One of the more recent popular diets has been the Keto (Ketogenic) diet. As with any diet, it could help people successfully lose weight. But before jumping on the train headed to Weightlossville, it’s important to understand what the diet is, the foods it includes, the foods it avoids, the benefits and risks or concerns of the diet.
It’s even more important to determine if this diet is right for you by speaking with your doctor and a registered dietitian, as opposed to those without any formal nutrition science and medical training.
What is the Keto Diet?
It may surprise you, but the keto diet is actually over 80 years old. It has been used in clinical settings for the treatment of epilepsy in children. It has gained popularity in the general population of people trying to lose weight.
The keto diet is a high-fat diet that severely reduces carbohydrate intake. (Sound familiar to Atkins!? It is different, but…) This allows the liver to produce ketone bodies, which then are used as the main fuel source of burning energy in the body over glucose. This puts the body into a state called ketosis. It’s important to note that a ketogenic diet does not necessarily result in more fat loss over a non-ketogenic diet.1
Problem #1 – while your body will use ketone bodies as fuel regardless of how it happened, the process by burning anything other than glucose is extremely inefficient. In most cases, the extra work is actually damaging as it first burns muscle, not fat. This later will result in you burning less calories at rest – making weight loss harder.
About 75% fat, 20% protein, and 5% carbohydrate make up the keto diet. The diet provides enough protein for growth. However, the amount of carbohydrates is inadequate for the body’s metabolic needs. And fat is relatively inefficient to burn (and very calorie dense!)
Foods of the Keto Diet
- Meat (red meat, bacon, sausage, ham, turkey, chicken)
- Fatty fish (salmon, tuna, trout, anchovies, sardines, mackerel)
- Full-fat dairy foods (eggs, butter, cream, unprocessed cheese)
- Low carb vegetables (such as leafy greens, peppers, celery, asparagus, cucumbers)
- Healthy oils (olive, coconut, avocado)
- Nuts (walnuts, almonds, etc.)
- Seeds (flax, chia, pumpkin, etc.)
Foods not included in the Keto Diet
- Sugar (including sugary foods and drinks)
Let’s repeat one thing again – FRUITS are excluded. These are very vitamin and mineral rich, and while yes they have natural sugars and need moderation, they are part of any well balanced diet.
Potential Benefits of a Keto Diet
- Fast weight loss
- Lower blood glucose levels
- May decrease inflammation
- May benefit patients with type 2 diabetes
Potential Risks/Concerns of staying on a Keto Diet for long periods
- Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
- Lack of healthy gut flora (the ‘good bacteria’)
- Electrolyte abnormalities
- Loss of lean body mass
- Increase in LDL cholesterol
- Increased risk of heart disease
- Lack of energy
What’s The bottom line?
A well-formulated keto diet may be beneficial for weight loss in the short term, and may be safe assuming it includes whole foods and provides adequate amounts of fiber, vitamins and minerals. However, the lack of several key foods and the loss of a major nutrient group (carbohydrates) can be dangerous and does not add enough benefit for many to offset the risk. Always seek the advice of a doctor and registered dietitian to determine if a keto diet is good for you.
In the long term, having a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, lean meats, whole grains, seeds, nuts, and unprocessed foods, is not only easier to maintain, but also provides more needed nutrients for optimal health.
1Johnston C., Tjonn S., Swan P., White A., Hutchins H., Sears B. (2006). Ketogenic low-carbohydrate diets have no metabolic advantage over nonketogenic low-carbohydrate diets, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 83, Issue 5, 1 May 2006, Pages 1055-1061.