The commonly held belief that consuming low-fat foods is healthiest is being challenged by recent research — and thousands of worldwide followers of the ketogenic diet.
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A Canadian study that polled people in 18 countries — not including the United States — found that those with low intake of saturated fat, who relied on low-fat diets, increased their chances of early death by 13 percent. Consuming high levels of all fats cut mortality by up to 23 percent, the study found.
It seems counterintuitive that consuming high-fat foods like bacon, eggs and steak could have more health benefits than avoiding them — in fact, some dietitians and nutritionists warn against the diet. But fans of the ketogenic diet say they have lost weight following such a regimen.
Even celebrities like LeBron James, Halle Berry, Tim Tebow and Kourtney Kardashian have publicly stated that they have followed the ketogenic plan, which includes a diet that is high in fat and low in carbohydrates.
A ketogenic diet focuses on consuming 80 percent of calories from fat, no more than 15 percent of calories from protein and only 5 percent from carbohydrate sources. For most people, that limits carbohydrate intake to 19 grams per day, or the equivalent of a medium-sized apple. To put that in perspective, the average American consumes 55 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent fat and 15 percent protein in a daily diet.
So how does eating higher fats produce weight-loss results? Simply put: The diet works by forcing the body to burn fats for energy, instead of relying on carbohydrates. This resetting of the body produces a glycogen-deprived state that triggers mild ketosis, or burning through fats for energy.
Since implementing a ketogenic diet 18 months ago, Becky Van Meter of Satellite Beach has lost 70 pounds.
An architect and mom of two, Van Meter said that she was originally drawn to the ketogenic concept because she could lose weight without a large time commitment for working out.
“I like that you can have weight loss success with little exercise and still eat delicious foods like bacon, cheese and full-fat salad dressings,” said Van Meter, 44. She did not add any additional fitness components to lose the weight — she just stuck strictly to the keto diet.
She says that the first two weeks were a tough adjustment for her body and that the sugar and carbohydrate cravings were strong. Once she got past the first 15 days or so, the habit of eating mainly protein kicked in and she felt better than she had in years.
“I feel like I have kicked my sugar addiction and don’t feel like food controls me. I also have more energy, mental clarity, less pain from an old back injury and am sleeping better than I have in years,” Van Meter said.
Van Meter has been less strict with the diet in the past nine months, practicing what keto followers dub a “lazy” or “dirty” version of the diet that uses the basic concepts with some wiggle room.
“The biggest difference now is that I eat more processed, prepackaged low-carb foods out of convenience that I avoided when I first started the diet,” Van Meter said.
Megan Ware, a registered dietician who practices in Orlando, said she has had more clients asking about and wanting to try a ketogenic diet in the past three years.
“I was completely dismissive of the ketogenic diet at first. How is putting butter in coffee going to help my clients lose weight?” Ware said.
She did some more research and decided that it was a safe option, at least short-term, for clients who wanted to give it a shot. Ware even gave keto eating a try for seven days, on two separate occasions. The first time, she says she experienced the low-energy “keto-flu” by day four and was frustrated with the restrictions on a birthday date with her boyfriend.
Two months later she decided to try it again and had a better experience — but was still not sold on it as a long-term diet for her.
“The ketogenic diet is not something you can realistically stick with if you enjoy food. If you like traveling and trying new things, going to restaurants, celebrating a friend’s birthday with cake — those things go out the window,” Ware said. “If food isn’t a priority for you or you have a propensity towards higher fat foods, you could make the ketogenic diet work.”
With higher levels of fats and cholesterol than low-fat diets, the ketogenic one takes some heat from nutritionists and dietitians.
Tara Collingwood is a certified personal trainer and the team dietitian for the Orlando Magic. She warns clients against adopting a ketogenic lifestyle long-term.
“My main issue is that it eliminates all fruit and pretty much most vegetables because the carbohydrate allotment is so incredibly low,” Collingwood said. “Diets that include fruits, vegetables and whole grains are good for the heart and also helpful for cancer prevention. Diets high in animal protein and saturated fat can be dangerous for heart health and pose a cancer risk as well.”
Collingwood also cites micronutrient deficiencies in B vitamins, iron, magnesium, selenium and potassium as a potential pitfall of keto eating, along with a chance of ketoacidosis.
“If the level of ketones in your blood skyrockets, this can cause your blood Ph to lower dramatically, becoming more acidic, and this can be fatal,” Collingwood said. “If not diabetic, however, this is unlikely. “
From a strictly weight-management perspective, Collingwood agrees that the diet can yield results. Collingwood has had clients who have been successful losing weight with a keto diet at first but who eventually gain the weight back.
The American Heart Association does not endorse any particular diet but has not spoken out against a ketogenic one. As with any major change in lifestyle, consulting a physician first is recommended.
Maddie Heinen of Winter Park started following a ketogenic diet on Dec. 26 to detox from the excess of the holiday season. In less than six months, she lost 27 pounds.
“With the keto diet, you feel much less deprived than most diet plans. While you are cutting carbs, there are still a ton of things you can eat, like all types of meat, vegetables, and most important to me, cheese,” said Heinen, a real estate agent.
Like Van Meter, Heinen says that sticking with the diet the first two weeks was the hardest part and that her sweet tooth is still pretty strong now.
“I still crave sugar, though definitely not as frequently, and it is absolutely becoming easier to resist,” said Heinen, 31. “For me, keto has completely eliminated any stomach issues. I have had irritable bowel syndrome and debilitating acid reflux my whole life. When I eat keto, I have zero symptoms of these issues.”
She is following the diet with her husband, Les Heinen, 35, who has lost 18 pounds since the end of the holiday season. Neither has added any exercise but have relied on each other to stay true to the diet.
The parents of two say that for convenience, and as a reward, they usually eat at least one off-plan meal on the weekends — and sometimes more than that.
“My best advice is to stick with it and get through those initial first couple of weeks. I would also advise to join keto-themed groups on social media. Having others who are experiencing some of the same things to talk to makes it so much easier,” Maddie Heinen said.
Vanessa Spina is the author of Keto Essentials and the founder of the blog KetogenicGirl, which has a social media following of more than 300,000. She has followed a ketogenic diet since 2014.
“The most common misconception is that people think a keto diet is restrictive, when it is actually quite balanced. It’s based on prioritizing the consumption of whole foods,” Spina said. “When done properly, a ketogenic diet puts an emphasis on the most nutrient dense foods and meeting the body’s requirements for essential amino acids and fatty acids.”
The second most-common misconception Spina hears is that people think they need to eat high amounts of fats. In reality, she says, limiting carbohydrates to have low insulin circulation and low glucose level in the blood is the goal.
“Fat should be eaten to assist with satiety and to provide the body’s essential fatty acid requirements, as well as fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K,” Spina said. “Add a few tablespoons of olive or avocado oil to your greens, eat wild caught salmon, eating a whole egg instead of just the egg whites, and browning some butter and serving it over crisp asparagus are all ways to meet the requirements safely.”
This content was originally published here.