Part fad, part medical phenomena, the KETO diet dawdle on the line between well-founded science and celebrity hype. The eating plan is a relatively new trend so most people are still trying to get their head around what Keto is and why it became such a Silicon Valley obsession.
The keto diet restricts carbs to just 5% of caloric intake. To put this into perspective, the average American diet exceeds 50% of calories from carbs. Keto’s closest relatives are the Atkin’s diet and the Paleo diet. The major difference between all these diets though is the extreme Keto approach to carbs intake, which must be cut to virtually nothing for the all duration of the diet. After a couple of days on the diet, the glucose stored in the liver becomes depleted. Instead, the liver ramps up its production of ketone bodies from the fat eaten and the body’s own fat, to then release it in the bloodstream to meet the needs of the brain and body. When the number of ketone bodies in the bloodstream reaches a certain level (0.5mmol/L of BHB, one of the 3 main ketone bodies), it means that the body has reached a state of nutritional ketosis. Even though being in a state of ketosis used to be a common response amongst our pre-historic cousins, it is rarely experienced in our modern dietary traditions. In the Western style dietary pattern, people tend to get their fuel from carbs, which the body then breaks down to glucose for energy production.
The appeal to this way of eating is that because the diet promotes satiating high fat foods, it helps dieters to feel fuller for longer period of times. This means that the dieters don’t feel the deprivation or crazy blood sugar swings experienced in diets that restrict calories. Keto diet foods include fish, meat, fatty cuts of steaks and bacon, natural oils such as coconut oil and olive oil, green leafy vegetables, avocado, low starch vegetables such as cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower etc. some low carbs fruits such as blueberry, blackberry, raspberry etc., nuts and dairy especially cream, cheese and butter. The non-permissible foods include all refined carbs and sugars, most fruits, all legumes and grains and sweets without exception. By depriving the body of glucose, it forces it to use fat for energy and therefore naturally lower the body insulin levels, in much the same way as intermittent fasting. Many people actually combine the two to boost their metabolism.
The main obvious challenge with the Keto diet though is that it is a very prescriptive eating plan that cuts out entire food groups like grains and legumes. Thus, for most people it is very difficult to stick to it over the long term. The heavy reliance of animal fats, meat and dairy products also present obvious challenges to vegan eaters who may struggle to find enough foods to consume. Additionally, the Keto diet has been linked to health issues such as high cholesterol, kidney stones, fatigue (that we refer to as ‘Keto flu’) and do I dare saying it…bad breath! The diet should not be followed by individuals who are at risk for cardiovascular diseases and those who suffer from diabetes, unless supervised by a doctor. However, research has shown that ketosis is very effective in some instances like in the treatment of epilepsy and they might also be cognitive benefits and therefore reduction of disease symptoms for people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s.
My take on this…Even if sticking to the diet was not challenging, in most instances, I would not normally recommend to my clients to take out categories of foods that are generally regarded as healthful such as legumes and wholegrain. Instead, I aim to help my clients to implement long-term dietary changes that deliver optimal nutrient intake and are associated with a reduced risk of non-communicable disease.