Have you been thinking of following the Keto diet? Here’s what you need to know.
The Keto diet was originally designed by Dr Russel Wilder in 1921 at the Mayo Clinic for the treatment of Epilepsy. For almost a decade, the Ketogenic diet was considered a therapeutic diet for pediatric epilepsy and was widely used until antiepileptic agents were introduced. The Ketogenic diet and its variations are high in fat, adequate in protein and low in carbohydrates. This combination changes the way energy is stored and used in the body, converting fat into fatty acids and ketones in the liver. A state of ketosis happens when there is an elevated level of ketones in the blood. When this happens, the body is forced to access energy from its own fat stores rather than calories from the diet. There are other benefits to Ketosis in people having an underlying metabolic dysregulation such as epilepsy, Alzheimer’s and cancer. While the Keto diet was originally designed to treat serious conditions, its use as a rapid weight loss formula is a relatively new concept. So if you don’t have these medical conditions, should you be on the Ketogenic diet just to lose weight?
1. The Keto diet was actually ranked the second-worst diet for 2020 by 24 nutrition experts. Why did the Keto diet rank so poorly? Dr David Katz, one of the 24 experts who voted to rank the Keto diet the second-worst diet (after the Dukan diet, which ranked last) says about the Keto that “It was recognized long ago that denying the brain access to glucose, and converting to ketone-based metabolism, dampens brain electrical activity,” Katz said. “But why on Earth would you want to dampen brain electrical activity unless you had refractory (unmanageable) epilepsy?” He also says that most people who eat Paleo or Keto do so just to justify eating their favourite processed meats such as bacon, pepperoni and burger, and only a tiny majority of people eating these diets are actually taking the trouble to eat clean.
Jillian Michaels, celebrity trainer maintains that the Keto diet is bad for the liver, thyroid and telomeres.
Christopher Gardner, Stanford Professor and low-carb diet researcher at Stanford Prevention Research Center stated that most Health professionals are concerned about the restriction of healthy foods to meet the carb restriction requirements of the Keto diet.
2. There have been no long term studies on the effects of the Keto diet on people. There’s no denying that the keto diet is beneficial for people with epilepsy and to some extent, ALzheimer’s and Cancer patients (people who have a metabolic problem) and women with PCOS. For all other people, weight loss is probably the only real benefit. If you’re looking to get healthy, look elsewhere.
3. The aim of any good diet should be to make you a *Healthier person*. Weight loss should happen naturally. If a diet attracts you with the promise that it’s going to make you lose X amount of weight, find out how exactly, and what other body systems that diet may negatively impact. Other than weight loss and helping people with epilepsy, cancer and Alzheimer’s, the Keto diet offers little benefits. Is weight loss your only goal? I hope not, because weight loss without a holistic picture of your health would be of little value.
4. Don’t go by the popularity of the diet alone. What’s popular isn’t always the best. The reason Keto is popular is because people love the diet of being able to lose weight without really cutting out many of their favourite foods, such as cheese and processed meat. Be honest with yourself. Haven’t we all heard that processed meats and cheese are bad for health?
5. The Keto diet restricts an entire category of WHOLE foods that your grandparents ate and thrived on. Don’t follow a diet that puts healthy, complex carbohydrates in the same category as refined grains. Whole food, complex carbohydrates are good for you. They are very nutritious and contain a lot of essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and by cutting out this essential category of food, you are depriving your body of a lot of nutrients. Refined carbohydrates and added sugars are bad. Not whole grains. Not fruits. Research shows that people who eat a lot of fruits, vegetables and whole grains are healthy and also lose weight, so Keto isn’t the only diet that helps you lose weight. A lot of other healthy diets help you lose weight and help reduce the risk of chronic diseases without cutting out healthy food categories.
6. The body’s preferred source of fuel is carbohydrates. The brain’s preferred source of fuel is carbohydrates. If you force your body to use another source for fuel, you are trying to change what nature intended. Messing with the way nature designed your body to work is never a good idea. The body wasn’t designed to eat too much fat (even good fats), and the body wasn’t designed to be ‘trained’ to no longer depend on carbs for energy and fuel – except for medical purposes such as the treatment of epilepsy. But as Dr. David Katz said, “why on Earth would you want to dampen brain electrical activity unless you had refractory (unmanageable) epilepsy?”
7. Metabolizing fats causes a lot of free radical damage and puts a big strain on the liver and gallbladder. A high-fat diet correlating to a higher intake of meat, and a lower intake of fruits and vegetables, is associated with a higher risk for DNA damage and cancer. Most people following the keto diet aren’t taking extra antioxidants and liver supportive foods. However, if you’re like most people on the keto diet, you might not care if you’ve found success with weight loss – but you should care. What good is any weight loss program if it doesn’t make you a healthier person? What good is a weight loss program if it burdens your liver and kidneys? Taking care of the body is much more important than losing weight. Fortunately, there are healthier ways to lose weight. Whole grains, legumes, all fruits and vegetables – many of which are restricted or prohibited in a Keto diet, are rich sources of antioxidants.
8. If you have any medical condition such as diabetes or kidney and liver problems, please consult your doctor before starting the Keto diet because restricting healthy carbohydrates that provide a steady supply of glucose can cause blood sugar levels to fall to dangerous levels if not done correctly.
9. The Keto diet is unsustainable in the long term because of its restriction of healthy food groups. When a diet isn’t sustainable, you simply put on all the weight that you might have lost as soon as you stop the diet. Why? Because most diets only tell you what to eat and what not to eat – without focusing on education and mindfulness and building a healthy relationship with food and your body. The secret to long term health and weight loss is a sustainable “diet”, rather not a diet – but a focus on your health and well being through mindfulness and developing healthy habits (the weight loss follows automatically).
