Nowadays, just about wherever you go, you’ll see something that has to do with the keto diet. Whether it’s a best-selling keto cookbook seen at the bookstore or your coworker talking about trying it, this diet trend is everywhere.
Let’s dive into what exactly the keto (short for ketogenic) diet is. Fun fact: the keto diet was created for children with epilepsy to be used when all anti-seizure medications had failed. More recently though, this diet has gained popularity for its rapid weight loss effects.
At its core, the keto diet is a high fat, moderate protein, very low carbohydrate diet. A person following a keto diet consumes 70-80% of calories from fat, 20% from protein, and 5% from carbohydrates. The keto diet emphasizes eating high-fat foods like nuts, butter, avocado, coconut oil, heavy cream and cheese; high-fat protein foods such as eggs, beef, and fatty fish; and small amounts of starchy veggies. Small quantities of berries are allowed at times.
To provide some context of how this compares to the Standard American Diet, Americans roughly consume 50% of their calories from carbohydrates, 25% from protein, and 25% from fat. As you can see, there’s a big difference for fat and carbohydrates when compared to the keto diet! To further help you understand what the keto diet entails, carbohydrates are limited to 20-50 grams per day. Now think of a large banana. That’s about all of the carbohydrates you can eat in ONE DAY. Still want to try the keto diet?
So what has made the keto diet so popular? The short answer: rapid weight loss. The long answer gets a little science-y, so hang on. After consuming minimal-to-no carbohydrates for a period of time, the body eventually uses its stored glucose, known as glycogen, and then has to figure out a different way to make fuel. The body then turns to fat stores, which are broken down into ketones and can be used by the brain and body. This is what’s called ketosis. The thought is that people are constantly burning fat, which is therefore contributing to weight loss.
But does the keto diet actually work when it comes to weight loss? The short answer is yes, it can. A 2013 meta-analysis found that those following a ketogenic diet lost more weight than those following a low-fat diet; the average difference after a 12-24 month follow-up period was only 2 pounds. When the individual studies are examined further, the average weight loss for those following a ketogenic diet was around 10 pounds. So while the ketogenic diet does result in weight loss, over the long-term it doesn’t actually perform that much better than a low-fat diet, nor does it result in “significant” weight loss.
Additionally, before starting the keto diet, it’s important to know the side effects. When first starting the keto diet, it’s common to experience the “keto flu” where you feel physically unwell while making the transition into ketosis. Other side effects of the keto diet include irregular bowel movements, bad breath, the potential for kidney damage, and increased risk for cardiovascular disease. It’s also important to understand the keto diet is extremely restrictive, which limits the sustainability of the diet.
If you’re considering starting the ketogenic diet, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons and to understand that what works for one person may not work for you. The keto diet should also be monitored by a health professional, so working with a Registered Dietitian is highly recommended. If you’re still curious about the keto diet or wondering if it’s right for you, contact LulaFit’s nutrition team!
-Shawn Post, RD
Bueno NB, de Melo IS, de Oliveira SL, da Rocha Ataide T. Very-low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet v. low-fat diet for long-term weight loss: a meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Brit J Nutr. 2013;110(7):1178-87