Happy National Nutrition Month! Each week we will have a post from one of Whitney Young Health's registered dietitians, focusing on various aspects of nutrition. This week we have Dylan Farnan, DTR, our WIC Program's Qualified Nutritionist giving you the facts on the popular eating trend, the ketogenic diet.
1. What is Keto?
The ketogenic diet is a very low carbohydrate (carb), moderate protein, high fat eating plan. This diet has been around for quite some time, since the 1800s to be exact. It was originally used to help extend the life of those diagnosed with insulin dependent diabetes (type 1 diabetes), before insulin was available, and it was later found to be an effective treatment for children with epilepsy. 5
In recent years, this diet has gained significant attention as a weight loss strategy for the general public. It differs from other low carbohydrate diets, such as the Paleo, South Beach and Dukan diets because instead of a high protein and moderate fat recommendations it requires a very high fat intake, usually between 70-80% with only moderate intake of protein. 5
2. How Does it Work?
You may be thinking…how does one lose fat by eating fat? It has to do with the body’s fueling options. The body prefers to use glucose (carbs) so when they are removed from the diet the body is forced to its fat stores. When fat is broken down, in the absence of dietary carbs, the body produces “ketones”, which is where the name ketogenic diet comes from. The body starts using ketones in place of glucose. 5
3. Does it Work?
Yes, following a ketogenic diet will result in weight loss, but this is short lived for most because of the extreme restrictions, people cannot maintain such a diet. Because this diet suggests an average of 70-80% of total daily calories come from fat and 10-20% from protein, there is very little room for fruits, vegetables and whole grains. You read correctly, ALL vegetables have carbohydrate, they just vary in amounts. Due to these restrictions, many dieters exhibit symptoms of carbohydrate restrictions that may last weeks, such as hunger, fatigue, low mood, irritability, constipation, headaches and brain “fog”. These uncomfortable feelings may subside, though staying satisfied with the limited variety of approved foods may present new challenges and leads most to stray from the diet thus gaining back the weight they lost. 5
4. Are There Any Risks?
YES! There are many health concerns with regards to the ketogenic diet. This very high fat, restrictive diet is associated with increased risk for cardiovascular disease, kidney stones, osteoporosis, and gout. Additionally there is an associated increase in all-cause mortality rates and low carbohydrate diets, meaning more people die.5,3
Perhaps the biggest issue with this diet is that is eliminates antioxidant rich and fiber rich fruits, vegetables and whole grains, foods proven to reduce the risk of chronic disease. 1,2
4. The Bottom Line
Carbohydrates are not the enemy and not all carbohydrates are created equal! Refined carbohydrates, such as sugar and white flour, not carbohydrates in general, should be removed from the diet. Why?- Refined carbohydrates provide no nutritional benefit, which is the reason why they are called “empty calories”.
Take a step back and look at the big picture. The main problem with the typical American diet is the high intake of added sugar, salt and fat in addition to the low intake of fruits, vegetable and whole grains. This is not news, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and The American Heart Association advocate for Americans to eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains- not decrease them further. It is entirely possible to lose weight and promote totally body health while eating a diet filled with nutrient dense carbohydrate foods.
Whitney Young Health is dedicated to helping at-risk people of all ages get on a healthier lifestyle track by providing nutrition counseling. Please call 518-465-4771 to make an appointment today.
Liu, R. H. (2007). Whole grain phytochemicals and health. Journal of Cereal Science, 46, 207–219. https://doi-org.uws.idm.oclc.org/10.1016/j.jcs.2007.06.010
Slavin, J. L., & Lloyd, B. (2012). Health benefits of fruits and vegetables. Advances In Nutrition (Bethesda, Md.), 3(4), 506–516. https://doi-org.uws.idm.oclc.org/10.3945/an.112.002154
Pollard MS, K. (2016). The Low-Carb High-Fat Diet? | PlantBasedResearch. [online] Plantbasedresearch.org. Available at: https://plantbasedresearch.org/content/low-carb-high-fat-diet [Accessed 4 Mar. 2019].
Robyn Chuter, N. (2019). What Is the Ketogenic Diet? - Center for Nutrition Studies. [online] Center for Nutrition Studies. Available at: https://nutritionstudies.org/what-is-the-ketogenic-diet/ [Accessed 4 Mar. 2019].
The Nutrition Source. (2019). Diet Review: Ketogenic Diet for Weight Loss. [online] Available at: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-weight/diet-reviews/ketogenic-diet/ [Accessed 4 Mar. 2019].