Fat makes food tastier and help us feel full, there for it’s a no-brainer why high-fat ketogenic diet has become so popular over the last 3 years. There’s not a day gone by that I’m not asked about it and some of my clients even brought keto cook books to the clinic to ask me about specific recipes. However, the keto diet has been around for much longer and is a common treatment for epilepsy since the early 1920’s. It has also shown some clinical potential in treating brain cancer. But is it useful for weight loss?
As with most weight loss programmes there are the scientifically factual pros and cons and there’s my own objective opinion which I will get to at the end of this blog entry. If you’re only interested in my opinion and not at all interested in fact then you’re welcome to jump directly to the end.
First let’s start with the basics: whilst on this diet, 0% of your daily calorie intake comes from fat. Yes, it’s fat heaven (or heaven for fats). 5-10% of your daily calorie intake comes from carbs (20-50 grams per day), and the rest (up to 25%) comes from proteins. This is not your run of the mill diet.
In this diet, the low carb target can only be achieved by avoiding grain, dairy products, fruit and legumes. In addition, starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes or squash are also out and low-carb vegetables are limited.
So what else is there left for you to eat I hear you asking. The typical keto breakfast will include eggs cooked in butter. Meat, chicken or fish with salad or green vegetables and plenty of olive oil dressing for lunch and most importantly, no alcohol. Not even red wine… and yes, bear is alcohol…. So it’s out.
The name ketogenic diet comes from a process called ketosis. This process happens when your body doesn’t receive enough energy from glucose (carbs) so it adapts itself to using stored fat (those love handles) for energy. And if it all works according to the manual, the result is weight loss.
Keto diet can produce impressive initial weight loss but data shows that the sustainability of this diet is somewhat questionable because most people cannot stick to this regime for long.
Now let’s talk about the pros and cons.
Say goodbye to counting calories – you can stop worrying about calories or portion size. Instead you get a list of foods you can have as much as you want of. The caloric intake is limited by simply limiting the type of foods you may eat. This means that you might start out over indulging with the goose liver and bacon, but this won’t last long (see next point)
Wave farewell to anger – research shows that production of ketone bodies lowers the levels of ghrelin (anger hormone). Bottom line is that on this diet your satiety will last longer.
The kilos and pounds will fall off quickly (at least initially) – when carbs are limited, your body uses the carbohydrates which are stored in your muscles and liver (we call it glycogen). Since glycogen is stored in a water based environment, restricting carbs will mean rapid loss of water weight. Arguably this is not ‘real’ weight and doesn’t make you healthier, however, this early perceived weight loss often acts as a great motivator to continue with the programme.
Potential cardiovascular benefits – Research shows that following Keto diet anywhere from 3 months to 3 years significantly improves triglycerides and HDL (good) cholesterol levels, as well as increases the size of LDL (bad) cholesterol particles (lowering the risk of heart disease). There’s also evidence that keto diet reduces blood sugar, insulin, C-reactive protein (CRP is a maker for inflammation) and ab-flab. However, as impressive as these may appear, most weight loss diets will show improvements in these sorts of metabolic risk factors
It’s a ‘yawn’ diet – in other words, it’s boring because of the limited types of food you can eat. Eating the same things over and over again can lead to ‘taste fatigue’ which can eventually make you crack and eat things that are off the menu.
Say goodbye to your social life – This is a trade-off that many people are not willing to make. Alcohol and desserts are off the menu and there’s no guarantee that the food that you’re ordering doesn’t contain off-limit ingredients. Clients who are on the keto diets have told me that they have turned down social events in order to avoid temptation.
Digestive problems - similarly to low-carb diet, getting enough dietary fibre on keto can become a challenge. This can lead to constipation in the short term and with time increased risk of colorectal cancer.
Potential nutrient deficiencies – another no brainer. Very limited types of food means that calcium, magnesium, selenium, thiamine, vitamins C and D which are present in the avoided foods are likely to become deficient. Therefore if you’re planning on following this diet for more than 2 weeks it is essential you consult a nutritionist to ensure you will meet all your nutrient needs.
It requires supervision – epileptic people on keto diet are monitored closely by medical professionals, which means that this is not a diet to be taken lightly or to be administered without professional supervision. If you have any known medical conditions you should consult your doctor before starting with keto.
One of the questions I’m often asked by people who are on (or considering) keto diet is how to find your ideal carb intake. This is quite an individual matter and as you’d expect, it too, has its pros and cons. If you are on a keto (or considering it) I highly recommend you read my article on finding your own carb zone.
If you’ve reached this far you deserve to know what my own opinion is. In my view the benefits of keto are of little clinical significance. That means that any advantages over other diets are too insignificant to make a big difference in your life. This restrictive diet will seriously hamper your quality of life and your enjoyment of food. In addition, any diet that throws off your digestive health is off the table for me. Furthermore, while the ketogenic diet is promoted as key to switching your body into fat-burning mode, research suggests that fat loss actually slows down as your body starts to break down your muscle for energy.
People who enjoy low carb diets and feel energised from eating fats and oils can do well on keto. People, myself included, who like their fruits, whole grains and vegetables and the occasional dairy product and dark chocolate will find it a struggle to avoid their favourite foods. The bottom line is that the best diet isn’t really a diet at all. It’s a way of eating which you can stick to over a prolonged period of time and which will increase your overall health and will not leave you depleted or make you antisocial. All in all, keto doesn’t seem like a healthy lifestyle change to me.
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