Things are always changing in the realm of health and wellness, but fad diets and marketed “quick fixes” for weight loss seem to be here to stay. A fairly new diet that has made national headlines lately is the ketogenic diet – a high fat, low carbohydrate diet that shifts metabolism from carbohydrates to fat.
The diet claims to result in rapid weight loss, and more importantly, fat loss. Unlike most trendy diets, this one didn’t rise to fame with celebrity promotion. It was developed in 1920 as a treatment for children with epilepsy who were not responding to multiple medications. According to the National Epilepsy Foundation, the ketogenic diet is “usually not recommended for adults, mostly because the restricted food choices make it hard to follow.”
The diet requires that 70-80 percent of your daily calories come from fat, 15-20 percent from protein, and 5 percent from carbohydrates. This is not in line with USDA dietary guidelines, which recommend that 20-35 percent of your calories come from fat, 10-35 percent from protein, and 45-65 percent from carbohydrates. Consuming high amounts of dietary fat with minimal carbohydrates forces the body into ketosis, a natural, physiological condition that occurs when there is not enough glucose (carbs) to break down for energy, causing the body to turn to fat as fuel.
These skewed nutritional needs cannot be met with the traditional American diet, nor can they be met with a healthy diet full of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats. The diet excludes carbohydrates like grains, beans, and fruit (with the exception of small amounts of berries). The downside of excluding these food groups from your diet is that they are key sources of fiber, which is vital for weight loss, blood sugar control, bowel regularity, and desirable cholesterol levels. In addition, you’ll miss out excellent sources of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which are crucial for optimal health.
So what can you eat on this extremely exclusionary diet? Mostly poultry, eggs, avocados, butter, non-starchy veggies, oils, nuts, and seeds. That’s not the worst line up, nutritionally speaking, but it’s not the most appetizing either. Keto dieters tend to gravitate the most towards bacon, coconut oil, and egg yolks to meet your high fat intake while keeping protein intake moderate. With these food choices though, your cholesterol levels will likely skyrocket. Therefore, this diet should not be followed by anyone with a family history of heart disease.
Limited food choices are not the only unglamorous part of the diet. In order to detect if your body is in ketosis, you must pee on a stick that will detect ketones in your urine. You will also experience some intense side effects. The combination of cramps, constipation, irritation, brain fog, insomnia, and more that are common during the start of the diet are labeled the “keto flu.” Symptoms seems to last anywhere from a week to a month until your body becomes accustomed to ketosis.
The keto diet will absolutely cause a weight loss – but a lot of this weight is water from glycogen stores, which become depleted due to low carb intake. It will also cause a large loss of lean muscle mass. Digesting carbohydrates produces insulin, which is necessary for muscle growth. So no matter how hard you exercise during this diet, expect minimal improvement in muscle mass with such low carb intake.
There is not enough research to date to conclude whether the keto diet causes a weight loss due its high fat, low carb profile or a reduction in calories secondary to such limited food options. But research does suggest that after rapid weight loss, keto dieters can expect rapid regain.
The bottom line is that when you choose a diet, the goal should be to fuel your body with foods that make you feel energized, focused, and confident. This diet doesn’t seem to match those goals. Excluding food groups from your daily intake (in this case, multiple food groups) sparks disordered eating by construing certain foods as “good” or “bad” for us. Rather than severely restricting carbohydrates, it’s important to understand the importance of fueling your body with the right carbs — starchy vegetables, whole grains rich in fiber, etc. Remember, the best diet for you is one that helps you feel your best self and is easy to maintain in the long run.
Kimberly Mugler, RD, LDN is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist working in private practice in the Greater Philadelphia Area. To book an appointment, visit vitanutritionservices.com.