By Kelley Herring
Cheat days… Cheat meals… The 80/20 rule of a healthy diet.
Many nutrition proponents claim that binging on unhealthy, high-carbohydrate foods on a scheduled basis is a sound strategy for staying the course of healthy eating in the long run. They suggest this can bolster your willpower on the days you’re not “cheating”… or that you need it to boost glycogen stores.
However, new research sheds light on how engaging in this “cheating eating” behavior can have some disastrous consequences.
But first, what exactly is a “cheat day” anyway?
Cheat Days: Throwing Caution (and Health!) to the Wind
We’re all human, and temptations in the culinary world are abundant.
From French fries and pizza, to ice cream, cookies, cake, bread and pasta – these foods light up the pleasure centers in our brain like a Christmas tree. They also create a vicious cycle that keeps us coming back for more.
But our attachment to these foods goes much deeper…
In fact, for most of us, comfort foods strike the deep emotional chord of nostalgia. They remind us of our childhood, celebrations and happy memories. They can even (temporarily) ease physical and emotional pain via gluteomorphins and caseomorphins – the two “craving” compounds found in wheat and dairy.
Like a siren, these foods call to us. They produce powerful longings for their culinary delights.
The result? Many of us choose to eat an ancestral ketogenic diet all week, only to land face-first in a basket of chili-cheese fries, a box of pizza or a carton of ice cream on a Saturday night.
And while these pleasures are short lived, the consequences are not.
One Cheat Meal Changes Healthy “Young Buck” to Heart Disease Status
A recent study published in the journal Nutrients found just that.
In the study, researchers recruited nine healthy young males. The subjects were given a 75-gram glucose drink before and after a seven-day high fat, low carbohydrate diet. The subjects’ diet consisted of a macronutrient ratio of 70 percent fat, 10 percent carbohydrates and 20 percent protein (close to the macronutrient ration that would be considered “ketogenic”).
The researchers then evaluated how the glucose drink impacted their endothelium – the delicate lining of blood vessels, which is vital for healthy cardiovascular function.
One of the researchers, Dr. Jonathan Little said:
“Even though these were otherwise healthy young males, when we looked at their blood vessel health after consuming the glucose drink, the results looked like they might have come from someone with poor cardiovascular health. It was somewhat alarming.”
This is the first study of its kind, and I’d venture to guess that with additional research, we’d learn of other harmful biochemical processes that occur from partaking in “cheat meals”. Dr. Little added:
“Our data suggests a ketogenic diet is not something you do for six days a week and take Saturday off.”
But we have a dietary dilemma…
Cheat Meals (without the Cheat?)
On one hand, we want to protect our health and avoid eating behaviors that could harm us in the long run. On the other hand, deprivation can make you feel like you’re missing out on things you love. And that can make us want these things even more.
I know this is true for me. I long for chewy bread slathered in grass-fed butter and sweet cookies. For me, it is not so much a biochemical craving, but an emotional one. Cooking and baking make me happy. It gives me purpose. And enjoying these foods brings me pleasure.
That’s why I’ve developed recipes over the years for ketogenic treats that keep me on track. It’s much easier to say “No thanks” to a more harmful conventional treat when I know I have a healthier substitute – that tastes just as good and won’t spike my blood sugar or expose my body to inflammatory sugar and grains.
Here are a few examples of how I use keto comfort foods to protect my health and keep me on track:
Pastured eggs and sugar-free bacon with sliced, toasted homemade Keto French Bread and grass-fed butter
Ground pastured lamb meatballs with Paleo tzatziki sauce and Keto Pita Bread
A Keto Reuben sandwich made with grass-fed corned beef, Primal Kitchen Thousand Island on my Keto Rye Bread
Typically, I’ll make a loaf of grain-free bread, a batch of healthfully-sweetened cookies or have a keto-friendly pizza or sandwich once per week. By doing this, I scratch the itch for comfort foods… without derailing my healthy diet.
One final note on this approach. The goal is NOT to recreate the fatally-flawed food pyramid with grain-free substitutes, but rather include these better-for-you options on occasion, and still treat them as treats.
Do you enjoy healthy cheat foods instead of conventional cheat foods? If so, what are your favorites?
Share your favorite healthier “cheat foods” on Instagram (#uswellnessmeats).
Read more of Kelley Herring’s health & wellness articles on our Discover Blog.
Kelley Herring is the author of the brand new book Keto Breads – which includes more information you need to know about why it is so important to avoid wheat and grains in your diet, plus how to use healthy replacements for these foods to create all the breads you love… without the gluten, carbs and health-harming effects. Click here to learn more about Keto Breads…
Cody Durrer, Nia Lewis, Zhongxiao Wan, Philip Ainslie, Nathan Jenkins, Jonathan Little. Short-Term Low-Carbohydrate High-Fat Diet in Healthy Young Males Renders the Endothelium Susceptible to Hyperglycemia-Induced Damage, An Exploratory Analysis. Nutrients, 2019; 11 (3): 489 DOI: 10.3390/nu11030489