The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.
- The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
- The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
- It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
Of all the ubiquitous diet trends, the keto diet is probably the one with the most current buzz. While the long-term health benefits of this low-carb approach are debatable, keto has thrust one vegetable into the spotlight. Welcome to the age of the cauliflower.
What's made the cauliflower, the bane of kids everywhere, experience such a burst in popularity? The keto (or ketogenic) diet calls for getting rid of high-carb foods in favor of fatty foods rich in protein. The goal is to get your body into a state of ketosis, where it will burn fat for fuel instead of sugar. The short-term weight loss that ensues has been the reason for the diet's growing amount of followers.
The biggest reason for cauliflower's resurgence? It is very versatile and has only 3 grams of net carbs (from 5 grams of carbs) per a 100-gram cup. That makes it an excellent low-carb vegetable substitute in many recipes that call for things like potatoes, rice or pasta.
What's also great about this under-utilized veggie is that a cup of cauliflower would have only 25 calories while giving you 77% of the daily allowance of vitamin C and high levels of vitamin K and B6. It also contains omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, choline, biotin, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, niacin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B1, B2 and protein. You can search its full nutritional values in this expansive USDA report. Suffice to say, the cauliflower is chock-full of nutritional goodies.
This plant, which has its origins in Cyprus and the Asia Minor region, with first historical mentions going to back to around 600 B.C., has also been found to have anti-carcinogenic properties.
This is what a cauliflower mac 'n cheese looks like. The recipe can be found at MinceRepublic.com.
So what can you do with cauliflower ? You can cook it in a variety of ways: sautéing, roasting, steaming, you name it. Interestingly, a case can be made both for eating it raw and cooked. For one, the organic compound indole, which helps kill precancerous cells, is formed when the cauliflower is cooked. Another reason why cooking may be the way with this veggie, besides making it taste better, is that it's more likely to cause gas, bloating and other gastrointestinal distress in its raw form. On the other hand, fresh cauliflower has up to 30% more nutrients and antioxidants, says Dr. Marlynn Wei.
Check out this plethora of cauliflower recipes for those on the keto diet. Keep in mind, research shows that it's not a diet that is beneficial over the long term. No more than three months of ketogenic dieting is about the length to aim for.
While short-term results are positive, there is mounting evidence against staying in ketosis for too long.
- Recent studies showed volunteers lost equal or more weight on high-carb, calorie-restricted diets than low-carb, calorie restricted diets.
- There might be positive benefits to short-term usage of a ketogenic diet.
- One dietician warns that the ketogenic diet could put diabetics at risk for diabetic ketoacidosis.
A few weeks ago I stopped by the Korean stand at my local farmer's market. I was picking up fermented daikon and tempeh when the seller tells me about a woman that had just stopped by to ask if tempeh has protein. The look on my face answered his non-question. He continues to tell me that she's on a "no protein" diet because, well, at this point, I just give up.
Humans can be absurd in our dietary beliefs. Every other animal eats due to necessity and availability. Our relative luxury has afforded us the opportunity to partake in eating plans that thwart basic biological needs. Some plans seem to make sense until science steps in.
For a minute it appeared the keto diet had traction. Advocates were seeing drastic weight loss. By their telling, "Big Food" is waging a longtime conspiracy to inject as many big carbs into our bodies as possible. (Not that excess carbohydrates, especially in the form of sugar, isn't a problem.) My personal experience with keto, which lasted roughly three months, was successful in certain regards. Weight loss wasn't the intended goal, though that did happen; I did it to address chronic GI issues.
As it turns out, I might have inadvertently nailed the timing, at least according to one doctor that never puts his clients into ketosis for more than three months. Let's face it: our ancestors never purposefully restricted carbohydrate intake. They just didn't have a Whole Foods to shop at. Macronutrients weren't on their minds as they had no awareness of the building blocks of calories to begin with. The question was never "What's my meal plan this week?" but rather, "What can I catch today? What plant is ripe to forage?"
Now that more research is emerging, the news on keto isn't good. Scientists leading one 2016 study, led by National Institutes of Health obesity researcher Kevin Hall, confined 17 volunteers to a hospital for a two-month stay. This is important, as self-reported studies are always at risk of being invalidated by faulty data. In this study, volunteers ate plenty of sugary carbs for the first month; during the second they received the same caloric load, replacing the bulk of those carbs with fats.
At the end of the two months, Hall was unimpressed.
