Lots of us decide to revamp our eating habits – particularly in the New Year after the traditional festive period of over-indulgence. And while it’s sometimes hard to know which of the plethora of diet regimes out there is best for you, the ketogenic plan has emerged as a popular choice in recent years – perhaps because of its seeming ability to create real results. But before you decide to join the legions of keto aficionados, you should hear the words of scientist Mark Mattson, as the professor has claimed that this particular diet may have some surprising effects on your body.
It’s perhaps no surprise, though, that the keto plan has earned itself a whole load of headlines; after all, it stands out from plenty of other diets. For starters, if you choose to adopt the regime, you’d be required to cut down on the amount of carbohydrates that you consume each day. But that’s far from all.
In addition, the keto diet encourages you to eat more fats, as this can help you, it’s said, to shed excess pounds more swiftly. And owing to these apparent benefits, the regime has gone on to become a real trend, with some famous names even deciding to cut their carbs as a result. Yet there may be more to the plan than first meets the eye.
You see, during a February 2014 TED Talk, Mark Mattson touched upon the effects of the keto diet on the human body. And along the way, he revealed some fascinating information about the plan. As it turns out, in fact, the regimen may not just be a method through which you can lose weight.
At some point during your life, you may feel the need to go on a diet – whether as a way of dropping some pounds or simply in order to incorporate healthier foods into your day-to-day life. But as we’ve previously mentioned, selecting the right program can be tough with all the different options available.
For example, you may decide to switch to the Mediterranean diet, which encourages the consumption of more herbs, vegetables and fruits. On the other hand, you may prefer to follow a more restrictive dietary regimen such as the so-called paleo diet. This plan dissuades people from consuming processed food in the belief that such items are to blame for the health problems currently found in the West today.
In the last few years, though, yet another eating regimen has come to the fore – and it’s apparently produced some interesting results. Yes, the ketogenic diet has garnered plenty of coverage across the internet, with numerous websites discussing its pros and cons. And if you’re wondering what the diet itself entails, here’s a quick breakdown.
As we mentioned previously, the keto diet encourages you to cut back on carbs and to consume more fats. You can still eat meals that contain chicken or beef, however, as well as certain vegetables that aren’t loaded with starch. But if you follow the routine, a number of other foods are also forbidden.
Items such as pasta, carrots, potatoes and lentils will have to be removed from meals, for instance. And if you have a sweet tooth, you’ll also have to make some adjustments when it comes to eating snacks, as foods such as doughnuts and candy sadly don’t conform to the keto diet’s strict parameters.
On the keto plan, you also can’t consume a number of fruits – most notably bananas and apples – while certain alcoholic beverages are barred as well. But while that may all sound rather joyless, the keto diet does have some encouraging benefits, as we’re about to find out.
Writing on the Harvard Medical School’s website in 2017, Dr. Marcelo Campos discussed just some of the plus points of the keto plan. He explained, “Weight loss is the primary reason [why] my patients use the ketogenic diet. Previous research shows good evidence of a faster weight loss when patients go on a ketogenic or very low carbohydrate diet.”
Campos continued, “A ketogenic diet has also been shown to improve blood sugar control for patients with type 2 diabetes – at least in the short term. There is even more controversy when we consider the effect on cholesterol levels. A few studies show [that] some patients have [an] increase in cholesterol levels in the beginning – only to see cholesterol fall a few months later.”
Given those major advantages, then, it’s perhaps no surprise that celebrities have also gotten on board the keto train; apparently, both Halle Berry and Jenna Jameson have adopted the plan. But the regime does also have a few potential drawbacks, and the doctor chose to touch upon these in his post.
Campos wrote, “One of the main criticisms of this diet is that many people tend to eat too much protein and poor-quality fats from processed foods, with very few fruits and vegetables. Patients with kidney disease [also] need to be cautious because this diet could worsen their condition.” But his thoughts on the matter didn’t end there.
“Additionally, some patients may feel a little tired [at] the beginning [of the diet],” Campos added, “while some may have bad breath, nausea, vomiting, constipation and sleep problems.” And owing to these issues – as well as the somewhat restrictive nature of the diet itself – it can be difficult to keep on the keto plan for a prolonged period of time.
