Eating habits can transform our body’s functionality, form and balance, which makes food one of the most powerful drugs we can access. Over the past few years, we’ve been hearing lots of talk about the ketogenic (keto) diet, especially its correlation with burning fat quickly, preventing and treating cancer and increasing energy levels. Since cancer is a metabolic disease – in short, a disease that is intolerant to carbohydrates and resistant to insulin – one would think the high-fat, low sugar diet would be a no-brainer, right? We dive in to find out below.1
What is the Ketogenic Diet?
The keto diet has been around for over one hundred years and was originally developed to treat epilepsy. This way of eating places an emphasis on fatty foods (75 percent), with moderate protein (20 percent) and low carb intake (5 percent – approximately 20 to 50 grams of carbs per day). The idea behind keto is to keep blood sugar levels low, so as to also keep our fat-accumulating hormones and insulin levels low. When we eat like this, it fires up fat-burning genes and reduces fat in our abdominal area – our body is forced to burn fat instead of carbs (glucose) for fuel. Fewer carbs and glucose used as fuel affect our liver and changes fats into fatty acids, also known as fat-derived ketones, which are water soluble fats.1 According to ketogenic experts, our bodies and brains are able to run about 70% more efficiently when eating this way – due to the fact that ketones are able to pass directly through the blood-brain barrier to provide the necessary fuel for the brain.3
How do we eat Keto?
First off, think fats! But healthy fats, like wild-caught fish, grass-fed beef, free-range poultry, pasture-raised eggs, raw nuts and seeds, high-fat fruits like coconuts and avocados, and extra-virgin olive and coconut oil. Quality foods are very important in this diet because toxins are stored in fatty tissue. Thus, it’s important to avoid factory-farmed meats and non-organic produce. All of these fats are balanced by gut-healing, microbiome-supporting, low-carbohydrate plant-based foods, including leafy and cruciferous vegetables. It’s also a must to avoid eating processed foods, vegetable oils, sugar substitutes, high-carb vegetables, high-sugar fruits, grains and sugars.2
Keto and Cancer
In our culture, it’s common to eat a diet rich in grains, sugar and starch -- foods our ancestors didn’t consume -- which might seem like one obvious reason as to why cancer is so prevalent today. Research continues to show that sugar feeds cancer cells and contributes to an inflammatory environment. Therefore, sugar essentially increases our risk of cancer and disease. The ketogenic diet was designed to make us feel satisfied easily as a result of optimal insulin and leptin sensitivity. No single food can cure cancer, but research has shown a link between the keto diet and slowed the growth of some types of tumors in mice. A few studies in humans with certain types of brain tumors have also shown promise.4 In correlation to breast cancer, a number of growing studies show that a ketogenic diet can help slow cancer since cancer cells typically feed off of glucose and can’t feed off of ketones. There are other claims that it can also prevent cancer from reoccurring. Some even say that the ketogenic diet is even more effective when combined with periods of intermittent fasting. Fasting increases ketone production and can starve cancer cells, and it’s also recommended to supplement with high quality (non-synthetic) multivitamins, probiotics, and omega-3s. Omega-3s have been found to stimulate the anti-cancer effects of the ketogenic diet.3
So far, we’re all about the keto diet, but there are a few cons that we came across. Eating keto can definitely make us lose weight, but is it the healthiest way to go about it? When our body burns fat, due to the fact that we’re starving it from carbs, it creates ketones, but too many ketones can lead to dehydration and alter the chemical balance in our blood. It’s also been shown that a very low-fat diet can reduce the recurrence of breast cancer, so packing in the fats, even good fats, may cause more harm than good. For some keto-dieters, it might be challenging to meet energy and protein needs, ultimately leading to long-term issues such as kidney damage, higher cholesterol levels, unintentional weight loss, bone loss, and certain vitamin and mineral deficiencies.5 Not to mention, cutting out entire food groups, like carbs, can be really tough for some of us, especially long-term.
While there’s the possibility that the keto diet could help some cancer patients, it can also harm others. So, be sure to consult a doctor or medical nutritionist before initiating a keto diet or any specialized diet. All of our bodies are different, and we need to ensure that we’re eating the best foods for our individual situations.4
“The first wealth is health.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson