Keto diet plans are stunningly popular right now. Search “weight loss” on Pinterest, and at least every 10th pin has to do with following a keto diet. I thought this was popular stuff back when Atkins was big in the early 2000’s, but the keto movement has continued to grow. So here’s the question: are keto diets too good to be true?
What is keto?
“Keto” is short for ketosis. The keto diet is a essentially a low carb diet, like Atkins. Keto diets are generally very low in carbohydrates (often <50g of carbs per day). Eating so few carbohydrates causes your body to go into ketosis, a type of metabolism where you are incompletely burning fat as fuel. Normally glucose is broken down into carbon dioxide (which you exhale every time you breathe) and water (I’m pretty sure you know how that leaves your body)
Your metabolism needs a little sugar
When you aren’t taking glucose (sugar) in via your diet, you burn through your stored glucose with about a day. Once you run out of glucose you can no longer break fat all the way down into carbon dioxide and water. Instead, you metabolize fat down into ketone bodies, which which are excreted in the urine. This is why you may read or hear about using urine testing strips to see if you are in ketosis.
How does the keto diet work?
One of my med school professors studied the Atkin’s diet extensively. And what he taught is that low carb diets work because you’re inefficiently burning energy. Ketone bodies can still be broken down for energy, so when you’re excreting ketone bodies instead of breaking them into carbon dioxide and water, you’re basically tossing out a little bit of energy with each molecule.
But I think there’s a new explanation on the horizon that makes a lot more sense: when you don’t eat carbs, you’re avoiding foods that increase insulin levels. And decreasing the amount of insulin you secrete is actually the key to weight loss. This is a topic that really needs its own post, so click the button to get the full explanation and learn why you’re weight loss efforts haven’t been successful:
So does the keto diet plan work?
Overall, yes: people seem to have a lot of success with keto. You’re decreasing insulin secretion, which decreases your body weight set point. But I also have a couple concerns about keto:
- It’s really restrictive. There are carbs in lots of healthy, nutritious foods like legumes, quinoa, carrots, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes. Avoiding foods with carbs severely limits what you can eat, and really, why do that if cutting out flour and sugar is all you need to do?
- Trying to cut out a huge portion of available foods often means resorting to fake alternatives, which means increasing the amount of processed food you eat. Artificial sweeteners, nut flours, and protein powders are often used to make keto acceptable versions of foods like pizza, breaded chicken, etc. I would rather see people eat regular unprocessed food.
- Artificial sweeteners can actually cause insulin secretion. Meaning if insulin secretion is the key to weight loss, you’re basically shooting yourself in the foot. Eating sweet food also increases the desire for sweet food. Have you ever gone on hiatus from dessert, and noticed it’s much easier the longer you avoid sweets?
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Dr. Greer is a Plastic Surgeon who practices in Cleveland, OH. Her passion is helping moms regain self-confidence by getting rid of sagginess, wrinkles, and stubborn fat. Read more about her at www.greerplastics.com.