Recently, many people have started talking about it. Is a ketogenic diet safe? Would you recommend it?
Despite the recent hype, a ketogenic diet is not something new. In medicine, it has been in use for almost 100 years to treat drug-resistant epilepsy, especially in children. In the 1970s, Dr. Atkins popularized his very-low-carbohydrate diet for weight loss that began with a very strict two-week ketogenic phase. Over the years, other fad diets incorporated a similar approach for weight loss.
In the world of weight-loss diets, low-carbohydrate, high-protein eating plans often grab attention. They are sometimes referred to as ketogenic or “keto” diets.
But a true ketogenic diet is different. Unlike other low-carb diets, which focus on protein, a keto plan centers on fat, which supplies as much as 90% of daily calories. And it’s not the type of diet to try as an experiment.
“The keto diet is primarily used to help reduce the frequency of epileptic seizures in children. While it also has been tried for weight loss, only short-term results have been studied, and the results have been mixed. We don’t know if it works in the long term, nor whether it’s safe,” warns registered dietitian Kathy McManus, director of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
How does it work?
The keto diet aims to force your body into using a different type of fuel. Instead of relying on sugar (glucose) that comes from carbohydrates (such as grains, legumes, vegetables, and fruits), the keto diet relies on ketone bodies, a type of fuel that the liver produces from stored fat.
Burning fat seems like an ideal way to lose pounds. But getting the liver to make ketone bodies is tricky:
It requires that you deprive yourself of carbohydrates, fewer than 20 to 50 grams of carbs per day (keep in mind that a medium-sized banana has about 27 grams of carbs).
It typically takes a few days to reach a state of ketosis.
Eating too much protein can interfere with ketosis as well.
What do you eat?
Because the keto diet has such a high-fat requirement, followers must eat fat at each meal. In a daily 2,000-calorie diet, that might look like 165 grams of fat, 40 grams of carbs, and 75 grams of protein. However, the exact ratio depends on your particular needs.
Some healthy unsaturated fats are allowed on the keto diet — like nuts (almonds, walnuts), seeds, avocados, tofu, and olive oil. But saturated fats from oils (palm, coconut), lard, butter, and cocoa butter are encouraged in high amounts.
Protein is a big part of the keto diet, but it doesn’t typically discriminate between lean protein foods and protein sources high in saturated fat such as beef, pork, and bacon.
What about fruits and vegetables? All fruits are rich in carbs, but you can have certain fruits (usually berries) in small portions. Vegetables (also rich in carbs) are restricted to leafy greens (such as kale, Swiss chard, spinach), cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, bell peppers, onions, garlic, mushrooms, cucumber, celery, and summer squashes. A cup of chopped broccoli has about six units of carbs.
The keto lifestyle
Despite the dangers of high fat and low carbohydrate diets, there are ways to adopt the keto lifestyle with a healthier twist.
Skip the dairy fats like butter and cream. Get your fat from polyunsaturated sources, such as flax or sunflower seeds or oils, or fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, albacore tuna, and trout.
Use a polyunsaturated fat that is also a high protein source. Healthy fish can help you get more bang for your buck.
Round out your meals with plenty of produce, of any kind.
Be sure you drink plenty of water since any diet low in carbohydrates increases your risk for dehydration.
Things to remember
No matter what eating plan you follow, there is not a particular food you should be afraid of eating. Each and every produce item has a different package of nutrients that your body uses in different ways. Have variety in your diet. Do not think you can only have greens, and root vegetables like squash and potatoes are on the no-no list because they “have too much starch.” White potatoes kept the Irish alive for centuries; if potatoes truly had no nutrients, like many fad diets would have you believe, then we would not have Ireland.
Finally, remember that the healthiest “diets” are those that include portion control, healthy food options, and plenty of exercise. If you need help losing weight, enroll in our Keto Cuisine program to help you be your best, healthiest self.