With the anticipation of having seconds and maybe even thirds at Christmas dinner, our mouths watering at the thought of the dessert that is sure to follow, are we all carefully planning our diet resolutions for 2022? Many of us swear to do better, eat better and ultimately be better (and skinnier) — the new, improved version of ourselves.
Fad diets, cleanses and crunches top our to-do lists, taking priority, at least for a few weeks until life resumes and we’re back at work, in the office, in the car, fighting traffic (only me?), racing from event to event. It’s easy to gravitate toward meal replacement shakes, fasting and fad diets, but these are equivalent to a “get rich quick” scheme. Most of them are there to excite us, give us hope, dash our dreams and take our money, leaving us as heavy as they found us as soon as carbs (or whatever food we’ve eliminated) walk back into our lives.
Fad Diet FodderIn addition to most every fad diet on the face of the planet, my roommate, Taz, and I decided to lose our “New York 19” by dedicating ourselves to the “Ultra Slim Fast” diet. In spite of its spokesperson, Tommy Lasorda, yo-yoing from heft to emaciation in each commercial spot, we thought it must work, because our friend Bette had become teeny tiny after implementing this regime herself. We primed ourselves for our new lifestyle, throwing out most of our cupboard and shopping for different flavored shakes, bars and “sensible” dinner items. Monday morning came and we embraced our new breakfast with gusto — and a chocolate shake — delish! We had this — skinniness would be ours!
At work in Battery Park City, hunger pangs set in shortly after my arrival. I figured my bar would keep me until it was time for my sensible dinner, so I ate that and moved on with my day. More hunger pangs set in at precisely 9:15 in the morning, and by 10 a.m., my “sensible dinner” had been devoured, and I was out of food for the rest of the day. I began to realize where the “fast” part came in. This diet would get me slim if, and only if, I starved myself, an option that I knew even then wouldn’t work for me and certainly wouldn’t last very long even if it did.
The latest craze in the diet world has had a wave of longevity itself, and perhaps that’s because it’s based in science. Unlike many diets named for their inventors, the Keto diet and the products it has spawned seem a free-for-all — everyone can take a turn at churning out “keto-friendly” products. There are keto diet books, keto-friendly foods, keto drinks, pills, recipes, meal delivery programs and even ketosis strips, designed to make sure you’re in the right fat-burning state.
Keto historyDon’t get me wrong — all fad diets are based in some sort of science, but perhaps more on a hope or a hunch, which are often debunked after a short-lived craze. The ketogenic diet has been around since the 1800s, when a wealthy, rotund Londoner happened upon a version very similar to what is implemented today as keto. Focusing on fat and protein, limiting carbs and alcohol, keto was initially used in the 1920s as a treatment to help control seizures in epileptic children whose convulsions were not controlled by medication alone. While the mechanism of action (how it works) is not well understood, it is hypothesized that limiting the sugar given to our brain and increasing the amount of fat it’s given will limit its “excitability” and thereby its likelihood to induce seizures. It has been extremely effective in decreasing and even eliminating seizures for some children, and after two years, some kids have been able to go back to eating normally without the return of seizures at all. Sounds magical — and for those who need it, it is, but this magic isn’t without side effects. What about the weight-loss seekers among us? Without a medical indication to start the journey to ketosis, is it healthy and will our weight-loss last?
The process of commencing this regime is one that physicians take seriously, often having pediatric patients fast before introducing the ketogenic diet, increasing food over time and under observation. People can suffer the ketogenic flu because it’s such a shock to their system when they first start it, but this may also be due to withdrawal from sugar and things that break down to sugar like carbohydrates. Because it’s so limiting, keto participants need to take vitamins to replace those they won’t get by eating a diet that consists of a majority of fat.
In order to achieve ketosis, our body burns all readily available glucose and breaks down muscle tissue in order to access more (in the short term). Insulin decreases in our blood stream, the body processes fat into ketones, which we then use as fuel and voilà — we’re in ketosis — fat burning bliss. Burn baby, burn.
One size fits noneWhile many dietary theories have merit (after all, Atkins worked for everyone until it didn’t, and then Dr. Atkins arguably died of a heart attack), no particular diet is a universal fit for all. The keto diet can be effective for many medical indications, and is being investigated for conditions from acne and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), to cancer and nervous system diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease. But, the addition of 70 to 80 percent of fats to the diet is likely to compound heart health issues and apt to raise cholesterol levels.
While hypothesized to potentially aid in lowering the blood sugar of those with Type 2 diabetes, people with Type 1 risk ketoacidosis and developing insulin resistance on the keto diet. While it is my position that we shouldn’t cut out healthy foods just because they’re high in sugar (I’m looking at you, fruits) finding the right balance for us as individuals is important. The phenomenon sponsored by keto is natural, after all, the colostrum made just after a woman has a baby is keto-friendly (just wait till we see that in the keto-friendly section at Hannaford’s). The way in which we embrace the diet and the amount of time we employ it is what counts.
Keto restricts grains and many fiber-rich veggies, which means it is overall low in fiber and can inhibit digestion and the absorption of some nutrients, prompting possible deficiencies and bone loss. Clinicians often suggest supplementing with potassium, sodium, magnesium, calcium, omega-3 fatty acids, psyllium fiber and vitamins B, C and E while on keto. Although it has been around for a while, there is much that is unknown about the long-term implementation of keto. We are essentially leading our bodies to believe that we are starving and that there is not enough of certain types of food for us to be adequately nourished, forcing our body to convert its emergency stores (fat) into something it can use in place of its preferred glucose. Once we get into ketosis, we don’t stay there if we even look at a carb or something on the “don’t eat” list (which is always our favorite list from which to eat). What about when we cheat or have an event or a craving and come out of ketosis only to have to get back into it, which takes a couple of days? What does that do to our metabolism over time?
The jury is out for this inquiry, so ideally, stick with a balance of whole foods. Should you delve into the world of keto, do so prudently and under the advisement of health care practitioners — and only for a short period of time.
Shrimp with Feta Cheese (Keto-friendly)
Prep: 10 minutes
Total: 20 minutes
25 large shrimp
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 can tomato sauce (28 oz)
Salt (to taste)
2 teaspoons black pepper
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons onion powder
2 teaspoons dried mint, divided
2 teaspoons dried oregano, divided
½ cup feta cheese, crumbled
Fresh mint for garnish
Heat olive oil in a cast iron pan.
Sauté shrimp on high heat for one minute.
Add garlic. Sauté.
Mix in tomato sauce and season with salt and pepper.
Add oregano and mint. Simmer for a few minutes.
Toss in feta cheese and onion powder.
Set oven to broil and place frying pan under the broiler for 2 minutes or until the cheese bubbles and the shrimp starts to char slightly.
Garnish with remaining dried mint, oregano and fresh mint.
— Courtesy of S. Chakraborty (sarchakra.com)