Don’t fall for the latest low-carb diet fad, the keto diet. We told you not to fall for it back when the Atkins diet was all the rage, and we’re telling you the same thing now. An excessively low-carbohydrate diet which focuses on consuming more protein (Atkins) or fat (Keto), and cuts out important plant-based foods such as whole grains, beans, fruit and root vegetables, has not been shown to be healthy and could have some very dangerous side effects. On the other hand, a whole food plant-based diet has been shown to be healthy over the whole lifespan, to prevent and treat a wide variety of diseases, and to be very effective at causing weight loss, resulting in just as much weight loss as the keto diet. Why take chances?
The keto diet is very low carb, high fat and protein that is very heavily made up of animal foods. Proponents claim that by not consuming carbs, and creating a state of ketosis, your body will burn fat for energy and you’ll lose some weight as a result. Many people do initially lose weight on a keto diet, which is why it is so popular, but this is a risky way to do so.
Ketones are waste products caused by using fat for energy resulting in ketosis, an elevated level of ketones in the blood. Ketones are not meant to be the main source of energy in the human body. Under normal conditions one might find 2% of energy needs met by them, say after a night’s sleep and before breakfast. They are present in small amounts in the blood of healthy individuals during fasting or prolonged exercise.
Ordinarily ketones in the blood are eliminated in urine by the kidneys. In small amounts, they serve to indicate that the body is breaking down fat, but high levels of ketones are abnormal. On the keto diet, the levels of ketones created are more than the kidneys usually have to handle. Scientists are worried that this will cause damage to the kidneys. The keto diet works by creating an abnormal situation in the body. By contrast, a plant-based diet makes our blood and body more normal.
Low-carb diets like the keto do appear to lead to some short-term weight loss, but they’re not significantly more effective than any other commercial or self-help diet. They don’t appear to improve athletic performance. In a recent study in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, Weiss and his colleagues found that participants performed worse on high-intensity cycling and running tasks after four days on a ketogenic diet, compared to those who’d spent four days on a high-carb diet. Weiss says that the body is in a more acidic state when it’s in ketosis, which may limit its ability to perform at peak levels.
The list of worries and risks for those on the keto diet is long:
The American Heart Association (AHA), American College of Cardiology, and the Obesity Society have concluded that there is not enough evidence to suggest that low carbohydrate diets such as the ketogenic diet provide health benefits to the heart.
The lack of fiber in this diet makes it more likely you’ll experience gastrointestinal distress such as constipation.
Other potential risks include kidney stones, several vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and decreased bone mineral density which could lead to osteoporosis.
It’s also common for people starting the diet to experience flu-like symptoms, such as headaches and fatigue. This side effect is so common that there’s a name for it: the keto flu. This is due to the body reacting to the abnormal state of ketosis. As the body adjusts to this new state, the symptoms improve, but that doesn’t mean that it’s healthy.
Experts say the plan may be particularly risky for some groups of people:
- People who have had their gallbladder removed. The gallbladder holds bile, which is necessary in fat digestion. Without this organ, you can have problems on a high-fat diet.
- Multiple Sclerosis sufferers. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society raises questions about the long-term safety of the diet for MS, and cautions about the possible side effects, like fatigue and constipation.
- People with type I diabetes. On the keto diet, Type I diabetics could find their blood sugar affected to dangerous levels.
This diet is tough to follow. Less than half the people who try it can stick with it. In fact, in a review of 11 studies involving adults on the keto diet, which was published in January 2015 in the Journal of Clinical Neurology, researchers calculated only a 45 percent compliance rate among participants.
The hype around this diet is tempered by the fact that researchers just don’t know about the long-term safety of following a high-fat, high-protein diet (especially one high in saturated fat). What studies there are either were very short-term, or have been done on rats and mice rather than actual human beings.
We’ll come right to it: the plant-based diet remains the healthiest diet. It is effective for steady and sustained weight loss over a long period. In a recent University of South Carolina study, those placed on a vegan diet lost more weight than any other diet tested.
Not only does the vegan diet work for weight loss, it also prevents and treats other diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and prostate cancer. The plant-based diet normalizes physiology and biochemistry, and lab values are moved to normal values. This shows that it is a healthy diet that our bodies are designed to thrive on.
The science behind a plant-based diet is very strong and it’s been tested in people over entire lifetimes and even over several generations. Don’t fall for the hype of the latest fad diet.