The keto diet is trendy– but is it healthy?
What is a keto diet?
A keto diet is a diet low in carbs and high in fat. The standard proportions for these macronutrients is 70% fat, 20% protein, and only 10% carbs. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend getting 20 to 35% fat, 45 to 65% carbs, and 10 to 35% protein.
The keto plan calls for 20-50 carbs per day, mostly from non-starchy vegetables; protein from meat, fish, eggs, and nuts; and large amounts of fat from full-fat dairy and from plant sources like coconut oil and avocados.
A keto regime is intended to cause weight loss by forcing your body to use fat for energy.
“Keto” is short for “Ketogenic.” It creates (that’s the “genic” part) a state of ketosis in the body, causing you to make ketones which are used for energy instead of glucose. Glucose, or sugar, is usually the source of energy for your body, and especially your brain. However, fats that are oxidized in your kidney and become ketones can provide that energy.
There is another process, called gluconeogenesis, which allows your body to make glucose for your brain when you are starving. This process can kick in when you eat very low carbs.
Dangers of the keto diet
The most obvious problem with the keto diet is that it is very high in fat. Often, the fat people eat on a keto dit is saturated fat, which is associated with heart disease.
Bacon, butter, and high-fat meats are usually part of a keto diet, along with heart-healthy fats like olive oil.
If you restrict your eating too much, you can miss out on nutrients. Most Americans don’t eat many vegetables. If you eliminate grains, fruit, and starchy vegetables, and get your carbs from just a few veggies, you might not get the vitamins and minerals you need.
You may also overload your liver and kidneys as they try to metabolize larger than normal amounts of protein and fat.
With less fiber from plant foods, you may experience constipation. The keto diet may also encourage kidney stones. It restricts grains, beans, fruits and starchy vegetables, all great sources of fiber. Meat, butter, and nuts don’t contain fiber.
People on a keto diet often report feeling confused, irritable, and sluggish. This may be evidence that their brains aren’t getting the nutrition they need.
What’s the bottom line?
From the point of view of weight loss, the keto diet shares a problem with many other fad diets: it’s not sustainable. It’s hard for most people to keep up, and you may gain the weight back once you stop eating in this way.
The healthiness of your keto diet also depends on what you choose to eat. A cauliflower steak with Romesco sauce and a side of green beans is not the same, nutritionally, as a hearty burger with bacon and cheese — hold the bun. But both those dishes can be keto meals.
If you decide to try the keto diet, make sure to get a good variety of vegetables and to focus on healthy fats. To be on the safe side, talk with your doctor before you start.