To the millions of Americans enjoying a ketogenic lifestyle to assist with weight loss, support brain function, or help manage an inflammatory or autoimmune condition, the terminology of macronutrients, especially fat, reads like a glossary:
There are the recognizable omega-3 fats found concentrated in wild salmon, sardines, walnuts, and other oily fish. The small group of oil-dense fruits we all love so much, including olives and avocados, yields a combination of monounsaturated (MUFA) and polyunsaturated (PUFA) fat. Seeds contain them in varying proportions depending on the source of course!
Coconuts contain highly effective MCTs or medium-chain triglycerides that nourish your cells and propel your body into fat-burning mode. Last but certainly not least there is saturated fat, once public enemy number one, now accepted as a beneficial, natural source of fat, is found in meat, eggs and dairy. Transaturated fats, a purely man-made, unsaturated fat pumped full of hydrogen atoms to synthetically saturate it, was once commonly used in mass food production to extend shelf life and make packaged foods “healthy,” but now we all know we should definitely avoid any of them at all costs!
You’ll also find a great deal of emphasis being placed on carbohydrates, from how much to consume to experience the full benefits of ketosis—fewer than 50 grams of carbs is generally a good starting point—to the best way to prepare a sweet potato to make it a low glycemic food.
This leaves the third macronutrient: Protein. Although interestingly, some experts cite research suggesting ketones should be considered a fourth macronutrient. They are created in the liver and shuttled to the body’s energy power plant—the mitochondria—where they are converted to fuel. This is exciting news for those of us interested in optimizing how our bodies function for sure! Let’s first explore the role of protein.
In the world of keto, questions and forums about protein are mostly limited to the right quantity of protein to eat, or even when to eat it. Followers of the lifestyle quickly discover that while keto is low-carb, it is usually not high protein. Undoubtedly, in order to optimize the outstanding benefits you can reap from a ketogenic diet, it’s crucial to understand the ins and outs of protein consumption in terms of both quality and quantity.
Protein is often referred to as the building block of life, because it is comprised of a group of 20 amino acid compounds that inhabit the body’s cellular network and play a role in every biological function. Quite literally, you are alive because of amino acids.
The body is capable of synthesizing 11 amino acids from within, called nonessential amino acids, which include arginine, a powerful neurotransmitter that aids circulation, and glycine, which supports muscle, joint strength and the immune system.
The remaining nine are essential amino acids meaning you must get them from the foods you eat including tryptophan with its sedative quality to promote relaxation and sleep; and lysine, to support muscle strength and endurance.
Every tissue, membrane and organ depend on this collection of protein builders and neurotransmitters that work independently and together to support the creation of enzymes, defending against infections, and building the structures that support your strength and mobility. In fact, there are nine types of proteins in all, each one playing a unique and critical role in the body.
About one-quarter to one-third of the body’s total protein is comprised of collagen, a strong, fibrous protein that provides the structural framework for:
A ketogenic diet, with its requirement of roughly 75% of calories from fat and moderate intake of protein can lead to digestive distress in some people, especially as the body adjusts to fat as a primary source of energy.
Many experts agree that gut health truly is the foundation of overall wellbeing, and there are many conditions that can be connected with a gut (microbiome) imbalance, often referred to as gut dysbiosis. You have the usual suspects like irritable bowel syndrome or constipation, but it doesn’t stop there. Autoimmune conditions like psoriasis or eczema, mood, and depression, weight and metabolism issues among others have all been associated with damage to the gut lining and dysbiosis. Microbiome research is a rapidly increasing field with more and more studies being done that link the health of the microbiome to our overall health. The gut is also a common site for hidden inflammation in the body.
Because collagen protein supports the health of the gut lining, many researchers suggest consuming collagen as a way to promote a healthy and strong digestive system. A happy, healthy gut is more capable of absorbing nutrients.
While eating a keto-approved portion of beef, chicken or fish may provide your body with protein, it will not supply collagen protein that nourishes connective tissue and lining of the gut. The best dietary sources of collagen are bone broths, where collagen is concentrated.
As I have discussed before, supplementation can fill gaps in nutrition and collagen supplementation has become popular in keto communities, as well as staples in healthy, active lifestyles at large, due to the convenience they offer. Powders can be used in smoothies, yogurt and beverages. Many supplement purists, however, continue to favor collagen capsules as their preferred delivery system for a variety of reasons, most often because it eliminates an additional step in the food prep process, and offers a simple way to balance the collagen-to-protein ratio as part of a keto practice.
What I recommend to individuals seeking to support digestive health while on keto is to choose a collagen supplement that is clean and pure—following the same principles as with food ingredients. In my experience, collagen supplement formulas that include proprietary ingredients, offer traceable ingredients derived from high-quality sources and are stable, clinically tested, and thoroughly studied for efficacy and safety are hands down your best bet.
For optimal benefits, choose a collagen supplement formulated with collagen peptides, which are broken down into microscopic compounds that the body can utilize more quickly to support collagen production as well as the vibrancy of connective tissue.
By understanding the role of protein and how collagen can greatly support a healthy gut, you’ll feel confident that you are maximizing the benefits from a ketogenic diet and supporting just about every system in the body!