Everyone knows that chronic obesity leads to increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke; it is associated with one of the leading causes of death in the United States. So, to combat the obesity epidemic, another problem has come to light - fad diets. The ketogenic diet, more commonly referred to as the “keto” diet, is one of the most popular diets in the United States right now. Ads on Facebook, Instagram, and even TV boast the many benefits of this diet. However, doctors and other researchers are not so quick to defend this trend.
In the 1920s, the keto diet was a medical diet designed to help people with epilepsy. Doctors found that fasting helped with epilepsy, so they designed a diet low in carbs and high in fat that models the state of fasting, but it is more sustainable. However, mainstream media portrays the keto diet as the cheat code for losing weight by eating primarily high fat and high protein foods. For example: bacon, butter, and cheese. Yes, you read that correctly. These are some of the most common foods used in ketogenic meal plans. The theory is that by consuming a diet of low carbohydrates (20-50 grams or less than two pieces of bread), and eating primarily fat and protein, that there is no glucose to break down for energy. So to survive, your body goes into a state of ketosis. During ketosis, fat reserves are broken down into ketones, and then these ketones are used for energy. In theory, this does sound like a promising way to lose fat. However, there are many side effects of the ketogenic diet that are not so heavily advertised.
Doctors have linked the keto diet to many diseases. For instance, with so much fat and protein to metabolize, keto dieters are at higher risk of developing liver and kidney disease. The liver and the kidney are being overloaded with reactants and cannot keep up with this demand long term without damaging the organs. If someone is not able to break down all of their fat that they are ingesting, then this fat is stored around the body. Fat will even build up on the inner walls of the arteries. This narrows the arteries and restricts blood flow to the heart which raises blood pressure and puts even more stress on the heart. Eventually, this may become coronary heart disease. Additionally, low carb diets such as keto have been linked to brain fog and mood swings because the brain evolved to operate primarily on glucose oxidation for energy. It is also very common for keto dieters to be nutritionally deficient in antioxidants and vitamins because the diet restricts all carbohydrates - even carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables are considered “bad”. And lastly, and something I think most people do not realize when they start this diet, is that the keto diet has been linked to disordered eating. Planning so much of your life and diet is not normal, and for most people this becomes overwhelming and restricting. Someone who can’t even eat a banana without overdoing their carbs for the day is much more likely to develop a disordered or unhealthy relationship with their food.
While someone who is uncomfortable with their body or worried about their BMI might be tempted to try the keto diet, they’re better off sticking to the more traditional approach. Eating more whole foods and incorporating more movement into their life is a more sustainable way to lose fat. These results may not be as immediate or drastic as the keto diet, but this approach protects the dieters most essential organs and mental health along the way.
Shannon Gray (8)