olive oil and healthy fat sources for mediterranean keto diet

Healthy Fats & the Mediterranean Keto Diet

In the land of the Mediterranean keto diet, where the focus is not only on weight loss but also on overall health and longevity, choosing the right fats plays a key role. Fat, as we know has often been vilified in “conventional” diets, emerges as a hero in this lifestyle, with its diverse array of forms and functions. Let’s take a look at the world of healthy fats and unravel their significance in promoting wellness.

The Mediterranean keto diet is more than mere weight loss, it embraces overall health and vitality, so understanding the relationship between healthy fats and mitochondria becomes paramount.

Fats, often condemned, are really an essential part of this way of eating, while mitochondria (the powerhouses of our cells) coordinate the delicate balance of energy production and cellular function.

Let’s explore how these two things work together to make us healthier and happier. But first… What on earth is mitochondria? I always try to avoid too much jargon and scientific terms. We just want to maintain a healthy lifestyle, with some clear and simple methods! I know I do. But, sometimes understanding the biology and science behind things is useful. So here is my (very basic) understanding of it.

Understanding Healthy Fats in the Mediterranean Keto Diet

Mitochondria: The Powerhouses of the Cell

Mitochondria, are tiny structures organising our cellular metabolism. Their primary role revolves around the production of energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) through cellular respiration. This intricate process involves breaking down nutrients, such as glucose and fatty acids, in the presence of oxygen to generate ATP, which serves as the currency of energy for various biological processes within the cell.

Also, mitochondria play pivotal roles in regulating cell growth and death, maintaining cellular homeostasis, and orchestrating cellular signalling pathways essential for overall cellular function. Homeostasis is, basically, like the body’s internal thermostat, keeping things balanced for overall health and well-being.

It involves various physiological mechanisms that regulate temperature, pH levels, hydration, and other factors within narrow ranges to ensure optimal functioning of cells and organs. They are essential for the proper functioning of cells and are particularly abundant in tissues with high energy demands, such as muscle cells and neurons.

You can start to see how this is all relevant to what you eat. Moving on swiftly…

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Healthy Fats: The Fuel for Wellness in the Mediterranean Keto Diet:

Not all fats are created equal and not all types of fat serve the same purpose. Here is a summary of the different types of fats and how they benefit us.

Short-Chain Fatty Acids (SCFAs)

Short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) represent the metabolic synergy between our dietary choices and gut microbiota. Microbiota refers to all the tiny living organisms, like bacteria, fungi, and viruses, that live inside and on our bodies. These organisms are found in places like our skin, mouth, gut, and other parts of our body. They play important roles in things like digestion, immunity, and overall health. Essentially, they’re a community of tiny organisms that call our bodies home.

These valuable compounds, found in fermented foods, select cheeses, butter, and cow’s milk, serve as direct mitochondrial uncouplers. Moreover, they are produced by gut bacteria when we consume fibre-rich foods, emphasising their role in maintaining gut health and metabolic balance.

Medium-Chain Triglycerides (MCTs)

Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), prevalent in goat and sheep dairy products, offer just that. Upon consumption, they undergo rapid conversion into ketones by the liver, subsequently uncoupling mitochondria. This efficient metabolic pathway not only aids in weight management but also provides a quick energy boost, making MCTs a prized component of the Mediterranean keto diet.

MCTs epitomise swift energy sources in the Mediterranean keto diet. As I often say, these are abundant in goat and sheep cheese, converted into ketones by the liver, uncoupling mitochondria and providing a quick energy boost. This metabolic efficiency is shown to aid in weight management.

What is “uncoupling mitochondria”?

In simple terms, “uncoupling mitochondria” refers to a process where the mitochondria, which are like tiny energy factories in our cells, become less efficient at producing energy. Normally, mitochondria generate energy (in the form of ATP) by converting nutrients like glucose and fats into usable energy through a process called cellular respiration.

However, when mitochondria are uncoupled, this energy production process becomes less efficient. Instead of producing ATP, the mitochondria release energy as heat without generating ATP. This process is similar to a car engine running without moving the car forward—it burns fuel (nutrients) but doesn’t produce usable energy.

In the context of the Mediterranean keto diet, certain fats like medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) have the ability to uncouple mitochondria. This can be beneficial for weight loss and metabolic health because it increases calorie expenditure and may promote the burning of stored fat for energy. Essentially, uncoupling mitochondria can help boost metabolism and promote fat burning.

Long-Chain Fatty Acids (LCFAs)

Long-chain fatty acids (LCFAs) form the cornerstone of cellular vitality, abundant in fatty fish like salmon and sardines, meat, dairy, eggs, oils, and nuts. These delicious foods aren’t just a feast for your appetite but also a source of long-chain fatty acids (LCFAs). LCFAs contribute to the body’s energy reserves and serve as essential building blocks for various cellular structures. Their inclusion in the Mediterranean keto diet highlights the importance of embracing whole, nutrient-dense foods for optimal health.

