Author: Nicholas Gregory, MA, CSCS
The keto diet (short for ketogenic) is a popular low-carb, high-fat diet that uses the bodies process of ketosis to burn fat for energy. The keto diet’s popularity has grown in the past ten years because of its efficacy and quick results. The keto diet also allows followers to lose weight while subsequently eating foods that are typically restricted on other diet plans. The high-fat requirements of keto leave followers loading up on foods like steak, fish, nuts, avocado, butter, and oils, while limiting fruits and non-fibrous vegetables, that are higher in carbs.
Although it’s no secret that the keto diet can lead to quick weight loss, the health risks and sustainability should be considered. To do this, let’s take a look at the history of keto, how it works, and the risks to consider before starting it!
Although the keto diet has been popularized for weight loss over the past ten years, it has been used in clinical settings for decades and has been shown to effectively treat epilepsy in children. Given other neurological side effects of the diet, research is also beginning to show efficacy in treating other diseases such as parkinsons, alzheimers, and certain forms of cancer.
It is important to realize that the keto diet was not invented for weight loss, but first as a therapeutic diet for those suffering from epilepsy. “Classic Keto” founded by Dr. Russell Wilder in 1923 has a more strict breakdown than more mainstream Keto diets, where 90% of calories come from fat, 6% from protein, and 4% from carbs.
Potential followers of this diet should also understand that in a clinical setting, the diet is far more controlled. Patients following this protocol are not simply eating steak and butter all day. In these clinical settings, food choices are controlled and monitored by Registered Dietitians and Physicians, who ensure saturated/unsaturated fat ratios, fiber, and the necessary vitamins and minerals are taken into account, to prevent nutrient deficiencies (shoutout to those RDs).
When the keto diet is used for weight loss, the nuances that the diet was built on can sometimes be overlooked. Given its intense and restrictive nature, there are some risks associated with following keto. The most common short term risks include:
Nutrient Deficiencies: Limiting fruits, vegetables, and grains can lead to a deficiency in micronutrients that are important for a healthy body. Supplements or careful food selection should be used to prevent deficiencies.
“Keto Flu”: Reaching true ketosis can take time. Removing the fuel source that your body has used for most if not all of your life, can lead to unfavorable symptoms. Lets call it being #hangry. Followers of the diet typically refer to the two to three week period of adaptation as the “keto flu”. The keto flu can include fatigue, nausea, headaches, and irritability. As the body adapts to using ketones as fuel, these symptoms should improve.
“Liver/kidney problems”: Although less common, sudden increases in protein consumption can take a toll on the systems that metabolize protein i.e. the kidneys and liver. These risks are typically higher if the diet is not approached in a fat-dominant way. Eating meat all day everyday, is not keto, and can have negative consequences on the body.
Does Keto Work?
The keto diet is an effective way to lose weight and manage blood sugar levels. The keto diet’s efficacy is called into question looking at long term success. There is very little research on the long term implications of following the diet because it is so difficult for most to maintain.
Like with any diet, completely cutting out a food group is not sustainable and is difficult to follow.
The keto diet was not created to be a lifestyle but instead, a short term therapeutic diet.
At Noom, we don’t think any food should be off limits. Want to enjoy a steak? Go for it! Want to eat some rice too? You bet! Awareness around your preferences and habits is where power to reach your goals is truly found. Tired of going in and out of ketosis? Tired of yo-yo dieting? Want to have your steak and eat it too? Try Noom today to find your true sustainability!