Alchemy founder Domini Kemp explains to Emma Costello of RSVP magazine how reducing her carb intake while undergoing treatment for cancer helped to turn her life around

There are a myriad of diets coming at us these days and with so many to choose from deciphering the fact from fiction can be a challenge.

Almost 40% of the Irish population is now classed as overweight, while a huge proportion suffer from illnesses that are aggravated by inflammation leading to a search for healthy options.

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Domini Kemp, the celebrity chef and co-author (with nutritional therapist Patricia Daly) of the award-winning book The Ketogenic Kitchen, is a champion of the keto diet.

What is the keto diet?

A keto diet is a low-carb diet that switches the body from burning sugar found in carbs to burning fat as a source of energy. When your primary energy is coming from carbs, your fats are not needed and are therefore stored.

After eating any carbs, from a pizza to a potato, they turn into sugar in your blood. But if you replace these carbs with fats and protein your body will switch to burning fat.

When this happens your body enters a state of ketosis. Optimal ketone levels offer many health, weight loss, physical and mental performance benefits. Domini first explored the diet when she was undergoing treatment for cancer.

“I was diagnosed with cancer for the second time in 2013,” she says.

“Whilst undergoing conventional treatment for breast cancer, it was clear that keeping my blood sugar stable was a good thing.

For some cancer patients, weight loss can be undesirable, but for many of us, weight gain during chemotherapy can lead to poorer outcomes.

So I started to eat low carb – not ketogenic – by restricting processed foods and avoiding all sugar. I met my co-author, Patricia, who was using the ketogenic diet to manage her lifestyle post her cancer diagnosis.

Our approaches to our diets differed, but we wanted to write a book about introducing a low carb and a ketogenic diet.” Five years later, Patricia is still on the ketogenic diet and is thriving on it, while Domini sticks to a low carb diet 80% of the time – but embraces the ketogenic diet for three weeks every year to allow her system reboot.

Low carb is approx 50g of carbohydrate a day, while the carbohydrate allowance on the ketogenic diet is around the 20-30g mark, depending on the individual.

An average apple contains approximately 20 grams of carbs, an average potato around 40 grams, while a small thick base pizza contains around 160 grams. It can take up to three weeks to reach the state of ketosis.

What are the benefits?

Domini understands that it can be a challenging diet, but says the results for weight loss and general health can be quite dramatic.

“It has gained in popularity in recent years due to its effectiveness in controlling blood glucose levels and has become popular among those looking for significant weight loss as well as endurance athletes,” she says.

"A whole host of metabolic benefits are introduced when you are in ketosis, but probably the biggest difference is the fact that your blood sugars don’t fluctuate as much, which reduces cravings and other symptoms associated with a blood sugar rollercoaster.

"It’s also fair to say that the tech world is becoming very interested in it as they recognise the mental clarity and other benefits it brings!”

As for the drawbacks? The healthy-eating advocate explains: “It can be challenging to comply with and it is certainly not for everyone.

"But a well designed ketogenic diet can be a great way to give your system a ‘break’ from the metabolic havoc that high carb diets have on our health. Anybody having an underlying condition (e.g. compromised liver or kidney function, immune deficiencies, diabetes or other chronic illnesses) needs to be supervised medically, but most people can enjoy a low carb diet, so that’s a good place to start!”

Domini believes that carbs should be approached with an open mind.

She adds: “I adore carbs, but they don’t adore me. I used to eat a low-fat, high carb diet and it did not suit me. I struggled to keep my weight off, was always ‘hangry’ and felt sluggish and sleepy after every meal.

Now, I’m a stone lighter, can fast for 24 hours quite easily and feel better. Knowing my blood glucose is low and hearing my oncologist comment on my low HbA1c helps me feel like I am on the right track.”

Ketogenic or Atkins?

There is probably less emphasis on the protein side with keto.

On an Atkins diet, protein is pushed more (think steak and eggs for breakfast) whereas on a well designed ketogenic diet, the emphasis is really on healthy fats and non-starchy vegetables (dark, green leafy ones) as well as smaller quantities of good quality oily fish and other proteins.

Find out more information on www.theketogenickitchen.com

This article first appeared in RSVP: https://www.rsvplive.ie/life/food/keto-diet-you-need-know-12455617

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