Carbs are bad, fat is good. You might have heard this mantra in recent years, as the ketogenic diet catches steam among celebrities. This low-carb, high-fat diet is based on the science of “ketosis,” which is when your body burns fat (in the form of ketones) as a source of fuel instead of glucose, which is found in carbs. For decades, the keto diet was used for people with epilepsy, because it has anti-seizure benefits, but lately it seems that everyone is trying it. What can you eat (and not eat) on the keto diet? Does it actually work?
When you switch to the keto diet, you eliminate all processed and packaged foods, refined sugars, and all grains. Instead, you rely on foods like grass-fed meats, seafood, low-carb vegetables, low-glycemic fruit, and full-fat dairy. What’s most important, however, is the macronutrient breakdown of the diet. For your body to begin burning fat instead of glucose, you have to force it in ketosis. Coconut oil, which is a medium-chain triglyceride, is especially good at encouraging the process of ketosis. You will see coconut oil, coconut cream, and full-fat coconut milk as an ingredient in a lot of keto-diet recipes.
In days past, people would force ketosis by fasting, but eventually doctors figured out that by manipulating nutrients in a certain way, the body begins to burn fat just as efficiently. You do this by dividing your daily amount of fat, protein, and carbs into specific percentages: 60-75% from fat, 15-30% from protein, and a meager 5-10% from carbs.
What are the benefits of the keto diet? People have reported feeling significantly less tired after giving up refined carbs, which tend to weigh down the body. They also feel sharper mentally, which can be linked to the consumption of healthy fats found in avocados and fatty fish. Whether or not the keto diet is a good choice for maintainable weight loss is up for debate, but there have been very promising studies. Other benefits have included less chronic inflammation, which is responsible for a host of health problems like joint pain, skin problems, and frequent illness.
What about athletes or people who are just very active? Aren’t carbs the golden standard? This has been a major issue in the food nutrition community, and multiple studies have been done to compare the keto diet with more traditional high-carb diets. The keto diet has shown to not have a negative effect on performance for endurance athletes, though if you like to engage in high-intensity interval training, it’s best to choose a modified keto diet, which includes more carbs before and after a workout.
What other criticisms might cause a person to reconsider the keto diet? Well, for one, it’s a restrictive diet that’s hard to stay faithful to. Cutting out entire food groups like grain and anything with refined sugar eliminates a lot of food, and needing to buy high-quality, grass-fed meat can get expensive. There’s also the negative health consequences that can occur, like micronutrient deficiency. There are lots of important nutrients in grain that miss when you go on the keto diet, and while you can get supplements, it isn’t the same.
If you have diabetes, the keto diet can be very risky. There’s a condition called ketoacidosis, which is when the body produces so many ketones, it turns the blood acidic. It can be fatal if not treated. To prevent this, you have to be very diligent about monitoring your ketone levels with a breath test, urine test, or blood test.
The Paleo diet is also popular these days. Is it a healthy choice?