Ketogenic diet gains popularity in Saudi Arabia

The Keto diet has a growing number of advocates in the Kingdom. (Shutterstock)
Updated 22 April 2019

Ketogenic diet gains popularity in Saudi Arabia

  • Ketofied Movement aims to revolutionize the food industry and raise health awareness

JEDDAH: The world is becoming more health conscious every day, and of the many diets gaining popularity in the Kingdom, one is the ketogenic (keto) diet. 

Canadian-Saudi nutritionist Sarah El-Azzah, 38, has four chronic medical conditions. She suffers from type 3 polyglandular autoimmune syndrome, celiac disease, hyperthyroidism and adult latent autoimmune diabetes. 

“I was always getting sick, in and out of hospitals for 15 years, saw about 250 doctors worldwide. I have compiled and done so much research, because I was not getting answers — it was like looking for a needle in a haystack. 

“I changed so many diets — high carb, low-carb, high-protein, the alkaline diet, the South Beach diet, the Mediterranean diet, the Paleo diet. I would get better for a few months, and then my intestines started to suffer again. I was a personal and group trainer for 11 years, but even sometimes training for four hours a day, my blood sugars were always too low or too high. 

“At one point, I was receiving 23,000 emails a day with medical information in the fields of microbiology, immunology, psychiatry, psychology, gastroenterology, endocrinology. I’ve read 226 books on nutrition, psychology, pathology, neurology, autoimmune disorders, oncology, just to make sense of what might be wrong with me.

“It turns out the answer was very simple: Food. I was eating the wrong type of food for the longest time.”

On Nov. 10, 2017, after suffering one of her worst diabetic attacks ever, she decided to collate all the research she had done over the past 15 years, and compare and contrast all the diets she had tried in order to stabilize her blood sugar levels. It led her, ultimately, to conclude that the keto diet was the best for her. 

She contacted doctors to get their approval.

“They refused, but I took the risk anyway. Nov. 12, 2017 was the day I started the keto diet after being in and out of hospital  for 15 years, and I never looked back.”

Sarah has now stayed the course for 18 months. “It changed my life inside out, not just physically, but mentally, emotionally — my cognitive function is better now then before I fell ill.”

But what made her choose the keto diet?

“It is the cleanest source of energy. Imagine having a beautiful expensive car, a Ferrari, and instead of putting in fuel, you are actually putting water. How will the car run? I do not think it will run at all. It is the same for human beings. Babies are born in a state of ketosis. Breast milk is 73 percent ketogenic, and that is why breast feeding is highly encouraged. 

“Our brains are 66 percent made up of fat, yet we give them glucose, so that is why the levels of anxiety, depression, obesity, diseases have risen dramatically over the past 50 years. We are simply feeding ourselves with rubbish.

“Depression in 2020 will be the second leading disease in the world according to the World Health Organization. My point of view is food is responsible for this.”

She says people are misinformed when it comes to ketogenic lifestyles and ketosis.

“Keto is not about eating loads of butter, meat and keto sweets. It is about consuming unprocessed, grassfed and organic foods. I believe that 90 percent of people follow keto the wrong way.” 

As part of her success story, El-Azzah established her business, Ketofied Movement, located in Al-Zahra district, Jeddah, that aims to revolutionize the food industry in Saudi Arabia and to raise health awareness in general. She launched her Instagram account (@ketofiedmovement) in March 2018.

“It is to decipher misleading information regarding nutrition, fitness and health. We have been manipulated by giant food companies and health associations regarding food, and what is healthy and what is not.Therefore, I want the truth to be heard. 

“I launched my Instagram account to help the community as much as I can and to raise health awareness and change people’s mindsets through education.” 

Her ideas are backed by world-renowned ketosis doctors and pioneers such as Dr. Tim Noakes, Dr. Richard Bernstein, Dr.Joseph Mercola, Dr. Jason Fung and Dr. Ken Berry. And, she explained, Saudis are showing an interest in the diet.

“I am so happy, because my aim was for restaurants, food suppliers, home bakers, and coffee shops to sell keto food and keto products. At the beginning, it was difficult to penetrate the market, but I had a presentation ready with all the keto approved foods and ingredients in order for them not to be confused.

“I would explain what keto was in simple terms, and the Saudi population was really responsive to that.” 

The endorsements are legion. Saudi 23-year-old law student Abdullah Al-Blowi, who is a bodybuilder, endurance athlete and practicing mixed martial artist said: “Keto helped me maintain a lean physique and control my weight.”

Pakistani teacher Amna Shaikh added: “In my keto journey, I lost around 25 kilograms and I feel fresh and active. My skin has improved, my migraines have gone and my backache frequency is reduced.”

Benefits of the ketogenic diet: 

• Initial weight loss.

• Reduced appetite. 

• A greater proportion of fat loss from the abdominal cavity.

• Triglycerides drop drastically.

• Increased levels of “good” cholesterol. 

• Reduced blood sugar and insulin levels.

• Lowers blood pressure.

• Improves cognitive function.

• Lessens gut inflammation. 

• Better sleep quality.

• Increased productivity.

State of ketosis:

On a typical standard diet the body’s cells use glucose as their primary form of energy. Glucose is typically derived from dietary carbohydrates, including:

Sugar — such as fruits and milk or yogurt.

Starchy foods — such as bread and pasta.

The body breaks these down into simple sugars. Glucose can either be used to fuel the body or be stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen.

If there is not enough glucose available to meet energy demands, the body will adopt an alternative strategy in order to meet those needs. Specifically, the body begins to break down fat stores to provide glucose from triglycerides.

Ketones, a by-product of this process, are acids that build up in the blood and are eliminated in urine. In small amounts, they serve to indicate that the body is breaking down fat.