Despite the challenges, though, a number of people on the keto diet have tried to combine it with yet another weight-loss method. Known as “intermittent fasting,” the routine in question encourages people to develop a timetable for their eating; that way, they can devote a certain amount of time to their “fast” throughout the day.
For example, one fasting routine is called the “16:8 diet,” with these numbers representing the number of hours in a day when a person is permitted to either eat or fast. Specifically, a person engaging in the plan will be avoiding food for 16 hours, leaving them just an eight-hour window within which to eat. And it’s believed that you can shed quite a bit of extra body mass this way.
Yet one expert couldn’t help but question the long-term benefits of that approach – especially when mixed in with the keto diet. Scott Keatley, a registered dietitian, weighed in on the debate during an interview with Women’s Health magazine. And over the course of the conversation, he raised a couple of interesting points.
“Combining a super-restrictive diet with long periods of non-eating is not good,” Keatley told the publication in November 2019. “The body will cannibalize its own muscle for energy if intake from food is too low. But the body does not differentiate between something like a calf muscle or a heart muscle.”
Keatley added, “Keep in mind [that] all your important organs are made of smooth muscle. [So] going on a diet like this may harm something like your bladder or lungs just as much as [it provides] fat loss.” But he certainly hasn’t been the only specialist to offer an opinion on the keto diet.
Like Keatley, Brigitte Zeitlin plies her trade as a dietician. And from this expert perspective, she has also formulated an opinion on the keto diet – although it’s far from a positive one. In fact, as Zeitlin spoke to the website Well+Good, it became very clear that she has real problems with the regimen.
“I’m 1,000 percent for carbs,” Zeitlin told Well+Good in February 2019. “Carbohydrates include all vegetables, fruits and grains. So with keto, when they are restricting your carbs, that means they are restricting your veggies. When have you ever heard of a ‘healthy’ diet that tells you to eat less veggies?”
Yet while Zeitlin was clearly unimpressed with keto, she didn’t want to brush off those who believe that they’ve had good results through the plan. After all, what doesn’t work for one person may be a complete success for another. That being said, the dietitian refused to totally back down from her stance.
Zeitlin continued, “If you are doing keto and feeling great, then rock on. If you are getting the results you want, you’re feeling great and you’re having regular non-coffee-induced bowel movements, then fantastic. Seriously, you found something that works for you. But as a health professional, part of my job is to weigh the pros and cons to any lifestyle plan.”
“[I have to] assess if this is a good fit for most people on a universal level,” Zeitlin added. “And the keto diet is just not that.” Before Zeitlin and Keatley, though, yet another scientist entered the keto debate back in February 2014. And unlike the other two experts, he chose to focus on the positives of the regime.
Mark Mattson is a neuroscience professor working at Johns Hopkins University, and during his 2014 TEDx Talk at the college, he chose to speak about both the keto diet and intermittent fasting. What’s more, in Mattson’s view, these two methods could have an even greater – and more surprising – effect on your body than you may assume.
Specifically, Mattson’s talk was centered around the brain and how to improve the organ’s health. And according to the professor, a reduction of “energy intake” – so, consuming less food – may actually de-escalate the progression of certain neurological disorders.
“Now, [there are] a number of ways that you can reduce energy intake,” Mattson said in his talk. “You can simply eat less at each meal, or you can do what we call intermittent fasting. So, reduce the frequency of the meals. And what I’m going to tell you today is that fasting does good things for the brain.”
Mattson continued, “[But] before I focus on the brain, I just want to point out that there’s evidence that fasting is good for the body. It will reduce inflammation, [and] it will reduce oxidative stress in organ systems throughout the body.”
Then, as the talk continued, Mattson claimed that intermittent fasting causes the body to get rid of any fat, using an example to discuss what happens when you consume the standard three meals per day. And it was at that stage that the Johns Hopkins scientist brought up a recognizable term.
“Every time you eat a meal, the energy goes into your liver, and it’s stored in the form of glycogen,” Mattson explained. “It takes about ten to 12 hours before you deplete the glycogen stores in your liver. Once you deplete the glycogen, then you start burning fats, and you produce what are called ketone bodies.”
