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.