Very Long-Chain Fatty Acids (VLCFAs)

Very long-chain fatty acids (VLCFAs) offer a protective shield against heart disease, with one standout, “C22”, showing potent cardioprotective effects. When I say “VLCFA C22,” I’m talking about fatty acids with a chain length of 22 carbon atoms. These fatty acids play various roles in the body, including providing energy and helping to maintain the structure and function of cells.

Macadamia nuts, for example, serve as a doorway to these valuable fats, nourishing the body while safeguarding against chronic ailments. Research suggests that higher levels of this particular fat in the bloodstream are associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, underscoring its protective role in cardiovascular health. Incorporating VLCFAs into your dietary repertoire aligns perfectly with the Mediterranean keto ethos of nourishing the body while safeguarding against chronic ailments.

Foods to boost VLCFAs and C22 are typically found in certain types of fats and oils. Some examples of foods that contain VLCFAs with 22 carbon atoms include:

1. Fish oils, such as those found in salmon, mackerel, and sardines.

2. Certain plant oils, such as flaxseed oil and hemp oil.

3. Nuts and seeds, particularly walnuts and chia seeds.

4. Avocados, which contains healthy monounsaturated fats, including some VLCFAs.

5. Dairy products, especially whole milk, sheep & goat cheese, which contain some VLCFAs in their fat content.

These foods can provide essential fatty acids, including VLCFAs, that are important for overall health when consumed as part of a balanced Mediterranean keto diet.

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Fats serve as both fuel and foundation for vigorous health. From the metabolic function of SCFAs and MCTs to the cellular energy presented by LCFAs and VLCFAs, each one contributes uniquely to your body’s holistic well-being.

The Mediterranean keto diet combines the principles of the traditional Mediterranean diet with the ketogenic diet. It emphasises whole, nutrient-dense foods such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, olive oil, fatty fish, and lean proteins, while minimising your intake of processed foods, sugars, and refined carbohydrates.

By promoting the consumption of healthy fats, lean proteins, and fibre-rich foods, this approach aims to optimise metabolic health, support weight management, and reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

Additionally, it encourages mindful eating practices and embraces the social and cultural aspects of Mediterranean cuisine, promoting a sustainable and enjoyable approach to long-term health and wellness.

Reducing the risk of chronic diseases

Reducing the risk of chronic diseases is a basis of the Mediterranean keto diet, and its multi-layered, flexible approach addresses various factors contributing to the development of these ailments. Here’s how the Mediterranean keto diet works to lessen the risk of chronic diseases:

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1. Improving Metabolic Health

By emphasising whole, nutrient-dense foods and limiting processed foods and sugars, the Mediterranean keto diet helps stabilise blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity. This can reduce the risk of developing insulin resistance, a precursor to type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

2. Supporting Heart Health

The Mediterranean keto diet prioritises heart-healthy fats such as olive oil, fatty fish, and nuts, which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fats. These fats help lower levels of harmful LDL cholesterol and triglycerides while increasing levels of beneficial HDL cholesterol, thereby reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases like heart attack and stroke.

3. Reducing Inflammation

Chronic inflammation is a common underlying factor in many chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers. The Mediterranean keto diet is rich in anti-inflammatory foods such as fermented foods, fruits, vegetables, olive oil, and fatty fish, while minimising pro-inflammatory processed foods and refined carbohydrates. This can help inhibit inflammatory processes in the body, reducing the risk of chronic inflammatory diseases.

4. Supporting Weight Management

Excess weight and obesity are significant risk factors for chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers. The Mediterranean keto diet promotes weight loss and weight management by encouraging the consumption of satiating, nutrient-dense foods while minimising calorie-dense, processed foods. Additionally, the ketogenic aspect of the diet, which encourages the body to burn fat for fuel, increases fat loss, even if you have limited mobility.

5. Improving Gut Health

Recent research shows that gut health plays a crucial role in overall health and immunity, with disruptions in gut microbiota linked to various chronic diseases.

The Mediterranean keto diet, with its emphasis on fibre-rich foods like vegetables, fruits, and nuts, promotes a diverse and healthy gut microbiome. Additionally, fermented foods such as yogurt and certain cheeses contribute beneficial probiotics, further supporting gut health and reducing the risk of diseases related to gut “dysbiosis”.

This is when there’s a disruption in the normal balance of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other microorganisms living in the gut. This imbalance can lead to an overgrowth of harmful bacteria or a decrease in beneficial bacteria, which can negatively affect digestion, immune function, and overall health. Gut dysbiosis has been linked to various health conditions, including gastrointestinal disorders, autoimmune diseases, obesity, and mental health disorders.

Summary

In summary, the Mediterranean keto diet offers a holistic approach to reducing the risk of chronic diseases by improving metabolic health, supporting heart health, reducing inflammation, promoting weight management, and enhancing gut health.

By focusing on whole, nutrient-dense foods and mindful eating practices, this approach empowers you to take control of your health and well-being for the long term.

Don’t forget to check out my new E-book, “Keto Me Fit – The Mediterranean Approach, A New Healthy Balance“. Thanks for reading! ~ KJ

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