And as its name suggests, the keto diet ensures the production of ketone bodies when you burn off the fat that you’ve consumed in food – providing you haven’t eaten too many carbs, that is. Mattson has claimed, too, that these molecules can play a very important role when it comes to your health.
Mattson said, “Now, it turns out [that] ketone bodies are very good for your brain. The Romans discovered ketones, even though they had no idea what it was. People with epileptic seizures back then – they thought they were possessed by demons. And they found [that] if they took these people and shut them in a room and didn’t feed them, the ‘demons’ went away.”
At that point, Mattson revealed what was really going on in those instances. The professor continued, “It’s well-known that ketones suppress seizures. And, in fact, ketogenic diets are used to treat – even today – patients with severe epilepsy.”
Then Mattson discussed the positive impact that ketones could have on the brain outside of any treatment for epilepsy. You see, the scientist had been engaging in some experiments of his own as a way of discerning the molecules’ effect on the vital organ. And in the end, he came to an interesting conclusion.
Mattson added, “We’re doing work in my lab trying to understand why ketones are good for neurons. One reason is [that] they provide an alternative fuel for the neurons. They boost the energy levels in the neurons.” Then, finally, he wrapped the talk up – and drew a round of applause for his insights.
The TEDx Talk was subsequently uploaded to YouTube in March 2014, where it has since made a big impact. The video has earned over three million views and more than 37,000 likes on the website, in fact, as well as in excess of 2,600 comments from online users.
Furthermore, many of those comments proved to be incredibly positive. Perhaps one of the messages that really stood out, however, came from an individual who claimed that they were very familiar with fasting – and espoused its benefits.
The YouTube user wrote, “I’m a Buddhist priest. Thank you for this video. I can personally say that intermittent fasting has always been part of our human nature. Have you ever noticed that when you’ve got the flu, you barely want to eat? That’s your body screaming [at] you to leave it alone so it can heal!”
“Fasting heals you,” the user added. “[It] makes you feel great, and the mind is sharp and clear. Most of the Buddhist monastic community worldwide have only two small meals a day, and this has been going on for thousands of years. So, try skipping breakfast. That’s all you need to lose weight.”
If you’re looking to embark on the keto diet, however, you’ll find that experts are divided on one particular food: pickles. Yes, while pickles are low in carbohydrates, they also contain lectins, which have been linked to weight gain. But it seems that there’s another argument for making the small green vegetable a diet staple. In August 2015, you see, a medical journal published some unexpected findings about pickles – and how they may actually affect your brain.
Back in the summer of 2015, the journal Psychiatry Research published an intriguing study on fermented foods. And the paper, which was compiled following some in-depth research at the College of William & Mary in Virginia, had some rather stunning findings – especially for those who love the taste of pickles. In fact, even if you’re not a pickle fan, it may just be worth you holding your nose and chowing down on the sweet and sour vegetables, as it turns out that they could have startling benefits for your health.
And perhaps you could begin by adding a pickle to a meal or two. After all, just as certain foods are a little bland without some seasoning or sides to liven them up, a pickle’s tartness could provide just the kick you’re looking for to take a dish to the next level.
That said, thanks to their incredibly strong taste, pickles are often a rather love-or-hate food. Yet even if you fall down firmly on the hate side, you may just have to acquire an appreciation. You see, in August 2015, fans of fermented foods received some good news that could just be a game-changer.
That month, the latest issue of Psychiatry Research hit the shelves. And the medical journal contained details of an interesting research project covering fermented foods’ health benefits – of which, it seems, there could be several. Yes, as it turns out, products such as pickles may have a significant effect on our brains.
As a result, then, pickles may be a good option for a handy go-to snack when you’re feeling peckish. But, of course, they’re not the only food said to boost our well-being. And while fruit and vegetables are naturally among the healthiest options out there to nibble on between meals, nuts are pretty beneficial, too.
Yes, certain types of nuts – such as Brazil nuts and almonds – are loaded with vitamins. Brazil nuts, for example, contain zinc and magnesium as well as an important mineral called selenium that aids in the good functioning of the thyroid gland.
Almonds, meanwhile, are a great source of fiber, iron and calcium – but that’s not all. Back in 2011, a research paper published in the journal Nutrition Reviews suggested that the tree nut can also play an important role in keeping cholesterol levels down.
