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Debunking Diets: The Keto Diet

As a college senior majoring in Food Science and Nutrition, the past year at Central Washington University taking classes on my major have opened my eyes to diets and diet culture. What I’ve learned the most about how you eat is having what you want but in moderation. For instance, denying yourself and completely cutting out sugar and carbohydrates is not the way to go when trying to lose weight. If you have noticed lately, keto is taking over diet culture and has been deemed a way to lose weight quickly. But is that obtainable in the long run?  

According to an article in the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the keto diet suggests that it helps to shed pounds quickly and is even helpful for managing diabetes and warding off Alzheimer’s disease. The Keto diet works like this, it is a high protein, low carbohydrate eating pattern that differs from healthful eating recommendations. Lots of foods that we consume like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, milk, and yogurt are sources of carbohydrates. What the keto diet does is drastically restrict carbs from all sources. The goal is to keep your carbohydrate intake below 50 grams per day. Keto dieters are known for often not consuming bread, grains or cereals. Even fruits and vegetables are very limited because they too contain carbohydrates. This diet asks individuals to shift their eating habits completely from what they are used to.  

The big question is, why is the keto diet so restrictive of carbohydrates? Carbs are a main source of energy for our body. Without enough carbs for energy, the body breaks down fat into what is known as ketones. Ketones turn into the primary source of fuel for the body. The ketones provide energy for the heart, kidneys, muscles and are an alternative energy source for the brain. For our bodies, a ketogenic diet is a partial fast. During a fast or a starvation state, the body has no source of energy. Thus, it breaks down lean muscle mass for fuel. With the keto diet, ketones provide an alternative source of energy.  Unlike a full fast, the keto diet helps to maintain lean muscle mass.  

Like many diets, this one may not be for everyone. The keto diet is not recommended for individuals with a pancreatic disease, liver conditions, thyroid problems, eating disorders or a history of eating disorders, gall bladder disease, or those that have had their gallbladders removed. There come short-term and long-term risks with the keto diet. 

Short-term risks are flu-like symptoms (upset stomach, headache, fatigue, dizzy spells) also known as the “keto flu” and some people have said that they have trouble sleeping as well. Drastically cutting back on high-fiber vegetables, fruits and whole grains can increase the risk for constipation which many keto dieters are having to take fiber supplements to help with that symptom. 

Long-term risks include kidney stones, liver disease, and deficiencies of vitamins and minerals. When you limit carbs such as nutrient-rich vegetables and fruits, it cuts out your intake of vitamin A, C, K and folate and those levels in a person participating in the keto diet are low. A considerable amount of research has shown that diets high in saturated fat may increase the risk for heart disease and other chronic health problems. The risk keto dieters might be taking with regards to their long-term cardiovascular health has not been fully studied.  

There is always some scientific evidence behind these diets that are growing more and more popular. One thing researchers found is that the keto diet has helped manage people dealing with epilepsy, a disorder characterized by seizures, for more than 100 years. Current studies are evaluating if the keto diet is an alternative dietary treatment for obesity and diabetes, however, the research is limited as of right now. What I found to be interesting is that the keto diet has made an impact on a person’s motivation for making healthy dietary changes. Plus, many people are not able to stick with the keto diet and gain back the weight after returning to their previous pattern of eating.  

What’s the takeaway from the keto diet? It is very restrictive. As a tool for weight loss and other health benefits, the jury is still out on this one.  Whenever you’re looking to lose weight and start making more changes in your weight, consult with a registered dietician nutritionist so that you are getting the correct information and the proper education about healthy eating habits. As for me, a type one diabetic, the keto diet is simply not the road to go down. I need carbohydrates, and I need that natural sugar in fruits. That’s the correct way to fuel my body. I think the biggest takeaway for anyone thinking about doing the keto diet is that remember, it’s not a diet to maintain for years down the road. You need carbohydrates and you need sugar to fuel your body properly. Educate your body with food the right way.  

My name is Katelyn Richardson. I am 27 years old. I am currently attending Central Washington University studying my bachelors degree in food and sciences to become a nutritionist and later a diabetes educator for kids. I've been personally battling type 1 diabetes since I was six years old. I love being outside, vintage shopping, watching movies, and going to stock car races!
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