What are the principles of a keto diet?

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Nutrition Blog

The ketogenic diet (or keto diet) was originally devised to treat children with severe epilepsy. Because of its restrictive nature, these children need to see a registered dietitian regularly to check compliance, proper growth and seizure symptoms.

Ketogenic diets focus on meat, fish, eggs, dairy fat (including butter, cream and cheese), plant-based fats, avocado, nuts, seeds and non-starchy vegetables. They exclude starches (cereals, grains, rice), starchy vegetables (potatoes, corn, beetroot, peas, pumpkin, etc.), milk, fruit, beans and legumes.

A comparison between keto and non-keto diets

In comparison, a balanced non-ketogenic diet consists of:

  • 45 to 65% carbohydrates (250g on 2000 kcal);
  • 10 to 35% protein; and
  • 20 to 35% fat, but limiting saturated and trans fats.

However, as we can see, ketogenic diets limit carbohydrate intake and promote moderate amounts of protein and high amounts of fat. Because of this, the ketogenic diet is also more expensive and more difficult to maintain.

The process in a carbohydrate-rich diet

In a carbohydrate-rich diet, carbohydrates are broken down into glucose and stored as glycogen in the body to use as energy when needed. Without enough carbohydrates for energy, the body breaks down glycogen stores first (which leads to water loss), and only thereafter metabolizes fat (into ketones). With a ketogenic diet, however, the body has to function on ketones. A depleted glycogen store makes workouts difficult and less effective as your muscles function better on glucose.

Keto diets argue for weight loss, because they allegedly reduce appetite, increase body fat usage, reduce body fat storage; and increase metabolism. However, weight loss is because of water loss due to the glycogen and muscle breakdown.

This diet is difficult to maintain as it is not a long-term weight loss solution. You will gain all the weight back when you stop. You also can’t cherry-pick which part of the diet you want to follow, e.g. you cannot just add “bulletproof” coffee to your normal diet and call it “keto”. Also, when you follow a high-fat diet, you don’t necessarily burn body fat, even though you may show ketone production since your body burns the fat you eat first before it touches your fat stores.

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The side effects of a keto diet

This diet has side effects such as:

  • Dehydration
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhoea
  • Headache
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle cramps
  • Kidney damage.

There will be nutrient deficiencies of fibre; B vitamins; phytochemicals; calcium; vitamins A, C, D, K; folate,; selenium; magnesium; zinc; phosphorus; iron; essential fatty acids and probiotics. Taking a vitamin-mineral supplement is a good idea. A keto diet is unsafe for people with gout, diabetes, eating disorders or problems with their kidneys, pancreas, liver or gallbladder, and people with a family history of high cholesterol or osteoporosis.

If you do choose to follow this challenging diet, avoid constipation by eating low-carb veggies like kale, spinach, cabbage, mushrooms, green beans and green bell peppers.

In the long run, however, the best diet will be the one you can stick to for years. It seems that perhaps following a balanced diet, inclusive of all food groups, is easier, cheaper and safer whilst focusing more on portion control and a good helping of exercise can also lead to weight loss that stays off.

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