Can the Keto Diet Really Help You Burn Fat?
The keto diet, which emphasizes eating fats and eliminating carbs, continues to be touted by many as a weight loss solution. However, little research has been done to substantiate claims of long-term weight loss on a keto diet, and eating keto can carry some serious health risks. We believe that the keto diet should be looked at critically, as there are safer, more effective diets and weight loss solutions for most people.
What is the keto diet?
There are two main sources of energy that the body runs on: sugar and fat. Sugar is found in carbohydrates (carbs) and is where most people get their energy. The ketogenic, or “keto,” diet eliminates carbs, forcing the body to convert fat into compounds called ketones for energy. When the body is running strictly on fat, it is said to be in ketosis.
Keto at a glance
The keto diet is:
Low-carb (Under 50 grams a day). Gluten-free. Akin to Paleo and Atkins diets; however, keto places extra emphasis on fat.
The keto diet emphasizes:
High-fat meat, fish, and dairy; veggies; oils; and eggs. Saturated and unsaturated fats.
The keto diet eliminates:
Almost all carbs, including simple and complex carbs. This includes sweet, starchy fruits and vegetables like sweet potatoes and bananas, as well as grains like bread, pasta, oats, and rice. Legumes, including beans, lentils, and peas. Added sugars.
The keto diet limits:
Nightshade veggies like tomatoes and eggplants. Root veggies like potatoes, parsnips, garlic, and beets. Mushrooms, bell peppers, and squash. Protein. Excess protein can cause glucose production, which prevents ketosis. Most keto resources recommend 10 to 20% of your Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) comes from protein.
What are the benefits of a keto diet?
While these are largely anecdotal, keto supporters believe the keto diet can provide the following benefits:
- More energy. Some keto diet followers say they feel they have more energy.
- Less hunger. Supporters of the keto diet say they are often less hungry since fat burns slower than carbs.
- Weight loss. Supporters of the keto diet say they can lose weight on a keto diet even without exercising or fasting, and even burn fat while they sleep.
- Stable blood sugar. Followers of the keto diet say they have stable blood sugar levels. A keto diet has been shown to improve blood sugar levels for patients with type 2 diabetes in the short term by lowering carb intake.
Is keto safe?
Although the keto diet may provide benefits to those with type 2 diabetes, it may not be safe for others. Here are some of the risks associated with keto:
- Cancer. Because meat is high in fat and protein and extremely low in carbs, the keto diet emphasizes eating it, especially red meat. But according to meta-analyses of epidemiological studies published in Oncology Reviews, consuming red meat and processed meat increases one’s risk of colon cancer by 20 to 30%. If you are planning on increasing your meat intake, make sure you consult with your doctor first and always choose unprocessed, organic, and grass-fed options.
- Cholesterol and heart disease. One of the dangers of the keto diet is that it is high in saturated fats, which are mainly found in meat and dairy products. According to Harvard Medical School’s Harvard Health Blog, “The keto diet is associated with an increase in ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, which is also linked to heart disease.” The American Heart Association supports this claim by recommending people eat lean meats like skinless chicken and turkey and limit their saturated fat intake.
- Organ strain. Consuming excessive amounts of fat places strain on the liver, and eating more than the RDA of protein can strain the kidneys.
- Reduces nutrient and fiber intake, leading to a poor diet. We don’t like that the keto diet places so many restrictions on which fruits and veggies to eat. Most Americans don’t eat enough of these foods and telling people to avoid or limit certain fruits & veggies is likely to increase nutritional deficiencies.
Keto also condemns eating grains of any kind, but whole grains are a great source of fiber, protein, B vitamins, antioxidants, phytochemicals, and minerals. Whole grains—which include the bran, endosperm, and germ—are digested slowly in the body, and therefore don’t cause the spikes in blood sugar levels associated with refined grains.
The brain needs sugar from these healthy, complex carbs, as well as those found in fruits and starchy veggies. (That’s why low-carb diets often cause “brain fog,” mood swings, and fatigue.)
Besides definitively excluding certain healthy foods from the diet, keto’s emphasis on high-fat consumption leads many followers to take unhealthy shortcuts, like eating too much poor-quality fat from processed foods.
Although the keto diet can provide some significant benefits, it may not be safe for many people.
Can I use keto long-term?
