Firstly, shall we define what we mean by keto diet?
Keto refers to the production of ketone bodies which are the by product of fat metabolism. This process is known as ketosis. To ensure fat is the preferred fuel source being burned, carb intakes have to stay very low – under 50g per day equating to 5-10% of energy. This will trigger ketosis.
How do I know if I am in ketosis?
By going ‘keto’ the reality is you may not be in a permanent state of ketosis. This is actually quite hard to achieve. You will be eating proportionally more protein and fat, so fat is what you will burn. This won’t translate into fat stores being burned, unless you are in a calorie deficit. Your body is simply burning the fat that you’re eating.
So, whilst many people may say they’re ‘going keto’ what they probably mean is they’re attempting to eat very low carb, which may or may not trigger ketosis.
For true ketosis to take place you also need to eat not much protein, as otherwise protein is just converted to glucose for energy. In reality, protein is a really good thing for maintenance of muscle mass (which keeps your metabolic rate up and helps you store glycogen efficiently) so traditional keto diets which would be high in fat, moderate in protein and low in carb, do not sit within the recommendations we have for health long term.
Is keto diet good for weight loss?
Going keto certainly can trigger weight loss. For some they find it a really good weight loss strategy, reporting better energy and less tendency to snack. However, it’s important to look at weight loss maintenance further down the line, as if weight loss can’t be kept off, it can be more harmful to the body to cycle up and down in weight.
Studies looking at weight loss achieved at 12 months show no difference between low carb versus low fat. We don’t have any long-term data on how effective keto is at keeping weight off long term.
How to decide if you should go keto?
In my book, it’s important to separate weight and health as they are two completely different things.
Whilst keto can support weight loss, it is not superior to any other calorie restricted diet. And we still have the challenge that more than half of people following low calorie diets for weight loss will regain weight lost within a 2 – 5-year period. This is one of the reasons I take a non-diet approach with the clients I work with to improve health and well-being without the focus being on the scale. You can find out more about that here.
Sticking to a keto diet means eating low quantities of fibre and less wholegrains, fruit and vegetables. These foods are associated with reduced health risk and longevity – both of which are pretty important I would say.
We don’t eat macros, we eat food so if you’re not eating carb what are you substituting it with? Here it’s important to consider type of fat as this makes a big difference to health. More saturated fat compared to unsaturated fat will increase blood lipids and potentially your cardiovascular risk.
Secondly, if we think about other behaviours associated with reduced risk of death irrespective of what you weigh, being fit helps. To exercise or to train the body benefits from carbohydrates as it is the body’s preferred fuel source. In high intensity exercise it’s the only fuel the body uses and in endurance performance it improves it.
Lastly, it’s important to remember that chocolate tastes good and eating it doesn’t make you a bad person. For me the one word that should represent our food choices is flexible. Flexible to our nutritional needs, which change on a daily basis – our body is pretty good at sorting this out for us, if we give it permission and freedom to do so.
When we try to exert all this extreme control over our dietary choices it can sometimes leave us feeling more confused and less in control than when we started. Extreme diets can lead to poor relationships with food, increased anxiety and food obsession.
For more information on the keto diet and carbs in generally, grab you free ebook – Get Clarity With Carbs