The keto diet: Pros and cons

It’s everywhere: the ketogenic or “keto” diet. Fans of the high-fat, low-carb diet say it helps people lose weight, manage diabetes and more — some research has even shown it can increase longevity and improve memory. 

The goal of the diet is to induce ketosis, a metabolic state in which the body is unable to convert carbohydrates into glucose and burns fat instead, which the liver converts into molecules called ketones.

The diet is heavy on fats — think bacon-wrapped avocado slices  — eliminates almost all fruits, and limits vegetables. 

So should you rush out and stock up on bacon?

CBC asked a P.E.I. dietitian and a personal trainer for their thoughts on whether it was a sustainable way to eat or a short-term weight-loss solution.

Some Islanders also raved about their experience with a keto diet, on Facebook, but at least one dietitian cautions that the jury is still out.

‘Weight loss is a bonus’

“So sustainable!” Renee Laprise commented. “I don’t think of is as a diet. I didn’t do it for weight loss but more to manage menopausal hormones. Eight weeks in and I have seen 100 per cent turnaround in brain function and energy level.” 

lobster-filled portobello mushroom with steak and salad

‘It sounds complicated but it isn’t,’ says Renee Laprise of eating a ketogenic diet, like this lobster-filled portobello mushroom with steak and salad. (Submitted by Renee Laprise )

“It is sustainable. Been eating this way for five months,” said Ghislaine O’Hanley. “Have never lasted that long on a ‘diet’. It’s not a diet  it’s a way of eating. I feel better, look better and sleep better.”

David Rashed said he’s been on the diet since September. “So far so good. I love the food choices, it really agrees with me. Glad to ditch sugar, and white flour and carbs. Weight loss is a bonus.”

Jason Doucette commented that he tried it in the fall. “Lost weight very quickly as expected, didn’t find it realistic to sustain as the food groups weren’t making sense and the weight came back harder than it left. I also couldn’t justify something listing carrots as not great and bacon as OK.”

The dietitian’s take

“It’s definitely going to be the trendy diet of 2018,” said Heather McIver-Ellis, a dietitian who works for reactive health.

Heather McIver-Ellis, P.E.I. dietitian

‘Red flags go up when you see the type of diet that requires so many restrictions,’ says dietitian Heather McIver-Ellis. (Submitted by Heather McIver-Ellis)

“As a dietitian, instantly red flags go up when you see the type of diet that requires so many restrictions,” she said. The jury’s still out on the keto diet, she believes — research has yet to come down firmly for or against it. 

‘Some people use this as an excuse to make it a butter-and-bacon diet.’
— Heather McIver-Ellis 

The keto diet is a “hot topic” of discussion among dietitians, she said, as they look to support clients considering it. 

She’d like to see people focus on whole foods — get rid of processed and take-out foods — and add more fruits, veggies and whole grains, while reducing sugar. 

“It doesn’t have to be as low-carb as ketogenic diet to still see some of the great benefits,” McIver-Ellis said. 

She prefers to see clients eat about 30 to 45 per cent calories from carbohydrates per day — that’s about 100 grams. 

‘People like the quick results’

There’s more evidence to support a more liberal use of healthy fats, too, she said — around 30 per cent of calories from fat like dairy, eggs and nuts is healthy, she said, compared to the 70 per cent fat in a keto diet.  

598759943 Keto diet high-fat, high protein, low-carb foods

The keto diet is heavy on fats and light on carbohydrates. (Elena Shashkina/Shutterstock )

“Some people use this as an excuse to make it a butter-and-bacon diet, and that’s not what it’s all about,” she said. 

McIver-Ellis will help clients who want to try a keto diet do it as healthfully as possible, she said, noting the diet can make it difficult to get enough nutrients and fiber. 

“Any diet can be done in a healthy way, as long as you feel like you can do it forever,” she said. She often hears clients say they tried it and quit after three to six months — because they consider it too restrictive, or find cooking the from-scratch meals too onerous. 

“People like the quick results from ketogenic, but there are tons of ways to lose weight and be healthy if you’re willing to do it long term,” McIver-Ellis said. People who lose weight on a keto diet will see the loss reversed, she said. 

The coach’s take

Kurt McCormack is a health and wellness coach who runs his business ProTrim Fitness out of The Spa in Charlottetown. McCormack advises many of his dozens of clients to eat ketogenically.

Kurt McCormack of ProTrim Fitness works out of The Spa in Charlottetown, P.E.I.

‘It’s not just about taking the weight off, it’s learning how to keep it off,’ says Kurt McCormack of ProTrim Fitness. (ProTrim Fitness/Facebook)

“If you have enough discipline to go forth with using the nutrition for a ketogenic diet, it’s an effective nutrition plan that produces results,” McCormack said. 

The diet is especially effective for fast weight loss, McCormack said. 

“However it’s not just about taking the weight off, it’s learning how to keep it off once you’re down to a relatively healthy weight,” he said. 

The diet almost eliminates carbohydrates — just one piece of toast could be your total allowable intake of about 20 grams per day, McCormack noted.

Keto encourages up to 70 per cent of daily caloric intake from “good” fats such as avocados or even butter, he said. 

‘Every Islander loves their meat and potatoes!’
— Kurt McCormack

McCormack encourages clients to talk to their doctors and have their blood tested before starting a ketogenic diet, since he acknowledges the diet can create high cholesterol in those who are genetically predisposed. The lack of vegetables can also create vitamin deficiencies, so dieters may need supplements. 

Those on a keto diet also have to be careful how much they exercise, McCormack said — too much cardio could cause your body to start burning lean muscle mass, which you don’t want to lose. 

Add carbs back in gradually

Once a client is down to a healthy weight, McCormack advises gradually increasing carbs to up to 80 grams per day. “Then your body then gets used to the sugars in the blood and you can start maintaining the weight.” 

Is it sustainable for life? No, says McCormack — but it’s not meant be. 

“Every Islander loves their meat and potatoes!” he said. Weight that’s been lost won’t come back, he said, as long as people maintain a healthy diet and get lots of exercise. 

“If you go back to the bag of chips and sit and watch TV and think that it’s not going to come back, it definitely will,” McCormack said. Most people can maintain the keto diet for about a year before they reach their desired weight and begin to add in more carbs, he said. 

A keto diet is not for everyone — McCormack doesn’t follow it himself since he works out hard, has low body fat and needs the extra energy from carbs, he says.

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