“What do you think about the Keto Diet?”
As a Health Coach, I frequently get asked what I think about specific diets and health trends. Other times, I get asked about the quickest and most effective way to lose weight or gain muscle. If you have been keeping up with my blogs, you’d notice my attempts to make you more knowledgeable in making informed decisions when choosing a particular diet or joining the next popular health trend. I also try to educate people on some of the advantages and disadvantages of any given diet or lifestyle trend.
In this blog I will explore the very popular Ketogenic (a.k.a. “Keto”) Diet. After reading about the history, advantages, and disadvantages of this diet, you will be more equipped to make an informed decision about whether this dietary change is suitable for you.
What is the Keto Diet?
The Keto Diet focuses almost solely on fat. According to the Harvard School of Medicine, the Keto Diet requires a high fat content with approximately 90% of a person’s daily calories sources from fat. Essentially, the Keto Diet changes the body’s energy source from carbohydrates to fat.
Foods to be reduced or eliminated while on the keto diet include sugars, grains, starches, fruits, beans, root vegetables, low-fat products, sweet condiments, unhealthy fats, alcohol, and sugar-free foods. These changes promote the idea of limiting the body’s carbohydrate intake and eating fats instead. This puts the body in a “fasted state” where it is burning ketones instead of glucose. Ketones are a chemical produced by the liver that breaks down fats when the body is in a fasted state, after long periods of exercise, and when carbohydrates are limited.
The Ketogenic Diet was not introduced until 1921 by physicians from the Mayo Clinic who took earlier findings about fasting as a treatment for a variety of health problems like epilepsy and expanded the concept of fasting. Historically, the idea of fasting and starvation was used as a treatment for epilepsy in the early 1900’s.
Physicians during clinical trials realized that by having their patients fast for 18-25 days at a time as a treatment for epilepsy would reduce the number of seizures by approximately 50% for adults and 90% for children. The Keto Diet became popularized by NBC’s Dateline show which highlighted the life-changing effects for a child diagnosed with epilepsy. Since then, the Keto Diet has been trending as a popular diet for many people as a weight loss method. Read more about the history of the keto diet here.
With any dietary change, people want to know the best way to see improvements in their body composition. The following list contains the benefits of the Keto Diet:
- Can Help You Lose Weight. One of the primary reasons that people choose the Keto Diet is the weight loss benefits— as in, an individual’s caloric intake is low, which promotes weight loss and a change in body composition.
- May Improve Brain Function. The high-fat content in the diet promotes a reduction in inflammation that causes migraines, symptoms of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, and effects of traumatic brain injuries.
- Can Possibly Slow Cancer Progression. There is evidence that shows that the keto diet can slow the spread of some cancers. The reason for this is thought to be that some cancer-causing cells are glucose dependent.
- May Reduce Inflammation Caused by High Blood Pressure. This diet helps to control insulin levels. High insulin levels trigger illnesses like cancer and diabetes.
- Helps to Curb Sugar Habit. Following the Keto Diet regimen helps to curb sugar habits because sugars and carbohydrates were not included in the diet.
- May Increase Fertility of Females. The Keto Diet helps to improve a person’s metabolism which as a result can target fertility issues within women such as regulating hormones that cause polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
Although the advantages may be enough to persuade a person to take the leap and start the Keto Diet, it is important to get a comprehensive understanding of the disadvantages of the diet also. Below is a list of some of the disadvantages of this diet:
- Initial Weight Loss is Water Weight. It is very common for people to experience dramatic weight loss while on this diet. However, initial weight loss is primarily water weight and is likely to return once a person starts to eat carbs again.
- Limited Research of Long-Term Effects. There is not much research that studies the long-term effects of this diet.
- May Affect Brain Functioning. The brain is used to running on glucose. The Keto Diet forces the brain to switch it’s prefered energy source to ketones which may cause memory loss, headaches, migraines, and general “brain fog”.
- May Inhibit Essential Vitamin Intake. People who follow the Keto Diet may be deficient in essential nutrients like vitamin A, C, K, folate, and fiber. Long-term deficiencies can cause health-issues.
- Overconsumption of Saturated and Trans Fats. The Keto Diet requires a high intake of fat. Many individuals cannot differentiate the difference between saturated fats, trans fats, and quality fats sourced from organic products. Over-consuming saturated and trans fats can lead to heart disease and other serious health issues.
- May Produce Kidney Stones. Up to about 10% of people who follow the Keto Diet develop kidney stones because of their lack of fiber.
Now that we are aware of what the Keto Diet is all about, you may be asking yourself if this is a sustainable dietary change. What I recommend is first speaking with your primary care provider about how this diet may affect your overall and specific health. I oftentimes suggest to my clients, family members and friends that the healthiest and most sustainable way to change their diet is by incorporating a balanced, colorful, and nutrient dense diet before adhering to any one popular diet, as well as a few recommended lifestyle changes. With that being said, now that you have an idea of what the Keto Diet is, the choice is yours. Does the Keto Diet work for your lifestyle?
Stay tuned for the next blog about the Paleo Diet!