There’s no denying the keto craze has a strong appeal right now. After all, it promises reduced body fat, mental clarity, improved performance and various health benefits. But when it comes to eating for long-term fitness gains and health, keto doesn’t emerge as a clear winner.
Unlike other fad diets, you might be surprised to learn that the ketogenic diet has been around for a long time – since the 1920s – and doesn’t look like fading away any time soon. So we’re here to tackle the facts about the popular diet head-on with Advanced Sports Dietitian Lisa Middleton.
Keto is short for ‘ketogenic’ – a style of eating which forces our body to use fat as a fuel. That process creates ketones, which can also be used as a fuel. This is achieved through a severe carbohydrate restriction (less than 20g/day), with a large proportion of high-fat foods (60-80%) and a moderate amount of protein.
Keto means eating lots of fatty meats, poultry, cheese, cream, eggs, butter, oils, nuts and seeds while cutting out all whole grains, fruit, legumes, many vegetables and most dairy, as well as processed foods containing sugar.
“It’s true that many people do eat more sugar and carbohydrates than a healthy diet calls for and could benefit from a better balance with proteins and healthy fats,” Lisa says. “However, keto diets also cut out various sources of vitamins and minerals. Most people don't need to go to the extremes of a keto diet to see health and fitness benefits, and many people struggle when they do try it.”
Lisa recommends that any drastic changes to dietary intake should be approached with caution and you should always seek advice from an accredited sports dietician for your specific needs.
The major publicized benefit of keto is weight loss. As the body’s reaction to dietary change differs between individuals, not everyone experiences this effect, and not always to a dramatic extent.
There are other potential positives to the keto diet.
Consuming less processed foods, as keto forces people to focus on whole foods as part of their carefully controlled diet plan.
Some people experience improved gastrointestinal symptoms and/or improvement in cholesterol profile – particularly if they have existing intolerances to certain carbohydrates.
Improved blood glucose levels. Low-carb also means lowered insulin, providing a rationale for people with Type 2 diabetes to use the diet.
Potential benefits for epilepsy management. A high level of ketones in the blood has been associated with reduced seizure activity, although this is not yet fully understood and should only be used for this purpose with the guidance of a medical professional.
Endurance and strength. The keto approach has gained much interest in the strength training world for its potential to support low body fat levels. Ultra-endurance athletes also sometimes use keto for increasing the use fat stores as a long-term fuel source.
However, the relationship between the keto diet and various effects isn’t clear cut.
“It is difficult to be sure whether some of the positive effects associated with Low Carb/High Fat are purely due to weight loss itself,” Lisa says.
Of course, there’s always a flip side, especially with a diet that has such drastic limitations on food groups.
Some downsides and risks include:
Missing out on important nutrients from the foods you’re cutting out. Low intake of whole grains and fruit has recently been linked to diet-related illness and mortality.
Not getting enough fiber. We love our healthy fiber here at Centr.
A diet too high in meat. The current science suggests a balanced diet, favoring plants, is better for overall health. High intake of red meat in particular has potential health issues.
Potentially increased cholesterol for some people. In others, it has improved their cholesterol profile, although there is no long-term research on this so far and results will vary according to the individual.
Reducing intake of prebiotic foods, which can negatively affect gut health.
Restrictive and inflexible nature makes it difficult to adapt or maintain.
A potentially negative impact on someone’s relationship with and enjoyment of food.
People report feeling unwell in the early stages, with nausea, constipation and sleep problems.
Potentially low energy levels and poor concentration.
Bad breath from the ketosis.
Recent research also suggests that even taking a ‘day off’ from keto during the dietcan have dangerous effects on the body
A diet that isn’t enjoyable or that negatively impacts your lifestyle is probably one you won’t keep up. If you find it difficult, boring and time-consuming — not to mention negatively impactful on your social life — it’s more likely to fail.
Your relationship with food should enrich your life, not inhibit it. As Lisa says, you can still attain your health, weight and fitness goals with a balanced and enjoyable diet of moderation.
“The best strategy for you should let you enjoy a range of nutritious foods in a sustainable manner that suits your lifestyle,” she says. “You don't have to go to extreme lengths.”
That’s why Centr meal plans are varied and adaptable, as well as enjoyable. Food shouldn’t be a punishment and it shouldn’t make life harder. It is possible—and advisable!—to love the meals you make even as you improve your health and well-being.
This article provides information of a general nature only. For individual nutrition advice seek consultation with a qualified health professional.
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