The ketogenic diet is the latest craze. If you know me, you know that I’m not really into “diets” because I find that they are usually restrictive, not sustainable for the long-term, and can harm you more than help. These potential issues exist thanks to the nature of diets themselves–they usually come with a list of “bad foods” and often demonize certain food categories. That leads to restriction and not an actual change of habits, which is needed for long-term health results and weight stability.
I’m neither a doctor nor a registered dietitian, but, as a health coach, I have basic nutrition education and struggle with a lot with the principles of the ketogenic diet. The idea of the ketogenic diet is that we should achieve ketosis, which is the state achieved by the body when we are starving. When ketosis is achieved, the body is supposed to break down fat stored in the liver, which then should lead to weight loss. The ketogenic diet doesn’t say to starve yourself of all food but just of certain food groups in order to achieve ketosis.
Instead of just dismissing it as another diet trend, I’m going to analyze three rules that govern the ketogenic diet and that I consider as highly problematic:
1. Cutting out starchy vegetables and fruit.
The ketogenic diet is similar to the paleo diet in that it perpetuates the notion that carbohydrate consumption needs to be dramatically reduced. According to this thinking, in order to lose weight, carbs need to be limited to 20 grams a day so that the body is starved and burns fat reserves for energy, thereby causing you to lose weight/fat–hence the reason why sweet potatoes and other starchy veggies, as well as fruit and grains for that matter, go on the ketogenic no-go list.
But the truth is, these complex sources of carbohydrates are vital for a balanced diet. Complex sugars provide us with energy for our brain and muscles to function–your brain alone needs about 150 grams of glucose to function! In addition, it has been proven that resistant starch can protect you from certain diseases such as colon cancer.
2. Focusing on dairy.
The ketogenic diet promotes the consumption of high-fat dairy products. These are supposed to offer high-quality protein as well as fat.
Science has proven decades ago that high-quality animal protein is a myth. Animal protein is not better than plant-based protein. This myth comes from the assumption that because animal protein is made out of a complete amino acid chain, it’s better. But the human body can actually easily build the chain out of different amino acids that it receives from different sources. Note also that small amounts of animal protein are directly linked to cancer formation in the body (The China Study). In addition, animal-based sources of calcium have been proven to increase the risk of osteoporosis and loss of bone density.
3. Promoting a high-fat diet.
Fat is one of the three macro nutrients in our diets and hence vital for our body to function. Note that you need fat to absorb all fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K), and your brain and nerves also need fat to function properly.
Not all fat is created equal, however. Animal-based fats, which are all saturated fats, are all directly linked to heart disease, for example. In addition, excess fat–rather than excess carbohydrates–is associated with type-two diabetes as it can lead to insulin resistance.
Fats good for human consumption should all be of plant sources such as avocados, nuts, and seeds. In addition, you should probably not get more than 20% of your calories from (plant) fat (as opposed to 70% recommended by the ketogenic diet) and the American Heart Association pretty much recommend to cut out all animal sources of fat.
I have no doubt that most people will lose weight and might even feel more focused when they first start the ketogenic diet. But not only is this diet not sustainable, due to to the extreme restriction of healthy carbohydrates, it’s also potentially harmful as it promotes an over-consumption of animal protein and fat. How about we just eat real, unprocessed plant foods instead? Guaranteed no side effects with that.
Which healthy eating tips have kept you feeling your best?
Also by Isabelle: Why It’s Time To Ditch The High-Protein & High-Carb Diets, For Real
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