Anyone who pays attention to diet fads knows that sometimes fat's out, and whole grains are in. Eggs are good, then bad, then good again. Now, for those adopting the increasingly popular keto diet, fat is king — bacon is totally OK — but carbs and sugars are almost completely out.
Originally formulated to prevent seizures in people with epilepsy, ketogenic diets have actually been around for about a century, gathering and losing steam over the decades with different versions of the low-carb, high-fat diet (think Atkins, the Oprah-promoted Last Chance Diet and others). Once again, it's undeniable that keto is getting another heyday.
Many have found incredible success on the diet, which kicks the body into a survival state where fat is burned for energy in the near absence of carbohydrates. It's not uncommon to find people who've lost 50, 80, 150 pounds on the diet in months to a year.
Spokane-based physician Kyle Varner says he was initially suspicious of the diet, but after reading the research behind it, he says it made sense based on everything he'd learned about the human body in medical school.
After his own bariatric surgery, Varner says he'd lost about 70 pounds and was doing everything he'd been told by his doctors, including eating six small meals a day. But he still had about 50 pounds left to reach his goal. So he switched to keto, a change that's given him those results and personal insight as he helps patients deal with obesity and metabolic syndrome.
"I'm a big keto and intermittent fasting evangelist. I think it's a very healthy diet," Varner says. "Keto is a more doable diet for the lifestyle we've come to lead as busy professionals in the United States, and a major improvement on what almost everybody is eating today."
Fats are very satiating, which can help prevent that urge to go check the fridge every few hours, he explains. The diet relies on people eating only about 35-40 grams of net carbs per day, he says, but it's important to note that fiber doesn't count.
"A lot of people don't realize you can eat a lot of things like broccoli and asparagus and mushrooms and peppers. The number one mistake is people aren't eating enough vegetables," Varner says. "It's really not necessary for most people to count them. If it's broccoli or cauliflower, I don't even count it, that's a food I'm allowed to have."
Cooking keto at home can be more expensive than other diets, and it can be a challenge to make substitutes for baked goods. Luckily, some Inland Northwest eateries are providing more keto-friendly options.
Cole's Gluten Free Bakery and Cafe, located in North Spokane at 521 E. Holland Ave., has an entire menu designed for people with special dietary restrictions. The store also stocks several cases with tasty baked goods, breads and rolls for gluten-free and keto dietary needs.
Owner Jeanine Smith, who opened Cole's about six years ago, says she decided to bring on keto-friendly options after learning how helpful the diet is for children with epilepsy, as well as people with diabetes or autoimmune diseases.
"We have a whole keto section on our menu, with burgers, mozzarella sticks, chicken strips and breakfast sandwiches, and we have two full cases of keto products," Smith says.
Desserts made with a keto-friendly monk fruit sweetener include "fat bombs" in flavors like chocolate chip and lemon raspberry.
Smith's interest in gluten-free baking started with her own gluten issues and dissatisfaction with store-bought options. Many hours of baking experiments have ensued to create alternative breads.
Because baking substitutes can be difficult to craft, Cole's also offers mixes.
"What I hear a lot of is that people try to bake at home and then it just fails miserably," she says. "My advice is don't give up. If you love baking, you will find a way. But if you need a little help to get started, we've got options to help on the shelf, including bread mix, pancake mix, brownie mix and cookie mix."
FIRST AVENUE COFFEE
At First Avenue Coffee in downtown Spokane, at 1011 W. First, customers can also find a menu filled with gluten-free, paleo, vegan and keto-friendly options made at the in-store bakery.
But you won't necessarily find them labeled that way.
"For the first year, we advertised we have keto, we have vegan, we have gluten-free, and people would not try any of those items because they were afraid they were going to taste funky," explains owner Deborah Di Bernardo.
"So we took all the labels off our products and just featured them visually," she continues. "Once [people] told us they liked it, we'd say, 'Well that is vegan,' or 'that is keto,' and now just in the last few months, people actually come in asking for keto."
Keto options include donuts, grab-and-go snack packs with hard-boiled eggs and cheese, a roast beef wrap made with cheese, microgreens, mustard and salt rolled up in the meat, and a similar turkey wrap made with cranberry sauce, cream cheese and greens.
But cheddar biscuits are the most popular.
"People just go nuts over this one," Di Bernardo says. "I do an almond flour, cheddar cheese, green onion biscuit, with egg as the binder. This is how I got through my first year of changing my diet."
Di Bernardo started her own grain-free diet after being diagnosed with breast cancer and having a double mastectomy.
"I eat organic, which is why I only feature organic coffees here, and almost everything we use here is organic," she says.
Di Bernardo also confirms that keto items everywhere can be more expensive.
"Almond flour is literally 400 percent more expensive than white flour, so you know, our items are more expensive than the average donut," she says.
While there are still relatively few restaurants advertising that they cater to keto diets, low-carb options have made their way onto most menus in recent decades.
Doctor Varner suggests tweaks such as ordering a burger without the bun, or getting a Chinese vegetable and meat dish, with a flavorful sauce that’s not sugar-based. Tacos can be made with lettuce wraps instead of tortillas, and many restaurants offer steak with vegetables on the side.
For cooking at home, cauliflower is a powerful substitute.
“I love to make a taco casserole where I take the hamburger and mix it with cauliflower rice, cheese, vegetables and bacon,” Varner says. “I’ll also make cauliflower rice paella or fried rice. Anything that has rice, you can swap out for cauliflower rice and you won’t notice a big difference in flavor.”
Keto adherents should ensure they’re getting necessary vitamins and minerals. It’s a good idea with any major dietary change to work with your doctor. And the best success is seen in lifelong dietary changes, Varner says.
“There is no diet that can be successful if it is a short term endeavor,” Varner says. “You have to decide every day for a long time what you’re having for breakfast, lunch and dinner to see those results, and that’s when you have long-term success.” ♦firstname.lastname@example.org