What is a Keto diet?
A Ketogenic diet (Keto for short) is a diet high in fat and very low in carbohydrates. People on a Keto diet derive the majority of their energy (70%) from fat and are limited to no more than 50 grams of carbohydrate (the equivalent of a slice of bread) a day. Vegetables and fruits are also heavily restricted due to their carbohydrate content.
Why is the Keto diet so popular?
Keto diets are often marketed as a weight loss diet that promotes the burning of fat by forcing the body to enter a state called ketosis.
Ketosis, also known as “starvation mode”, is when the body produces energy from non-carbohydrate sources known as ketone bodies. Ketone bodies are derived from fatty acids, which break down at almost double the rate of starvation. Furthermore, the ketone bodies trigger hormones responsible for the suppression of appetite. This can result in rapid weight loss.
Are there any extra health benefits to a Keto diet?
There is evidence to suggest Insulin resistance and diabetes associated with weight gain may be managed through the use of a Keto diet and it can be effective in the treatment of epilepsy in children but for the healthy individual who is simply trying to lose weight, there is no evidence to suggest a Keto diet is any better or more healthy than other methods of weight loss that include the recommended amount of cereals and grains.
Why is the Keto diet so controversial?
Many health professionals do not consider the Keto diet a healthy way to lose weight for a number of reasons. Like many fad diets, Keto diets often cause people to fixate on their macronutrient intake and because a Keto diet derives most of a person’s energy intake from fat, people following this style of diet often reach for unhealthy foods high in saturated fat with low nutritional value such as bacon and fried foods to reach the daily intake. Furthermore, a Keto diet restricts the amount of vegetables and fruit a person can consume, putting individuals at risk of missing out on important vitamins and minerals.
Ketone bodies are not the most efficient way of supplying the body with energy. The brain and red blood cells rely solely on glucose as a source of energy to function. While ketone bodies can provide enough energy for other cells in the body, the body still breaks down proteins to provide enough glucose to the brain and red blood cells. When the body uses protein for energy rather than glucose there is a loss of protein tissue, such as muscle, which is often what causes the rapid weight loss rather than an actual loss of fat.
The risk of chronic disease associated with diets high in fat and low in fibre is also a concern health professionals have regarding a Keto diet. Diets higher in carbohydrates and fibre have a greater effect on lowering cholesterol levels and hence a lower risk of heart disease. Keto diets also cause an increase blood pressure which in turn increases the risk of heart disease. Lack of fibre in a Keto diet may also increase the risk of developing bowel problems and increase the risk of bowel cancer.
Keto diets, like many fad diets, can be hard to maintain. It is common for people who have been on a Keto diet to regain the weight, or more, once they return to regular eating habits.
So should I go on a Keto diet?
A Keto diet is just one of many diets that can promote weight loss. There are many other diets that show similar results without being so restrictive and don’t exclude important food groups. It’s important to find a diet that suits your particular needs and is sustainable in the long term. Some people may find a Keto diet useful in the management of Type 2 diabetes or epilepsy but anybody considering going on a Keto diet should do so under the care and guidance of an Accredited Practising Dietitian.
This article was written by Katherine Ramsden, nutritionist at Nutrition Force.
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