According to people who keep track of these things, the Ketogenic (“keto”) Diet is THE most popular right now. Whether that means people are on it or considering it is not mentioned. But, in any case, apparently many, many, people are interested in this type of diet. You may know some of them.
So, just to clear the air (or muddy the waters), here’s a few questions (and answers) that may come to mind regarding the keto diet.
Q: Is the Keto Diet similar to the Atkins Diet from days of yore (the 1970’s)?
A: For sure it is. Both diets call for very low ingestion of carbohydrates, thereby putting your body into “ketosis”. Instead, they stress eating 60-70% fat and 20-30% protein. To be fair, the Atkins diet moves forward to being able to eat more carbs as long as you are still losing weight.
Q: What is “ketosis”?
A: Ketosis is when your body changes how it burns the fuel available to it. It’s actually a “Plan B”. Your body prefers to use glucose for fuel, which resides in your muscles and liver. It’s found in the carbohydrates you eat (examples: bread, pasta, hot fudge sundae, even some starchy vegetables). Back in the day, the bodies of our ancestors were very smart. When there was famine or it was difficult to find fruits, beans, legumes, or grains, bodies adapted by using fat stores for energy. It does this after a week or two. The liver adapts and starts making ketones to be used for energy in the absence of glucose.
Q: How low in carbohydrates does my diet have to be for this to happen?
A: The normal recommendation for carbs in the diet is at least 130g/day. However, if you are an athlete or are very active, you will need more than that. Low carbohydrate intake is around 20g/day, but it may go up a bit depending on tolerance. 20g of carbs is the equivalent of 1/2 can of Coke, ½ potato, 2/3 of a banana, or 1 ½ slices of white bread. Indeed, one of the good things about this diet is that it encourages elimination of refined starches (aka, cake, cookies), or sugars (Starbucks Frappuccino; the above-mentioned hot fudge sundae).
Q: Is it good for weight loss?
A: Here is where the rubber meets the road, right? Why else would you do this? (As a matter of fact, there are a few other reasons. See further down.) Anyway, yes, it can help you lose weight. That’s because it eliminates a ton of food that has a bunch of calories in it, and it is relatively satisfying. That means that you don’t feel as hungry. Eventually, you may even lose a craving for sweets if you have one. HOWEVER, when you put it up against any plan that restricts calories, it is no different in terms of producing weight loss.
Q: Is it healthier than some other diets?
A: Yes and no. It is healthier IF it encourages consumption of healthy fats, and lean proteins (not bacon) and vegetables. Some of the suggested vegetables come with great nutrients (like avocados, zucchini, leafy greens, peppers). Getting rid of starchy and sugary treats is a plus. HOWEVER, you would be missing out on a wide range of phytonutrients, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. These are contained in fruits, starchy vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and root vegetables. In addition, there is a lack of fiber in the diet. Low fiber can lead to intestinal problems, lack of good bacteria there, and even cancer. On top of that, a largely animal-based protein diet has been linked to some cancers, and heart disease.
Q: Is it good for diabetics?
A: Yes and no. Low carbs limit the body’s need to use insulin to get glucose into the muscles and liver. So, the markers for blood sugar may improve. BUT, that does not mean that it is helping the disease. The real measure of helping the disease is being able to eat healthy carbs and process them healthfully. That is done with lifestyle adjustments like eating a balance of nutritious foods and exercising more.
Q: What is diabetic ketoacidosis and how is it different from ketosis?
A: Diabetic Ketoacidosis is a condition very much like ketosis only more extreme. In this case the blood becomes very acidic. It occurs mostly in Type I diabetics, the kind where there is no insulin produced by the body at all. When acid builds up in the blood, most body organs have a hard time. It is a serious condition that can occur within a matter of hours if blood sugar is not controlled. Coma or death can occur, so it is important to head to the emergency room if there are symptoms of it. That would include vomiting, dizziness, disorientation, dehydration, and intestinal problems.
Q: How can you tell if you are in ketosis?
A: The only way to really tell is to test your urine or blood using kits that can be obtained over the counter. They vary in price and effectiveness. Otherwise, there are ways you will feel different, especially at first when your body is adjusting. Usual symptoms include nausea, vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, frequent urination, headache, weakness, fatigue, and bad breath. These symptoms usually go away after a few weeks, but it is important to stay hydrated (with electrolytes) during this time.
Q: What medical conditions has it been used for?
A: The keto diet has been used successfully to treat epilepsy in children. Other studies are beginning to show that there is the possibility that it could help with other neurological diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, or even migraines.
Q: What’s the bottom line?
A: There are several. According to my sources, there are no studies showing the keto diet to be beneficial to long-term health. In fact, many studies have now shown that long-term low carb, high fat diets can lead to shorter life and higher rates of disease. Instead, a whole food diet with lots of fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, and lean meats (if desired) can lead to weight loss without restricting many healthy foods. A wide variety of foods helps your body fight and prevent cancer, heart disease, obesity, Alzheimer’s, type 2 diabetes, and very many other chronic diseases of our times.
Q: BONUS QUESTION: How about using the keto diet to get a “jump start” on weight loss?
A: It may work for that. But, it is well known that most of the weight loss in the beginning is due to water loss. Carbohydrates attract water in your body. Lose some of them, and you will lose water. It can seem like you are getting a spectacular weight loss initially. Beware! It’s not fat loss! If you stick with the keto diet for a while, you will, as mentioned, probably lose weight because you are not eating as much. However, it may be very difficult (and even unhealthy) to stay on the diet for long. Better to start out by learning to eat less while adding in healthier choices and then cutting back on the unhealthy ones. That can result in an eating pattern that is good for the long term.
All the best
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