Reviewed By: Lisa Donaldson, APD, M.Nutr&Diet, B.Edu
Low carbohydrate diets have existed for decades, and the keto diet is just the latest in a long line. Their continuing appeal lies in the promise of quick, effective weight loss, whilst still permitting the consumption of ‘guilty’ foods. But the cons of a keto diet outweigh the pros. This is because a balanced diet will always trump a meal program with severe dietary restrictions.
Let’s unpack this 🙂
What is the keto diet?
The keto diet receives its name from the ketone bodies . These are a source of energy that the body uses when it’s burning fat, produced in response to the absence of glucose.
The modern ketogenic diet varies amongst its followers. However, all focus on achieving a certain macronutrient ratio (needed to create ketones). This is: 60-75% of calories from fat, 15-30% of calories from protein, and 5-10% of calories from carbohydrates.
The idea is that when the body can no longer access glucose from its usual sources, it resorts to burning fat (either from eaten fat OR stored body fat). This forces the body to enter into what is known as a ketosis state. Thereby, potentially eating into your body fat reserves and helping you to lose weight quickly.
FYI ketones are produced in weight loss regardless of the type of calorie-restricted diet you are following.
So, are there any pros?
Yes, simple carbohydrates are eliminated
Sugar is a dominant an ingredient in our pre-packaged and takeaway foods. The simple carbohydrates in these refined sugar foods can cause high blood pressure, exhaustion and an increase in hunger after consumption. In excess, simple carbohydrates also convert quickly to fat in the body, particularly around arteries and organs. The keto diet restricts all simple carbohydrates, and therefore, the most common of high-sugar foods.
You will feel fuller for longer
Protein and fats make up the majority of the keto diet, and they happen to be the foods that promote increased satiety. For example, eating a spoonful of peanut butter (sugar-free) will keep you satisfied for longer than eating a spoonful of honey.
Feeling full also means you’re less likely to snack, thereby bringing your overall daily calorie count down to assist weight loss.
By allowing keto followers to continue eating ‘cravings’ food such as bacon, cream and butter, the keto diet certainly feels less like a diet.
You will lose quick weight
There is evidence that a quicker weight loss will be achieved when patients go on a keto diet, compared to more traditional low-fat diets. A fair amount of this initial weight loss is water weight. But, this will have the most benefit on motivation, even as the weight loss balances out over time.
So, what are the cons?
Many keto supporters admit that, if done “incorrectly”, the keto diet will have the opposite effect of “healthy” on the body. So what do they mean by this?
Deficiencies are a major concern
With any diet that eliminates food groups, nutritional deficiencies are a definite risk. The keto is no exception to this rule. With the absence of foods such as legumes, whole grains and so many fruits and vegetables, individuals can easily start to experience deficiencies in vitamins, minerals and nutrients that aren’t available in other foods.
It’s easier to gain weight
To lose weight on any diet, you need to achieve a calorie deficit. But energy balance can remain positive no matter the source of calories, be it carbs or fats. Cutting carbs by following the keto diet does not equate to a direct calorie deficit. In fact, it’s very easy to do the opposite and end up in a calorie surplus due to the high-calorie density of keto-approved foods (aka high-fat foods).
Secondly, the production of ketones doesn’t always mean you are burning body fat. It could just be a reflection of that added butter to your coffee in the morning. So by adding additional fat to a diet, and not creating a calorie deficit, you are simply promoting body fat gain.
Not to mention, portion controlling fat is far more restrictive than portion controlling carbs. Foods like butter, olive oil, bacon and avocado are incredibly high in calories when compared to protein and carbohydrates (double the calories per gram). The keto diet promotes eating more calories for less food. So, when it comes to food-sight satisfaction, this can lead to cravings and eventual bingeing.
The keto diet is like any diet in that, if a calorie deficit is achieved, you will lose weight. But it’s not the most simple, nor the easiest to stick to or understand. A diet should be sustainable over the long term. Any diet that restricts an entire food group will be much harder to maintain and could lead to malnutrition and a dangerous sense of deprivation.
Mentally and nutritionally, there’s no substitute for a balanced diet full of each food group and a variety of colourful whole foods. Ultimately, it’s cutting back on calories (rather than cutting complete food groups) that will achieve an energy deficit and therefore, weight loss.
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