Keto is one of the world’s latest diet crazes. It boasts quick, substantial weight loss while allowing dieters to continue eating many of their favorite low-carb foods.
But there is one big controversy surrounding the Keto diet – is it healthy?
This article will discuss the diet itself, its origins, and whether or not the health and weight loss claims are worth the hype.
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WHERE DID THE KETO DIET COME FROM?
A study performed in France back in 1911 showed a link between fasting and seizure activity in patients with Epilepsy. The study found that patients had less seizure activity when they followed a specific fasting regimen, sometimes up to 25 days at a time.
The issue with this obviously, is that such fasting is hardly sustainable.
In 1923, based off this study, a physician at Mayo Clinic named Dr. Russell Wilder discovered that one could mimic the “fasted” state needed to reduce seizure activity through a low-carb, high-fat diet.
And so, the Ketogenic diet was born.
SO WHEN DID IT BECOME POPULAR FOR WEIGHT LOSS?
Research isn’t really clear on how Keto became popular for weight loss in recent years. It’s thought that the Atkins diet (a diet with a similar concept) may have played a part.
HOW DOES THE KETO DIET WORK?
The goal of the Keto diet is to enter a state of “ketosis” where the body is basically fooled into thinking that it has entered a fasted state and begins to burn fat for energy.
When you eat a low-carb diet, blood sugar (glucose) will be in short supply within your body. This is what your body would typically use for energy. When you enter a state of ketosis your body begins producing something called “ketones.” In the absence of glucose, your body will begin burning these ketones for energy instead.
Basically, your body thinks it’s fasting and begins to use stored fat for energy.
Supporters of the Keto diet claim that it basically turns your body into a fat-burning machine 24/7.
So what can you eat on the Keto diet?
- Low-carb vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumber, green beans, spinach, lettuce, zucchini, etcetera
- Low-carb fruits in moderation such as blackberries, blueberries, coconut, lemons, limes, raspberries, and strawberries. (Also, avocados which many don’t realize are actually a fruit)
- Meat, eggs, and fish
- Cheese, butter, heavy cream…
- Oils such as avocado oil, coconut oil, olive oil…
RISKS AND LONG-TERM HEALTH
As you can see from the list above, the major components of the Keto diet are meat, eggs, fish, cheese, and oils – extremely high-fat foods.
While there is an assortment of veggies to choose from, most fruits are limited.
The entire whole grains category has also been completely eliminated.
While supporters of the diet tout studies showing significant health perks, many of these “benefits” (like lowered blood pressure and cholesterol, improved blood sugar, more energy) can likely be associated to weight loss in general, regardless of how it is accomplished.
While there has not been enough long-term research on the Ketogenic diet to assume its risks with certainty, there have been plenty of long-term studies done on similar low-carb diets.
The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey is a research program conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics (part of the CDC). The research included 24,825 adults and found that a low-carb diet was tied to a 32% greater risk of death in general and a 50% higher risk of death from heart disease or stroke.
It also linked a low-carb diet to a 36% greater risk of death from cancer.
An additional analysis of 462,934 people found a 22% greater risk of death in general, a 13% greater risk of death related to heart complications, and an 8% greater risk of cancer death.
Also worthy of noting… the study found that a low-carb diet may be more harmful in adults who are already a healthy weight, versus those who are overweight or obese. Hmm… sounds like the suspicion I noted above may definitely have merit. Perhaps the benefits seen from a low-carb diet in those who were overweight or obese are simply related to the weight loss itself?
Studies showing the long-term effects of significant animal product consumption also cannot be ignored.
Many studies (including studies led by major health institutions such as Harvard and controlled for other lifestyle factors) have found that increased consumption of animal products such as meat, dairy, and eggs can lead to an increased risk of cancer, heart disease, and premature death.
One of the largest studies conducted, The China Study, found that countries with the highest consumption of animal products were directly correlated to the highest rates of disease. While on the opposite end of the spectrum, countries with the lowest rates of animal product consumption were correlated with the lowest rates of disease.
SO SHOULD YOU TRY KETO?
Even if you managed to maintain a Ketogenic diet based on healthier plant-based foods (vegetables, approved fruits, nuts, seeds, etcetera) without any animal products, it would likely leave you so nutrient deficient that it would not be sustainable long-term.
If you need to lose weight, there are much safer and more sustainable options out there. If you do choose to try Keto, it should simply be for short-term weight loss benefits only.
The reputable research that has been done points toward Keto being a poor lifestyle choice for your long-term health.
*The medical/health information above is provided for general informational and educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional advice. Accordingly, before taking any actions based upon such information, we encourage you to consult with the appropriate professionals.