Keto Diet – Stating the Facts

Written by Emily Fultz, RD, LDN & Ashley Fitzgerald

You’ve probably heard of the latest fad diet, the ketogenic diet, which has recently increased in popularity. The keto diet is a high-fat low-carbohydrate diet with moderate protein. Generally, those following a keto diet get less than 50 grams a day of carbohydrates. A typical keto diet contains an average of 70-80% fat from total daily calories, 5-10% carbohydrate, and 10-20% protein.

While you may have just recently in the last year or so heard about this diet, did you know that it has actually been around since the early 1920’s? Dr. Russell Wilder discovered that a high-fat low-carbohydrate diet was effective in treating children with epilepsy. He found that ketone production influences neurotransmitter activity in neurons, which may lead to a reduction in seizure attacks.

So What is Ketosis?

Our body’s preferred source of fuel is glucose. When glucose runs low, insulin levels drop and fat is then released from our cells. This amount of fat overwhelms the liver and in turn produces ketones, our body’s second choice for energy. So, I am here to say YES – we certainly can function without carbs. But, can we function to our max? The verdict is still out on that one.

What are the initial side effects of going into ketosis?

A few of the initial reported side effects include:

  • Muscle Cramps
  • Bad Breath (quite common)
  • Changes in bowel habits (aka constipation due to decreased fiber intake)
  • Keto-flu
  • Loss of energy (most common)

Studies are limited for long term effects (another reason to question if it is safe for long term), but here are some reported adverse effects:

  • Hepatic steatosis
  • Hypoproteinemia
  • Kidney stones
  • Vitamin and mineral deficiencies

What does the Diet Consist of?

An increase in fats such as oils, butter, nuts, seeds, mayo, full fat dairy, etc.

An increase in proteins, with no need to choose the leaner options

Limiting fruits & starchy vegetables.

Avoidance of refined & whole grains, starches (including beans), and added sugars.

Reported Drawbacks to a Higher Fat Diet

1. Higher amounts of fat in your diet can lead to an increase in saturated fat intake, which may increase the risk for heart disease and other chronic health problems.

2. Limiting fruits and vegetables may lead to micronutrient deficiencies.

3. Restricting carbohydrates in your diet can lead to fatigue, lack of focus, mood irritability, and strong food cravings.

Ketosis for Weight Loss

Many people report immediate weight loss when they begin a keto diet. This makes sense and here is why. . . Glucose is stored as glycogen and glycogen stores water. Glycogen stores are depleted when we cut out glucose, and TA-DA – water is lost. Thus, it is important to note that the initial weight loss is not necessarily fat but rather water weight.

People may also experience initial weight loss due to the restriction of added sugars. Someone following the keto diet no longer eats refined carbs full of sugar such as cupcakes, cookies, cake, and pie.

Less sugar = less calories = loss of weight.

A meta-analysis found that the keto diet can lead to weight loss of +2 kg more than low-fat diets do at the one year mark, but there are higher-quality studies that show no statistical difference. The researchers also found that weight loss typically peaks at about five months, but then either plateaus or is slowly gained back. They note that with any diet individual weight change can vary from losing 30 kg to gaining 10 kg.

Ketosis for Athletes

Carbohydrates provide the body with glucose, which enhances energy and helps preserve skeletal muscle integrity during physical activity. With more energy you can be more productive in your day and see an increase in performance during exercise. Other studies have found an increased risk of skeletal muscle damage in those following a low-carb diet. The higher the intensity of exercise, the more important glucose is as an energy and recovery fuel source!

My Take

Like with most diets, the research varies, and there needs to be more long term studies to truly understand the benefits as well as adverse affects to following such a strict regimen.

BUT – The research IS OUT that following a well-balanced nutrition plan, personalized to YOU, promotes good health. A well-balanced diet provides the right amount of energy, protein, vitamins/minerals, essential fats, micro & macronutrients for the metabolic needs of the body to function properly throughout the lifespan.

Why should we restrict ourselves of the foods that we love and the nutrients that are known to benefit our health? Learning how to eat for your body type and lifestyle can prevent the yo-yo effects commonly seen after starting a restrictive diet.

With all this being said – If you do choose to follow the keto diet, it is advised to work with a health professional to make sure you are doing so safely and still obtaining all the important micronutrients and vitamins you need.

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