I review the pros and cons of the Keto Diet, what social media is getting wrong and if it leads to weight loss.
The ketogenic diet has actually been around for many years, but as of recently it’s been getting a lot of hype. Everywhere you look, someone is talking about this “new” amazing diet and claiming that they’re “going keto.” It’s really been taking over social media. But what are all of these instagram influencers getting wrong about the diet?
Where It All Started
Like I said, this is not a new diet. I was first introduced to it in one of my undergrad lectures, as a therapeutic diet. Health professionals started using it to treat epilepsy. It was actually created to help control seizures, especially in children. But with today’s diet culture and society’s obsession with weight loss, a lot of people have been using it as a tool for fat loss.
What is this diet exactly?
For those of you who may not be familiar, let me breakdown the premise of this diet in simple terms. High fat, low carb. That’s basically it. There are different variations of this diet with slight differences in carb allowance but for the most part 20-30 grams of carbs a day is what it calls for. This is extremely low. Just to put it into perspective for you, one slice of bread has 15g of carbs. That’s pretty much your carb allowance for the day right there.
Ok..but why low carb and what is ketosis?
Well your body naturally uses glucose (the broken down form of carbohydrate) as its source of fuel. The whole point of this carb restriction is to stop your body from using glucose for fuel and instead use fat to fuel itself. Fat is actually a way more efficient source of fuel because per gram, it gives you much more energy than 1 gram of carbohydrate would. When our body switches into fat burning mode, ketones form in the blood. Hence...ketosis. BUT…let me say this right now, carbs are NOT your enemy.
I think there’s a lot of confusion about carbs among the general public. A lot of people have this assumption that carbs are the devil…which couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s all comes down to choosing healthy, whole food sources and watching how much you eat. Why am I telling you this? I think it’s important to understand what carbs are in order to understand the diet. We have 3 kinds of macro nutrients; carbohydrates, protein and fat. Carbs are the simplest to break down and so our body likes to use it as fuel. Now when we think of carbs, most people think of bread, pasta, rice and other grain products. But we can actually find carbs in many other food groups. Fruits are also sources of carbs and so are vegetables (although in lower amounts). Highly processed/packaged foods, sweets and other fast foods are also examples of carbs. However, eating an apple would have a very different effect than eating a cookie would even though they are both sources of carb. Confused? Let me explain…
How do carbs/sugar affect our body?
Not all sugar acts the same in our body. Sugar (which you get from carbs) can raise your blood sugar differently depending on what source of carb it is. We all know that eating sources of food such as fruits and whole grains are encouraged for good health, but why? One reason is that these types of carbs have high amounts of fibre which can help to control spikes in blood sugar. The soluble fibre you find in many of these foods form a gel in your body when consumed. This gel formation helps to slow the absorption/rise of sugar in the blood. When you eat refined breads and processed foods, you’re often missing out on important nutrients like fibre and because there’s no gel formation to slow the process, it can cause spikes in your blood sugar. This is also a reason why it’s better to have whole fruits rather than fruit juices (even if they are all natural) as juice often lacks the fibre. Having good blood sugar control is important for maintaining a healthy weight. If you'd like to know more about this, the Glycemic Index is a great guide to help you keep your blood sugar in check. It ranks carbohydrate rich foods by how much they raise blood sugar levels and categorizes them as either high, medium or low GI. Low GI foods should be chosen more often as they help to control blood sugar, cholesterol and appetite. High GI foods that should be chosen less often include many packaged/highly processed foods, bagels, muffins, and other fast foods.
“Benefits” of the Keto Diet for Weight Loss
1. Immediate weight loss within the first 1-2 weeks. But why?
People often see immediate weight loss but it’s usually just water weight. Carbs are stored in your body with water so when you drastically cut down on carbs, you’re just going to have all this free water that you end up peeing or sweating off. Once you get off this diet, you’re just going to gain this back since you're storing carbs again.
2. Claims of feeling better overall
This diet almost forces you to only eat whole foods since fast/processed foods are high in carb. This is actually a good thing and it’s a major reason why people feel good on this diet. However, if you’re someone who typically eats junk food…of course you’re going to feel better when you start eating more whole foods. So is it really due to the Keto Diet? Could you not feel better by just eating an overall balanced diet without going to the extreme of 20g of carb per day? Probably.
3. Further weight loss
You’re eating a lot of fat on this diet and protein. These are more satiating so they’re likely to keep you fuller longer, and by default you may eat less. They’re also harder to break down than carbs so you’re body will probably be breaking down more calories just at rest. This can also help with weight loss. But again, could you not just eat a balanced diet to achieve this?
My overall thoughts?
Whenever people ask me about starting this diet just to lose weight, I am not for it. This is just my personal and professional opinion. Don’t get me wrong, the Ketogenic Diet has amazing therapeutic benefits and it has done wonders for those with epilepsy and other medical conditions. But, if you are only using it to shed a few pounds, it really is just another diet and research is constantly showing us that diets don’t work. When you restrict yourself to such an extreme, it could actually encourage disordered eating patterns. As cliche as it sounds, the best approach to maintaining a healthy weight is following a balanced diet that you are able to sustain longterm while getting enough exercise. Seek the balance instead of the extremes.
* If you’re thinking about starting this diet (or any diet for that matter), I strongly encourage you to speak with a registered dietitian and/or healthcare provider for support.