Keto diets are extremely high in fat, and have actually been around for quite a long time. Believe it or not, the original intent of a keto diet had nothing to do with weight loss.
Here is a little background on the keto diet, as well as this diet's benefits and pitfalls.
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, a ketogenic diet was something that helped control type 1 diabetes before insulin was available as a treatment. Wilder used this type of diet to better manage the body's inability to manage blood sugar levels the way the pancreas otherwise could in healthy individuals.
Food is comprised of three macronutrients: protein, carbohydrate and fat. A keto diet is primarily fat-based.
The diet itself is extreme, with carbohydrate intake limited to 10 - 35 grams a day, or the equivalent of a handful or two of carrots.
Since the main form of energy is fat, a few examples of a typical meal might include:
- Scrambled eggs + spinach + avocado
- Bacon + cheese + cauliflower
- Smoked salmon + 1/2 tomato + eggs
Don't make the mistake of associating dietary fat with body fat. The two are very different. However, many people can lose weight by making fat their primary fuel, significantly cutting back on protein and all but eliminating carbohydrates.
How a keto diet works
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.
The terms "keto" or "ketogenic" come from something called ketones.
Ketones are 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. Ketosis is what happens when the body burns fat instead of glucose (from carbohydrates) for fuel.
Sounds good, right? Well...before you fill your shopping cart up with fatty foods, keep reading.
Are keto diets safe?
After Wilder developed this diet that put bodies in ketosis 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.
There have also been interesting cases of autistic children and adults with cognitive deficits benefitting from a keto-based diet. I recently watched a documentary called The Magic Pill, which offers a strong view on a very pro-fat way of eating.
The documentary is controversial and has received criticism from medical authorities in the United States. But from my vantage point, most of those authorities, including some doctors, are doing very little to help us become healthier through proper nutrition - unless it involves some sort of a prescription, or following a grain-based, high carb and low fat diet.
The documentary follows the lives of several people, children and adults, who went from the Standard American Diet (SAD) to a keto diet for a relatively short period of time. Their improvements seemed quite remarkable.
I think the documentary is worth a watch.
Should you follow keto?
So is this form of eating healthy, safe or even appropriate for the average Joe who wants to lose weight? In my opinion, it's harmful to cut out entire macronutrients, and if you're doing this to lose weight, it will eventually fail...unless you plan on eating mostly fat for the rest of your life.
To achieve weight loss, you literally have to eat greater amounts of fatty foods that, unless 100% organic, likely contain toxins that will cling to your cells like cement. This is where disease starts.
You'll also reasonable amounts of fiber from vegetables and fruits. Say goodbye to the nutrients the help you thrive.
If you have a child (or if you're affected yourself) with a sensory disorder, autism or some other cognitive disorder, far be it from me to steer you in a different direction. Consider all the benefits and pitfalls.
Keto diet pitfalls
When a diet consists of as much fat as a keto diet, there are other pieces missing. With the exception of a good amount of leafy greens and avocado, there isn't too much room for vegetables or fruit. The benefits of veggies and fruits, including the addition of fiber, is just too important not to have in our diets.
Phytonutrients that are available in low glycemic fruits, like berries, are void of out necessity to maintain the proper amount of fat in the diet.
More importantly, even if you committed to a mostly fat-based diet, you have to make sure that the fats you're eating are very high quality. You can't just buy cheap luncheon meats in the deli section of your grocery store in an effort to lose weight.
Eating a keto-based diet is an investment.
Grass fed meat, free range chickens and fresh salmon are mainstays of a keto diet.
Don't get me wrong, 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 long term.
The upside of following a keto-style way of eating
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, munch on refined snacks 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. And if, for the short term, you can teach yourself how to eat better, then maybe this is good for you.
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.
Just be careful of rebounding weight gain. What I mean by that is if you're going to start following a Keto diet, then decide to stop, it's important to keep eating healthy and not fall back into the same old patterns that could cause the pounds to creep back on the scale.
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!
But most people eat a refined carbohydrate, low fat diet, which has a horrible impact on our bodies and increases the likelihood of disease, largely through inflammatory conditions.
Our bodies really do love fat! But I believe that our bodies do well with a balance of all three macronutrients - protein, carbs and fat.
Never in a million years would I recommend a keto diet for clients who are interested in weight loss or staying healthy.
I'm in complete agreement, however, that the insidious amount of sugar we consume is absolutely killing us. Eating an unrefined diet that's naturally free of added sugar and most grains will help us not only manage weight better, but live longer, happier lives.
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.
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