So it seems like the ketogenic diet is the newest controversial diet craze. I can’t scroll through Instagram without seeing a new #ketodiet recipe. And on a more personal level, one of my best friends is a keto convert. By sticking with keto for the last few months, she’s lost a significant amount of weight and noticed a huge improvement in energy, mood and less hormone fluctuations.
So what’s the keto diet, and why can’t I bring myself to fully endorse it?
The ketogenic diet is a low-carb, high fat, moderate protein diet that forces the body to go into a fat-burning state called KETOSIS. It does so by depriving the body of carbohydates which are the main source of energy in most diets. Because of this, the body is forced to burn fat for energy (producing by-products called ketones). So, ok; burning more fat- while eating a high fat diet- sounds awesome, right?
Here are some positive things about the keto diet:
- It’s very low carb: this is a good thing; it’s well known by now that refined carbs (which is a heavy part of the Western diet) are a huge contributor to obesity and disease.
- It has the potential for very quick weight loss (at least initially) because it forces the body to utilize its fat stores for energy.
- It has the potential to help with certain medical conditions:
- Severe childhood epilepsy: in fact, this is the most-studied positive indication for the keto diet. No one knows exactly how it helps reduce seizures, however.
- Evidence is emerging that it may help reduce symptoms for mental health disorders: anxiety, depression, even Alzheimer’s. The data is still very new and so solid conclusions can’t be drawn at this time from the studies.
- Help to manage and reverse metabolic syndrome disorders like diabetes, hypertension, possibly high cholesterol: this is likely due to the weight loss itself (not specifically because it’s keto)
Ok, sounds good so far. So what’s so bad about the keto diet?
- Very fat-heavy: Fats comprise about 70% of the keto diet. And although there are “good” and “bad” fats (to oversimplify), some keto diet proponents don’t necessarily differentiate. Which is why when you google keto diet recipes, there can be ALOT of bacon/butter/ lard/ coconut oil in those recipes. Some of these things (like processed red meat) are clearly linked to poorer health outcomes. The keto diet has been shown to increase cholesterol levels as well
- Hard to get started: For anyone starting the keto diet, they need to be aware that for up to 2 weeks while your body adjusts, you will feel like crap. It’s called the “keto-flu”, and symptoms include fatigue, dizziness, nausea, mood-swings and stomach pain. Many people don’t make it through this initial transition.
- Hard to stick with: Any diet that restricts a whole category of macronutrients (carbs) can eventually be hard to stick with. And while I’m happy with the low-carb aspect of it to some degree, it’s never a good idea to villify a whole class of nutrients. What about bananas, root vegetables, butternut squash? In a typical keto diet these foods are considered no-nos. I have a problem with that.
- Has known long term effects: So one of the biggest concerns with the keto diet is because it’s still relatively new, there’s not a lot of long-term data out there. Depending on what you read, you can be convinced it’s the best diet ever, or the worst of all time. The best long-term data we have right now are the studies of the epileptic children, who have been followed into adulthood. And these studies review some of the complications of long-term adherence to keto diet: including dehydration, abnormal kidney and liver function, cardiomyopathy, hypoglycemia, kidney stones…the list goes on.
On a personal and professional level, I just can’t get on board with a diet plan that is so restrictive. The reason why many diets fail is because of this. More studies need to be done in the long-term consequences of such a fat-heavy diet. however, I do appreciate some of the creative keto recipes which are low-carb, like this keto ice cream.
How do you feel about the keto diet? Feel free to comment below!