Indeed, the medical study revealed, “Consumption of tree nuts has been shown to reduce low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) – a primary target for coronary disease prevention – by 3 to 19 percent. Almonds have been found to have a consistent LDL-C-lowering effect in healthy individuals and in individuals with high cholesterol and diabetes.”
The research paper suggested, too, that this revelation needed to be shared on a wider scale, adding, “The message that almonds in and of themselves are a heart-healthy snack should be emphasized to consumers. Moreover, when almonds are incorporated into a healthy, balanced diet, the benefits are even greater.”
Foods such as lentils and oatmeal are good for our health, too. Much like almonds, the breakfast favorite can keep high cholesterol at bay thanks to its levels of fiber. And oatmeal contains plenty of potassium and vitamin B to boot.
But when it comes to talking about healthy-eating options, you naturally can’t forget about vegetables. Take broccoli, for example; the cruciferous green is loaded with nutrients that can help us maintain our wellbeing. The phytonutrients within broccoli can even play a vital role in staving off serious medical issues such as diabetes and heart disease.
The vegetable boasts high levels of vitamin C, too, which is handy when we need a boost. In fact, it’s believed that a regular portion of broccoli could cover our daily intake of the important vitamin quite comfortably. And, of course, there are plenty of benefits to be had in fruit as well.
Blueberries, for instance, are not only full of phytonutrients and fiber, but they can also keep our blood pressure down. And that’s certainly not all; researchers at Texas Woman’s University discovered that consumption of the small, round fruit can actually help tackle obesity as well. But don’t entirely write off meat in the bid to become healthier.
Indeed, both fish and chicken are fine choices if you’re looking to improve your diet. White meat contains a lot of protein, for example, while fish such as herring, salmon, sardines and trout boast omega-3 fatty acids that can be very beneficial for the heart.
In amongst the usual suspects, however, there are a whole host of other foods that are similarly good for health. And, yes, fermented items such as sauerkraut, yogurt and pickles are among their number, as nutrition expert Casey Seidenberg explained in a 2012 article for The Washington Post.
Seidenberg explained, “Fermented foods aid in digestion and thus support the immune system. Imagine a fermented food as a partially digested food. For instance, many people have difficulty digesting the lactose in milk. When milk is fermented and becomes yogurt or kefir, [however], the lactose is partially broken down so it becomes more digestible.” But there was more.
Seidenberg added, “Organic or lactic-acid fermented foods – such as dill pickles and sauerkraut – are rich in enzyme activity that aids in the breakdown of our food. [This helps] us absorb the important nutrients we rely on to stay healthy.” And there are apparently long-term benefits of consuming such foods, too.
The nutrition specialist revealed in her Washington Post piece, “When our digestion is functioning properly and we are absorbing and assimilating all the nutrients we need, our immune system tends to be happy and thus better equipped to wage war against disease and illness.” And three years later, a fascinating report appeared to further emphasize fermented foods’ health benefits.
The study in question was headed up by a trio of researchers: the University of Maryland’s Jordan DeVylder and Catherine Forestell and Matthew Hilimire from the College of William & Mary. And their close examination of fermented foods found that they have the potential to bolster more than just people’s physical health.
Yes, crucially DeVylder, Forestell and Hilimire looked to see if mental health – in particular, any experience of neuroticism and social anxiety – could also be improved by eating such foods. And there was already some scientific basis for the study, as similar experiments involving animals had previously taken place – with some incredibly interesting results.
On William & Mary’s official website, Hilimire explained, “These studies with animal models showed that if you give them certain kinds of bacteria, which we call probiotics – the beneficial microorganisms that help our health like lactobacilli – these animals tend to be less depressed or less anxious.”
Now, as probiotics can be found in fermented food, Hilimire, DeVylder and Forestell were curious to see if the same results could be reached with humans. But before their test got under way, Hilimire reflected on the previous figures – particularly the GABA levels on show.
In essence, gamma aminobutyric acid – or GABA – is a neurotransmitter that helps keep our anxieties in check. And while there are medicines out there that replicate its effects, it turned out that levels of GABA may well be able to be boosted naturally – at least, according to the findings of the animal experiments.
