The Truth Behind the Keto Diet?
If you’ve been trying to lose weight recently- particularly in a quick or significant fashion- most likely you’ve heard all about one of the latest trends, “The Keto Diet”. The keto diet is a low-carbohydrate, high fat way of eating that forces the body into a state of ketosis, a metabolic adaptation where they body relies on ketones from fat for fuel, rather than glucose.
The Keto Diet requires that 75% of your calories come from fat (as opposed to the usual 20-30%), 15% from protein, and only 5% from carbohydrates— a very regimented, restrictive, “all or nothing” approach. In a 2,000 calorie diet this would be as low as 20-50g of total carbohydrates a day. For reference, a medium apple contains 25 g of carbohydrates. Therefore, it’s likely that people who say they’re on a Keto Diet (unless they’re under clinical supervision) are more likely just following a “low-carb, high-fat” modified Atkins approach.
The Keto Diet was originally developed in the 1920’s to help reduce number and size of seizures in pediatric epilepsy, and, later, to shrink tumors in some cancer patients when done in conjunction with chemotherapy. It was only ever intended to be followed under close medical supervision, in extreme cases, and for a brief period of time (usually 30-90 days, followed by a more sustainable plan). Otherwise, this diet can cause much more harm than good – particularly for anyone with an underlying kidney, liver, thyroid, gallbladder or heart condition.
Here are six reasons why you may want to reconsider a “keto lifestyle” if sustainable, healthful weight loss is your goal.
- Much of the weight loss is just “water weight” from the glucose your liver stores in your cells. Therefore, it’s nearly guaranteed you’ll gain most of it back as soon as you re-introduce carbs. This is common with all trend diets, but particularly so with Keto, due in part to its restrictive nature. Not only does this type of "yo-yo" dieting unravel all of your weight-loss efforts, it also increases the accumulation of abdominal fat and raises your risk of diabetes. Studies show that the biggest predictor of long-term success when it comes to weight loss is the ability to follow the diet long-term versus the actual diet itself.
- Restrictive Dieting can lead to social isolation and disordered eating, or exacerbate an already unhealthy relationship with food. The Keto Diet usually appeals to people struggling with portion control or binge eating, but in reality what they really need is a holistic nutritionist, therapist or lifestyle coach to help them work through their underlying issues and provide them with the knowledge (rather than rules) that they need. Additionally, because there is a hyper-focus on counting "carbs" and macros, many people following a keto diet end up developing an unhealthy relationship (re: obsession) with food. This term, coined "orthorexia", is basically obsessive behavior, stress and anxiety around the food you're eating to the point it adversely affects your lifestyle and relationships.
- When followed long-term or without close clinical supervision, the Keto Diet can lead to a number of harmful health conditions such as low blood pressure, kidney stones, constipation and nutrient deficiencies. In fact, studies have shown that people following a Keto Diet simply for weight loss purposes are often deficient in up to 15 vitamins or minerals including potassium, sodium, magnesium, calcium, vitamins B, C, and E, and omega-3 fatty acids. A keto diet can also raise levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol, and greatly increase your risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. People following the keto diet often consume an excessive amount of saturated fat and trans fat (a type that should always be avoided) which could increase their risk of heart attack and stroke by up to 400%.
- In the first 2-4 weeks of the keto diet, you may experience the “keto flu” with symptoms such as brain fog, fatigue, nausea, dizziness, and mood swings. There are two reasons for this: 1) your body is burning the last of its available sugar and transitioning to burning fat and 2) you lose sodium and other electrolytes in your urine due to lowered insulin levels. Additionally, your gallbladder—the organ that produces bile to help break down fat—can become overwhelmed, leading to greasy “keto diarrhea”. This is a result of one or more of the following factors: 1) lack of fiber if the diet is not adhered to properly (i.e./eating plenty of fiber-rich vegetables), 2) consuming too many processed "low-carb" foods containing sugar alcohols, and 3) the body simply not being able to metabolize and absorb the excess amount of fat required on the keto diet.
- Significant muscle atrophy is a potential side effect. Some studies have shown that people following a keto diet lose muscle mass even if they continue with weight training. This may be because protein on its own is less effective for building muscle post-exercise than protein and carbohydrates combined. Losing muscle mass can have several serious consequences to your health including decreasing functional strength, lowering daily energy and contributing to age-related weight gain.
In a nutshell, when followed properly, the keto diet is rich in lean sources of animal protein and fiber-rich vegetables. It should certainly not be carte blanche to binge on bacon and burgers, although many people may try to convince you otherwise. The truth is, regardless of the dietary theory that you choose to follow, it must be nutrient-dense, and varied, with a focus on whole, real foods the way nature intended. This means incorporating plenty of vegetables, herbs and spices and plant-based sources of fat and protein, with varying amounts of fruit, nuts, legumes, lean animal protein and whole grains. Otherwise, you’re just promoting disease. This may not be sexy, exciting or ground-breaking news, but unfortunately when it comes to weight loss, there is no magic bullet. If you want to take the weight off and keep it off, it must be done in a realistic, sustainable, healthful and balanced way.
In good health,
Megan + Robyn and the Sugar Snap Shift Team
This information is provided for educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, treat or manage any disease or condition. We are not physicians and any information we provide is not a substitute for medical advice and care. You, as always, are responsible for your own health and should consult your medical providers to ensure any changes are right for your personal medical conditions.