Ketosis describes the metabolic state whereby the body converts fat stores into energy, releasing ketones in the process.

Due to the fact that ketosis breaks down fat stored within the body, some diets aim to create this metabolic state so as to facilitate weight loss.


Meet Abdulrahman Eid: The Syrian artist inspired by Hijazi heritage

Updated 24 May 2019

Meet Abdulrahman Eid: The Syrian artist inspired by Hijazi heritage

  • ‘Saudi Arabia is becoming a fertile environment for young artists to develop’

JEDDAH: The unique heritage of the historic Jeddah area and the surrounding Hijaz region has long proved fascinating for visitors. That was certainly true for Abdulrahman Eid, a Syrian artist who has lived in the Kingdom for 18 years, and whose work is inspired by Hijazi culture and artistic heritage.

Eid was born in Damascus in 1997. Before moving to Saudi Arabia, he helped restore and renovate historic buildings and works of art, including antiques, manuscripts, and paintings.

He currently works as a jewelry designer in Jeddah, and has plans to share his knowledge with the public through courses and workshops, as he believes jewelry design could and should be much more popular in the Middle East.

Eid first came to Saudi Arabia to work as the director of an exhibition of Eastern and Antarctic at. He said he exhibited some of the work he had produced at Janadriyah’s cultural festival in 2002 and 2003. But between 2003 and 2018, he took a break from making his own artwork.

However, he is now back with a vengeance. His latest creation —  a diorama that portrays life in Jeddah in the 1950s, consists of more than 1,700 pieces, which Eid hopes will get him into the record books. His decision to document life in old Jeddah was partly driven, he says, by nostalgia for his homeland, and partly by his wish to acknowledge his appreciation of art.


The project, which Eid hopes to finish and present to the public within the next two weeks, has taken the artist more than three years of hard work so far, much of which was spent researching.

“I collected many books and old photographs of various Orientalists and studied how they were documenting the country in the 30s, 40s, and 50s,” he said. Eid found numerous sources through which he could study various historic houses and neighborhoods of old Jeddah, including —  of course —  walking the streets himself. He cites Noor Wali House, Al-Batarji, Beit Nasif, Al-Matbouli and others as inspirations. However, none of the houses in his artwork are named, or presented as exact replicas of existing buildings. 

“Some houses and neighborhoods with important historic value do not exist anymore, and I do not want to diminish any of their value. I collected various elements from different houses and made it into one unnamed neighborhood that imitates the reality of the past,” he said.

Eid’s diorama is 320 cm long, 130 cm high and 45 cm wide. It is full of houses, antique cars and shops — a carpet shop, a silver shop, a copper shop, and a shop for household items, such as pottery.

The intricate miniature pieces in the shops include handmade carpets, hanging lamps, lanterns, old swords and other weapons, old-fashioned household appliances, mirrors, antiques, gifts, and handicrafts of the kind sold to pilgrims. “I tried to integrate all the elements that were there in Hijaz in the past,” he said. “It is more of a documentary artwork.” Staying faithful to his source material, Eid even used precious stones and metals to create the miniature merchandise.

Eid describes his project as “a collection of around 10 types of art, including miniature, diorama, painting, sculpture, formative art, and jewelry design.”

His buildings incorporate the many distinctive decorative styles of traditional Hijazi architecture: panelings, moldings, door shapes, and Rawashin — the carved latticed windows typical of the area. “It contains a huge amount of art that interested the people of the country at that time,” he said of his ambitious project.

Eid said he has benefitted from the knowledge of many people who are familiar with historical Jeddah — including intellectuals, architects, civil engineers and local dignitaries.

“Many people have visited me in my studio and seen the work,” he said. “I’ve made a lot of amendments based on their recommendations. I took their comments into account and restructured the work several times over the past year until I finally reached the version that most closely embodies the reality.”

Eid said the fine and precise nature, and the astonishing variety, of Hijazi arts presented a serious challenge —  one that he was keen to embrace. “I found a unique, unparalleled precision and accuracy in Hijazi artistic heritage,” he said. “It is harmoniously composed of rich elements that I have not found in any other regions of the Kingdom.”

Still, he did sometimes worry that he had taken on too big a task. “Sometimes I felt I would not finish it for years,” he said.

Hijazi culture

Hijazi culture, Eid pointed out, is “cross-cultural.” Jeddah has been the main port for pilgrims for hundreds of years, and as a result, the city and surrounding areas have gained a unique character —  possessing the spirit of numerous other cities from both East and West. 

Eid claimed that anyone visiting Jeddah’s historic areas would likely see something of their own country there. “I saw something of Syria,” he said.

Over the last fortnight or so, photographs of Eid’s project have been widely shared on social media —  with some people mistakenly claiming that the images were off work based on the old cities in Damascus or Cairo.

“I was pleased with what happened,” Eid said. “I received a lot of encouragement and support.”

The Syrian artist said he has had many similar experiences with Damascene architecture when he was working in his homeland. “I have to say, though, that this experience has been more enjoyable, with its challenges, fine details, and richness,” he added. 

Eid said he believes recent years have seen an evolving renaissance in the arts in Saudi Arabia, marked by growing interest from the government and the public in the Kingdom’s heritage and its cultural value. 

“Saudi Arabia is becoming a fertile environment for young artists to develop,” he said. “The number of galleries has multiplied, and a real movement has begun. I believe this movement in Saudi Arabia will grant the youth diverse opportunities and will raise the standards and the level of competition between them.” Such competition is important to improve artists’ abilities and the quality of art works delivered to the public, he added.

While Eid views the current condition as very healthy, he pointed out that there are many young artists who need financial support if they are really going to fulfill their potential, and that “those who have the financial support still need guidance.”

“Regardless of everything,” he concluded. “I am sure the future is promising.”