If I hear the word Keto one more time I’m throwing this computer out the window, grabbing a piece of fruit and going for a very LONG walk. I’m only kidding, but I have been hearing this word more and more and my new rule is that instead of getting frustrated I need to help people become educated. That’s one of my roles after all as a dietitian. I must keep the public informed of any health trends and fads and make sure you have the information needed to make the best decision for YOUR health. After digging into this topic, I realized I’m going to need more than 1 post to answer all the questions, so stay tuned for part 2!
Whenever I hear something mentioned or asked about over and over again I realize that there is a need for people to be educated. In the past year, I can’t tell you how many people have asked what Keto is, if they should try it, or if it’s okay that they are doing it. I’ve held back a lot of huffs & puffs, eye rolls, and screams, so now it’s time to let it all out, in a civil manner of course.
Here’s the thing, if you are going ON something you are most certainly going to come OFF something, so keep that in mind. Before I get more heated on my thoughts, feelings, and opinions on Keto, let’s break down what keto is, who it is for, and then we’ll get into who it might NOT be for and why.
What is Keto?
Keto is a shortened word for “ketogenic”. The ketogenic (aka Keto) diet has become something of a fad lately. The ketogenic diet looks to promote the metabolic production of ketone bodies (aka ketones) from stored fat, this process is known as ketosis. The use of these ketones is meant to become the primary energy source over the body’s preferred energy source, carbohydrates.
If done correctly, the body will continue to break down ketones until a source of carbohydrate is introduced to the system. In order for someone to be in this ketogenic state, it normally takes 2-4 days with a consumption of less than ~50g of carbohydrate (very low amount). This number, however, is different for everyone depending on height, weight, sex, age, activity level, etc. Some active individuals will actually eat their carbohydrates around their exercise time so that the body remains in ketosis as long as possible. These same individuals also track their ketone levels and have the data to prove they are in ketosis. It’s not as easy as it appears.
The keto diet is mostly made up of proteins and fat, it consists of food such as meat, eggs, processed meats, nuts, seeds, oils/butter, sausage, cheese, fish, and some vegetables. The ketones do not come from food but rather endogenously from stored fat from said food. There is, however, a new wave of exogenous ketones that are coming to market. I’ve heard they taste like absolute garbage, but where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Is Keto a Fad Diet?
Yes. Plain and simple. As someone said on Instagram, Keto is the Atkins diet for Millenials. At least Keto does not promote strictly Atkins processed crap. However, it’s not far from it. If you want my thoughts on fad diets, check that out here.
Keto is a therapeutic diet that helped some people find good results and because of that was marketed as a diet for everyone to help them gain results as well. This is how things become fad diets. If it works for one person, it must work for everyone.
The Keto diet is low in carbs (usually below 50g/day) and is very similar to other fad diets like Atkins, South Beach, and even a low carb Paleo approach. It is, unfortunately, probably not the last we will see of it, it just might come around again in 10 years under a new name. If you see carbs being restricted, you can guarantee it’s some version of keto.
Your body stores thousands of times more fat than carbohydrate in the body. So, in theory, it’d be great if we could just run on fat. However, the body prefers to run on carbohydrates. That’s not to say we all don’t burn fat as fuel, because on lower intensity, longer duration activities we do burn fat as fuel.
The thing is that the body is meant to use BOTH sources of fuel as energy as needed. The key is to not have an excess of either, but just enough for the body to be able to perform all its necessary functions. Those numbers are different for everyone.
Keto was meant to prevent epileptic seizures and is still used to do just that. It has also been shown to be helpful in some other conditions but it is, unfortunately, not the magic pill to health for all.
Who is Keto For?
That’s a great question. I refer to Keto as a therapeutic diet, aka a diet meant to help with a certain condition. That said, there are people who keto is particularly good for. However, it depends. Here are a few areas that it has been known to be helpful for:
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Certain neurological &/or cardiovascular diseases
- Those without access to carbohydrates (i.e. out in the woods, trying to survive- think the military/special forces)
- Long-distance runners (Ultra distances not performing at high intensity)
- Incredibly Sedentary and/or obese individuals looking to lose weight for the long-term
The thing is that keto may not work for some of the above and may potentially work for some who are not listed above. It is a therapeutic diet that can be used as a tool to help one seek health. It is not the ONLY tool to help people achieve health, and that’s the most important message.
Who is Keto NOT For?
For most people, this diet is no more than a fad diet. Those looking to lose weight on this diet may find that they have instant success. Why? Because when you cut out carbohydrates you tend to lose water weight. Some see instant success only to later see a plateau and worse, they gain weight once carbohydrates are added back to the diet.
The thing is, the diet itself is not bad overall, it does have some good points. However, cutting out almost all fruits and vegetables means fiber and vitamins/minerals from plant sources is at an all time low. I don’t know about you but I like fiber to fill me up and keep me regular if you know what I mean.
I also highly recommend against the following groups following keto:
- Athletes (also read fellow Sports RD’s input here)
- Those with for disordered eating (because it restricts a macronutrient)
- Those with any hormonal issues
- Pregnant or breastfeeding women
- Those who experience digestive, hormonal, or other issues while on keto
Why? Because it takes WORK to be on a ketogenic diet and many are doing it wrong. Many are not fully in ketosis which then actually sabotages their attempt at the diet and throws their body for a loop. What do I mean by “not fully in ketosis”? I mean that you are going low carb but not low carb enough to actually be using ketones as fuel.
Should You Go Keto?
Not without talking to a healthcare professional who knows what they are talking about, end of story.
My Honest Opinion on Keto
I sometimes hold back on my true feelings on a diet as I don’t want to do more harm than good, however, I feel pretty strongly about this. The Keto diet is a THERAPEUTIC diet meant to be done for acute (aka short term) reasons for SOME people.
For a diet to be successful over the long haul for most people, it must be sustainable and complete. The Keto diet is not sustainable for most and not all that complete (i.e. very low carb, low in fiber, low in fruits/veggies). Can it work for some? Yes. Will it work for all? No.
If something sounds too good to be true, it almost always is. Be very suspicious of a diet that cuts out an entire macronutrient. Many say watch out for diets/fads that cut out whole food groups, but frankly, I’m FAR more concerned about a diet that cuts out an entire macronutrient. Use it as a tool for disease and certain conditions, and otherwise, move right along.
Let me hear from you! What other questions about Keto do you still have?