One of the great things about my functional nutrition podcast (An Amber a Day: The Functional Nutrition Podcast) is that I get questions from listeners to answer each week.
One of the questions I was asked last week was “How do I know the keto diet is right for me?” This is a question I’ve been asked many times and more broadly, I’m asked by most of my potential clients how they can know that a diet is right for them. In fact, this is why people often come see me in the first place. They are overwhelmed and fed up with all the CHOICES out there and just want someone to tell them what to do.
But this question got me really thinking. How CAN a person know the keto diet, or any diet for that matter, is RIGHT for them?
What clues can we use to discern which diet might work best for their particular health conditions?
As a nutritionist, this is something I now do intuitively. I talk with a person, get a detailed health history, and based on a conglomeration of factors, I have a good feeling about which direction nutritionally will be best for them. But detailing HOW that process works in my mind is a bit more complicated.
So, I decided to write this blog and give you some tips that I would think of when determining if a diet is best for a particular person.
First things first. Despite what is often peddled as fact in the nutrition sphere, there is no one perfect diet for all human beings. Instead, the ideal human diet consists of similar properties with a bit of variation.
So, you’ll see that the best diets (those with the most scientific backing for reducing inflammation, excess weight, and improving blood markers) are those that focus on whole, unprocessed foods and exclude a variety of things including excess packaged food, fast food, excessive alcohol consumption, etc.
In addition, these diets usually focus on the inclusion of high quality vegetable matter, mostly of the non-starchy variety- things like broccolli, cauliflower, and spinach.
Outside of that, there’s a lot of variety.
Diets can run the gamut from complicated elimination diets like the Autoimmune Paleo Diet, to high fat Keto, low-fat high carb, vegetarian/vegan, and middle of the road diets like Paleo and Meditteranean approaches. There are also low-sodium diets, high fiber diets, anti-inflammatory diets, and many more which all have their own fun little names to make it more confusing!
The best way, and I always have to say this, is to talk to a qualified professional. That means a certified nutritionist. Requirements for certification of nutritionists can be confusing, but I recommend looking for a Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS), this is the highest level of certification a nutritionist can obtain and requires vigorous oversight and education.
But if you aren’t there yet, these other tips can help you determine the best next steps.
Certain conditions respond better to certain approaches. Type II diabetics do better on very low carb approaches. Women with PCOS also benefit from these kinds of diets.
If you suffer from high blood pressure make sure to look at the wider body of evidence on diets, not just what your doc gives you as basic diet advice. For example, cutting sodium does in fact lower blood pressure, but blood pressure can be a symptom of a larger systemic issue and is connected with high cholesterol and higher blood sugar. Therefore, its actually better sometimes to focus on a diet that brings down higher blood sugar or cholesterol and, by extension, that diet will be lower in sodium. In fact, sodium is naturally low in most whole foods, so eating a whole foods diet will naturally lower blood pressure without having to read labels.
Higher fat approaches are difficult to discern because there is limited research at this point. And despite popular belief it is more than possible to go keto without consuming heavy fats. The high content of saturated fat can be positive for some, but for most people, I still believe it is a good idea to limit excessive saturated fat and focus more on having a variety of healthy fats. This includes olive, avocado and other monounsaturated fats. Some grass-fed butter and coconut oil are good for us, but not at the exclusion of other healthy fats.
If you don’t have a gall bladder, a higher fat diet will be difficult and even inadvisable for you but a no-fat diet is also an issue and supplementation of a gall-bladder enzyme (like this one) may be necessary to make a diet work for you.
Those with hypothyroidism don’t always do well on very low-carb diets and women attempting to get pregnant may not do well with intermittent fasting.
The bottom line is to look at your unique health history. Look for published studies on various approaches if you’re really into the science (s is a great resource) and look at approaches that are known to work for those conditions. Then put the pieces together.
What are the unifying concepts of these diets?
If you have a diagnosed food allergy or sensitivity, its a good idea to start there when determining a diet approach. You’re going to have to cut these foods anyway, I can almost guarantee there’s a diet protocol that cuts them out already.
The benefit of that is that many of these diets are formulated with advice to help replace the nutrients you’re missing out on, as well as numerous recipes and supportive blogs. For example, a vegetarian diet is difficult, but if you don’t tolerate meat, there are many tips and tricks that vegetarians use (including combining certain foods) to ensure that they don’t just get enough protein, but the right kind of protein.
A Paleo diet might be easier for you if you know dairy or grains are a problem and using that keyword can help you find recipes that are automatically tailored for you.
While there isn’t really any scientific evidence for this, I have noticed anecdotally that many people with O blood types do better on keto diets or high protein diets than people with A blood types. A’s tend to do better with higher plant based approaches. Again, this is purely anecdotal and blood typing for diets hasn’t been widely studied and held up by the science, BUT, its worth a look.
While there are certainly functional foods that can improve health and have unique health benefits, there is no one fruit or fat or plant that is going to cure your issues. Avoid falling into the trap of the easy way out. Chances are that the best diet for you is the one you don’t really want to do and its going to take work, dedication, and determination to see an improvement in your circumstances. Adding a berry to your daily diet isn’t going to do as much for you as just focusing in on
This has become a very long post already and there’s still a lot more to say! I will be writing a part 2 to this post in the next week, so make sure to look out for more tips on how to make sure a diet is right for you!