The Keto Diet. What is it?
What aren’t they telling us?
Thoughts from a trainer and former physique competitor.
Let me guess, you know a person who is on a keto diet and has lost so much weight, don’t you? It seems like everyone has heard of a success story like this. But there is some underlying truth that never gets any publicity. What happens to that same person when they “finish” their keto diet? They lost “fat” mass, but did they actually get healthier? How long does a person usually last on a Keto Diet? In this article, I’d like to give you my insights on why the Keto diet isn’t what it’s cracked up to be and why.
The Keto Diet. A.K.A The war on “carbs”.
Everything we eat can be categorized into three categories. They’re known as the “macronutrients”, which are carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Each one of those can be broken down into more categories but for now, we will just talk about those three. The keto diet lives and thrives by cutting out carbohydrates. Depending on the individual person on a keto diet, they may differ. Some will say no carbohydrates in any form, some will consume leafy green vegetables, some may even venture out to one fruit a day.
So what does this mean? Well first off, cutting out one of the three nutrients we consume will automatically lower your caloric intake (imagine missing 33% of your work week, and what it would do to your weekly paycheck). This, and this alone is why the majority of people on this diet lose weight. However, there are other reasons why this is a successful tool to lose weight. Do you remember how there are three macronutrients? Well, the truth is that the total calories we eat in a day are not evenly spread out between carbs, fats, and proteins. As a matter of fact, chances are the majority of your calories eaten in a day come from carbs. The way our society is set up, a plethora of carbs exist in most foods sold and consumed. Let’s take what may be considered an average lunch and break it down.
For basic math, keep in mind this is how much of a single nutrient equal in calories:
1 gram of carbs = 4 calories
1 gram of protein = 4 calories
1 gram of fat = 9 calories
One can of soda. A sandwich with cold cuts. A small pack of chips.
140 calories (35g carbs)
250 calories (34g carbs)
160 calories (15g carbs)
Total Calories: 550
Calories from Carbs: 336
Percent of Calories that came from carbs: 61%
As you can see, even though carbohydrates are just one of the three macro nutrients, they typically account for over half of all calories we consume. So is it just as simple as cutting our calories in half? Is that why people on Keto are losing so much weight? Unfortunately, no. People will still be hungry and need to fill up on some calories. Cue the FAT.
Unless you want to eat an extra 4 chickens in a day, the calories you need to make up will come from fat. This, in my opinion, is where a lot of people don’t understand the downside of the keto diet. Unless the only fats you consume come from foods such as avocados, nuts & legumes, and other good sources of polyunsaturated & monounsaturated fats, you’re doing some damage to the internal workings of your body. The average person on a keto diet will not only eat these types of fat. I’ve seen numerous people simply live by the “If it’s fat I can eat it. If it’s a carb I cant” motto. This includes people eating a wide array of foods such as nacho cheese, fried chicken, sour cream, jars of all natural peanut butter, etc.
What does this trade-off mean? To understand this we need basic knowledge of how energy is used within the body. When people consume no carbs, metabolic processes within the body changes. Normally, when a person consumes carbs, the energy which Is usually in the form of sugar travels into the bloodstream. In this form, it’s known as “blood glucose” a.k.a blood sugars. It travels throughout the body and is stored within cells. Sugar that’s stored within a cell is known as “Glycogen”. It is the number one source of energy. We always use it first and foremost. Therefore anytime we do anything, whether it be getting up out of a seat or a 100m sprint, the first calories we burn are from a source of carbohydrates. Once we no longer have a source of glucose or glycogen to withdraw from, we need to get energy from somewhere else. This is where fat enters the equation. Without going into more step by step analysis, the energy sources provided by fat that we use are called “Ketones”, hence the name – “Keto”. What’s important to note from all this is, while on a keto diet, you burn your fat away by using it as an energy source, which makes it a very attractive option to lose weight.
Here’s what no one tells you about when they’re on a keto diet. While it’s true, they lose fat mass known as adipose tissue, they gain another type of fat. Visceral fat. That’s right. You know that fat around the love handles and places where it’s not wanted? It’s called subcutaneous fat. The truth is that it doesn’t really hurt us that much. There are a lot of athletes who carry around extra weight and still are in incredible shape and perform at the highest of levels. But this visceral fat, this is dangerous stuff. Eating more fat, especially saturated and trans fat causes visceral fat to skyrocket. It gets into crucial places such as arteries, veins, vital organs like the heart, kidneys, liver, and can cause a whole host of problems such as increased cholesterol, heart attacks, TIA, stroke, elevated heart rate, and blood pressure. It’s the reason why people with any of these existing conditions should never be on a keto diet. But all people do is see the number on the scale drop and to them its all that matters.
Also, when people are on a keto diet make sure to ask them how long they’ve been on it. Let’s be honest, this diet lives and breathes on one pillar of discipline, eliminating carbs. What are the odds of someone living the rest of their life never eating carbs again? or even one year? one month? It’s just not a sustainable lifestyle. Since it didn’t teach much about proper nutrition either, as soon as someone re-introduces carbs into their diet all the weight comes back as well.
So, after harping on this diet all article long I’ll end off by saying what this diet could be used for. If someone is a type 2 diabetic, using elements of this diet as well as obviously monitoring their sugar intake can help them tremendously lower the insulin sensitivity to glucose. The second and only other use of this diet I recommend is using it when there is a deadline for a major event they need to look good for. For most people, it’s usually vacation in a warm climate on a beach. For others, it could be either their wedding or a member of the family who is getting married and they need to fit in certain outfits. The key to this is that it’s done for a short amount of time. Maybe 1-4 months ahead of time. I would never recommend anyone to do this for a long term commitment. The cons heavily outweigh the pros. The weight lost will eventually be gained again due to the fact that we cannot cut carbs out of our entire life. No diet that’s “healthy” would not be recommended for people who have heart conditions / high cholesterol etc. It teaches nothing about proper nutrition and leads people into a false sense of security when it comes to their relationship with nutrition.