The ketogenic diet is a tough topic to tackle. It’s controversial and long-term studies aren’t yet available: we don’t know the future health impacts. People who are successful with it praise it for helping their physical or mental health, or both. But I’ve found that the majority of people jump into it without planning ahead and report quite a few challenges, from frustration to severe constipation.
That said, people are going to continue to try this diet, long-term studies or not. My stance is that it is best to be informed. Here are some important things to know if you are considering the ketogenic diet.
What is it?
It’s a way of eating that’s dramatically different from how most of us eat. The primary focus is fat, with modest protein intake (less than most people think) and very little carbohydrate. It generally excludes most fruit, dairy and grains. This forces the body to use fat for fuel instead of carbs (which are its preferred source). The diet was developed for treating epilepsy and consisted of about 90% fat.
Some of the risks
This diet innately has the potential to be low in fibre, lacking vitamins and minerals, and also has the possibility to increase certain disease risks if not planned out well. Why? The bulk of our vitamins and minerals come from plant foods, not to mention all of our fibre. Many people shun these because they are also ‘carb foods’. Many people focus mostly on animal fats (e.g. cheese, butter, fatty meat), which can raise cholesterol levels and inflammation in the body. And risks for cancer can increase from a low-fibre diet, as well as from nitrites and ‘celery extract’ in processed meats (e.g. bacon, salami), if these are eaten regularly.
- Your current health status. I can’t stress enough the importance of talking to your medical team first. Any restrictive diet has potentially negative impacts to health.
- Your long-term plan. Most people don’t plan on doing this for life. Do you have a goal? How do you plan to reintroduce carbs? If you lose weight on this diet and then return to your previous way of eating without a strategy, you are likely to gain it all back.
- The research. There is no long term research on the health impacts of having followed a ketogenic diet
Some tips to do it healthfully
- Eat nuts, seeds and avocado. These are rich in fat PLUS fibre and nutrients.
- Add nutritional fibres such as wheat germ, ground flax, chia and hemp seeds; these also contain healthy fats.
- Choose plant oils over animal fats.
- Limit processed meats to once weekly, at most.
- Fat is high in calories. Make sure your calorie intake doesn’t exceed your needs.
- On the flip side, be sure to get enough calories. Crash dieting causes rebound weight gain.
- Plan ahead. Have a variety of meal ideas on hand: this is necessary for success with any diet.
- Take a fibre supplement to help meet your needs. Start small and increase gradually over the course of a week or so. Too quickly can cause constipation.
If you definitely want to go ahead, I strongly recommend teaming up with a medical professional that can help you do it safely and healthfully. A registered dietitian can discuss what your intake should look like and help your body get what it needs.
For further info, check out this free webinar by Copeman dietitian, Sarah Kasman.