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Keto: Friend or Foe?

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keto diet foods

The ketogenic, or keto, diet has gained traction in recent years and is known as a solution for quick weight loss. Claims of rapid fat loss from celebrities have led others to slash carbs in an effort to lose weight and improve their health.

Historically, the ketogenic diet was used with success in children with epilepsy, but has now drawn attention as a means for weight loss in adults. So what is the hype around the keto diet and how do we determine if this is a healthy weight loss option?

What is keto?
First, let’s break down what the ketogenic diet is and how it affects the body. Ketosis is a metabolic adaptation that occurs when our body breaks down fat for energy when it does not have enough carbohydrates to use for energy purposes. The breakdown of fat produces ketones which provide energy to the brain. When ketones accumulate, it results in a process called ketosis.

Macronutrient blend
In order for the body to go into ketosis, one’s carb intake must be very low with the consumption of only 20-50 grams of carbohydrates per day. The recommended macronutrient distribution for the keto diet is:

  • 75-80% total calories from fat
  • 15-20% total calories from protein
  • 5-10% from carbohydrates

In other words, keto is an extremely high fat, moderate protein and low carb diet. This differs greatly from general, healthful dietary guidelines of 20-35% total calories from fat, 10-35% from protein and 45-65% from carbs for adults ages 19 and older.

What can you eat on keto?
The high fat foods emphasized on the keto diet include:

  • Lard
  • Butter
  • Coconut oil
  • Bacon
  • Fatty cuts of meat
  • Avocados
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Eggs and full fat dairy

The downside of these keto-friendly foods is many of these sources contain high amounts of saturated fats, which have been well documented in raising LDL “bad” cholesterol. Certain fruits and veggies are permitted in small amounts including:

  • Berries
  • Leafy greens
  • Cauliflower
  • Broccoli
  • Onions
  • Mushrooms
  • Summer squash

Other fruits, vegetables and whole grains, although healthy, are discouraged as they contain more than the keto-recommended amount of carbs that could throw the body out of ketosis. Added sugars, starchy vegetables and alcohol are also extremely restricted.

Common restrictions and limitations
Another important consideration is the healthfulness and balance of this diet. Since it restricts many healthy sources of carbohydrates, which provide the body its only natural source of fiber, people often become deficient in fiber and other nutrients. In the long run, a diet requiring 5% of calories derived from carbohydrates makes it almost impossible to obtain the necessary antioxidants and phytonutrients required for optimal health and disease prevention.

The lack of variety in this diet also makes it challenging to adhere to when considering enjoyment, socializing with others and meeting adequate nutrients to fuel the body. For many people, cutting carbs too much can result in prolonged hunger, fatigue, decline in mental energy and mood, muscle cramps, constipation, nausea, stomach discomfort and headaches.

Lack of research
Since the keto diet is difficult to maintain long-term, consistent data on keto’s effect on weight loss as well as cardiovascular, cancer and other chronic disease risk is lacking. When comparing a low-fat diet to a low-carb diet, low-carb dieters show a more rapid initial weight loss. However, after one year, low-fat dieters’ weight loss results were no different between the two groups. Low-carb diets have also been linked to increased mortality. Claims of the keto diet reducing risk of cancer, dementia and Parkinson’s disease remain scientifically unsubstantiated.

As a dietitian I am frequently asked “What is the best diet for weight loss?” The answer is there is no one best diet for weight loss. Large pools of research have shown the type of diet is not as important as long-term sustainability—which includes personalization and customization.

It’s important to consult with your medical provider and a registered dietitian nutritionist to assess the safety, healthfulness and sustainability of a diet to ensure it is right for you and your health goals. Ideal eating plans typically include a variety of healthy foods from all macronutrients and food groups to achieve adequate nutrition, satisfaction and optimal health.

To schedule a one-on-one consultation or learn more about Cooper Clinic Nutrition Services, visit cooperclinicnutrition.com or call 972.560.2655.

Article provided by Lizzy Mungioli, RDN, LD, Cooper Weight Loss Team Lead, and Cooper Clinic Nutrition Services.