There are a few reasons why keto is not a sustainable long-term diet for most:
- Ketosis can be hard to maintain. Most people have to drop their carb intake to 50 grams or less per day to enter ketosis. Considering that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that 45 to 65% of your daily calories should come from carbs (between 900 to 1,300 calories for most people), it can be difficult to put your body into ketosis. To compensate for their lack of carb intake, many keto dieters will up their protein consumption; however, too much protein can actually prevent your body from burning fat.
- Ketosis can make you sick. During their first few weeks of starting a keto diet, people often experience the “keto flu,” a collection of flu-like symptoms including fatigue, nausea, headaches, and confusion caused by the body switching its fuel source from carbs to fat. Though the keto flu typically only lasts for a few days, it can return if you don’t maintain ketosis.
- Your weight loss may be temporary. In a study published in the journal Nature Metabolism, authors studying the effects of a keto diet on mice found that while the mice lost weight initially, they began to regain weight and store fat after just one week.
The keto diet may help some people lose weight quickly, but, because keto isn’t a healthy long-term diet, the majority of keto followers later gain their weight back.
Is keto the best diet for weight loss?
While the keto diet may help some people lower their blood sugar and lose weight initially, these benefits are not proven to last over a long period of time. In fact, many keto practitioners experience a weight loss “plateau” after their first few weeks on the diet, which can be caused by consuming too many calories from high-fat foods, not getting enough sleep and exercise, and experiencing increased stress—all possible side effects of a keto diet. Because of its difficulty to follow, its emphasis on fat and meat intake, and its lack of hard data over time, we don’t recommend a keto diet for long-term weight loss.
Is there a safer weight loss option than Keto?
Though a strict keto diet is, in our opinion, not the best weight loss solution, there are parts of keto that can be repurposed into a sustainable healthy lifestyle. These include:
- Avoiding or limiting alcohol and refined sugars.
- Choosing plain nut butters that don’t have added oils and sugars.
- Make your own sauces, condiments, and dressings when possible, as store-bought ones can be loaded with sugar and processed oils.
- Eating unsaturated fats like those found in salmon, vegetable oils, and certain nuts & seeds can reduce LDL cholesterol. Research suggests that consuming plant-based monounsaturated fats like extra virgin olive oil may help lower the risk of heart disease.
We advise you to approach eating and exercise as interdependent parts of a healthy lifestyle and not a “diet.” Research has proven time and again that dieting is not sustainable for most people due to its restrictive nature and short-term approach. Diets like the keto diet can help people lose weight initially, but most people inevitably gain this weight back if they don’t adopt a sustainable, healthy lifestyle. Instead of dieting, follow these tips to maintain a healthy weight and feel great:
- Limit simple carbs. Simple carbs are sugars. They are often added to foods rather than derived naturally, and offer little nutritional value. Simple carbs are often the reason for spikes in blood sugar and weight gain.
- Eat a balanced diet. Whereas a keto diet over-emphasizes fat & meat and under-emphasizes fruits & veggies, we suggest eating a variety of whole foods including fruits and vegetables, lean meats, fish, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and virgin plant-based oils.
- Drink lots of water. Drinking enough water will keep your cells hydrated and help you achieve & maintain a healthy weight. Use the 8×8 rule for optimal water intake: eight 8-ounce glasses (half a gallon) a day.
- Exercise regularly. You don’t need to live at the gym to maintain a stable weight and toned physique; the Department of Health and Human Services recommends just 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity a week (that’s only ~20 minutes a day!), and strength training for all major muscle groups at least twice a week to stay healthy.
Surgical solutions to help you get on track
If you are looking to eliminate stubborn fat in a few areas of your body, a body contouring procedure such as a tummy tuck or liposuction may be a better choice than an extreme diet. Cosmetic surgery has some distinct advantages:
- It will help you meet your greater goals (like fitting back into those slim-fit jeans) with a direct, targeted approach, removing inches exactly from where they most bother you.
- You’ll get the benefit of keeping the curves you want, instead of having your whole body slim down as you would with a diet.
- You won’t have to tax your body and mind by adopting an entirely new way of eating.
- Unlike dieting, results are highly dependable and typically long-lasting.
Have a BMI of 35 or greater? Weight loss surgery can help you reach your ideal weight and make it easier to start eating healthy and exercising regularly.
Weight loss surgery in Rancho Cucamonga
To learn more about weight loss and body contouring surgery in Rancho Cucamonga and the Inland Empire, schedule a consultation with our expert weight loss surgery team today.