A crisp fillet of salmon or a bowl of soft rice? A gently poached egg or a slice of freshly baked bread? Butter or beer? Dairy or soda?
If we had to make a choice among these foods, most of us would choose a mix of carbs with a dash of protein and a cup of strong coffee to wash it down. But what would happen if you eliminated an entire food group altogether? What would change if you added a dollop of warm butter, some cold pressed macadamia oil or a swirl of ghee to a protein-packed meal?
Welcome to the world of keto. The ketogenic diet is the buzzword of our time, as more and more options are opening up for those who want to choose this high-fat, low-carb lifestyle. The keto diet was one of the most Googled words of last year and even today, it is ranked as one of the most popular diets in the world. Today there are companies that deliver keto-friendly foods to your doorstep, restaurants that cater to keto-enthusiasts and keto nutritionists on call to watch every step of your food intake.
The ketogenic diet is a low carb diet, where the body produces ketones in the liver to be used as energy. On a normal, higher carbohydrate diet, the body uses glucose as the main form of energy. But by lowering the intake of carbs, there is an elevation of ketones and the body will enter a state known as ketosis. Keto enthusiasts claim that once they reach the perfect ketone level, they experience a dip in weight, a sense of wellbeing and a sharpness of mind that they have never experienced before.The keto diet limits carbohydrates to 20-50gm a day. You can eat plenty of proteins, vegetables that grow above the ground, high-fat dairy, nuts and seeds and berries. When you lower your carb intake, the blood sugar levels fall and, subsequently, the insulin levels too.
Is it worth it? Yes, say keto-lovers, but doctors warn that such a diet should be closely monitored for side effects and other health problems. It should be tried out briefly at first, and only under medical supervision.
Those who have tried the diet have different stories to narrate about their experiences.
Grow Fit, the meal-and-product delivery platform, which was founded by former Silicon Valley executive Jyotsana Pattabiraman, offers customised meals and diet plans for those who want to lose weight or stay fit. Among them, the keto diet is most in demand. “We are one of the pioneering companies to have made the keto diet accessible,” says Jyotsana. “There are three ways we do this. The first is by offering coaching, where we give you a Diet Plan. Secondly, we offer a range of packaged keto foods for those who want to cook their own meals. And finally, we also offer the full service of delivering keto meals to offices and homes. Each meal is customised according to where a person is on his or her fitness journey.”
Jyotsana says that she launched her enterprise due to the health problems in her own life. When she found that she was pre-diabetic and was suffering from a number of health issues, she began following the keto diet. The low carb diet helped her immensely and today, she is no longer pre-diabetic, her sleep has improved and so has her lipid profile.
“India is now the capital of lifestyle diseases like diabetes and obesity,” she says. “The right diet can help reverse your metabolic condition and can prove to be very beneficial too. Besides the keto diet plans, we also offer the Dash Diet and the Mediterranean diet regimen for those who want it.”
Jyotsana finds that the majority of her clients opting for the keto diet are very scientific-minded and educated people. But it is not a diet where one plan suits everyone. She and her team have to spend several hours working out which keto diet is best for a person and each plan is created according to his or her lifestyle. There are measurements done at every point, of blood sugar, weight and calorie intake.
It is very cost effective too, says Jyotsana. You could opt for a diet chart that is Rs. 2000 for a four-week regimen, or you could buy products like keto flour or keto breakfast foods from them and prepare the meals yourself. If you want the meals to be delivered to your workplace or your home, the cost is approximately, Rs. 350 per meal.
According to Jyotsana, whether you believe in the Keto diet or not, it would benefit your health if you followed some principles of this unique diet regimen. “You should avoid sugar, reduce refined carbs and eat high quality foods,” she says.
Krishna Singh K., a 26-year-old customer support employee in a meat-based startup, was horrified when his weight shot up to 107.5kg one morning. He realised that it was time to take drastic action immediately. The first place to begin was to try out different types of diets and find one that would suit him. He began with the GM diet, the fruit-only diet and the egg-only diet and, later, he experimented with every other diet he could find online.
After a lot of trial and error and zero-weight loss, he went back to his research to look for another diet. “It was during that time that I discovered the keto diet and decided to try it out,” he says. “I began to follow it and in three months, I lost 17kg.”
Krishna now has a customised keto diet regimen. For breakfast, he has five eggs and a mug of keto coffee that contains coconut oil and butter. Lunch consists of tava-fried chicken, mutton or fish, which is repeated for dinner. These meals are supplemented with vitamin and Omega 3 tablets.
He also goes jogging every day and says that it is this combination of the keto diet and regular exercise that has helped him immensely, both to drop weight and get more fit.
Professor Cheelu Chandran, founder of DeBox, the company that offers life coaching and counselling sessions, became a keto fan some time ago, and has pursued her love for the keto diet plan with passion. Cheelu is a therapist, healer, keto cook, creator of the concept and philosophy called DeBox, and a ketophile to the core.
“I suffered a stroke some years ago that left me paralysed on my right side and I was completely bedridden,” she remembers. “I had to start my life from scratch. During those months, I began to do extensive research on how to get my health back to normal and bring my weight under control too. Soon, I discovered the keto diet.”
Cheelu found that the keto diet went against everything she had ever followed. The high-fat, low-carb diet was new to her. But she persisted, and in the days that followed, she found that the benefits of the diet were enormous.
Soon, she began preparing her own keto foods like roti with almond flour, and cauliflower rice. Today, she is on the path to recovery.
“It is important to take keto as a lifestyle, not as a temporary diet. It works differently for different people, and is not always about weight loss alone. It is also about wellness and an improved lifestyle,” she says.
Dr. Suchitra Kaul Misra, Founder, The Healing Garden, an alternative medicine clinic, began following the keto diet when she was alone at home in Canada for some months with her son. Within a few weeks she had lost 8kg and, today, she advocates the diet to everyone looking for weight loss and good health.
“Keto means a lifestyle for me, not just a diet,” says Suchitra. “After I lost the 8kg, I followed cyclic keto for maintenance. That allows me to eat normal food with moderate indulgence on the weekends. It introduced me to a systematic scientific weight loss system which was not just a fad. It has hugely helped my relationship with food and has increased my mental alertness and energy levels too.”
“When the body enters ketosis, both your blood sugar and insulin levels drop,” explains Anju Sood, nutritionist. “This actually gives the fat cells the ability to release the water they have been retaining and this is why initially most people see a big drop in weight. After that occurs, the fat cells are small enough to enter the bloodstream and enter the liver where they can be converted into ketones.”
Anju opines that while the keto lifestyle has some benefits, it is not sustainable in the long run. “People should only do it for a small period of time and should go back getting 60-70 percent of calories from carbohydrates and 15-20 from protein and fat sources. By following this balanced pattern you are not over exerting your organs and your body. The side effects of the keto diet are still under research,” she adds.