The Keto Diet – What it is
The Keto Diet has garnered a lot of attention lately – some of which is due to athletes and celebrities having embarked on this diet. NBC weatherman Al Roker is a good example. TV viewers have seen how much thinner he has become.
Presumably, by pursuing the Keto diet, you will lose weight – potentially a lot of weight – in a relatively short period of time. That’s important because, as I’ve said in previous articles, excess weight is the enemy of good health and conditioning.
The Keto Diet approach is to eliminate carbs from your diet – or come as close as you can to eliminating them -- and eat lots of fat. That sounds counterintuitive, as high fat intake poses a number of health risks, including heart attacks. But there are numerous articles indicating that low carb diets are better for you than low fat diets.
How it works
Your body needs energy – particularly when you engage in strenuous physical activity such as officiating sports contests. Carbohydrates provide your body with that energy. Under the Keto diet, you eliminate (or drastically reduce) carbohydrate intake and eat foods high in fat. Your body then burns the fat instead of the carbs you no longer have in order to get the energy it needs. Burning fat would seem like an ideal way to lose weight.
What to eat and not eat under the Keto diet regimen
At first glance, this diet seems enticing. You get to eat fat at every meal. For instance, you could have your fill of bacon and eggs, steak, salmon, butter, cheese, and the like. These foods have plenty of fat but are low in carbs. Sounds good, doesn’t it. At the same time, to make this work, you have to become very carb-conscious – i.e., you need to know the carb content of the foods and beverages you consume and try to wean yourself off those foods and beverages.
It’s tricky. Many foods and drinks that you would think are healthy are surprisingly high in carbohydrates. For example orange juice – one glass of O.J. has 60 to 80 grams of carbs. That’s a lot considering that in general, you’re supposed to have just 120 grams of carbs a day. So a breakfast of bacon and eggs should not include orange juice. It also shouldn’t include toast made from white or processed bread which has high carb content. Forget the toast, unless it’s whole grain. Pizza and pasta are loaded with carbs. So are crackers. Soda contains 27-plus grams of carbs per 12 ounces.
Fruit’s healthy, right? Not necessarily, if you’re counting carbs. Apples have 20 or more grams of carbs. Other high carb fruits include bananas, mangos and grapes. On the other hand, blueberries, red raspberries and peaches are low in carbs, and watermelon in particular is extremely low in carbs.
Snacks and fast foods are very carb-intensive, though there are exceptions, such as Cheese Bites from Trader Joe’s which have less than one gram of carbs per serving. Another good choice is Parmesan Chips from Costco, also very low in carbs and providing a decent amount of calcium. That’s important since you need calcium for your muscles to function.
For a low carb breakfast, you might try Cheerios – the original, not the newer sugar-laced flavored versions. For a snack, a good choice is celery with peanut butter. Peanut butter is a low-carb source of protein, while the celery provides roughage and fiber – plus it’s filling and satisfying. Also consider cauliflower-cheese dishes that mimic the taste and satisfaction of mac & cheese, without the “mac” and all the carbs that macaroni contains. Try it, you’ll like it.
You can find plenty of lists online of high and low carb foods and make your selections accordingly if you want to try the Keto diet.
Here’s what happens when you transition to the Keto diet
The transition may be difficult at first. If you minimize your carbs, or eliminate them, your body goes into a malaise that’s commonly called the “Keto flu.” I actually tried the Keto diet recently and that’s exactly what happened to me. I got the Keto flu. I became more and more irritable. Just ask my wife. But I did lose weight – 25 pounds in the first 12 weeks. On the other hand, I felt I did not have the mental clarity I should have. It’s possible I compromised my “brain power.” So I adjusted my carb intake, raising it to half the daily recommended level. That seemed to help.
One word of caution. Because of the potential ill effects of adjusting to a Keto diet, you should not pursue it during your sport’s season. Instead, wait for the offseason to start and then see if it works for you.
Thinking about going Keto? Here are some recommendations
In the short term, you will lose weight on the Keto diet. That’s good because losing weight means lowering your blood pressure and putting less stress on your heart. Plus, each pound you lose means less force on your feet when you walk, jog or run during a game. However, one risk of the Keto diet – especially for athletes (and officials are athletes) -- is Keto acidosis, which has the effect of burning muscle, not just fat, and that includes your body’s most important muscle: the heart.
Most “specialty” diets, or fad diets accentuate one food or nutritional element at the exclusion of others. Many, if not most, of these diets produce some short term benefits but are difficult to sustain and some pose serious health risks. The bottom line for any diet is moderation, which is key to almost anything. Going to extremes usually will come back to bite you. So, watch what you eat, count (but don’t eliminate) your carbs, and find a good balance of carbs, fat, calcium, protein and other nutrients. And of course, remain physically active all year long, not just during the season when you officiate.
Dr. Dan Davis is a long-time Connecticut high school basketball official and a well-respected podiatrist and surgeon who has successfully treated many fellow officials to keep them on the court and on the field.