The keto diet is a high fat, low carb diet making waves in the health community at the moment. It’s an athlete’s wet dream – one that tells the body to use body fat for fuel rather than from belly-busting carbohydrates.
NBA super-stud Lebron James recently lost 25 pounds with a low carb diet similar to the keto diet. Tim Ferriss claims the keto diet helped him kick lyme disease. And powerlifter Mark Bell swears by the keto diet, claiming it helps him build muscle, and keep that alpha male body that sends a message to the world. So does this mean you should try the keto diet?
Yes and no. There’s nothing wrong with limiting your carbs, but carbohydrates tend to get a bad rap. Bad carbs are what can get you in trouble – you actually need carbs for energy and basic nutrition. High protein diets come with their own set of challenges too, especially if you’ve ever had kidney stones and other conditions.
You may lose weight with the keto diet, but it’s probably not a long-term solution to the body you want.
What is Ketosis?
Ketosis is a metabolic process, in which your body burns fat for energy rather than carbohydrates. It’s the holy grail for athletes and weight loss pundits because it means you’re busting fat where it hurts and not taking in extra calories from carbohydrates.
Your body normally controls how much fat it burns if you’re healthy and eat a balanced diet. With very low carbs or when fasting, however, it makes substances called ‘ketones’ that start ketosis, and which the body uses for energy.
This can also happen during pregnancy, long periods of exercise and in people with uncontrolled diabetes. Ketosis in diabetic patients means they’re not using enough insulin.
The keto diet is very low in carbohydrates, and designed to trigger ketosis, and weight loss as a result. It’s also one of the oldest treatments for epilepsy, and seems to reduce seizures in patients at risk of them.
Good: The Keto Diet Burns Fat
The keto diet burns fat. We know this – the crux of the keto diet is that it gets energy from fat rather than carbs, which are a major cause of growing bellies across the nation.
Generally, low carb diets like the keto diet allocate between 30% and 50% of total calories from protein, which is the building block of muscle. That has the added benefit of burning even more fat burning, because muscle burns more calories than fat.
Ketosis can also make you feel more satiated, so you’re less likely to over eat.
There may be other benefits of the keto diet as well. Some evidence suggests it may lower risk of heart disease, and may help people with metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
Low carb diets may even help people with acne.
Bad: It Can Be Dangerous
The body doesn’t make ketones if you’re healthy and eating a diet that balances carbohydrates with fats and protein. High levels of ketones are not healthy and can lead to ketoacidosis – a metabolic state of high ketones in the blood. This can be very dangerous, and lead to very low pH in your blood and even death.
The American Heart Association, American Cancer Society and several other health organizations recommend less than the keto diet’s suggested 30%-50% protein intake.
High protein, low carb diets like the keto diet may increase risk of:
High Cholesterol – The keto diet is high in protein, which can include fatty cuts of meat, whole dairy and high fat foods. The obvious problem with that is risk of high cholesterol, which could increase your risk of heart disease. Conversely, though, a similar diet – the Atkins diet – may lower risk of ‘bad’ cholesterol when followed for at least two years.
Kidney Problems – High protein can strain the kidneys and make it difficult for them to function.
Osteoporosis and Kidney Stones – You may pee out more calcium than normal on a high protein diet. Some medical experts think that may put you at risk of osteoporosis. Just as unpleasant – and 10 times more painful – it may raise your risk of kidney stones, which is something you really, truly don’t want to experience.
Keto Diet: Yes or No?
The quick version? Yes, if you have a specific health condition that your doctor thinks may benefit from the keto diet. No for most other people – while it’s tempting to try the keto diet for its obvious weight loss properties, it’s a lot of work. Even doctors don’t typically recommend the keto diet to epileptic children for longer than two years.
The healthiest diet is the DASH diet, according to multiple studies. That’s followed by the Mediterranean diet. The keto diet, for all its fat-burning potential, ignores carbs – possibly to your detriment. There are plenty of healthy carbohydrates. Think vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes.
If you’re healthy and eat a balanced diet, your body should control how much fat you burn. Granted, you have to coax it a little, but unless your doctor specifically suggests you do the keto diet, you’re probably better off to focus on weight loss tips, limiting calories, and a healthy, active lifestyle.
Think About These Weight Loss Tips
You’re probably interested in the keto diet to blast fat. Is that right? Then think about these general weight loss tips. They’re not a quick fix – or easy – but good things usually take a little elbow grease. Focus on these weight loss tips rather than the keto diet and you may look a little leaner come swimsuit season:
Eat Vegetables – They’ll help you feel full.
Drink Plenty of Water – Aim for 6 to 8 glasses a day. Also, add a few ice cubes. That may help encourage passive fat-burning.
Get Tempting Foods OUT Of Your House – I know, it’s Saturday night, and you crave a little Ben & Jerry’s. Don’t do that. Try low-fat popcorn instead.
Stay Busy – You’re bored, you eat. This happens to the best of us, so keep your mind occupied.
Eat on a PLATE at the Table – Resist the urge to scarf down those chips in front of your favorite Justin Bieber YouTube video. Don’t do that in front of the fridge, either. Eat at the table, on a plate, and you’re in better shape to lean up the way you want.
Don’t Skip Meals – Aim for 5-6 smaller meals a day rather than scarfing down a big lunch and dinner. Also, don’t skip breakfast. Your metabolism works faster in morning than later in the day, meaning you’re more likely to burn calories as the rooster crows.
Keep in mind you’ll need to exercise to lose weight (now there’s a shocker, huh?). Indeed, it’s a team effort, between strategic eating and a little time on the treadmill. Consider that if you eat 1,050 to 1,200 calories daily and exercise for an hour each day you should lose between 3-5 pounds in the first week.
That’s not easy, but you can do it – and it may be more sustainable than the keto diet.