Is the Keto Diet Really Worth It?
Author: Riley Pearce
Social Media Director
One of the most talked about diets of 2019 was the ketogenic diet. All of a sudden we de-demonized fats, and found ourselves reach new levels of low-carb. Many times a new diet emerges and takes the health and fitness industry by storm, the diet fades or is replaced by the next best thing.
Now that the diet has been popular for a few months, it is time to check in and see if the research has found anything that supports the long-term adherence to this type of diet.
To refresh your memories, the ketogenic diet, or keto diet, is a diet that was designed in the early 1900’s to treat epilepsy. Instead of making glucose the main source of energy for the brain, scientists figured that ketones were a better and safer source of energy for individuals with this condition.
Fast forward to our diet-obsessed culture, and the keto diet became the latest and greatest way to lose weight quickly.
The diet consists of about 70% of your calories coming from fats, 20%-25% from proteins, and 5%-10% coming from carbohydrates in the form of dark leafy greens.
Followers of the diet claimed they lost weight quickly, had better energy that lasted longer and didn’t end with a crash, and they ate less frequently because they were able to stay full longer.
Some of the downsides of the diet included the “keto-flu” which occurs at the beginning of the diet and presents as flu-like symptoms while your body transitions from using carbohydrates for energy to ketones for energy. The diet is also extremely low carb, so people really felt like they missed out on life’s simple pleasures like cakes, bread, and sweets.
Now that we remember what the keto diet was all about, let’s see if the research supports long-term adherence to the diet.
One study published in the Journal of Experimental and Clinical Cardiology took around 80 obese patients and put them on a ketogenic diet. The participants followed the diet for 24 weeks, and the researchers recorded results at 8, 16, and 24 weeks. They found that after 24 weeks (about half a year) that the participants health parameters all improved. Weight was lost, good cholesterol was up, bad cholesterol was down, triglycerides (free fatty-acids) were lower, and blood glucose levels had improved.
A review published in 2017 also found that following a ketogenic diet was a great way to offer the body alternative fuel that could improve conditions like diabetes, obesity, and other endocrine (hormone-based) conditions, stating that “ketones are being proposed as super-metabolic fuel.”
The research is in agreement that the ketogenic diet is a proven way to lose weight and improve some health parameters. There was a study that found that a lactating mother on a strict keto diet found herself in a life-threatening ketoacidosis state, so following this diet as a new mother is something women should speak to their doctors about (as with all diets at all phases of life).It is great for losing weight, but what if you want to put on muscle? Science tells us that putting on size and muscle mass requires carbohydrates. This is certainly true, but keto dieters will have you believe that you can be keto bodybuilder, you just have to do it correctly. They even admit to the fact that trying to put on size and switching to a keto lifestyle will mean that the process of bodybuilding will take much longer. You can read a full article on bodybuilding and the keto diet here.
Nutritional ketosis sounds like a pretty fool-proof way to lose weight, improve overall health, and may even be a viable option for bodybuilders. But there’s one final piece of the keto-puzzle that must be addressed, and if you’ve been on the keto diet for a long time, then you will know all about this struggle.
Many people will report that although they have great success on the keto diet, when they want to switch off the diet, or even just indulge in one cheat meal, that they seem to put on weight in a drastic way.
In our article on bodyweight set point, we discussed the reality of needing to adhere to a certain way of eating, and therefore maintaining a specific weight for a long time in order to create a new set point. When people follow a keto diet they lose the weight very quickly, but it is a tricky diet to stick to long-term. A cheat meal here and there can mean that the body will desperately want to bounce back to its original set point because it hasn’t spent enough time at the new weight.
So how do you come off of the keto diet without putting the weight back on?
Your best bet is to have a plan. You will need to reintroduce carbs very, very, slowly so you do not shock the system. You’ll also want to start by introducing more complex carbs. Eating a slice a pizza is not the way to do this.
Tracking your macros in a food tracking app is a great way to do this. It will likely take some time to do this, so make a timeline part of your plan. Tracking your weight and seeing how it reacts to different amounts of carbs and different kinds of carbs will also be important.
It will have to be a meticulous process, so if you’re not up for that, then you’re better off either sticking with the keto diet, or not starting it at all (check out out Un-dieting blog here).
Remember that each of these diets is designed to address one of two or the larger dietary problems in our society. Do your research, speak with your doctor, and make sure you have all of the facts about whatever diet you would like to try. As for the keto diet, it seems to be safe in the “long-term” but there still isn’t enough evidence for the very long-term (over many years).