Spoiler alert: I don’t like diets. In fact, the title of my first book is “Start Here: 7 Easy, Diet-Free Steps to Achieve Your Ultimate Health and Happiness.” Key word: DIET-FREE! I always believe that eating real, whole foods, in appropriate balance, and focusing on getting in tons of vegetables, are the keys to health. That said, I put out blog posts to help educate you on what you care about, and I get asked about ketosis, the Ketogenic Diet, or “Keto” all the time. So… is the keto diet healthy?
What is the Keto Diet?
To put it simply, keto is a low carb, high fat diet. And it does work if you’re looking for rapid weight loss (just to get that out of the way). The traditional recommended macros for a keto diet are 75% fat, 20% protein, and just 5% carbohydrates. This diet is typically full of high-fat items like butter, oil, fatty meats (like sausage and bacon), coconut, avocado, and olives; as well as a little bit of protein, like eggs or full-fat dairy (heavy whipping cream, etc). This diet restricts carb-heavy foods such as fruit, grains, beans, sugar, alcohol, anything that turns to sugar, too many nuts, and vegetables.
An example of a keto-friendly day
B: 1 avocado, 1 egg, 2 slices bacon, 1 Tbsp. butter
L: 4 ounces 70% ground beef, 1 piece cheese
S: ¼ cup walnuts
D: 6 ounces ribeye steak, 1 Tbsp. butter, 1 cup spinach
The verdict: Not only would this diet leave most people constipated and energy-drained, but it is very hard to get in any vegetables at all. While sticking to the 5% carbohydrate limit, I was only able to fit in 1 cup of spinach (because avocado, nuts, and cheese all have some carbohydrates, too). While most people don’t seem to strictly stick to counting macros or percentages, they make dietary decisions with these restrictions in mind. A big plate of buffalo wings with ranch dressing, or a bacon cheeseburger with no veggies, ketchup or bun, are both low carb … but are these healthy decisions? Are these foods fueling your body for optimal performance and overall health?
There’s a reason keto has become such a popular diet, and a term that almost everyone is familiar with in the health-and-fitness-sphere. The reason is that it can work for rapid weight loss, especially for those who are morbidly obese. A low carb, high fat diet has also been shown to have great benefits for patients with epilepsy, and potential benefits for patients with cancer, Parkinson’s, ALS, and Alzheimer’s. People claim to have no cravings and not be hungry at first … but after several months, often feel low energy.
To me, the biggest drawback of a true keto diet is the lack of vegetables that fit within the recommended macros. I believe it’s a universal truth that vegetables and leafy greens are health promoting foods, and are necessary for your body to perform and feel its best.
I have no problem with a high-fat diet. In fact, in >53 randomized controlled trials, the high fat diet won out over the low fat diet in terms of weight loss. And the right fat can help your body BURN fat, increase your metabolism, raise HDL and lower triglycerides, and more. BUT … I have a problem with a diet that doesn’t allow you to eat vegetables. It is nearly impossible to get more than a serving or two of vegetables when truly staying to the 5% carb limit, because vegetables are primarily made up of carbohydrates. And the #1 most powerful thing you can do to support your long-term health is eat plenty of veggies.
To be honest, I’ve had MANY people, primarily women, come into my office after trying keto and gaining weight, which is the opposite of what they tried to do. And even more people have told me that they re-gained the weight once they went off of keto, which contributes to an unhealthy yo-yo diet lifestyle. So even though it works for some people to take weight off, the loss is often unsustainable (and many people never experience the loss in the first place).
Another issue I take with the keto diet is that people are doing it in an unhealthy way. When they see that bacon, for example is “keto-friendly,” they eat tons of bacon. While I have nothing against bacon in moderation, a diet based on a processed form of meat is simply not health-promoting. When we eat a high-fat diet from a mix of plant sources like avocados, olives, and nuts, our heart health increases. But when we eat a high-fat diet from processed meats, our risk of cancer, heart disease, and other chronic diseases increases. I can not support the idea that a bag of pork rinds from the vending machine is a healthier option than a veggie pack when the afternoon munchies hit.
My opinion overall … is the keto diet healthy?
So is the keto diet healthy? If you want a one word answer to the question “Do you recommend keto?” that answer would be no. I do not recommend a ketogenic diet to my clients. I do not believe that long-term health can be achieved by a diet that restricts vegetables. My approach to health has always been one of moderation in all things, a balance of food groups, and an abundance of vegetables. Additionally, if you’re following a true keto diet, you’re most likely going to be counting your macros and tallying up what you eat, which I believe can be detrimental to the mental aspect of a health and weight loss journey. Be kind to yourself!
Want to hear my take on other popular diets? Check out my webinar on 17 popular diets, and learn what these diets are, as well as the health pros and cons, here.
Now it’s your turn … Have you tried ketosis? If so, how did it go for you? If not, how does this sound to you?