Is The Keto Diet All It’s Cracked Up To Be?
If you’re considering training to become a registered holistic nutritionist, you’ve almost certainly heard of the keto diet.
In fact, you’ve probably heard of it even if you aren’t.
The keto diet is being touted as the latest fad diet to help you to lose weight and keep it off.
There are a wide range of claims being made about it, from the aforementioned weight loss benefits to heart health, and some even saying it can help prevent cancer.
Is all this true? Or is it like so many other fad diets we’ve encountered along the way, with mostly marketing hype supporting it?
This is one of the many things you can learn as a student at the Edison Institute of Nutrition. But more on that later.
First, let’s take a look at what the keto diet actually is, how it affects your diet, and whether the health benefits are overwhelming or overblown.
Who Invented The Keto Diet?
The keto diet is a high-fat, low-carb diet that has gained in popularity in recent years, but it’s nothing new.
In fact, the keto diet was developed all the way back in the 1920’s.
In 1921, Dr. Rollin Turner Woodyatt studied the research on diabetes, and found that when healthy people fasted or consumed a low-carb diet, their livers produced what we now refer to as ketone bodies – beta-hydroxybutyrate, acetone, and acetoacetate.
Building on that research, Dr. Russell Morse Wilder coined the term “ketogenic” diet.
Originally, he used this diet as a treatment for epilepsy, and he saw some success with it.
In fact, the keto diet is used as a treatment for epilepsy to this day.
Judging by the obituary published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. Wilder had a long and respected career, and developing the keto diet was only part of it.
In the 1960’s, research found that medium-chain trigylcerides, or MCTs, produced more ketone bodies, which allowed for less strict meal preparations.
But it wasn’t until the 90’s, when the son of Hollywood producer Jim Abrahams, Charlie, suffered from epilepsy which he couldn’t control through conventional means.
Having discovered the ketogenic diet, Jim brought Charlie to Johns Hopkins Hospital, where they used it to control his epilepsy and help him develop normally.
Why the keto diet works as a treatment for epilepsy is not well understood, even today, but the results are hard to argue with.
How Does The Keto Diet Work?
Your friend touting the keto diet is probably not using it because it stops their seizures.
Modern keto diets are essentially the next logical step in evolution from diets like the Atkins diet, which also encouraged limiting carbs, eating more fat, and, perhaps most importantly, eating more meat.
There are several different variations of the keto diet, and each has its own requirements.
The general idea, though, is that by restricting your carb intake, it forces your body into a state called ketosis.
When your body needs energy, it can more easily extract it from carbohydrates.
As a result, if there are carbs in your system, that’s where your body will start.
But during ketosis, your body begins to produce the above-mentioned ketone bodies, which is where the weight loss begins.
Why this happens is not yet fully understood, though research is ongoing.
A 2015 study in the journal Obesity Reviews found that those on the keto diet tended to eat fewer calories during the day, despite not being told to.
This may have something to do with its high protein levels relative to other diets, since it’s well known that protein tends to be the most filling macronutrient.
Other research, including this 2013 study by Sumithran et al, suggests it’s the ketones itself that reduce your appetite.
Whatever the reason, though, it seems clear that the keto diet works as an appetite suppressant, and as a weight loss tool in general.
Is A Keto Diet Right For Everyone?
While there are a number of benefits of a keto diet, there are also some significant drawbacks.
On top of that, many of the claims being made about the keto diet are pure speculation made to seem more legitimate by marketing hype.
As mentioned above, there is very clear evidence that the keto diet can help with epilepsy, but what about some of the other claims?
Let’s take a look.
1. Can A Keto Diet Fight Cancer?
This might be the most significant claim, partially because of how many people are affected by cancer and how deadly a disease it can be.
Here in Canada, it’s the number one cause of death, causing nearly a third of all deaths.
So naturally, many people are desperate to find a natural cancer treatment that works, which often brings people to the keto diet.
Cancer cells require a lot of glucose to operate, so the theory is that a keto diet will rob them of that glucose, starving them out.
However, the research at this point is very preliminary, and there’s concern that a keto diet may cause even more harm to a cancer patient.
One of the reasons for this is the rapid weight loss associated with keto.
Weight loss is something associated with cancer in general, and adding more elements to increase that process may not be such a good idea.
2. Does The Keto Diet Help Control Acne?
Again, the claims being made about the keto diet’s ability to control acne are largely speculative.
A 2015 study looked at the relationship between insulin levels and acne vulgaris, and found that insulin resistance may play a role in the formation of acne.
Because the keto diet tends to lower insulin levels, the theory is that a keto diet may be able to control acne.
However, again the research is very preliminary.
