As the holidays draw nearer, one thing is at the top of almost everyone’s mind: food. Whether you’re dreaming of festive desserts or wondering if your favorite sides will be on the Thanksgiving table this year, it’s normal to be excited about all the goodies coming your way.
For some people, this time of year (and all the food associated with it) can get you thinking about weight loss and dieting in the new year. Or, maybe you’re planning a family gathering with someone who has dietary restrictions now that they’re eating keto.
What exactly is this diet? And if your relative can’t stop gushing about it, is it something you should try, too?
The basics of keto
The keto diet is designed to put your body into ketosis, a state in which it uses fat to fuel itself. It involves cutting out nearly all carbohydrates and sugar and replacing them with fat.
“In a typical diet, 45% to 65% of our daily energy comes from carbohydrates, which are converted into glucose (sugar) in the body,” said Sara Falk, registered dietitian for the PATH employer wellness program at Baptist Health. “In other words, carbohydrates are our main source of fuel. In the ketogenic diet, the body instead uses fat as the primary source for fuel, breaking it down into ketones for energy.”
When is keto OK?
The ketogenic diet was introduced in the 1920s to help people with epilepsy manage their condition, and it’s still used for that purpose today.
“A ketogenic diet switches your primary fuel source from sugar, or glucose, to ketones,” said Fernando Galan, MD, board-certified pediatric neurologist and epileptologist with Wolfson Children’s Hospital and Nemours Children’s Health, Jacksonville. “Though it’s still unclear how it works as a seizure treatment, we have seen success using this diet for people with epilepsy. Typically, we begin discussing ketogenic diet as an option for patients who have become treatment-resistant and have not responded to two different antiseizure medications.”
Dr. Galan added that a ketogenic diet can also benefit children with infantile spasms or epilepsy disorders caused by metabolic issues. But, the doctor-prescribed keto diet is nothing like the one you see on social media.
“Ultimately, most pop culture keto fads don’t technically fall within the strict parameters of a medically prescribed ketogenic diet,” said Dr. Galan. “Ketogenic diet for the treatment of epilepsy is not just restriction of carbohydrates. It’s a very tightly controlled diet from a ratio of fats to everything else that is guided by a dietitian.”
What about weight loss?
The keto diet has gained major traction because so many people claim to shed weight quickly once they start it. However, studies show it’s not the best for achieving and then staying at a healthy weight long-term.
“Research has shown those people on the keto diet drop a lot of weight very quickly in the beginning, which is why it’s so appealing. The extreme restriction is not sustainable, though, and dieters end up gaining back the weight they lost and more,” Falk explained.
A little Googling can take you down a rabbit hole of recipes for things like bulletproof coffee (a cup of joe plus butter and oil) and fat bombs (high-fat, low-carb dessert balls) that help dieters reach their fat intake for the day. These fads are the most extreme examples of how much fat is required.
“The keto diet is not considered to be heart-healthy because dieters tend to eat many foods high in saturated fat, like full-fat dairy products, bacon and coconut oil,” said Falk. “This way of eating can be dangerous as it increases your low-density lipoproteins (LDL), or bad cholesterol, which can put you at a higher risk for heart disease.”
An actual dietitian-recommended diet
If you’re looking to change your diet to improve your health, Falk recommended making a plan that includes all kinds of food. Or, follow a tried and true method.
“Remember, it is important for any eating plan to include a balance of your favorite foods and healthier options. I am a huge fan of the Mediterranean diet for health maintenance and weight loss due to the focus on heart-healthy fats and plant-based foods,” said Falk.
Most importantly, she encouraged anyone looking to lose weight to do their due diligence when choosing a new dietary plan.
“There is no quick fix for weight loss. Any diet that makes you eliminate food groups or change your bodily processes is considered to be a fad diet. True weight loss involves losing a small amount of weight over a long period of time — no more than half a pound to two pounds per week. Anything that promises you otherwise could potentially be dangerous and is not recommended by health professionals.”
Do you have questions about healthy eating habits? Baptist Centers for Healthy Living provide health coaching at locations throughout the community. You can request a free health screening online.