‘Keto’ and ‘Low Carb’ are usually used interchangeably and most people think they mean the same thing, but while related, there is a subtle difference.
First, what is the keto diet? Keto diet, which stands for the Ketogenic diet, is a very low carb, moderate protein, high fat diet. It usually involves cutting down your carbs to about 25g and eating more healthy fats. The key here is healthy fats because all fats are not created equal. You need good fats like avocados, palm oil, coconut oil, butter, fatty fish, cheese. You also want to avoid processed, unhealthy fats like margarine and vegetable oils such as sunflower oil, corn oil or soybean oil.
So what is low carb, then? Low carb means eating low carb, moderate protein, high fat diet. Similar to keto right? Yes, except on the keto diet, you need to consume a maximum of 25g of carbs but on the low carb diet, you eat about 25 to 75g of carbs depending on your activity level and goals. In other words, the keto diet is a form of low carb diet but low carb is not necessarily keto. Got it? Moderate low carb is actually 25 to 50g of carbs, while 50 to 100g of carbs is considered liberal. Those that stick with the more liberal low carb diet and still see results are usually involved in heavy intensity exercises and weight lifting.
What is the science behind eating low carb? Here is a really condensed version. Your body primarily burns carbohydrates for energy but when you reduce the carbs you eat, your body enters a state called ketosis where it uses stored fat for energy. What happens is that the fat in your body begins to break down (hello, weight loss!) and you begin to reap the benefits of lower sugar intake since carbs break down to sugar in the body. This includes less inflammation, reversing diabetes, clearer skin, hormonal balance, better brain function, tons of energy, among others. There is some science that shows the ketogenic diet helps some forms of cancer and acts as a complementary treatment to chemotherapy and radiation**. If you like technical documents, this really explains the science behind the keto diet. Eating healthy fats actually make you stay full for longer periods so you automatically eat less quantity of food and less frequently. You also avoid the afternoon slump after eating a big meal. I mean, wouldn’t it be nice to have a big plate of cauliflower fufu and egusi soup for lunch and not fall asleep immediately?
It might seem contrary to what you know that eating fat won’t make you fat. I’ve been there; I struggled to accept this for years because it just didn’t make any sense. But the truth is sugar and an over-indulgence of carbs are the real culprit. I did a lot of research and was shocked to find out that we started becoming an obese nation when full fat was replaced with low-fat and processed junk. I also wrote about my experience going low carb in the first place and you can read about it here. I know a few people who can’t do the keto diet because it’s too restrictive or difficult to maintain long-term. Good news is you can just eat low carb and still lose weight and be healthy. You can even go back and forth between both depending on your goals.
You might be thinking, ‘but our African great-grandparents and forefathers ate rice and fufu every day and they were just fine and healthy!’. Yes, but they were very physically active, walked several miles every day and did not have sedentary jobs. They worked on the farms and grew organic, healthy foods with no pesticides. They also did not have pizza, burgers and other processed junk foods in their diets. Unfortunately, times have changed and we are more obese than ever due to more sedentary lifestyles. So unless, you have a very physically demanding job that causes you to burn an extra thousand calories every day, this might be the next best thing to maintain your weight and live healthier. For comparison, most people consume over 225g of carbs daily and don’t even realize it. No wonder so many struggle with their health and weight loss goals.
Though most of our African foods are extremely high in carbs, our soups contain healthy fats and protein due to the oil and meat used to cook them. This makes it easy to substitute the high carb foods with low carb version without giving up the traditional savory taste we love. I will be doing a follow-up post for low carb staples to have in your fridge and pantry for an African household, so stay tuned!
**This is not meant to be medical advice and of course, consult with your doctor if you have any serious medical condition.