In this case, we saw daily insulin secretion drop substantially within the first week and stay at a low level. But we only saw a small transient increase in energy expenditure during the first couple of weeks of the [low-carb] diet, and that essentially vanished by the end of the study.
Despite what some expected, it took the volunteers on the high-fat diet 28 days to lose as much weight as those on the baseline diet lost in 15 days. (All volunteers were overweight; the mechanism for their weight loss was lower daily caloric intake.) To be fair, there was no control group and calorie restriction generally has a bigger impact during the first month on any diet. That said, this study provided a serious blow to low-carb advocates.
As dietician Bonnie Taub-Dix told Well + Good, there should be an emphasis on eating the right carbs, such as whole grains. She's also not a fan of diabetics getting into ketosis, even though this community is specifically targeted by advocates. "It can cause DKA, diabetic ketoacidosis," she said. "This happens when your body is producing a lot of ketones and can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, feeling faint, and being [excessively] thirsty."
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The Internet is filled with anecdotal tales of triumph thanks to ketosis. The diet should not be completely written off, as other studies — on mice — have shown positive benefits, such as weight loss and memory improvement. Again, these are short-term fixes, not longitudinal proof.
Besides, a 2018 study, published in JAMA, found that low-carb and low-fat diets were equally effective for weight loss. This isn't the only evidence of this fact. A 2015 meta-analysis found that low-carb diets barely outperformed low-fat diets.
As Taub-Dix notes, balanced dieting is "boring." People always want the next great thing, be it a shamanically-blessed Amazonian berry or a supercharged Pacific Northwestern mushroom. I recently had dinner with a fellow who talked about his nootropics regimen, which greatly increases his focus, yet he checked his cell phone every five minutes during our two-hour meal. The distance between our brain and our gut remains too long to traverse.
Ketosis is known to work wonders in terms of short-term weight loss. But what about the diet’s effects over the long term?
- The ketogenic diet is one of the latest dietary fads to sweep the U.S., promising rapid weight loss, enhanced brain function and sustained energy throughout the day.
- These effects are achieved by replacing high-carb foods with fatty, protein-rich foods that will eventually put the body in ketosis: a natural metabolic state in which the body burns fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates.
- Ketosis is known to work wonders for short-term weight loss. But what about the diet's effects over the long term?
While the concept of “burning” fat is not altogether wrong, the process of losing fat probably isn't what you imagine.
Fat has made a comeback of late. Of course, the fat on everyone’s mind is dietary fat, those nine calories per gram advocated by fans of the ketogenic diet. The fat we carry around inside of our bodies is a different story.
Not that fat hasn’t previously been in vogue. Carrying around a little extra was once considered a sign of wealth—those pounds meant you could afford to eat well. Humans being humans, we then took it to the other extreme when the fashion world became fascinated with anorexic models. As they infiltrated popular culture, eating disorders, depression, and anxiety ravaged our consciousness. We still haven’t self-corrected from that swerve.
The connection between wealth and fat is not surprising. Storing excess money in your bank account is a sign of financial success; your body stores fats and carbohydrates so that you never run out of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the molecules that serve as batteries in your body’s cells. Your body’s account needs ATP in case a debit becomes necessary.
Good fat and bad fat
What we’re looking for at a healthy weight is proper energy balance—enough stored energy for when you need it, not so much that it collects in the form of visceral fat, mostly around your belly. Too little stored fat and you run into reproductive problems, which is why our bodies are good at storing fat. Too much, our main problem today, and we suffer the long list of metabolic, cardiovascular, and immune issues clogging hospital corridors.
Fat, remember, is necessary for good health. Your body stores some fat cells in your liver and some in your muscles. A lot of them are used for resting metabolic processes—around 1,300 to 1,600 calories worth daily. The remainder is spread throughout your body in the form of adipocytes; each of us carries around tens of billions of these fat cells.
The cells stored beneath your skin are subcutaneous fat, which we need. Visceral fat is the problem, as these cells act differently in your body. When visceral fat collects around your midsection, the excess energy is also collecting a variety of vitamins, hormones, and toxins, the latter in an attempt to keep them away from your organs. This might seem positive, but in the long run this storage of pollutants and toxins can be, well, toxic, especially if you lose weight too quickly.
Image source: Mayo Clinic.
Where does the fat go?
Where do you lose weight in the first place? Mostly, through breathing. While the concept of “burning” fat is not altogether wrong, losing fat involves plenty of carbon dioxide leaving your body. As the Washington Post explains:
[Researchers] found that to burn a pound of fat, a human needs to inhale about three pounds of oxygen, kickstarting metabolic processes that produce just under three pounds of carbon dioxide (which is just a bit more than the average weight exhaled by a human on any given day) and about a pound of water. That water can exit the body in plenty of ways—poop, pee, sweat, saliva and any number of bodily fluids—but your lungs handle the brunt of the weight loss.
Your fat “goes” into the atmosphere. (And no, it doesn’t contribute to global warming.) When it does go, you’re also releasing the extra storage of vitamins and toxins along with it. That might not sound like a good thing, but in the long run it’s far better to be rid of them.
As Popular Science states, organochlorine pesticides, among other pollutants, are known to get bound up in fat—they leak into our food supply:
Bodies don’t seem to store enough of these to become toxic, but the constant build-up leaves you vulnerable to exposure. And they do start to re-emerge when you lose weight.
By losing weight at a healthy pace (1-2 pounds a week), the limited number of pollutants released will not overload your bloodstream. Your urine will make quick work of them. Extreme dieting is a different story. The more weight you lose, the more of these toxins (as well as vitamins and, in women, estrogen; excessive vitamins can be deadly, while increased estrogen stored in fat increases your chances of breast cancer) enter your bloodstream.
Since we no longer face the same problem as our ancestors—most of us don’t have to worry about whether or not we’ll eat tonight, or tomorrow—fat storage plays a different role in our bodies than previously. Many avoidable health problems are due to this excessive storage of energy, hormones and toxins. Some researchers claim 70 percent of our medical problems can be addressed through a healthier lifestyle, which includes eating better and moving more.
As a bonus, the fat being returned into the atmosphere through breathing eventually becomes fuel for plants, one of the main foods we want to put back inside of our bodies. That’s what we call a harmonious cycle, one we evolved because of, and one that remains necessary for optimal health today.
Derek Beres is the author of Whole Motion: Training Your Brain and Body For Optimal Health. Based in Los Angeles, he is working on a new book about spiritual consumerism. Stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.
Studies have also shown that two weeks of sleep deprivation increases the consumption of excess calories, particularly from energy-dense, high-carbohydrate snacks.
Sleeping more improves people’s diets, especially when it comes to cutting down sugar. These are the results of a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Other research has also identified links between sleep, health, and obesity, with diet as a mediating factor. After performing a meta-analysis of previous intervention studies, the researchers found that partial sleep deprivation caused a 385-kcal increase in energy intake with no compensatory effects on energy expenditure. If sleep deprivation is sustained, this net positive energy balance may easily lead to weight gain and eventually obesity.
Studies have also shown that two weeks of sleep deprivation increases the consumption of excess calories particularly from energy-dense, high-carbohydrate snacks. The current study reports similar findings but is unique because it is the first to test healthy adults under free living conditions for the duration of four weeks.
The scientists recruited 42 participants who are habitual short sleepers and put them in two groups. The control group maintained their sleep habits, while the intervention group went through a personalized sleep consultation session with the goal of extending time in bed by 1-1.5 hours per night.
The consultation was conducted with a health psychologist and focused on improving the participants’ sleep hygiene practices which include avoiding excessive caffeine intake late in the day, avoiding going to bed too full or too hungry, and others that were relevant to the participant’s lifestyle.
The intervention group was also asked to identify barriers to achieving their selected behaviors, and were assisted to create implementation intentions. Implementation intentions are a useful self-regulatory strategy that helps people plan for unexpected challenges in achieving their goals by writing out “if-then” scenarios. In the end, the participants were prescribed a recommended bedtime, which was outlined in a “behavioral contract.”
As a result of the sleep advice, 86 percent of the group increased time spent in bed and half increased their sleep duration (ranging from 52 minutes to nearly 90 minutes). After four weeks, the sleep extension group had reduced their intake of sugar by an average of 11.8 g/day, equating to approximately one-third of the UK dietary guidelines’ daily allowance. There was also a trend towards a reduced fat intake.
There were, however, no significant differences between the two groups when it came to levels of physical activity, energy expenditure, or body weight. It appears that the quality of our sleep affects the overall quality of our diets, with sleep extension leading to a tendency to select foods with lower fat and higher protein contents.
"We hope to investigate this finding further with longer-term studies examining nutrient intake and continued adherence to sleep extension behaviours in more detail, especially in populations at risk of obesity or cardio-vascular disease," the authors say.
The scientists point out that the sleep extension strategy they used is effective and easy to implement, so sleep hygiene guidelines should be used in public health messages.