Pundits to celebrities are expounding on the rapid weight-dropping results of the “keto” craze, short for the ketogenic diet. Several critics of the diet, including Dr. Andrew Weill, have tried to curb its enthusiasm by claiming that the ketogenic diet is not healthy and for the long term does not make sense for the general population. Given that when identical twins don’t react in similar ways when they eat the same foods (according to the findings of a recent study at King’s College of London), it’s hard to generalize and make broad claims about any diet. As with all lifestyle and dietary changes, they need to be highly personalized because there is never a one-size-fits-all, but there are several positive aspects to the keto diet that could be useful, depending on your personal health goals.
Keto is based on eating high fat (about 70% of your calories) and limiting carbohydrates to 20-50 net grams per day (5% of your intake). First, if you have blood sugar regulation issues, the low-carb aspect of keto helps stabilize your blood sugars throughout the day. Every time you eat carbohydrates, your body releases insulin as a regulatory response, so maintaining a low amount of carbohydrates can help keep your blood sugar more stable. Or if you have been eating salads, working out and can’t seem to budge waist-wise, you might have insulin resistance, a condition in which your body is not using insulin effectively and possibly raising your blood sugar levels. In this case, the keto diet might also help re-sensitize your body’s use of insulin and give it a kickstart.
While we have become a carb-phobic culture, the quality of this important macronutrient is equally, if not more important than the ratios in which you are eating it. Pictures of people touting keto-induced weight loss while eating two bun-less burgers with a side order of bacon doesn’t seem healthful. I’ve seen Instagrammers describe their keto plan as “healthy,” but should any eating plan be anything but healthy? This Vegetarian Shawarma Bowl is an example of a keto recipe that could be considered “healthy” and doesn’t leave you lacking. It’s full of low-carb vegetables which are packed with fiber. The fat comes from the grilled halloumi cheese and a rich yogurt-tahini sauce that is slathered on top. Fat is much more calorie-dense than vegetables or protein, so just a little bit on the plate can translate to your daily requirements. While keto prescribes keeping your carbohydrates extremely low, there are vegetables and leafy greens, for example, kale, spinach, mushrooms, zucchini, bell peppers, any of the cruciferous vegetables, asparagus, and artichokes, that can be should be eaten without restriction. This Kale and Brussels Sprouts Caesar Salad is another example of how you can eat to stay within the confines of keto, while getting important micronutrients and not spiking your blood sugar.
The second benefit of keto is that if you are constantly craving sugar, the higher fat diet might leave you feeling more sated than other diets. You can still indulge in keto-friendly desserts that are made out of nut, seed, or coconut flours that are low-carb, and use small amounts of natural sweeteners or sugar alcohols (these are different than artificial sweeteners) to sweeten them. This Chocolate Chip Cookie passes the keto test, but again, like all treats, they should be an every-now-and-then option and not a daily staple. Finally, the keto diet focuses less on cutting calories which tends to leave people hungry, feeling deficient, and is overall harder to maintain for the long run.
I want to stress that adapting to a new diet should revolve around trying to get to a healthier place with your blood sugar levels, your cholesterol, your aches and pains, insomnia--whatever the symptoms might be. Weight loss might be a secondary benefit when all is in sync, but the primary goal is to feel good and have your key numbers in check. If you have blood sugar regulation issues or have tried to fight off sugar cravings without success, focusing on increasing healthier fats and lowering your carbohydrate simultaneously might be two benefits of the keto diet that could be incorporated into your eating.
If you’re lucky, your kids go to camp for part of the summer or are engaged in some self-monitored activity that doesn’t involve video games. The most I’ve ever been able to convince my kids to leave the nest during summer break is two weeks. One year they both boycotted camp altogether and it was a very drawn out couple of months. And because school gets out in early June and doesn’t start until after Labor Day, that takes thumb twiddling on their part and hair pulling on mine to another level. For two weeks, we’ve plugged in a summer vacation, but what does the rest of the time look like when you are home with your kids or even worse you when (try to) work from home during the summer?