On top of this, the keto diet may cause what’s called the “keto rash” – itchy, red spots across the neck and torso.
This rash can leave brown marks once it disappears.
The keto diet’s high fat content may also lead to increased acne flare-ups because of the increased sebum production in your skin.
Anecdotal evidence has suggested both that it can cause and solve acne problems, so tread carefully here.
3. Does The Keto Diet Help Normalize Blood Pressure?
In 2010, Yancy et al published a paper in the Archives of Internal Medicine looking at the use of low carb diets as a way to lower blood pressure.
They conducted a randomized trial of a group of 146 overweight or obese patients.
One group was put on a keto diet, while the other was put on a low fat diet and given the blood pressure reducing pharmaceutical drug orlistat.
The trial lasted 48 weeks, and at the end the researchers found both groups had lost a similar amount of weight, but the keto diet was more effective in lowering blood pressure.
However, others have described an increase in blood pressure while on the keto diet.
Why this happens isn’t clear, but one suggestion is that maintaining a strict keto diet can increase stress, which is a known cause of high blood pressure.
As above, more research is needed.
Side Effects Of The Ketogenic Diet
There are a number of other claims about the keto diet, with varying levels of gravity to them – it’s not the purpose of this article to provide an exhaustive list.
However, there are also several known side effects of the keto diet.
Let’s take a look at them, as well.
1. Is The Ketogenic Diet Bad For Your Kidneys?
Limited research has suggested an increased risk of kidney stones while on the keto diet.
Part of the reason for this may be that an increased intake of meat can increase the levels of uric acid in your body, the excess of which is processed through your kidneys and removed through your urine.
As well, those who already suffer from compromised kidneys may put themselves at greater risk through a keto diet.
This is because in general, higher protein intake forces your kidneys to work harder.
So if you already have kidney issues, the keto diet is definitely a bad idea, but even if you don’t, forcing your kidneys to work harder may cause problems down the road.
2. Is The Ketogenic Diet Bad For Diabetics?
Diabetes, especially type 2 diabetes, is a disorder commonly associated with obesity.
So you might think a diet that can help you lose weight rapidly would be a godsend, but in fact the keto diet can be dangerous for diabetics.
A 2016 study found that whole grains, in particular oats, were important in helping manage weight and controlling blood sugar – whole grains, of course, are verboten on the keto diet.
Meanwhile, another study, this one from 2018, took a look at type 1 diabetics, and found the keto diet could lead to dangerous episodes of hypoglycemia.
It’s not all bad news – other studies suggest it may be helpful with type 2 diabetics, but I’m sure you’re seeing a pattern emerging – more research is needed.
3. Is The Keto Diet Bad For Heart Health?
This is a more difficult question to answer, since it depends on how you do keto.
If you’re doing it right, you’ll incorporate vegetables and lean meats into your diet, but not everyone takes it that way.
When some hear “high fat diet”, their first reaction is to dive for the pile of bacon fried in butter, and that’s just a terrible idea.
In fact, the European Society of Cardiology published an update suggesting that low-carb diets increased the risk of dying from heart disease.
Should You Recommend A Keto Diet?
As a registered holistic nutritionist in training, folks are going to ask you about the keto diet, or whatever new diet becomes popular a few years from now.
And your answer, broadly speaking, will always be – it depends.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to diet, and whether or not something will work depends on a wide range of different factors.
That’s just one of the things you’ll learn when you take Comparative Diets in module 6 of your registered holistic nutritionist training.
You’ll take a look at all sorts of different diets, including the keto diet, paleo diet, raw vegan diet and many more.
You’ll find out how to best use each of them – for therapeutic or maintenance purposes.
You’ll explore the different effects they can have on a patient, what factors contribute to making someone an ideal candidate for a diet, and what factors suggest you avoid such a diet.
There’s an evolutionary process that makes each of us more suited to some types of diets than others.
In Comparative Diets, you’ll learn to recognize this process, and how you can provide the best support for your patients.
This is just one of the dozens of courses you’ll take as a student of holistic nutrition at the Edison Institute Of Nutrition.
Contact The Edison Institute Of Nutrition
Every healthy diet is designed to give you the nutrients you need to achieve a level of optimal health.
But you know it’s not enough to just eat your greens and hope for the best.
You want to help people lead the healthiest, happiest, fullest lives they can, and you know that nutrition plays a major part in it.
If you’re considering a career in nutrition, consider the Edison Institute Of Nutrition.
As a fully accredited and internationally recognized school of holistic nutrition, you’ll get access to a world-class education to train you in your career as a registered holistic nutritionist.
To find out more about what an Edison education can do for you, contact us today.