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The ketogenic diet, commonly referred to as the keto diet, is one of the most popular diets that exists. Some people believe that this diet aligns perfectly with their dietary goals while others think of it as one of the worst things they can do to their body. Despite the controversy, you may be curious to find out about its purpose and how it works. More importantly, you may be eager to figure out how much butter and cheese you can eat on a regular basis. 

What is the Keto Diet?

It is generally recommended for adults to consume 45-65% of their calories from carbohydrates, 20-30% from fat, and 10-35% from protein. The keto diet doesn’t align with these recommendations as it’s a low-carb, high-fat diet with moderate levels of protein. This diet doesn’t differentiate between the saturated fats in butter and the heart-healthy fats in avocados. Nor does it consider the difference between the refined carbs in white bread and the complex carbs in sweet potatoes. When on the keto diet, the consumption of carbs needs to be limited to a maximum of 50g per day. An individual on a keto diet with a 2000-calorie intake is suggested to consume about 40 grams of carbs, 165 grams of fat, and 75 grams of protein.

What is the Purpose of the Keto Diet?

The goal of the keto diet is to put the body into ketosis, a state in which the body uses fat rather than carbohydrates as fuel for energy. By significantly reducing your intake of carbs, you deprive the body of its primary source of energy. So, it must have a backup plan, right? It sure does! The body shifts to break down ingested and stored body fat into ketones, which then become the primary source of energy.  

What are the Advantages of the Keto Diet?

Despite the controversy on its effectiveness, research has shown many benefits of the keto diet which include:

  • Keto weight loss:As foods high in fat and protein can take longer to digest, it may keep you feeling satiated for longer, thus helping reduce your total caloric intake. Keep in mind that weight loss resulting from the keto diet can be fast but tends to stabilize near the 6-month mark. By one year, there’s very little difference between weight loss resulting from the keto diet and that achieved from a low-fat diet.
  • Improved insulin sensitivity: For people with diabetes, even losing 5-10% of your body weight is linked to increased insulin sensitivity. Also, consuming fewer carbohydrates eliminates large spikes in blood glucose after meals.
  • Body’s increased efficiency of burning fat: If successful, the end result is the body’s increased efficiency at burning fat, allowing you to eat your favorite high-fat foods (in moderation), while losing weight!
Pablo Merchan Montes, Unsplash

What are the Disadvantages to the Keto Diet?

So, looking at the benefits, should everyone switch to the keto diet? Absolutely not! To make well-informed decisions, we need to consider its drawbacks.

  • The keto flu: When carbohydrates – the macronutrient that fuels our body – is eliminated from our diet, you may experience tiredness, irritability, headaches, and a “foggy” vision that may last for days.
  • Difficult to sustain in the long run: Significant reduction of entire food groups may seem too restrictive for many. Switching back and forth between a keto and a moderate-to-high carb diet may cause spikes in blood glucose levels which may worsen diabetes. If you have diabetes and are shifting from or adopting a new dietary pattern, it’s recommended that you check your blood sugar levels at home at the frequency recommended by your health care team. Checking sugars regularly will help you monitor your blood glucose levels and track the effect of external factors, such as your medication or stress.
  • Micronutrient deficiencies: Significantly cutting down carbs means cutting down many nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. A restrictive diet, in the case of a keto diet, may result in vitamin and mineral deficiencies, especially if followed without proper guidance. 
  • High intake of “bad” fats: While total fat intake increases, so does the intake of saturated (“bad”) fat, especially when there are no requirements to choose healthy sources of fat. A diet high in saturated fats increases one’s vulnerability to various health complications such as cardiovascular disease. Individuals on the keto diet are advised to arrange appointments with their health care team to monitor their blood lipid levels. It’s highly recommended that you choose mostly unsaturated fats derived from vegetable sources such as avocados, extra virgin oils, nuts and even fish, to keep your consumption of high-fat dairy products and meats to a minimum.
  • Digestive health may be compromised:  People obtain fiber – an essential nutrient that helps with digestion and bowel movements – through consuming fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, all of which are restricted by the keto diet. This may lead to constipation and bloating.
Irene Kredenets, Unsplash

Any Key Takeaways?

The keto diet is something to look into for those who want to try something new. However, it’s important to acknowledge that not all diets work for everyone. The same is true for all the trending diets out there. Our bodies respond differently to different diets, so it’s our responsibility to experiment and make the best decision for ourselves. At the end of the day – to achieve dietary and weight goals – it’s important to bring changes that are sustainable over the long-term. A diet that’s based on a variety of nutrient-dense foods in proper portion sizes is the key to any healthy diet.

References:

Dyson, P. (2020). Very low carbohydrate ketogenic diets and diabetes. Practical Diabetes (2011), 37(4), 121-126. https://doi.org/10.1002/pdi.2284.

Gotter, A. (2020, January 7). Why is the keto diet good for you? Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319196.

Harvard Health Publishing. (2020, August 31). Should you try the keto diet? Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/should-you-try-the-keto-diet.

Sievenpiper, J.L., Chan, C.B., Dworatzek, P.D., Freeze, C., & Williams, S.L. Diabetes Canada 2018 Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Prevention and Management of Diabetes in Canada: Nutrition Therapy. Can J Diabetes 2018;42(Suppl 1):S64-S79.

Singla, R., Rosha, R., & Kalra, S. (2018). Dietary management of diabetes: Focus on ketogenic diet. Journal of Social Health and Diabetes, 6(2), 075-079. https://doi.org/10.1055/s-0038-1675675.

Yancy, W. S., Olsen, M. K., Guyton, J. R., Bakst, R. P., & Westman, E. C. (2004). A low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet versus a low-fat diet to treat obesity and hyperlipidemia: A randomized, controlled trial. Annals of Internal Medicine, 140(10), 769-777. https://doi.org/10.7326/0003-4819-140-10-200405180-00006.

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