Guest post by Dr. Ryan Lowery
The ketogenic diet has surged in popularity over the last year. Whether it’s LeBron James, Kim and Khloe Kardashian, Halle Berry, or even the “Keto Guido” Vinny Guadagnino, more and more celebrities are starting to adopt this way of life and help spread the message of the benefits of the ketogenic diet. A quick Google search might render you 100 different definitions of ketosis and the ketogenic diet, but hopefully by the end of this blog post you will have a clearer understanding of what a ketogenic diet is, what are some potential benefits of being on a ketogenic diet, and how Zoës Kitchen offers options that fit the ketogenic lifestyle.
My Ketogenic Journey
Growing up, I watched my family suffer from several different metabolic complications such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, and even Crohn’s. Very early on I realized my purpose in life was to not only help my family, but others going through similar situations through the most effective means possible: education. I went to the University of Tampa to play baseball and intended to get a degree in physical therapy. My freshman year I met Dr. Jacob Wilson, now my best friend and business partner, who introduced me to research. Shortly thereafter I started doing research on exercise, nutrition, and training variables. By the time we had won the National Championship in baseball my junior year, I had already published over 100 papers, abstracts, and book chapters on various topics.
In 2012 I met Dr. Jeff Volek and Dr. Dominic D’Agostino, two leading authorities in the ketogenic space. At a conference, Dr. Volek was presenting data on endurance athletes who were seeing benefits on the ketogenic diet. At the end of his talk, someone in the audience stood up and asked, “what about individuals who are resistance training?,” to which he replied, “we don’t have any research on that area yet.” From that moment, I became obsessed with studying and following the ketogenic diet myself. Since then we have published several papers and presented nationally and internationally on all of our research centered around the ketogenic lifestyle. Last year, Jacob and I published The Ketogenic Bible, a book that discusses everything from the history of the ketogenic diet, to all of its potential uses, and even some of our favorite recipes. Our goal is to truly educate as much as possible.
What is a Ketogenic Diet?
The ketogenic diet has been around for decades. In fact, it was highly popular in the 1920s as an alternative treatment for kids with epilepsy. Fast forward nearly a hundred years and the ketogenic has exploded, primarily due to the benefits people are seeing from body composition. In short, the ketogenic diet typically is referred to as a diet that is higher in fat, moderate in protein, and very low in carbohydrates. Many of you may be familiar with the highly popular Atkins diet from late 90s and early 2000s. Similar in some regard, the ketogenic diet focuses on lowering sugar and carbohydrate intake to a degree that allows your body to achieve what’s known as “nutritional ketosis.” In nutritional ketosis, your body increases the breakdown of fat and relies primarily on fat/ketones as fuel instead of glucose and sugar.
Carbohydrates: The ketogenic diet is often mistaken as a zero-carbohydrate diet. However, most ketogenic approaches include fibrous carbohydrates usually ranging in the amount of 5-10% of the total caloric intake. It is important to keep in mind that the majority of these carbohydrates should consist of fibrous or leafy green vegetables. Quality and context of carbohydrates are important when trying to induce an optimal state of ketosis.
Fat: Contrary to what mainstream media as told us for years, fat is back, fat is our friend, and it is here to stay. Though it will vary depending on the individual and situation, fat will typically comprise around 60-80% of total caloric intake on a ketogenic diet. Incorporating high-quality fats is extremely important to the success of a ketogenic diet, especially during the adaptation period. Examples of high-quality fats are those that contain a high in medium-chain triglycerides (i.e. coconut oil, cheese, etc.), which are able to be broken down for energy fast. In order to optimize a ketogenic diet, it’s important to incorporate a variety of fats (don’t be afraid of saturated fats).
Protein: The ketogenic diet is often mistaken as a high-protein diet. This is likely due to the popularity of the Atkin’s Diet in the 70s and 80s. However, a ketogenic diet doesn’t necessarily have to consist of “high” amount of protein. Typically, protein ranges from 10-30% of someone’s diet depending on his/her goals and activity level.
What are some of the benefits of a ketogenic diet?
Most people first start a ketogenic diet for its weight loss benefits. Several studies have shown that a ketogenic diet can not only help you lose fat, but maintain and even increase muscle mass. However, weight loss is only one piece of what the ketogenic diet may be beneficial for. Other areas that are currently being studied/already have existing research regarding the benefits of ketosis are:
- Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
- PCOS and Insulin Resistance
- Type II Diabetes
- Traumatic Brain Injury
And many other areas. One of the best benefits of the ketogenic diet that I commonly see is that it puts appetite back into our control. Often we are surrounded by sugar filled foods that cause us to snack all day and ride this rollercoaster of ups and downs (blood glucose spikes and drops after eating high sugar foods). One thing that is almost uniform when eating ketogenic is that people tend to feel fuller for longer. In fact, most people are able to incorporate a concept known as intermittent fasting in which they skip breakfast or have a coffee and then just eat a ketogenic friendly lunch or dinner. Not only does this allow them see drastic improvements in body composition, but they stay mentally sharp throughout the day as well (no more being “hangry” all the time).
Is it practical to eat a ketogenic diet?
The key to adopting a new lifestyle change is making sure it’s sustainable. Often people think that a ketogenic diet is just a bunch of salads stacked with bacon. This is far from reality and in essence, a ketogenic diet can be adopted by carnivores, vegetarians, or even vegans. Sustainability is absolutely essential and one of the reasons why I am so excited for what Zoës Kitchen offers in regards to keto-friendly options. Oftentimes people get worried about dining out when eating ketogenic. At most restaurants, it’s as simple as cutting out the bread and replacing the potatoes with vegetables. Zoës Kitchen goes the extra mile and makes it extremely easy to find keto-friendly items on the menu that are higher in fat, moderate in protein, and mainly just fibrous carbohydrates.
Quite honestly, I was overly impressed with how keto-friendly the Zoës Kitchen cauliflower rice bowl is. To top it off, you could sense how fresh the ingredients were and every bite was full of amazing flavor and great taste. Compliance is the number one factor that allows people to sustain any type of diet, and being creative with the options allows people to do that. Instead of rice, use cauliflower rice (like Zoës Kitchen does in their bowl), opt for green leafy vegetables, and choose a high quality protein source (I couldn’t choose between the lamb and salmon so I ended up getting both!).
I want to thank Zoës Kitchen for taking the time to not only provide ketogenic-friendly options, but to help educate on what the ketogenic diet is. It is rare to see a fast-casual restaurant that is determined to provide options that will allow customers to optimize their lifestyle, and Zoës Kitchen is clearly one of those restaurants that has its customers’ best interest at heart. I hope this is just the beginning and that Zoës Kitchen sets the standard for more restaurants to follow in pursuit of helping people live healthier and happier lives.