Pundits to celebrities are expounding on the rapid weight-dropping results of the “keto” craze, short for the ketogenic diet. Several critics of the diet, including Dr. Andrew Weill, have tried to curb its enthusiasm by claiming that the ketogenic diet is not healthy and for the long term does not make sense for the general population. Given that when identical twins don’t react in similar ways when they eat the same foods (according to the findings of a recent study at King’s College of London), it’s hard to generalize and make broad claims about any diet. As with all lifestyle and dietary changes, they need to be highly personalized because there is never a one-size-fits-all, but there are several positive aspects to the keto diet that could be useful, depending on your personal health goals.
Keto is based on eating high fat (about 70% of your calories) and limiting carbohydrates to 20-50 net grams per day (5% of your intake). First, if you have blood sugar regulation issues, the low-carb aspect of keto helps stabilize your blood sugars throughout the day. Every time you eat carbohydrates, your body releases insulin as a regulatory response, so maintaining a low amount of carbohydrates can help keep your blood sugar more stable. Or if you have been eating salads, working out and can’t seem to budge waist-wise, you might have insulin resistance, a condition in which your body is not using insulin effectively and possibly raising your blood sugar levels. In this case, the keto diet might also help re-sensitize your body’s use of insulin and give it a kickstart.
While we have become a carb-phobic culture, the quality of this important macronutrient is equally, if not more important than the ratios in which you are eating it. Pictures of people touting keto-induced weight loss while eating two bun-less burgers with a side order of bacon doesn’t seem healthful. I’ve seen Instagrammers describe their keto plan as “healthy,” but should any eating plan be anything but healthy? This Vegetarian Shawarma Bowl is an example of a keto recipe that could be considered “healthy” and doesn’t leave you lacking. It’s full of low-carb vegetables which are packed with fiber. The fat comes from the grilled halloumi cheese and a rich yogurt-tahini sauce that is slathered on top. Fat is much more calorie-dense than vegetables or protein, so just a little bit on the plate can translate to your daily requirements. While keto prescribes keeping your carbohydrates extremely low, there are vegetables and leafy greens, for example, kale, spinach, mushrooms, zucchini, bell peppers, any of the cruciferous vegetables, asparagus, and artichokes, that can be should be eaten without restriction. This Kale and Brussels Sprouts Caesar Salad is another example of how you can eat to stay within the confines of keto, while getting important micronutrients and not spiking your blood sugar.
The second benefit of keto is that if you are constantly craving sugar, the higher fat diet might leave you feeling more sated than other diets. You can still indulge in keto-friendly desserts that are made out of nut, seed, or coconut flours that are low-carb, and use small amounts of natural sweeteners or sugar alcohols (these are different than artificial sweeteners) to sweeten them. This Chocolate Chip Cookie passes the keto test, but again, like all treats, they should be an every-now-and-then option and not a daily staple. Finally, the keto diet focuses less on cutting calories which tends to leave people hungry, feeling deficient, and is overall harder to maintain for the long run.
I want to stress that adapting to a new diet should revolve around trying to get to a healthier place with your blood sugar levels, your cholesterol, your aches and pains, insomnia--whatever the symptoms might be. Weight loss might be a secondary benefit when all is in sync, but the primary goal is to feel good and have your key numbers in check. If you have blood sugar regulation issues or have tried to fight off sugar cravings without success, focusing on increasing healthier fats and lowering your carbohydrate simultaneously might be two benefits of the keto diet that could be incorporated into your eating.