Halifax food lab survey serves up picture of keto diet in Canada – TheChronicleHerald.ca

About four per cent of Canadian respondents in an Angus Reid poll said they were on keto diet. – File

The keto diet appears to be all the rage these days but the actual number of Canadians forgoing their sugar and carbs isn’t that high, according to a survey released Friday. 

The poll conducted by Angus Reid indicates about four per cent of Canadians are on the high-fat, low-sugar and low-carb diet. 

That number surprised Sylvain Charlebois, senior director of the Agri-food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University, which partnered with Angus Reid for the poll. 

“We were expecting to see more than four per cent given all the talk (about the diet),” Charlebois said in a recent interview. 

“The keto is by far the most talked about diet out there in the last couple of years easily and there’s a lot of intrigue around it. Celebrities endorse the diet, you’re seeing more and more food products with a keto-friendly label on it. …

“There seems to be this huge push to encourage people to adopt the keto diet so we wanted to know exactly what the state of the keto diet was in Canada.”

Not an easy diet

Angus Reid spoke to 1,502 Canadians in January with a sample carrying a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points 19 times out of 20.  

Another result that jumped out at Charlebois was the number of people who started and stopped the diet was double that of respondents who were still on it.  

“I think it points to the reality of the diet itself, it’s not an easy diet to follow,” Charlebois said. “It’s costly, it is restrictive.” 

Given the cost of meat and vegetables, Charlebois wasn’t surprised that respondents who earned more than $100,000 were three times more likely to be on the diet. 

He noted that although it’s become a high-profile diet in recent decades, it actually dates back about a century. The high-fat, low-sugar “ketogenic” diet was originally created for children with epilepsy. It was believed that higher sugar levels led to more seizures. 

The Epilepsy Foundation of America’s website says several studies have shown that the ketogenic diet “does reduce or prevent seizures in many children whose seizures could not be controlled by medications.”  

The diet caught on among the general population, particularly in the 1990s, as a weight-loss measure. With less sugar and carbohydrates to burn, the body turns to fats as its main fuel, a process known as ketosis. 

Clear thinking but strange dreams

A Nova Scotian keto dieter, who preferred not to be named, said he went “full on keto” from about mid-June to September. His weight dropped from about 210 pounds to 175 pounds in a short period. He also felt more energetic and was able to think more clearly. 

 Researcher Sylvain Charlebois said some of the results of a poll conducted by his lab and Angus Reid were surprising. - File Researcher Sylvain Charlebois said some of the results of a poll conducted by his lab and Angus Reid were surprising. – File

An unexpected side-effect involved his dreams, which he said were “a lot more vivid.” (Commenters on the Keto Reddit site report a similar effect). 

So what does meal-time look like?

“I keep out anything that would have carbs in it,” he said. “So I would avoid potatoes, starchy items, fruits actually with the sugars. Anything with any carb or sugars I’d eliminate from the diet.”

One of his favourite meals is a Korean-type salad recipe that he found online. It’s got “cabbage that you fry up, then you put onions in it and ground beef or ground pork and then have that as a meal.” He also eats a lot of egg-based meals. 

After reverting to a more typical diet in September and particularly over the holiday feast period, he went back on the keto wagon in January. 

 “I wouldn’t do it for a lifestyle change but after doing keto, I have a different view on food. I would eat whatever before: If I’m hungry, I’ll have a bagel. I didn’t think what a bagel contains.”

The diet definitely has its drawbacks – no booze that has higher sugar content, for example, such as beer.

The father of two daughters also said he’s careful at home to explain that this is a health issue and not one of body image that might give them the message they should look a certain way. 

“That’s a struggle with me, I find, because I can’t sit and have the same meal that they’re having at home.” 

Set realistic goals

Kelsey Kennedy, a dietitian and wellness facilitator with the Nova Scotia Health Authority, said anyone contemplating a radical diet change should always consult their health-care provider first. 

“So what it boils down to, whatever you’re doing for your health or weight management or whatever your goal is, is that sustainable and doable in the long term?” Kennedy said. 

She said the approach of the community health team takes into account that food choices should be based on an individual’s particular health situation and their budget. 

“Our approach is trying to support people to gain knowledge skills and then set realistic goals based on where they are, opposed to a one-size fits-all prescriptive diet.”

But for some people, keto has become a life-altering experience. Newfoundland couple Bobbi and Geoff Pike started a business and wrote a book as a result of turning to the keto diet for health reasons about three years ago. 

“We started out basically to lose weight,” Bobbi said during a phone interview on a stormy Friday afternoon from their home in Conception Bay South. “I’m a real research hound and I started digging in and quickly stumbled upon the premise of keto.”

They were skeptical at first but their family doctor told them that if keto is done properly, “it can be a very healthy way of eating.” 

“People started noticing there were some big changes happening in us,” Bobbi said. “A lot of our friends and family members were asking us question after question after question.”

They started a small keto group, which evolved into a business called East Coast Keto and a cookbook of the same name. 

“We’ve always been foodies and very much into quality food and quality flavours,” Geoff said. “We were taking all the recipes we had traditionally enjoyed and converting them around to being keto-friendly.”

As for concerns about the consequences of a restricted diet, the Pikes are firm in their belief in the benefits of a lifelong keto diet. 

“We try and focus on foods that don’t have an ingredients list – a piece of meat, a vegetable. The longer the ingredients list, the more we like to avoid it.”

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