10. You are very likely to develop a deficiency of essential nutrients. Complex, whole-food carbohydrates such as all fruits and vegetables and whole grains and legumes provide fibre, essential vitamins, minerals, electrolytes and antioxidants. When a diet restricts these nutritious foods, you are likely to become deficient in at least some essential nutrients. That brings me back to the point, that the sole focus on any diet should be nutrition and health and wellness in its entirety and NOT.JUST.WEIGHT LOSS.
11. There are many side effects of Keto diet. When you hear about the great success people have had from the Keto diet (namely, weight loss), you are far less likely to hear about the not-so-glamorous “side effects” people have endured (and probably still are enduring). A lower intake of fibre due to the restriction of nutritious complex carbohydrates, and a higher intake of sugar alcohols from sugar-free, processed foods that the diet may allow can cause unpleasant and unhealthy reactions such as constipation and diarrhea respectively. For women, periods may become irregular or completely stop from the rapid weight loss – which is NOT a good thing, in case you’re wondering. Both, rapid weight loss and irregular periods. The only exception is women with PCOS, in which case the keto diet can help to regulate periods but this was a very small study on just 11 women.
12. Risk of Cancer. If done incorrectly, that is, if people eat a majority of their fats from meats instead of from healthy fats such as avocado or raw nuts and seeds), the risk of cancer increases manyfold. On the flip side, a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and legumes have been associated with a low risk of several diseases including diabetes and cancer. Ironically, the Keto diet restricts these very healthy food groups. Shouldn’t an ideal diet be one that helps you lose weight while also reducing your risk for several life-threatening diseases?
13. The Keto doesn’t differentiate between fats. As mentioned above, there’s a world of difference between almonds and bacon. If you’re mindful, you will probably (and hopefully) choose a handful of almonds over greasy, processed bacon. But then if you’re mindful of what you eat in general, why do you need to be on a Keto diet? Just be mindful of all healthy, natural, and whole foods and include them in your diet, and avoid refined, processed junk. If you just do that, you never have to be on any diet ever again. That’s a promise.
To conclude, the Keto diet restricts many nutritious, whole foods (apples, brown rice, beans) which are linked with a lower risk of many diseases but allows man-made, processed foods if they are low in carbs. How can a man-made, processed food with tons of additives and chemicals – ever be better than something natural and wholesome? What does that tell you about the Keto diet? Should you go on a diet that promises weight loss but overlooks very important aspects of your health? You decide!
But aren’t there any benefits of the Keto diet? Yes, there ar benefits. As I already mentioned, the Keto diet undoubtedly helps people with seizures. If you suffer from seizures, speak to your doctor and give it a go. The keto diet also scores on weight loss. But then so does a lifestyle change and mindful eating. The Keto diet does lead to a reduction in intake of refined carbohydrates and refined sugar but that’s because it restricts all carbohydrates, not because it differentiates between healthy and unhealthy carbohydrates – which any good diet should. So why not simply cut out refined carbohydrates and refined, added sugar – which are the ONLY bad carbohydrates as they provide no nutrition. Why cut out the healthy ones such as fruits, whole grains and legumes which are chock-full of nutrients?
A simple, whole foods-based diet is much better for health and weight loss. The only thing people really need to cut out from their diets is refined sugar and refined carbs. All other carbs are good for the body and belong in a healthy diet. So instead of a low/no carbohydrate diet, aim for a low/ no REFINED CARBOHYDRATE diet, or a whole foods-based diet such as the Mediterranean diet. The best thing about a whole foods-based diet is that it focuses on nourishing the body in its entirety (and not ignoring or straining any body system). Weight loss follows automatically. A whole foods-based diet actually tells you to differentiate between good, whole foods found in nature and processed foods including the harmful processed meats. Oh, and you also get beautiful, glowing skin and healthy hair, and have increased energy, focus and look and feel a lot more positive. In short, a complete picture of health :). Isn’t that much more positive? A whole foods-based or a mostly plant-based diet high in antioxidant-rich fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and legumes has been associated with a lower risk for several diseases including diabetes and cancer.
But wait! Isn’t diabetes and cancer associated with a higher intake of carbohydrates as well? Yes – but cancer is associated only with a higher intake of REFINED carbohydrates – which I have been saying to cut back on anyway. Refined carbohydrates such as refined grains and refined sugars increase your risk for cancer. COMPLEX carbohydrates from fibre and antioxidant-rich fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes are always associated with a much lower risk of diseases such as cancer and diabetes, and also weight loss. So if weight loss is your ultimate goal, doesn’t it make much more sense to follow the path that leads to weight loss through health and disease prevention?
But what if you have been following the Keto diet for a while?
Even if you are presently on a Keto diet, do not be overwhelmed by all this information and do not disregard it just because you’ve found success with the Ketogenic diet (namely, weight loss). And, do not begin criticizing me because you think the keto diet is amazing and how dare anyone say anything bad about it (We’ve all seen someone like that at some point – people who will say all sorts of things when they are convinced that the Keto diet is right for them because they’ve had some level of success with it – not only do they disregard every fact presented, they will literally be angry and call you names because they believe it to be the answer to all of their problems, even if facts show otherwise). Do not be that person. Have an open mind and also listen to what someone has to say – even if it’s different from what you want to believe.
If the Keto diet has worked for you (read: weight loss), great! But that doesn’t mean you should continue to be on it. Unless you have been specifically advised by your doctor to be on the Keto diet for a condition such as epilepsy, you can start adding healthy, complex carbohydrates to your diet gradually. Make sure the transition is gradual and include digestive enzymes so that your body can once again begin digesting carbohydrates. It can take a while to get used to the addition of carbohydrates after a while of avoiding carbs, so remember to support your digestive system as much as possible with enzymes. And be patient. All good things take time :).