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Ketogenic Diet: Why You Should (Probably) Avoid The Low-Carb Weight Loss Plan

HuffPost UK logo HuffPost UK 9/06/2019 Rachel Moss

Keto diet concept. Balanced low-carb food background. Vegetables, fish, meat, cheese, nuts on a dark background. © Getty Keto diet concept. Balanced low-carb food background. Vegetables, fish, meat, cheese, nuts on a dark background. Another day, another diet hailed as the of weight loss by celebrities. This time it’s the Ketogenic diet that’s on everyone’s lips.

The low carbohydrate, high fat, high protein diet dates back as far as the 1920s, but with recent advocates ranging from Hollywood actresses to reality stars, it’s making a resurgence.

The British Dietetic Association (BDA) named the Atkins-like method among the worst celebrity diets to follow in 2017, so two years later, why is it still gaining fans?

“If you are trying to lose weight you can become quite vulnerable. We have messages around ‘the perfect body’ being pushed in our faces from all angles these days,” says registered dietitian and BDA spokesperson Kirsten Jackson. “Fad diets that are extreme form a cult-like experience and can easily suck people in.”

What is the Ketogenic diet?

Grilled bacon and avocado, fried eggs with spinach and cherry tomatoes on vintage wooden cutting board. Gray concrete background. Ketogenic diet. Low carb high fat breakfast. Healthy food concept © Getty Grilled bacon and avocado, fried eggs with spinach and cherry tomatoes on vintage wooden cutting board. Gray concrete background. Ketogenic diet. Low carb high fat breakfast. Healthy food concept The Ketogenic diet, or Keto diet, is a high fat, high protein diet where people cut out virtually all carbohydrates, Jackson explains, limiting carbs to around 20-50g per day.

“Usually the body uses glucose (a form of sugar) from carbohydrates (found in foods like sugar, bread or pasta) for its energy source,” the Epilepsy Society explains. “Chemicals called ketones are made when the body uses fat for energy (this is called ‘ketosis’). With the ketogenic diet, the body mostly uses ketones instead of glucose for its energy source.”

The diet is still sometimes recommended for people with epilepsy as it’s been found to reduce epileptic seizures. However, these patients will closely be monitored by health professionals.

People without epilepsy are adopting the principles of the diet without medical supervision in a bid to lose weight and this is what concerns the BDA.

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What are some of the risks of the Ketogenic diet?

Following the Keto diet can lead to an increased risk of bowel cancer, diabetes and heart disease, Jackson says. This is due to limitations on fibre intake, which we would normally get from fruits, vegetables and whole-grains.

“These foods are either eliminated or restricted on the diet. It has been shown that a high fibre diet of around 30g per day will reduce these risks by around 30%,” she says. 

The diet may also cause a reduction in the number of gut bacteria as it limits the intake of prebiotic foods, Jackson says. Gut bacteria aid a number of essential functions, from digestion and weight regulation to boosting our immune system.

As well as the health risks, the high protein/high meat element of the diet could have a negative impact on the environment. “It goes against the current guidelines to follow a more plant-based diet,” Jackson says. 

What’s a healthier way to lose weight?

© Getty Jackson would not recommend the Ketogenic diet for those without epilepsy. Instead, she recommends a more balanced way of reducing calorie intake is by looking at all of the food groups, rather than demonising one. 

“As a dietitian I would always recommend going back to looking at mindful eating, portion control and basing each meal around plants. That does not mean that someone needs to go vegan, but just that their diet should be predominantly plant based,” she says. “This will ensure that they are kept full and satisfied whilst meeting all their nutritional requirements.”

It’s also important still to have foods we would consider ‘treats’ now and again, she says. “If you become too restrictive, you will never consider your new diet as a way of life,” she explains. “Nutrition, exercise, sleep and mental wellbeing all need to be considered for successful and sustainable weight loss.”

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