What the Keto?!

Maggie Hudspeth, RDN

If we had a dollar every time someone asked about the Ketogenic diet, we’d be jetting out to our private island in Fiji (well, not really, but we can dream). Also known as the “Keto Diet”, this nutrition plan has grown more and more popular over the years. With celebrities like Halle Berry, Kourtney Kardashian, and Jersey Shore’s “Keto Guido” Vinny Guadagnino, it’s hard to ignore the growing phenomenon. But what does the Ketogenic Diet really entail? How does it work? Is it safe? Should you be doing it?

The History

Time for a walk down history lane…

It’s the roaring 20’s, and a group of physicians are studying children with the seizure disorder, epilepsy. They begin testing the relationship of fasting and epileptic symptoms. They discovered during the starvation periods, seizures were less frequent and more in control. As the studies continued, Dr. Lennox of Harvard Medical “documented that the control of seizures occurred through a change of body metabolism and that simple absence of food or dearth of carbohydrate in the body forced the body to burn acid‐forming fat”. The physicians noted that “acetone and beta‐hydroxybutyric acid appear in a normal subject by starvation or a diet containing too low a proportion of carbohydrate and too high a proportion of fat”. To put it simply, they discovered the fat-burning process of ketosis, and thus, the ketogenic diet was born. More on ketosis in a minute!

During the 70’s, when antiepileptic drugs were introduced, the diet was used less and less. While the diet still exists in most pediatric hospitals, most physicians use it as a very last resort, or not at all.

The Deets

The general guidelines of the Ketogenic Diet still hold true today; 1 g of protein per kilogram of body weight, 10–30 g of carbohydrates per day (this often varies), and the remainder of the calories in fat. This means that the majority of daily calories actually come from fat sources.

The Craze

So, if this diet was developed for epilepsy, for children, why is it now one of the top fad diets for weight loss?

Well, for starters, most people have been programmed to think “carbs are bad”. (Thank you for that, Dr. Atkins…). So when they hear about another low-carb eating plan, it has to be good, right?

The high-fat, low-carb structure leads to low blood sugar (or glucose) levels. Since glucose comes from carbs and glucose is our body’s main energy source, the body is forced to burn fat for energy. This energy is broken down into the form of ketone bodies (aka. the process of ketosis).

Since each person has individual needs when it comes to how much carbs, proteins and fats their body needs, they don’t really know how little of carbs they are consuming. They tend to follow a one-size-fits-all meal plan, often titled “Your Customized Ketogenic Diet,” when in fact, there is no customizing at all. Height, weight, goal weight, age, gender, and activity levels need to be considered when prescribing such a plan if true ketosis is the goal.

Full disclosure: true ketosis is a very hard phase to achieve. In fact, most people who follow the keto diet never even achieve ketosis.

Now, you might be thinking to yourself, then why do so many people find success on this diet regimen?

Mostly because they are cutting out processed foods from their diet…

Keto diets inherently have very low intake of breads, crackers, salty snacks, etc. Keto followers also cut out most, if not all, grains, legumes, fruits, starchy vegetables, and plant-based proteins.

Also, the high-fat component of the diet allows some people to feel full longer, leading to small portions.

The Costs

Cutting out entire food groups doesn’t come without costs. Since most plans cut out fruit entirely, your body might miss out on the fiber and antioxidants found in these nutritious foods.

On the flip side, while keto diets focus on healthy fats, too much of anything is never a good thing. Some studies have found this eating structure can actually increase cholesterol levels. Other potential unfavorable side effects of the Keto Diet include:

  • Bone mineral loss
  • Kidney stones
  • Birth defects
  • Dehydration
  • Irritability
  • Constipation
  • Poor sleep
The Bottom Line

So, what’s the bottom line for Keto? How do you know if it’s right for you? While this eating style may aid in weight loss for a short period of time, the sustainability of it is difficult for most people.

When it comes to weight loss, developing sustainable, healthy habits is the best approach — tried and true.

Ultimately, it’s your decision, and you should always consult with your physician before trying out any eating plan. Then ask yourself this question: “How enjoyable will my day-to-day life be without an entire food group?”

Noom’s take? Sorry Keto, it’s not us, it’s you. We would just never work out. We like our cake and eat it too. Balance, right?