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By Ryan Morton
Sure, ketogenic (keto) seems to melt away the pounds and pack on the muscles. Along with carnivore, it’s one of the super-popular meat-forward diets that have exploded into the mainstream and are championed by toned celebrities and influencers.
But is keto rooted in healthy eating practices? Should you follow this hot diet trend and throw out your carbs and produce for the long-term?
The answer is a firm “no,” according to Syeda Farid, MS, RD, LDN, registered dietitian at Swedish Hospital Cancer Center, part of NorthShore – Edward-Elmhurst Health.
Keto, like so many other seemingly too-good-to-be-true approaches to fast weight loss, is not sustainable for most people and can even have detrimental effects on your health.
Read on to find out why you shouldn’t buy the hype and, instead, opt for a healthier way to lose weight.
What are meat-based diets?
The term “meat-based diet” may sound self-explanatory, but it can range from simple to complicated.
The carnivore diet, for example, instructs followers to eat only animal products: Steak, cheese, sausages, bacon. Popularized by people like fitness influencer “Liver King,” orthopedic surgeon Shawn Baker, and psychiatrist Jordan Peterson, this diet supposedly aids in weight loss, mood issues and blood pressure regulation.
Its proponents base their recommendations on the unproven assertion that early humans survived primarily on red meat and fish without suffering from many of today’s chronic illnesses. But there have been no controlled studies published in peer-reviewed medical journals that have confirmed its long-term health benefits.
One of the most popular meat-based diets is keto, which adds an important nuance. Keto attempts to put the body into something called “ketosis.” Ketosis occurs when your body metabolizes fat instead of sugar for energy. To do this, you have to heavily reduce your carb intake while maximizing your consumption of fats and protein.
Though not as restrictive as the carnivore diet and more researched, you will still likely miss out on many of the essential nutrients your body requires for good health by following this way of eating, says Farid.
“As humans, we are prone to finding quick fixes, so following a diet like this one offers this fix without considering the long-term effects,” Farid explains.
What are the potential dangers?
Following meat-based diets like keto can be associated with serious risks in the long term. Farid suggests that the maximum amount of time you should follow keto is six months. Any longer may put you at risk of ketoacidosis, which occurs when your bodily fluids’ acid level become too high, knocking your body out of homeostasis. This can lead to dizziness, fatigue, accelerated heart rate and fatigue. Farid has also noticed her patients suffer from severe constipation while on the keto diet due to low fiber intake.
Even more serious, other risks of switching to a meat-based diet include an increased risk for cardiovascular disease and poor gut health, as well as disordered eating if taken to the extreme, she adds.
Does keto work?
Farid says that she has seen patients initially lose weight by following keto, but this is because cutting out carbs leads to burning more water weight. This weight typically comes right back once the diet ends.
“It's not sustainable,” Farid says. “I call it a ‘quick fix’ to fit in the dress.” The consensus among dietitians and medical experts seems to be that while you may see results in the short term, the average person should avoid restrictive diets like keto long term.
These diets are also difficult to follow. The body does not function well without having access to a diverse array of nutrients, which leads people to give up on them and return to their old habits. The restrictive nature of these diets can breed social isolation, as you may stop going to restaurants or participating in mealtimes if they cannot accommodate the requirements of your diet.
Farid recommends that only people with certain special medical conditions make such radical changes to their eating habits. Specifically, the dietitian has seen keto be beneficial for those with epilepsy. Studies have shown that the diet may reduce seizure risk. Even then, it’s still important that people with epilepsy work with a professional before changing their diet to ensure they are getting a healthy mix of nutrients.
What is the healthier diet alternative?
The recommended way to lose weight and keep it off, says Farid, is to eat a balanced diet that provides your body with all three macronutrients: fats, carbohydrates and protein. You may consider focusing on increasing your intake of certain macronutrients depending on your health goals, such as eating more protein for muscle growth, but Farid recommends you still consume the right amount of all three.
Farid noted the Mediterranean diet is an example of a healthy, well-defined way of eating. This approach emphasizes fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, beans, whole grains, lean meats and fish, while limiting intake of dairy, red meat and added sugar. Studies have shown the Mediterranean diet can even reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
No matter which diet you choose for your weight loss goals, Farid recommends always talking to a professional before making any major changes to how you eat. Schedule a meeting with a dietitian today to discuss an eating plan that works for your health and fitting-into-that-dress goals: short and long term.
Talk to your doctor or dietitian before starting a new meal plan. They can give you the support and tools you need to make smart food choices. Get healthy recipes.
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