Decoding the Ketogenic Diet Debate. Is it for You?

ketogenic diet

When it comes to making nutritional choices, without a doubt there is no shortage of diet trends to follow. Through the 90’s we saw a push to squeeze any skerrick of fat from our diet (which led to an overconsumption of sugars) but now the focus has turned on carbohydrates, with fats no longer being the villain, in efforts to shed excess weight.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the terms ‘keto’, ‘ketogenic’ or ‘ketosis’ being thrown around at the staffroom watercooler of late but what exactly do they mean?

The Ketogenic diet or style of eating is designed to be extremely low in carbohydrates and high in fat in an attempt to maintain a state of ketosis.  When the body has not consumed adequate carbohydrates and does not have enough glucose for energy, it turns to burn stored fats instead. The metabolism process throughout this creates a by-product that is often referred to as ketones and what is known in keto circles as the perfect environment to encourage weight loss. This style of eating (high fat, low carbohydrate, controlled protein) has been used since the 1920s for the treatment of epilepsy but with nausea, headache, constipation, mental, physical fatigue and bad breath all being unattractive side effects, it takes dedication. Most people do lose weight, but this also could be due to the fact they’ve restricted the number of calories consumed and paired a state of mindful eating with increased physical activity.

Working in the area of Nutrition as a Health Coach, I am finding there is growing confusion around low carbohydrate or paleo diets with a specific labelling of what is a ‘good’ and ‘bad’ carbohydrate (such as fruit and vegetables…). There is a disconnect and indistinctness around what we should be eating – for health – rather than looking for long term weight loss solutions.

So, what does following a low carbohydrate diet actually look like?  For starters, it means radically reducing grains, starchy vegetables and fruit and moving the emphasis towards foods high in protein and fat. When it comes to carbohydrates, we classify them into two forms – simple or complex. They can further be classified as simple refined (white sugar), simple natural (lactose in milk and fructose in fruit), complex refined (white flour) and complex natural (legumes and whole grains). So, you can see it is very difficult to throw a blanket over all carbohydrates as ‘bad’ because carbs like fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains are so good for us.

If the Ketogenic Diet is not For You. Focus on This

If the keto bug has not caught your eye, it’s encouraging to know that the whole shebang deciphering what carbohydrates to eat and what not to eat can be put into two simple rules

  1. Stick with real food and you can’t go wrong, carbohydrates that look as if they came from the earth. Eat a banana, for example, instead of banana bread. Enjoy a healthful salad wrap rather than eating a meat pie because in some crazy world it is considered low carb. Choose wholegrain, not white (bread, rice, pasta, flour). The less processed and refined a carb is, the healthier it is.
  2. Bad carbs = fake carbs. Choose produce over packaging. Processing means the fibre and nutrients are stripped, fat, sugar and salt are added, and what is left is an unrecognisable skeleton of something that was once healthy – or trying to replicate.

At the end of the day if you feel there is a spare tire around the mid-section, remind yourself it took time to occur and it certainly didn’t appear overnight. Consistency and change of lifestyle over the long term are what leads to health and weight-loss success. Eating low carbohydrate is not a way of life for most of us and for weight loss with research consistently showing us that the best diet is the one you can stick to for the long term.


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