Atkins. Low fat. Low carb. Alkaline. Intermittent fasting. Paleo. I’ve seen so many fad diets come and go that it’s hard to keep track of them all.
Right now the ketogenic diet (keto) is having something of a renaissance, so I thought I’d delve into it.
What is a ‘Keto’ diet?
Keto is effectively low carb, high fat. Your body’s primary source of energy is glucose; restricting your intake of carbs lowers your blood sugar level and you must find energy from somewhere else. In this state, your body will start to produce small molecules called ketones, which are essentially an alternative fuel source.
When you are on a strict ketogenic diet, your body will switch its main fuel supply from carbs to fats, which is called ketosis. For this to work your diet needs to consist of around 75 per cent fat and ideally no more than 20g of carbs per day.
Typical foods that make up a keto diet are natural fats like olive oil and butter, meats, fish, seafood, eggs, some cheese, and most vegetables that grow above the ground.
For all you chocolate lovers out there, there’ll be no more of that. Nor will there be any fruits, pasta, potatoes, rice, chocolate, bread, beer or juices. You need to completely avoid sugary and starchy foods. Sounds terrible, right?
What are the benefits of a keto diet?
The Keto diet, like all other diets, promises massive weight loss. The reason there’s so much hype around this particular diet is that people claim it also has health benefits beyond weight loss. These range from assisting with insulin sensitivity to feeling more energised. There are also studies being undertaken into whether it can help ward off some diseases, although the jury is still out on this.
Does the keto diet actually work?
There are positives to the keto diet: it has clear rules, so you know exactly what you can and can’t eat; you are usually left feeling fuller for longer, so don’t have the urge to snack throughout the day.
But the hardships outweigh the benefits. It takes a huge amount of discipline; it requires you to prepare your food from home; it restricts your social life. And you can’t do the keto by halves. When people tell me that they are doing it, I ask them if they’ve stopped drinking – it’s amazing how many say they still drink once a week or have a “cheat meal”. This will take you out of ketosis so you’re not really getting the benefits. All you’re effectively doing is consuming fewer calories.
And if this works for you, then great, keep it up. But you don’t need to call it the keto diet, you can just call it “my diet”. We need to move beyond thinking that there’s something magic about food and try to permanently alter our nutrition in a positive way. Chasing trends will only lead to disappointment.