I’d bet a million dollars that you’ve noticed the keto trend lately. You’ve also probably heard many of the dazzling health benefits this diet is touted for. From Instagram celebs to wellness gurus and even your next-door neighbour praising this so-called wonderful way of eating, you might be wondering what all the hype is about. So, as a dietitian, here’s my opinion on the ever-popular ketogenic diet (or ‘keto’ for short).
What is it?
The keto diet is a super low carb diet. In terms of carbs, you basically can’t eat much more than a slice or two of bread and a banana per day. Subsequently, your diet is made up of mostly protein (think: fish, chicken and eggs), fat (i.e. oil, avocado, nuts and seeds) and non-starchy veg. The idea is that your body enters a state of ketosis, or ‘fat’ burning, rather than using carbohydrates for fuel.
What are the supposed benefits?
Rapid weight loss is one of the main reasons that people gravitate towards this diet. Yes, low carb diets do generally result in fast weight loss, but there’s a surprising reason as to why. You see, carbohydrates are stored in your body with water. When you stop eating carbs, stored carbs (and all of that water) are used up and not replaced – so a lot of the weight lost initially is just water.
What’s my verdict?
While the ketogenic diet has been used to treat epilepsy in young children, there simply isn’t enough quality, long-term evidence to recommend this diet for the general population. From a nutrition perspective, my main gripes with the keto diet are that:
1. It cuts out healthy food
Carbohydrates are found in a range of nutritious foods, like grains, legumes, fruit, dairy and starchy veg. So, if you’re limiting carbs, you’re at risk of missing out on valuable nutrients that come from these foods, like fibre to support a healthy gut, or calcium for strong bones and teeth.
2. It can be hard to sustain
Let’s face it: cutting carbs is hard. Seriously, who wants to give up all of that delicious food? You would have to wave goodbye to your morning muesli, your lunch time sandwich and your favourite noodle stir fry for dinner. You can also say sayonara to smashed avo on sourdough at Sunday brunch, and you can forget about the occasional pizza night with your friends, too. What’s more, you might even experience fatigue and bad breath when you go on a keto diet, making it even harder.
3. It’s a ‘diet’
The very notion of a ‘diet’ is something that doesn’t sit well with me. Instead, I think what’s important is that you find a flexible way of eating that works for you, sans labels and strict food rules. What works for you will fit your lifestyle with ease, cater to your likes and dislikes and be sustainable in the long term. Fad diets are usually the exact opposite – and for most people, I’m sure that’s particularly true for the infamous ketogenic diet.
Melissa Meier is a Sydney-based Accredited Practising Dietitian. You can follow her @honest_nutrition.
For more on the keto diet, these are the four biggest complaints, and this is how not eating carbs could be impacting your gut.
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