“As a cardiac rehab registered nurse, I have a really hard time getting behind something that increases your likelihood of becoming my patient one day.”
So I know this topic is a little controversial. And overall, most diets are. But the keto trend has really caught my attention, and I think it’s extremely important to discuss.
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What am I talking about?
The keto diet has recently soared into popularity as a great way to lose weight. I’ve seen countless pins, magazine articles, recipes, blog posts, and even ENTIRE blogs devoted to keto eating. Due to the release of some success stories, people are raving about the keto diet’s benefits.
What has unfortunately not been in the limelight – the fact that the keto diet, short for ketogenic, is a medical diet for the purpose of treating epilepsy in children. Health professionals aren’t even entirely sure why the keto diet is effective as a nonpharmaceutical treatment for seizures, but it often helps!
Did you know that? If not, this is a really good example of how frighteningly inaccurate social media can get when it comes to health information. If you did and are still pursuing the keto diet for its weight loss “side effect”, let me tell you why that’s probably unwise.
Hold your horses, what is the keto diet in the first place?
The ketogenic diet is a high fat, low carbohydrate, low protein eating plan. By high fat, I mean 90% of your daily intake comes from fat. That’s a lot!
Carbohydrates and protein are kept extremely low, with doctors recommending 20-50 grams of carbohydrates and maybe around 75 grams of protein. To put this in perspective:
|General Recommendation||Keto Diet Recommendation|
Saturated Fat: <10%
Saturated Fat: No restriction
It’s not even so much the numbers that concern me (although they certainly do), as opposed to WHAT food they recommend. Lots of meat is encouraged, as well as eggs, butter, mayonnaise, oils, and lard. Did she just say this diet includes eating lard?? Yes, why yes I did. While some unsaturated fats are also encouraged – avocado, olive oil, nuts, seeds – saturated fats are mostly consumed.
Not only that, but remember that fruits and vegetables are carbohydrates. So not only are you cutting out the traditional carbs like bread, pasta, cereals, etc., you also greatly reduce your fruits and veggies. Pretty much only a small amount of berries are permitted, and at most 2 cups of leafy greens and 1 cup of another select type of vegetable are permitted.
Let me just say – if you don’t question a diet that restricts the amount of vegetables you can eat, then I’m not sure how much more I can say to change your mind. The only time you should restrict your leafy greens is if you’re taking a medication called warfarin (Coumadin), which is a blood thinner that can be inhibited by Vitamin K. Unless you have a medical reason to restrict your fruits and vegetables, please don’t.
So why is this diet recommended?
The body usually uses available carbohydrates for energy. In the absence of carbs, the body instead breaks down stored fat. When stored fat is broken down, it makes something called ketone bodies – hence the name “ketogenic diet”. Although unsure, researchers think it’s likely the high level of ketone bodies that helps control epileptic seizures. Ketones in themselves are not harmful.
So is there anything actually dangerous about the keto diet?
Yes! The seizure patients placed on this diet are given supplements to counteract their lack of nutrients. Since they’re no longer eating a variety of even healthy carbohydrates, they begin to become deficient in many vitamins and minerals.
Due to a lack of calcium and other bone strengthening nutrients, many are more prone to bone fractures and breaks. Kidney stones are also a concern.
Doctors not only have to monitor nutrient levels in these keto patients, but also the status of the liver and kidneys. As these organs are responsible for processing fat and protein, respectively, the excess amounts consumed can damage them. Doctors must also carefully monitor cholesterol levels. Since this diet includes lots of red meat and other saturated fats, those on it are at an increased risk for high blood cholesterol and cardiovascular disease.
As if that’s not enough, the low fiber intake from this diet will also lead to constipation. So now you’re also bloated and uncomfortable.
Why is this diet even a thing in the first place?
Well for the many children experiencing seizures out there, this diet can be a lifesaver. For them, the benefits far outweigh the costs. It’s hoped that these children do not have to be on the keto diet for too much more than two years, and can gradually wean off of it.
For others, the idea that your body becomes highly efficient at burning fat sounds like a dream come true. The fact that new, tasty keto recipes are coming out all the time makes it seem much less daunting.
But I think the real reason the keto diet is so popular is because social media has taken off with it, before it’s gathered all the facts.
Now if you’re someone who has done or is currently on the keto diet and had/having success, I’m very happy for you. But I don’t recommend you maintain it much longer. As a cardiac rehab registered nurse, I have a really hard time getting behind something that increases your likelihood of becoming my patient one day. Many of my patients would do anything to not be in the position they’re in, so don’t increase your chances of a heart attack or other heart problems just to see if this latest fad diet works.
So what do I do if I want to lose weight?
It’s so much simpler than the difficult keto diet!
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables (for tips on how to sneak even more into your diet, check out my post How to Eat More Fruits and Veggies
- Measure out portions of those typical “carbs” to make sure you aren’t overeating them (rice, oatmeal, pasta, cereals)
- Opt for whole, fresh foods over packaged and processed ones
- Be careful of the little things, such as salad dressings, pasta sauces, condiments, coffee creamer, butter, oil, and how much peanut butter or cream cheese you’re smearing on your morning bagel – these are the gamechangers for weight loss!
- Make sure you aren’t drinking your calories
For more tips like these, check out my post on How to Lose Weight with Guaranteed Results
Need extra motivation?
If you’re having a hard time sticking to these healthy eating guidelines and need extra motivation to hit your weight loss goal, check out HealthyWage. It’s a company that lets you make “wagers” on yourself, providing you with an actual cash prize (often in the thousand dollar range) if you hit your goal. I’m very impressed by them and highly recommend.
If you have any questions about the information I’ve provided or the keto diet, please feel free to ask in the comments below. I’d like this to be an open place for discussion, free from judgment. I hope this post was helpful in answering some of your keto questions!
For more on the keto diet: