“The keto diet” – you’ve probably heard your favourite celebs following it, or our very own Pete Evan’s advocating for this diet. To put it simply – the keto diet is a high fat & low carbohydrate diet – so think lots of meat, cream, butter and non-starchy vegetables. And say goodbye to most fruits, starchy vegetables such as potatoes, corn, lentils, and all grain & grain foods – this includes rice, pasta, bread, and even those superfood grains such as quinoa and freekeh.
Before I run through the pros & cons of the diet it’s important to know how it works. Our bodies preferred energy source is carbohydrates/glucose. So basically, if we remove the bodies preferred energy source, our body will start utilizing dietary fats and our fat stores as energy – which will result in weight loss.
✔ Quick short term weight loss – There is encouraging evidence that those following a ketogenic diet will lose weight faster in the short term. For those that are overweight or obese, the ketogenic diet tends to lose weight faster in the short term than those simply cutting back on their calories. However, results after one year show little differences in weight loss between ketogenic followers and traditionally restricted calorie approach.
✔ Suppressed appetite – Fats are very satiating – meaning they make us feel fuller for longer. Also, when used as an energy source- ketones are produced– this by-product of fat metabolism curbs the hunger, which can make it easier to stick to the diet.
✔ Improved blood sugar levels – This is what has made the diet very appealing to Pre or newly diagnosed Type 2 diabetics. As the diet has cut carbohydrate foods to a minimum – blood sugar levels will be much lower.
✘ Cutting out core food groups The ketogenic diet breaks all the rules when it comes to the ‘Australian guide to healthy eating’ guidelines. These guidelines were created based on nutrition and medical experts examining over 55,000 scientific journal articles. In short, a tonne of research has gone into the best diet for long term health. The keto diet removes at least 80% of three of the food groups – Dairy, Fruit, Breads and Cereals. Each food groups provides its own key nutrients such as calcium in dairy, the fibre in grains and fruit. If we removed core food groups – our diet is nutritionally compromised – which can have detrimental effects in the long term.
✘ Poor gut health – Another big topic at the moment! Many of the core food groups that are restricted, provide us with a lot of fibre. Fibre is food for our bowel – it feeds the good bacteria in our gut – happy gut bacteria = improved immune system, reduced risk of cancers, improved mental health to name a few. And of course, a side effect of lack of fibre is constipation – which is never pleasant.
✘ High in saturated fat – High saturated fat foods are #1 in the keto diet – with cream, butter, bacon eaten in unlimited amounts. The research is mixed on whether the ketogenic diet is kind on our heart health. Some studies have shown high fat, low carbohydrate diets lead to increases in LDL cholesterol – this is the type that clogs your arteries.
✘ Hard to follow long term – The number one proof that the diet is not sustainable is that there are no valid long term studies to show the effect of the ketogenic diet on long term health – cause not many people can stick to it long term! If it cannot be sustained long term, most people will go back to ‘normal eating’. Yo-yo dieting is detrimental on our bodies metabolism, the weight loss will be regained – plus often more.
Overall, there is no one diet that fits all – and if the principles of the ketogenic diet appeal to you, it can definitely be followed to ensure optimal nutrition. It may be beneficial to consult an accredited practising dietitian to get personalized non-bias advice on how you can adapt this diet to not only meet your short term health goals but maintain your health in the long term.