Ketogenic Diet Q&A with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
Hey guys! So a few weeks ago, I asked my followers on Facebook and Instagram to submit questions that they had about the keto diet so that I could answer them all in a post. Well, this is that post! I hope that by reading this Ketogenic Diet Q&A with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, you guys can learn something new about the Keto diet and make a more informed decision about your health.
Please bear in mind, that this post is for educational & entertainment purposes ONLY. This is NOT medical advice or recommendations. I just wanted to give you some information on the Keto diet from my background as a registered dietitian. If you have any other questions, please feel free to reach out!
1.If the Ketogenic diet is a low-carb diet with most of your calories coming from protein and low-carb vegetables; How is this different from past diet trends like the Atkins diet?
The main difference is that the ketogenic diet increases fat intake, while atkins is more concerned with carbohydrate restriction. Also, Atkins has 4 different stages. In phase one of Atkins, carbohydrate intake is restricted to 20-25 grams per day. This allows just enough room for the carbohydrate content found in nuts, seeds, and non-starchy vegetables. Because this diet is so difficult to follow for an extended period of time, the amount of carbohydrates allowed gradually increases into the 4th stage. In this stage, there is no specific carbohydrate restriction and it is up to each person to determine how much carbohydrate they are able to eat without gaining the weight back. Following the Atkins diet, you may, or may not, go into ketosis, but the point of the Ketogenic diet is to put your body into ketosis.
Originally, the ketogenic diet was developed as an alternative treatment for children with epilepsy that did not respond to medications. The keto diet has fat providing 90% of the total calorie intake. This eating style was to be closely monitored by doctors and dietitians and be followed for 2 years or more, depending on how the child responded. The weight-loss focused ketogenic diet of today, though has changed. Many sources will provide differing ranges of carbohydrates allowed and encourage too much protein and dairy intake to be a true ketogenic diet. This may prevent your body from going into ketosis. The keto diet that we typically see advertised online for weight loss more closely resembles the Atkins diet and has even been called the modified atkins diet, allowing for about 30% of calories coming from carbohydrate sources and encouraging more fat intake than the atkins diet does.
2. All the reading on the Ketogenic diet refers to forcing your body into ketosis, or burning fat for energy – speaking as a dietitian, is that safe?
So our bodies use different metabolic processes when using different energy sources. Our bodies prefer using carbohydrates for energy in the form of glucose. When you stop eating carbohydrates, the body will use up all of the carbohydrate that has been stored in your muscles and liver. Once those stores are gone, the body will begin using protein and fat for energy. When fat isyour energy source, the molecule used is called a keto acid which is used in place of glucose. The brain does not like having to use keto acids as it’s energy source. This is why people starting the keto diet can get the “keto flu” which includes: extreme headaches, foggy brain, fatigue, irritability, nausea, difficulty sleeping, extreme sugar cravings,and constipation.
We are not sure yet about the long term safety of the keto diet, especially the high saturated fat Keto diet the general public is following that includes deep fried bacon and cream cheese bombs. Some research supports the keto diet to help certain conditions, but, it is important to know the ketogenic diet given in these studies is the medical keto diet and uses heart healthy unsaturated fats. The fat loss keto diet that you can find recipes for on facebook and pinterest are typically high in saturated fat We know that, long term, consumption of saturated fat will have negative impacts on heart health.
As far as forcing your body into ketosis, most healthy people don’t really see a health impact from ketosis. In people with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, ketosis can turn into ketoacidosis which is a life threatening imbalance of your bodies pH. So it is very important to check with a registered dietitian or doctor before attempting an extremely restrictive diet such as this.
3. Is the keto diet something that is best from time to time or what would be the best way to utilize the keto diet for weight loss?
One of the biggest issues that people have when they do the keto diet for a certain period of time, is they will rapidly gain back the weight they lost once they stop following the keto diet. Much of this is due to the body’s carbohydrate store being refilled. The body stores 3 grams of water with every gram of carbohydrate that is stored in the body. When the carbohydrate stores are emptied, the water leaves with them. So you could potentially lose 10 or so pounds of just water weight when you start keto. Now, once you come off the keto diet, all the water and carbohydrate will come back, causing you to gain the weight back quickly.
Also, ketosis simulates starvation to the body. This is because, using fat for energy is the bodies back up plan for survival when you are starving. When your body goes in to “starvation mode”, it becomes more efficient at storing energy to prevent the body from “starving” again. So, coming off the keto diet means your body will store as much of the food you eat as it can. Where do you think the extra energy goes when your carbohydrate stores are filled? Stored as fat. And research has shown, that constant weight fluctuations (AKA weight cycling) are more harmful to your health than being overweight, or even obese. So, if this is something you want to do for weight loss, make sure it is a change you are willing to make long-term and be closely monitored by a doctor in regards to your heart health.
4. Why do you find that people turn to diets like this?
I think people like to be on “diets”. Our culture has generated this idea that if you aren’t doing anything to try to lose weight than you are lazy and unhealthy. So there is this pressure, especially in social settings to put down our bodies and brag about how “good” we are for depriving ourselves. Also, people like the idea of a dramatic change as quickly as possible. People like to be able to say that they lost 15 pounds on their new extreme diet. I used to be the same exact way. But this idea of wanting to be “skinny at all costs” can be harmful to our mental and physical health. The focus needs to shift to doing what is best for your health, not doing what is most likely to make you skinny.
5. What type of diet do you generally suggest to people who want to lose weight?
I don’t typically recommend diets. This is because most “diets” automatically mean restriction. Instead of focusing on what you can’t have, a better approach is to focus on incorporating foods that make you feel good and are health promoting. I would encourage someone to identify a simple area of their life style that they would want to improve. Make a goal that is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound; or SMART. An example could be that for the next month I am going to limit myself to 2 sodas each week. Then, once you meet your goal and it becomes a habit, you can make a new goal for yourself. Take it one step at a time, so you don’t overwhelm yourself.
Another tip would be to not think of foods as “good” or “bad”. Food is just food and you should never feel guilty for eating something. Pay attention to your body, eat only when you are hungry , and stop eating when you are satisfied. And pay attention to how certain foods make you feel. If you feel bloated and lethargic after eating a certain food, that may be something you want to avoid in the future. It is possible to lose weight and improve your health and not follow a crazy restrictive diet that makes you feel deprived.
6. Is it healthy?
This is a relative question. It really depends. As stated before, the keto diet was developed as an alternative treatment for epilepsy in children. In that case, this diet may be their only option and the “healthiest” choice for them. If you are the type of person who rarely consumes any unsaturated fats, this eating style could be beneficial in that it allows you to include that. As far as the weight loss, it is not sustainable and leaves a person susceptible to weight cycling. I have a blog post here that explains why weight fluctuations are detrimental to health. Finally, the type of food you eat to follow a keto diet has a lot to do with how “healthy” it is for you. People are instructed to avoid salads and instead eat bacon wrapped, cream cheese stuffed chicken every night; that is not healthy.