Enjoying healthy fats lately? You can probably thank the ketogenic diet for bringing these wonderful macronutrients back into the fold of a well-balanced diet. For years, the word fat was condemned, ringing fear into the hearts of health-conscious folks. Yet, due to the science of lipidologists and researchers, this vital macronutrient has made the ultimate comeback.
Healthy fat is not only essential for a healthy functioning brain and nervous system, but it’s also been found to be an important nutrient for lowering cholesterol levels, promoting a healthy heart, reducing inflammation, and even boosting the health of skin, hair, and eyes.
Yet, one of the most surprising health benefits of high fat, low carb diet — essentially the ketogenic diet — is its effect on cancer cells. In fact, the keto diet is now being considered an adjunct therapy in addition to chemotherapy and radiation, boosting the efficacy of these treatments, while also nourishing the body and fighting cancer at its core.
Let’s take a deeper dive into the keto diets amazing effects on cancer!
Quick Keto Diet Rundown
The keto diet — short for ketogenic diet — focuses on pushing your body into a state of ketosis — “a normal metabolic process” in which the “body does not have enough glucose for energy” and therefore “it burns stored fat instead [which] results in a build-up of acids called ketones within the body.” In order to reach a state of ketosis, you must reduce your intake of glucose — basically, arbs and sugar — which forces your body to turn to other sources of energy.
The One Green Planet article entitled Breaking Down the Ketogenic Diet for Plant-Based Eaters breaks down the ketogenic diet succinctly:
“The ketogenic diet relies on three specific dietary elements: extremely low-carb intake, very high-healthy fat intake, and, depending on the type of keto diet, a certain intake of protein. By reducing carbohydrates — such as starches, fruits, and breads that are loaded with glucose — you’ll push your body towards fat burning. By increasing healthy fat intake, your body will become an efficient fat-burning machine! Along with burning fat (revealed as possibly the superior source of energy), ketosis — accomplished via the ketogenic diet — has also been shown to lower blood sugar and insulin levels leading to a healthy insulin sensitive state.”
There are four types of ketogenic dieting to choose from, all of which aim to achieve ketosis, yet for different reasons. The standard ketogenic diet focuses on “75 percent fat, 20 percent protein, and only five percent carbs.” Cyclical ketogenic dieting “allows for periods of carbohydrate ingesting mixed with periods of strict ketogenic dieting.” Targeted ketogenic dieting allows for “carbohydrate ingestion around high-intensity workouts, while following a keto diet at all other times.” The high-protein ketogenic diet allows for “60 percent fat, 35 percent protein, and five percent carbs.”
Depending on what you aim to achieve with ketosis, you’ll want to choose wisely with the type of keto diet!
What Research Says About Keto and Cancer
While there are many health benefits that come from following the keto diet — healthy weight management, reducing the risk of heart disease, lower risk of Alzheimer’s, and aiding with acne prevention and treatment, to name just a few — one of the most profound currently being researched is the keto diets affect on cancer.
Cancer cells “require a large amount of glucose to satisfy their energy needs” and have demonstrated “increased glucose metabolism compared with normal cells.” Knowing this simple fact about cancer cells, the ketogenic diet is “proposed as a potential adjuvant therapy by exploiting these differences between cancer and normal cells.” Not only does the keto diet lower blood glucose levels, but it also promotes the creation of ketones which are not cancer-friendly when it comes to energy pathways, therefore you are decreasing the “food” supply for cancer cells and hopefully starving them out.
This relationship is specifically prevalent when it comes to certain types of tumors.
In a recent study published by Cell Reports, it was discovered that “restricting your blood sugar might also help combat certain cancerous tumor growths.” While this specific research study is truly in its infancy, the findings are incredibly illuminating, especially when it comes to the relationship between sugar and cancer. In particular, it helped boost the validity of a study in 2017 which suggested that a specific type of cancer called “squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) was particularly reliant on glucose to sustain itself and survive.” By removing its main food source, patients were seeing positive outcomes.
While this specific study is new, the ketogenic diet has already been targeted much earlier on as a form of adjuvant therapy for cancer patients.
Way back in 2014, researchers were already looking at the keto diet for its ability to fight cancer identifying “the keto diet ‘as an adjuvant therapy to conventional radiation and chemotherapies’” due to its ability to “regulate blood sugar levels” and “selectively induce metabolic oxidative stress in cancer cells.” This study hypothesized that the ketogenic diet could make “cancer cells more sensitive to treatments like chemotherapy and radiation” and therefore make them more effective.
Plant-Based Keto-Friendly Foods
If you venture down the keto diet path, you’ll notice that it oftentimes focuses on meat and meat-based products (such as butter and full-fat dairy) in order to obtain that coveted 75 percent fat daily content. So, how do you go about practicing a keto diet when you’re a practicing vegetarian or vegan? Turns out there is a whole diet that focuses on this practice called ketotarian. Take the ketogenic diet, remove all animal products, divvy up your carbs a bit differently (up your intake of carbs to around 15 percent instead of the traditional 5), and up in the intake of healthy fat-filled plant-based foods. This is the ketotarian diet. If you want to start practicing a ketotarian diet, here are a few tried and true healthy plant-based fat sources to get you going!