Hilimire went on to explain, “Giving these animals these probiotics increased GABA. It’s almost like giving them these drugs, but it’s their own bodies producing GABA. So, your own body is increasing this neurotransmitter that reduces anxiety.” There would be a key difference, however, in the approach that the assistant professor and his colleagues would take for their assessment.
“Given that background, we were interested in doing a naturalistic study,” Hilimire admitted. “So, we didn’t actually give people probiotics; we just asked them in their day-to-day life how much fermented foods they were eating.” And as it turned out, the researchers’ experiment would be pretty extensive.
In fact, DeVylder, Forestell and Hilimire opted to interrogate more than 700 people at the College of William & Mary. Fortuitously, these students were already about to take a “mass testing” survey – which included elements on personality types and anxieties – at the start of their respective degree courses. In addition, then, the trio threw in a questionnaire of their own.
And Forestell later explained how she and her fellow researchers had come to the conclusion to do this, telling the college’s website, “It was an ideal situation to get a good cross-section of the students at William & Mary, because many students take [the] Introduction to Psychology [module]. They were not selected based on their social anxiety or the types of foods that they ate.”
So, the survey from the research trio not only included questions about diet and exercise, but it also queried whether members of the group had eaten any fermented food – such as pickles – in the previous month. Then, once the results had come in, they were subsequently measured against the answers from the mass testing survey.
And after the data had been compiled, Hilimire divulged exactly what it had revealed. He told the William & Mary website, “The main finding was that individuals who had consumed more fermented foods had reduced social anxiety, but that was qualified by an interaction by neuroticism.”
Hilimire went on, “What that means is that that relationship was strongest amongst people that were high in neuroticism [tendency to be anxious or negative]. The people that benefited the most from fermented foods were high in neuroticism. And the secondary finding was that more exercise was related to reduced social anxiety as well.”
Those intriguing results were subsequently included in the August 2015 edition of the Psychiatry Research journal, after which they were covered by a number of media outlets. And in an attempt to sum up his and his colleagues’ work, Hilimire revealed why the findings excited him so much.
As the assistant professor went on to explain, “It is likely that the probiotics in the fermented foods are favorably changing the environment in the gut. And changes in the gut in turn influence social anxiety. I think that it is absolutely fascinating that the microorganisms in your gut can influence your mind.”
However, the trio’s work didn’t come to an end after the report was submitted. You see, DeVylder, Forestell and Hilimire intended to run yet another experiment in an attempt to clarify the findings from the study – although, on this occasion, their sole focus would be on fermented food and social anxiety.
“If we use a naturally fermented food – we give people yogurt instead of isolated probiotics – it will be among the first experimental studies that use these fermented foods,” Hilimire told the William & Mary college website. “So they’ll get the benefits of the probiotics but also the peptides as well.”
And while the results from the previous study suggested that there was a connection between fermented foods and mental health, a practical experiment was also needed to further determine any links. Yet in Hilimire’s mind, the past tests involving the animals suggested that he and his fellow researchers were already on the right track.
The academic continued, “If we rely on the animal models that have come before us and the human experimental work that has come before us in other anxiety and depression studies, it does seem that there is a causative mechanism.” He also made a bold claim on what this could mean for mental health therapy going forward.
Hilimire explained, “Assuming [there are] similar findings in the experimental follow-up, what it would suggest is that you could augment more traditional therapies (like medications, psychotherapy or a combination of the two) with fermented foods – dietary changes – and exercise as well.”
Traditionally, drugs such as benzodiazepines and tricyclic antidepressants are utilized to help battle anxiety. According to Hilimire, though, introducing fermented foods as part of a mental health treatment plan could potentially do away with a number of the side effects of such medication – including, in some cases, addiction.
Yet while Hilimire and his colleagues were working hard to make the connection between fermented foods and anxiety, there’s apparently still some way to go before such a link is accepted by the scientific community at large. Nevertheless, the associate professor had faith that more people would start to listen in the near future.
Indeed, Hilimire concluded, “I think there is some skepticism that there can be such a profound influence [between fermented foods and anxiety], but the data is quite substantial now. I think people would be accepting if they looked at the data, but the connection between the mind and gut is not something you typically think about as a psychologist.”