Today, I wanted to explore the Keto diet! This seems to be the hottest diet trend right now, with so many influencers and health gurus tooting this as the next big thing. Even watched a video of a woman saying she would continue Keto for the rest of her life. Initially when I see "diet" I am automatically wary because it usually consist of a ridiculous combination of restriction, starvation and/or excessive eating to achieve a goal TEMPORARILY. But when I saw how many respected people doing keto, I had to see what it was really about. Let us unpack!
What is Keto?
According to Ketodash, a website that specializes in all things keto, it is a ketogenic diet that helps you lose weight quickly, improves brain function and keeps you energized. Ketogenic is defined as "low carb, moderate protein, and high fat diet which puts the body into a metabolic state known as ketosis." Ketosis is a metabolic function that happens when you run out of carbohydrates to fuel bodily functions and instead turn to fat as the main source of fuel. It also makes the body produce ketones; which are chemicals produced in the liver when you do not have enough insulin.
Now as we know from my food ratio and carb articles, your body not only needs carbohydrates but it thrives on it. However, ranging your carbohydrate intake daily or overtime does have its benefits like increasing your metabolism. Ketogenic diets are also apparently used to as a treatment of difficult-to-control seizures in children like epilepsy.
How Does It Work?
Keto seems simple but the food you can't eat list is long. The Keto diet is designed to keep the body in Ketosis mode, so you are constantly burning fat and not carbs. On the list of foods to avoid (which are high in carbohydrates and simple sugars) are:
Grains - wheat, corn, rice, cereal
Sugar - honey, agave, maple syrup
Fruit - apples, bananas, oranges
Tubers - potato, yams
Here is a list of 108 foods to avoid:
What you can eat however, is a sleuth of meats, fats, nuts and dairy all with high fat content. Like ground beef, cheese, peanuts, avocados, coconut oil, etc. It is also important to focus on net carbs which is total carbohydrates minus fiber. Fiber is considered a zero carb because it doesn't affect your blood sugar levels. The lower your intake of carbs, consuming at least 20-30g a day (the USDA reports that healthy carbohydrate intake ranges 150-400g a day depending on gender, exercise activity and size) the faster your body goes into ketosis.
Times you eat range per person, from three to six meals a day. Or some even opt. to do Keto while intermittent fasting.
Should You Try It?
Is this a fast track to heart-related problems? At first when I heard about Keto and looked it up, I was more open to its diet restrictions because of what I know about increasing metabolisms and carbohydrate restriction. In my fat burning pills article, I explore how consuming more fat helps actually burn fat. Consuming more healthy fats, on daily basis, in general also helps reduce fat overall. But with Keto, there is no restriction on the fat you consume, it just has to be fat.
Eating 70% or more of unrestricted fat a day, mainly coming from dairy, meat, cheese and oil, means you are consuming the nutrients to make the perfect mixture for atherosclerosis. The fancy word fatty deposits that clog your arteries.
One of the things that Keto doesn't take into precaution is what saturated and trans fats (fats from mostly animal and processed products) do to your heart. I have read many studies debating whether saturated fats are good or bad, and to save you time, my conclusion is that in moderation, saturated fats are perfectly normal to consume. Saturated fats are solid in room temperature (think lard, margarine and coconut oil) and they are harder to break down. Trans fats are mainly processed fats that are used to prolong the shelf life of certain foods, but are known to increase bad cholesterol. Although it was banned in 2015, it is still in food in grocery stores today.
The problem with saturated fats is that they are almost always accompanied with high cholesterol, high sodium and sometimes trans fat. Let's look at steak: the USDA reports that 250 grams of uncooked steak has 146mg of sodium (6% of your daily value) and 196mg of cholesterol (~65% of your daily value). This is before you season it, and cook it which can can add more cholesterol (if using a solid fat to cook it) and sodium (if you use seasonings that are high in salt.) The US Dietary guidelines previously stated that people should aim to eat 300mg of cholesterol a day. Today it states to "Eat as little dietary cholesterol as possible, but there are no specific limits." Let's look at a cup of shredded cheddar cheese, which has 119g of cholesterol (~39% of daily value) and 702mg of sodium (29% of daily value). While the cholesterol is forming plaque that are sticking to your arteries, the sodium is increasing blood pressure by restricting blood vessels or hypertension. Looking at most of the foods in the Keto diet list, you'd be consuming either a lot of cholesterol, a lot of salt or both - and you'd be consuming this 3 to 4 times day.
It also harms your kidneys, which cleans your blood, by making you arteries to your kidneys week. Hypertension is one the leading cause of kidney disease and kidney failure.
The worst thing about Keto is that one way to offset high sodium is potassium, which is abundant in almost all foods that are banned in Keto like spinach, bananas, sweet potatoes, because potassium is mainly in vegetables, fruits and carbohydrates. The way to lower cholesterol is to eat more unsaturated fats, which Keto doesn't cater to with their "all fat is good fat ideology."
Not to mention the lack of vegetables and fruit you are eating, missing out on essential vitamins and minerals, can cause vitamin deficiencies causing anemia, dry/weak skin, hair loss, weak immune system, muscle weakness and confusion. And with such little protein, your hair and nails are susceptible to becoming weak as well.
And think about how cranky and irritable you would be barely eating carbs! Although, it is said to increase brain functioning and overall alertness, the "Keto flu" is a period of time when your body is adjusting to the diet causing fatigue, headache, irritable, difficulty focusing (which was suppose to solve right?), lack of motivation, sugar cravings and nausea. The Keto flu sounds like your body telling you, you are DOING SOMETHING WRONG!
Final Verdict -
Keto has a good theory but horrible execution and I wouldn't recommend it at all. The straight forward answer is that Keto will make you lose weight and can help lean you out. However, once you reach your goal you will either ween off of it or continue it. If you choose the first option, and begin consuming carbs again, you would have not learned how to sustain weight loss while eating carbohydrates, which means you are more than likely to gain all the weight back and binge eat. If you maintain the Keto diet, you will fast track your body to heart failure, kidney disease and other health issues. Not only is it unsafe for people who have borderline heart-related disease, but there is no way for your body to sustain, properly function and feel good with its restrictions. Not to mention all health issues from all the deficiencies you'll have by not eating vegetables and fruits. However, entering ketosis for short periods of time, can help you lose weight. So you can ke-maybe!
One way to increase fat is by my vegan bullet-proof coffee recipe, or any bullet proof recipe, which is high in fat due to the coconut oil. Drink it first thing in the morning on an empty stomach for a week and see if it spikes weight loss. You can also range your fat percentage weekly, increasing it for a week then going back to normal to increase your metabolism. One thing to remember is that you don't want to eat excess fat, in terms of calories, but rather replace some of your caloric intake with fat. Diets almost always streamlines weight loss and can make you reach your goal - but they never help you sustain your dream body and tend to end in you gaining all the weight back. In regards to going full fledged Keto however, it is a strong no!