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Should You Try the Keto Diet? A Nutritionist Weighs In

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Katherine Brooking, RD - Blogs
By Katherine Brooking, MS, RDRegistered dietitianMarch 29, 2018

Could a diet of whipped cream, butter, and bacon help you peel off pounds?

The keto diet – the latest weight loss craze – is high in fat, low in carbs, and  moderate in protein. It’s so high in fat you’re actually encouraged to eat creamy, full-fat yogurt and cheese, whipped cream, and even butter. You read that right — even butter!.

Most keto diet plans recommend eating about 70% of your calories as fat, 25% from protein, and just 5% as carbs. So, butter and cheese are on the menu, but pasta, rice and most other high carb foods definitely are considered off limits. The idea is that by keeping carbs to a bare minimum (about the amount that you’d get by eating one or two apples a day), you’ll enter a metabolic state called ketosis that forces your body to burn fat as fuel.

Here’s a short list of what you can eat on a keto-friendly diet:

A larger amount of high-fat foods, such as:

  • avocado
  • coconut and coconut milk or oil
  • olive oil and any other oil
  • nuts and nut butters
  • bacon
  • egg yolks
  • butter
  • cheese

A moderate amount of protein, such as:

  • meat
  • poultry
  • fish
  • seafood
  • eggs

A tiny amount of low-carbohydrate vegetables, including:

  • leafy greens
  • brassica veggies including  broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage
  • asparagus
  • cucumber
  • celery
  • tomatoes
  • peppers
  • mushrooms
  • zucchini

While not a traditional ‘calorie counting’ diet, you do have to keep close tabs on carbohydrates. For most people, sticking with 20g to 50g of net carbs (subtract fiber from total carbs to calculate net carbs), will result in a state of ketosis.

While full fat dairy and cheese may sound wonderful, is the keto diet really a good way to lose weight? Some studies suggest that the answer is ‘it depends’. Increasingly, researchers are concluding that the weight loss plan that works is the one that you can stick with – be it high carb/low fat, high protein/low carb, or high fat/low carb.

In my weight loss counseling experience, a significant cut to a whole macronutrient group, like carbohydrates, is very hard for most people to maintain in the long term. And, numerous studies show that what’s most important for long-term weight loss success is adherence, so if you can’t stick with a plan for life, it’s probably not going to give you the results you want. There’s also plenty of evidence to show that having a more balanced plan (say, following the USDA recommendation of 45 to 65 percent carbohydrates, 10 to 30 percent protein, 25 to 35 percent fat) while keeping calories moderate (for your age, gender, activity level, etc.) can also help you lose weight.

Some research suggests that ketogenic diets might help lower your risk of heart disease and benefit people with epilepsy, metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes. Studies are also exploring the potential of ketogenic diets for people with neurodegenerative disorders (such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s). If you have one of these conditions, you should check with your doctor to see if a low carb diet could help.

As a general rule, for most people trying to slim down and tone up, I don’t recommend diets that are very high or low in specific macronutrient groups. I believe there are easier, more balanced approaches to lasting weight loss. That said, there are some people who can adhere to very restrictive diets long term, and for a small percentage of people, it’s possible that the keto diet may be beneficial.

Personally, I would not want to live in a world without fruit, pasta, bread, rice, and the occasional piece of cake or cookie. Many carbs are not only delicious and satisfying, but also rich in key nutrients, like fiber, B-vitamins and iron.

However, if you think that you can cut your carbs to 50 grams or less per day, you might want to ask your doctor whether you should give the keto diet a try.

Always check with your physician before starting any weight loss plan.

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About the Author
Katherine Brooking, MS, RD

Katherine Brooking is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in nutrition education from Columbia University. She is dedicated to helping people have better health and live richer lives through sound nutrition and good lifestyle choices.

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