The keto diet. I know you’ve heard of it, but is it legit? I mean, Kim Kardashian West has reportedly lost a ton of weight on it—75 pounds!—but she’s not exactly the gold standard for credible diet advice. So let’s take a look at what the ketogenic diet is and how it works—with my two cents as a registered dietitian about what I *really* think about it.
Ketogenesis is a state where your body is deprived of carbohydrates, causing it to use fat for energy. On what we call a “mixed” diet (basically an average diet that includes all foods), the human body will use simple sugars (a.k.a. glucose) from carbohydrates as its primary source of energy. When a person restricts carbs to around 50 grams a day or less, they enter the state of ketosis. In ketosis, you’ll lose weight quickly, but if you break out of this state and eat more than 50 grams of carbs, the weight will likely come right back—just as fast.
What is the ketogenic diet?
The ketogenic diet is not a high-protein diet, as some people believe. It’s actually high in fat (80 percent), with the rest of the diet comprised of protein (15 percent) and carbs (5 percent). That means you’ll be eating the majority of your calories from foods such as coconut oil, nuts, meats, eggs and low-carb vegetables. While that might sound good for the short-term, IRL it’s pretty hard to maintain. Even Kardashian West’s “celebrity nutritionist,” who likely put her on the keto diet in the first place, said that it’s “used for temporary but quick weight loss.” Meaning, the diet is more hare than tortoise on the spectrum of weight loss—quick loss (and quick re-gain) vs. a slow and steady drop for long-term maintenance.
(Interestingly enough, that same celeb nutritionist has cautioned against people just jumping on the keto diet without doing a blood test that specifically measures cholesterol levels and the amount of fatty substances in your body. Uncharacteristically smart words from a “celebrity nutritionist,” in my humble opinion.)
Some claims about keto are questionable
Digging a bit deeper, I found stories making claims about keto, some of which royally pissed me off. Without citing any specific research, one story stated that a ketogenic diet “can [potentially, as research states] help combat cancer; according to research it can potentially help with longevity, brain function [boost brain energy], polycystic ovarian syndrome, increase energy. The diet has no major medical or nutritional negatives. The diet also works for vegans and vegetarians.”
This is a prime example of why you should be careful about the sources of your nutrition information. Everything written in that quote is actually NOT true—except for the vegan and vegetarian part: that’s true, but the writer makes it seem easy. For those who are plant-based, the already-difficult keto diet is even more challenging. Vegan keto? Get ready to eat a LOT of nuts.
The downsides of the diet
Among the major medical and nutritional negatives are that the diet is frequently high in saturated fats, which have not yet been vindicated from their harmful reputation, no matter which “nutrition guru” says otherwise. . The keto diet can also be low in variety, which can impact the enjoyment of eating, and low in fibre, which can impact regularity. The dearth of carbohydrates on keto can negatively affect energy and performance levels in active people and athletes, because carbohydrates are the first-line for energy in humans. Research shows that while some athletes claim to perform well on a keto diet, most of us can’t.
There is zero conclusive research performed on humans that the ketogenic diet combats cancer or does anything else that is stated above. No. No. No. There’s a reason why the U.S. News & World Report ranked the ketogenic diet last on the Best Diet Overall list— ehind such favourites like the “Abs Diet” and even Slimfast—because of its rigidity and difficulty to sustain for the long term.
The benefits of the keto diet
There are some people who do well on keto. Those who subscribe to the philosophy of “eating to live” rather than “living to eat” and don’t care too much about dining out a lot may be able to follow it for the long-term. Some doctors and dietitians are beginning to discuss ketogenic diets for diabetic patients. The keto diet has been effectively used for decades in children with seizure disorders, as well.
You might think I’m completely against low-carb diets because of what I’ve written above, but in fact, I’m all for them! I just think there’s a way to balance low-card diets to make them more enjoyable, more sustainable—and a bit more inclusive than going to the keto end of the spectrum.
If you’re looking to cut carbs, but aren’t convinced to go as far as keto, here are my four best tips:
Understand what healthy carbs are
Healthy carbs are whole grains and starchy vegetables, especially potatoes. Anyone can eat processed carbs in a limited way, but if you choose your carbs wisely, they’ll help satiate and satisfy you, as well as provide nourishment. A medium baked potato, for example, contains 163 calories, 4 grams of fiber, and 32 grams of carbs. In comparison, an average slice of pizza contains around 230 calories, 1 gram of fiber, and 25 grams of carbs. The potato have have more carbs, but it also contains vitamins and minerals that the pizza may not have (plus, who eats just one slice of pizza?).
Don’t make it all about the meat
Yes, protein is important so you feel full and, let’s face it, to provide variety in your diet. But eating bacon wrapped in cheese for meals just isn’t healthy for anyone. It may be fun to feel like you can eat a ton of foods that you have always thought weren’t healthy—bacon, fatty steak and butter, for example—but remember that saturated fat is still thought to contribute to heart disease in some way. That being said, you still need vegetables to provide antioxidants, vitamins and fibre. Have your protein, and load up on non-starchy vegetables at meals and snacks. I recommend at least eight servings a day to complete your diet (a serving is 1 cup of salad or 1/2 cup non-leafy greens).
Understand how low you personally can go
Some people can go with fewer carbs than others. I know that if I limit carbs too much, I feel terrible. It took me a bit of trial and error to figure that out, and everyone has a different tolerance. Don’t bend to fit yourself into a certain level of carbs per day; make your carb level enough so that you still feel good. That may mean that you’re eating a few more grams of carbs than your friends or what you’ve been told you should eat, but listening to your body is far more important than just subscribing to an arbitrary recommendation.
Choose a variety of fats, but keep most of them healthy
Even if you’re not doing a high-fat, low-carb diet, low-carb diets in general tend to be higher in overall fat because of the amount of animal protein they contain (unless you’re a low-carb vegan). Try to choose a higher percentage healthy fat foods such as avocados, nuts, fish and seeds.
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