I spent part of last summer writing my book and resorted to sticking a sign on my door that said, “Please don’t enter unless you are bleeding.” This worked for a short period of time before the knocking recommenced. So, I’ve taken lessons from pasts summers and am hoping to shape this season a little differently so the kids are more engaged, I’m able to check some things off of the never ending to do list, and we can return what summer is meant to be—a time to recharge, relax, and rejuvenate to take on the next school year.
My summer goals are some lessons learned from past summers:
1. Pick one anchor project. While summer should be a time of restoration, it’s nice to feel somewhat productive. Over the years and perhaps because of the minimalist trend inspired by people like Marie Kondo, I’m tossing the things in the house I don’t use or really need and trying to find a new home for them. This includes CDs that are collecting dust, books that I don’t want to reread or reference, clothes that sort-of-fit, but I don’t wear that much. I’m also doing a clean sweep of the pantry.
2. Entertain more. People’s schedules get jam-packed during the school year and while I am well-intentioned about planning dinner parties, it seems easier to go out rather than to invite people to our home on a busy weeknight. For summer days, since I cook more than not, I’m planning on making extra food because most of what I make is flexitarian and can accommodate vegetarians, celiac, or friends sticking to a specific health plan, and spontaneously inviting people over. A spectrum of my go-to recipes are Summer Vegetable Salad with Orange-Ginger Vinaigrette, Watermelon Gazpacho, Peruvian Chicken, or Thai Chicken Burgers. I like to put out some snacks for people as they arrive such as these Keto Seed Crackers with herbed Goat cheese, for example, while we are chatting and having a pre-dinner cocktail.
3. Pack interesting lunches. I did convince one child to go to day camp as a counselor in training for a 2-week period. She’s gluten-free and avoids sugar because otherwise her eczema flares up, and on top of that the camp is nut free. In the past, we’ve always resorted to avocado or cucumber rolls as a safe and easy option, but we want to experiment and break the mold a little bit. Here are some of the ideas we are considering: Cassava tortilla vegetable tortillas, barbecue chicken bites, gluten-free pasta with kale pesto, fried rice, falafel balls with tzatziki dip, black bean burgers on a gluten-free bun, and corn chowder. Packing and keeping warm some foods, while keeping others cool will also be an interesting challenge. Stay tuned to see how it all turns out.
4. Hire an intern. One of the questions that clients often ask is, “How can I get my kids to eat healthier?” Well, I have two teenagers in the house now so it makes sense to have my 16-year-old intern with me to look and propose ideas on just this issue. Teenage obesity is on the rise and while there are many policies out there trying to solve this issue, what are some practical suggestions we as parents can offer to our kids to help them make healthier foods choices? My older daughter has an insatiable sweet tooth and she admits that she often stress-eats, especially as Junior years creeps towards us. In the past she’s developed some easy, made by kids recipes, for her to enjoy such as Raspberry Cake or this Raspberry-Pistachio Yogurt Bark. I look forward to have someone else cooking for me for a change of pace! And hopefully, we’ll have some useful suggestions for your teen because perhaps you, like I, have heard a million times, “Mom, you just don’t understand!”
5. Assign extra chores. Mom guilt sets in during the school year. There always seems to be homework, tests, extracurriculars that the kids are running off to so I tip toe around asking for help around the house except for the basics such as loading their dishes in the dishwasher or taking out the trash. Well, with two sets of extra hands around to help, the household assignments will be readily doled out (age-appropriately of course). It may take a little organization, but I can envision asking one to prep vegetables for something that’s a bit more labor-intensive like these Santa Fe Corn Salad, or measuring out ingredients for some Chocolate Chocolate Chip Muffins. My hope is that if everyone is pitching it, we’ll all still have plenty of time to explore parts of the city, whisk off for a weekend trip, or indulge in some summer reading.
So, while the school year slowly grinds to a halt, I am hopeful that this summer will be different that past ones and that I’ll be ready and fired up to take on the hustle and bustle of another busy school year.