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Is the keto diet right for you?

It seems everyone is talking about the keto diet, but is it healthy?

What is the keto diet?

The keto diet is a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet that limits carbohydrates to around 30 grams per day. That’s about the amount in one banana or a small sweet potato. “Keto” stands for ketosis, a state in which the body burns fat when it doesn’t have enough carbohydrates to burn for energy.

The keto diet consists of approximately:

  • 60 to 75 percent fat

  • 15 to 30 percent protein

  • 5 to 10 percent carbohydrates

It includes cheese, meat (including processed meat), nuts, seeds, oils, eggs, fish and some non-starchy vegetables.

Downsides of the keto diet

  • The “keto flu.” The keto flu is a constellation of temporary symptoms, including brain fog, dizziness, fatigue, headaches, constipation and nausea.

  • An increased risk for heart disease. By consuming high levels of saturated fat found in foods like red meat, bacon, sausage and cheese – all allowed on the keto diet – you could increase your risk of high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

  • A host of other unpleasant symptoms. The keto diet can also cause bad breath, low blood sugar, kidney stones, muscle loss and nutritional deficiencies. 

  • It restricts certain fruits and vegetables.Fruits and vegetables are proven to help fight cancer and other chronic diseases,” says Corey Tolbert, RD, LD, a licensed and registered dietitian at Piedmont. “When you limit them on a diet like the keto diet, you are missing out on all of the fiber and disease-fighting phytonutrients.”

  • It’s hard to sustain. “The quicker you lose weight, the more at risk you are for compromising your immune system and you will likely end up gaining the weight back and then some,” says Tolbert.

  • It can affect your metabolism. “If you skip meals or severely limit your calorie intake, you will slow your metabolism,” says Tolbert. “Your body will think it is starving, so it will conserve the calories you do consume, preventing weight loss. It doesn’t know when you’ll eat again, so it will store fat to use later.”

Is the keto diet safe?

“I don’t think it’s safe,” she says. “I think there will be long-term effects if people stay on it for a long period of time. I think it could contribute to heart disease, digestive issues and some colon cancers.”

How to choose healthy carbs

Unrefined carbohydrates are an essential part of a healthy lifestyle and can be found in whole foods like:

  • Vegetables

  • Fruit

  • Legumes (chickpeas, beans)

  • Whole grains (brown rice, farro, quinoa, kamut, whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta)

Healthy, unrefined carbohydrates help stabilize your blood sugar and are rich in fiber, which helps you feel full and promotes healthy digestion. If you have diabetes, it’s especially important to get the right amount of carbohydrates each day to prevent your blood sugar from dipping too low.

One takeaway from the keto diet: It’s never a bad idea to limit processed, refined and sugary foods like white bread, baked goods, candy, soda, white pasta and other processed foods.

Enjoy everything in moderation

“I’m not a big fan of the keto diet and I don’t know of many dietitians who are,” says Tolbert. “As a dietitian, I don’t believe in eliminating anything from your diet, unless it’s for medical reasons. It’s all about balance and moderation. You’re more likely to stick with a healthy living plan long term if you don’t completely restrict yourself. If you want a piece of candy, that’s fine. Just consider how often you’re eating it. It’s about finding that balance where 80 percent of the time you’re making good choices and the other 20 percent of the time, you enjoy a slice of cake or go out for ice cream with your family.”

Check out more health and wellness tips from Living Better experts.

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