Keto or Ketogenic diets have become wildly popular in recent years, promising, and often resulting in signifiant weight loss. But is a keto diet really safe and healthy for everyone?
What is a keto diet?
Keto diets are nothing new and have been around for nearly 100 years. Originally developed by Mayo Clinic doctor, Russell Wilder, as a method of controlling type 1 diabetes before insulin was available as a treatment.
The diet itself is extreme, with carbohydrate intake limited to 10 – 35 grams of carbohydrates a day, or the equivalent of a handful or two of carrots. The main form of energy is derived from a very high fat way of eating. A few examples of keno-friendly meals include:
- Scrambled eggs + spinach + avocado
- Bacon + cheese + cauliflower
- Smoked salmon + 1/2 tomato + eggs
The allure of a very high fat, low carbohydrate diet is they way our body uses energy. Instead of burning glucose (sugar) for energy, our body burns fat instead – simply because glucose isn’t as readily available to burn as carbs are extremely restricted. Ketones is what the liver creates (and uses as fuel) when fat gets delivered there. Normally, this would be glucose, but since it’s not available, fat (which becomes ketones) is used for energy instead. This is called ketosis.
Is a keto diet healthy and safe?
After Wilder developed this way of eating for his type 1 (formerly juvenile) diabetes patients, other practitioners found that eating in a way that produced ketones was also beneficial to people who had seizures when medications failed to control their condition.
But is this form of eating healthy, safe or even appropriate for the average Joe who wants to lose weight? In my opinion, absolutely not.
If I had a child who had seizures that could not be controlled by medications, or was affected by type 1 diabetes because their pancreas simply couldn’t produce insulin, I would be the first person signing up for this diet. I would commit to perfection and maintain the highest nutrition possible. But that’s the only instance in which I could imagine following this type of diet.
If you’re someone who has uncontrollable seizures, or another metabolic or cognitive condition that can’t be controlled through alternative means, including lifestyle, then maybe a keto diet is ok for you, but consult an RD or MD before setting out on this endeavor. This is a very extreme diet, and difficult to maintain.
The upside of a keto diet
The upside of a keto diet is that it reduces the amount of circulating insulin in the body, which can have a positive effect on inflammation. If you’re someone who is absolutely addicted to sugar, eat all through the day and night, and are an all-out carb-o-holic, following a keto diet for the short term might give you results.
Keto diets might also promote weight loss, if followed strictly. If you’re an otherwise healthy individual and want to try to drop a few pounds, a keto diet could work for you. If you have a metabolic concern (diabetes, etc), talk to you doctor to get the best advice. Remember, the origin of this diet was created when all other measures failed.
Keto diets and balanced nutrition
People who follow a keto diet deprive themselves or most carbohydrates. Not only are most vegetables and fruits eliminated by a keto diet (not specifically, but due to gram restriction), but so are all of their nutrients, including vitamins, minerals and fiber.
Another glaring problem I see with the keto diet is the quality of food. It’s one thing to say “eat 75% of your calories from fat” – but what is the quality of fat? Can you commit to a grass-fed, antibiotic-free, organic way of eating? If not, in addition to fat, you’ll inevitably increase the amount of fat-soluble toxins in your diet. This is something we all need to be careful with, regardless of how we eat, but more so if you’re following a diet that is 75% fat.
When our body produces excess ketones (called ketoacidosis) – which lowers our blood’s pH, making us more acidic. This is extremely taxing on our kidney. People following a keto diet should drink a lot of water to help their kidneys out. Overburdened kidneys are also more prone to kidney stones. Please consider this before jumping into a full on keto diet. Ketoacidosis is really dangerous.
Instead of a keto diet…
Are you thinking a keto diet might be the path for you? It’s probably pretty obvious what my opinion is. I would be miserable eating only 35 grams of carbs a day. I love vegetables way too much!
Let’s say you want to drop a few pounds. Instead of going from 0 to 60 with a keto diet, consider a paleo or grain free diet instead. Both are much easier to maintain than a keto diet. Of course, you can read may book, The Belly Burn Plan, which is totally gluten free and free of most starchy carbohydrates.
If you’re dealing with inflammation, you may have trouble losing weight. Consider cutting out the foods that cause inflammation in your body. And if you need to lose belly fat, try eating a few of these foods to get on the right track.
What are your thoughts on the keto diet? Have you tried following this diet? Has it been successful for you? Please leave a comment to give us your thoughts.