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Ask a Dietitian: Is the Keto Diet Worth the Hype?

From word of mouth to media attention, the ketogenic diet has more than outlasted its fifteen seconds of fame. So, is the method of eating just a controversial fad or are there proven benefits to going keto?

While the keto diet is high in fats, it is very low in carbs. So if you are looking for a way to curb your carb intake, following a keto diet might be right for you. Keep reading to find out whether the keto diet is worth the hype.

What is the ketogenic diet?

The ketogenic diet promotes eating a diet very high in fats (55-60%), with a moderate amount protein (35%) and very low amount carbohydrates (5-10%). It's a very low carb diet, including only 20-50g of carbohydrates per day. This equates to half a cup of pasta or rice, or one potato, or one piece of bread.

By drastically reducing in carbohydrate intake, glucose reserves become insufficient and the body is forced to find an alternative source of energy. The alternative source of energy are ketones, which are produced from the breakdown of fats. This process puts your body into a metabolic state called ketosis.

Meat Sugary foods (soft drinks, cake, ice-cream)
Fish Grains/starches (rice, pasta, cereal)
Eggs Fruit
Butter/cream/cheese Beans/legumes
Low carb vegetables (mostly green veggies) Root vegetables (potato, carrot, parsnip)
Nuts and seeds Some condiments or sauces
Olive oil/coconut oil Alcohol

What are the benefits of the ketogenic diet?

Despite a recent spike in popularity, the keto diet has actually been around for a while. Russell Wilder first used the ketogenic diet in 1921 to treat epilepsy and there is established research supporting its success as a medical intervention, particularly in paediatric and childhood cases.

However, attention is mostly paid to the diet's benefits for weight loss. Some recent research suggests that the ketogenic produces beneficial metabolic changes in the short term, with positive impacts on associated health parameters such as blood pressure and cholesterol. Other research suggests that these results are simply from a reduction in overall energy intake.

What are the downsides of the keto diet?

Not only can the keto diet be a difficult adjustment for many eaters, the long-term consequences aren't yet confirmed. Like all diets that focus on eliminating food groups, there are a few things to be weary of. Carbohydrates are an essential macronutrient and our body's preferred source of energy. Studies have found that low carb diets favouring animal-derived protein and fat sources are associated with high mortality.

Limiting carbohydrates leads to a restriction of fibrous foods such as fruit, vegetables and grains, which can negatively affect our microbiome and gut health. A diet high in fibre has been found to help maintain a healthy weight and lower your risk of diabetes, heart disease and some types of cancer.

A lack of intake of fruit, vegetables and grains may also lead to micronutrient deficiencies such as magnesium, phosphorus and vitamin B and C.

Starting the diet is often associated with fatigue, low mood, constipation, headaches and brain fog, due to its extreme carbohydrate restriction. Although these feelings may subside, you're left with a very limited variety of foods to enjoy and what's life without pasta, bread, chocolate and a cheeky wine?

So yes, the keto diet can help you lose weight in the short-term, but it could have long-term implications for your health. If you choose to undertake a ketogenic diet, this should be done with the guidance of a health professional, such as an Accredited Practising Dietitian.

Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition.

Explore more content like this in our series, Ask a Dietitian.

Health & Performance Collective is the brainchild of Sydney Dietitians Jessica Spendlove and Chloe McLeod. They use their 20 years of combined knowledge and skills as dietitians to work with motivated people to live and perform at their best.

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