid fats. These fats are absorbed differently in our body and therefore can act differently. They can increase both HDL (good cholesterol) and LDL (bad cholesterol). Research is inconclusive at this time on whether the overall impact is positive or negative.

So, should you start using coconut oil in all of your baking and cooking? Not necessarily. Coconut oil should not be considered a health food. If you are replacing other solid fats with coconut oil, it should be fine. I definitely would not recommend replacing healthier oils like olive oil or canola oil with coconut oil. And remember that fat in any form should be consumed in moderation.

If you are considering switching to coconut oil, be aware of a few things. First, coconut oil may give a slightly sweet or coconut-y taste to your final product. That can be great if it is for a dessert, but not so great if it is for a savory dish. Second, it has a lower melting point than butter, so you may want to chill doughs using coconut oil. When I made cookies with coconut oil, they were much flatter. Lastly, coconut oil also tends to be a little more expensive than butter.

Bottom line: Using coconut oil over butter is mostly a matter of personal preference. But it should not be over-consumed or replace healthier, unsaturated fats.

Have any nutrition questions? Need help with meal planning or a special dietary need? Send your questions to me at kimberlykmarsh(at)gmail(dot)com, and I will answer them in upcoming posts!

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