If you’re not a fan of avocado and you’re switching to a ketotarian diet, you may need to change your tune and reprogram those taste buds. Avocados are one of the best sources of healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and fiber in the plant-based kingdom. One pitted fruit offers a whopping 21 grams of fat — 13 grams of monounsaturated, 2.5 grams of polyunsaturated, almost 3 grams of saturated, 150 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids and 2298 milligrams of omega-6 fatty acids. With that said, one of the most important aspects of a balanced diet is the inclusion of a variety of nutrients in one simple package. Along with healthy fat, that one avocado also provides 9 grams of dietary fiber, 2.7 grams of protein, vitamins (C, E, and K, in particular), as well as folate, choline, niacin, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium.
One of my favorite guilty pleasures is eating avocado raw, straight from the peel! Simply remove the pit and fill the crate with your choice of oil — I do extra-virgin olive oil — some balsamic vinaigrette, salt, and a dash of pepper. If you’re not an avocado lover, try integrating avocado into recipes that mask the flavor a bit such as this Chocolate Banana Avocado Pudding, this Grilled Mexican Quesadilla with Lentils, or this super flavorful, yet raw Basil Mustard Salad.
Nuts and Seeds
I can’t say enough wonderful things about these plant-based foods! Both nuts and seeds — pretty much any type that you choose — provide a plentiful source of healthy fats including monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, saturated, and the omegas. Yet, nuts and seeds provide much more! Depending on the type of nut or seed, you’ll also get a helping of vitamins, minerals, protein, and fiber.
For instance, one cup of almonds — one of the keto diet staples — has over 20 grams of protein, over 11 grams of fiber, vitamins A and E, folate, niacin, choline, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, manganese, selenium and over 40 grams of fat — 29.3 grams of monounsaturated, 11.5 grams of polyunsaturated, 3.5 grams saturated, and around 11,466 milligrams of the omegas.
Another great example are sunflower seeds. One cup of dry roasted sunflower seed kernels as over 24 grams of protein, over 11 grams of fiber, vitamins A, C, E, K, B6, niacin, folate, choline, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, manganese, selenium and over 63 grams of fat — 12.2 grams of monounsaturated, 42.1 grams of polyunsaturated, 6.7 grams of saturated, and around 42,053 milligrams of the omegas.
These are just two examples sourced from a plethora of options including cashews, macadamias, brazil nuts, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, pine nuts, chia seed, and flaxseed, to mention just a few. When it comes to the keto diet, nuts are a great source of both fat and protein, which are both essential for energy. Try incorporating nuts and seeds in your keto-friendly daily regimen so that they work for you by boosting energy such as these Almond Cashew Coconut Energy Bites, this Adaptogenic Nut-Granola, these Raw Chocolate Energy Bars,
Keep in mind that you’ll want to avoid sugar to meet keto demands, so for the above-mentioned recipes reduce or remove the use of sugar-filled ingredients such as maple syrup. You can always replace these sugary ingredients with keto-friendly sweet options such as monk fruit sweetener.
If you’re like me, then integrating fat into your diet is a bit scary. All of our lives we’ve been warned against fat with most marketing geared towards low-fat options. Healthy, fat-filled oil was one of the more difficult ingredients for me to integrate into my diet based around this fear. Yet, once you start you’ll never go back! Healthy oils are not only rich and satiating, but they also boost the overall flavor profile of your food, especially when it comes to vegetables. Plus, they offer that second layer of healthy fat via plant-based sources to help you reach ketosis for your keto diet.
As a ketotarian, what oils can you depend on?
First and foremost, you’ll want to try out extra-virgin coconut oil. You’ll hear a lot of controversy around coconut oil due to the fact that 90 percent of the fat content is sourced from saturated fat. Yet, recent studies have started to illuminate that healthily sourced saturated fat may not be as bad for you as they once believed. While saturated fats are “commonly found in ‘red meat, whole milk and other whole-milk dairy foods, cheese … and many commercially prepared baked goods” unprocessed and healthy saturated fat is found in plant-based sources such as coconut oil. Coconut oil is one of the safest oils to cook due to its stability and it’s an excellent trade out for butter in a vegan diet. You can use it to “bind” such as in this Superfood Chocolate Bark recipe or this Banana Bread. It’s a great coconut flavoring and fatty addition to energy-boosting smoothies such as this Turmeric Smoothie. Even stir-fry safely to get crispy veggies such as in this Peanut Tofu Stir-Fry, simply swap out sesame oil for coconut!
Next up, extra-virgin olive oil. You’ve probably heard a lot about how healthy this oil is for you and, based on the research, it’s all true! Olive oil is simply squeezed from olives — which also happen to be one of the best sources of plant-based fat — bottled and sold. Some favor olive oil over coconut due to the fact that it has a lower percentage of saturated fat — 13.8 percent — with a largely monounsaturated fat content — 73 percent — while also offering a healthy dose of the omegas and vitamins E and K. This makes it a wonderful fat for plant-based keto diets! On top of that, olive oil is riddled with antioxidants, most notably “anti-inflammatory oleocanthal, as well as oleuropein, a substance that protects LDL cholesterol from oxidation.” One of the best uses of extra-virgin olive oil is raw. It’s got a rich flavor that satiates, boosting flavor palates, which is makes this oil wonderful to use as a dressing — like this Apple Cider Dijon Vinaigrette — on neutral-flavored salads such as Spinach and Fig Salad, this Eat the Rainbow, or this Lentil Salad with Crunchy Veggies and Herbs.
We also highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 15,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!
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