By Heather L. Dyson
Rapid weight loss starts here! Lose weight effortlessly! Drop pounds without cutting calories! Be beach ready with the Keto diet! Heard these gimmicks before? While some of what has been touted about the Keto diet is true, the science behind it goes much deeper.
The Keto diet has become quite popular because of the fast results people often see. The Keto diet is based on 5-10% caloric intake of carbs, 20-25% protein, and a whopping 70% fat. Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients, and the standard recommendation is 40-55% caloric intake of carbs, 10-15% protein, and only 20-35% fat (1). On the keto diet, you are only consuming 12-18% of the carbs you should be!
Carbs help to regulate insulin by being broken down into glucose, which is the body’s primary energy source (2). Think of glucose in your body like gasoline in your car: when you consume carbohydrates, you are giving your body the fuel it needs to do anything from daily tasks to workouts. Without carbs, your body has to turn to an alternative source of energy where it breaks down fat in the body to be used instead.
This process is called “ketosis,” which is where the diet got its name. Ketosis is the body’s natural response to insufficient insulin levels in the body, typically brought on by some level of starvation. During ketosis, the body recognizes it is lacking an essential macronutrient (carbs) and begins breaking down fatty acids to create “ketones,” which are acids used for energy.
It may sound great to have your body burning its own fat for energy instead of the carbs you eat. However, without carbs, your body simply cannot keep up with the energy demands you place on it. Carbs and fat work together to give your body energy. If this role falls strictly to fat, the body simply cannot break down fat fast enough to keep up. This can result in feelings of general fatigue as well as inconsistent blood sugar levels during exercise, especially after following the Keto diet for an extended period of time (4).
Many diets put a bad name on carbs, oftentimes limiting them or removing them completely. But carbohydrates include a range of foods beyond bread and pasta (which are actually not as bad as you think!). Fruits and vegetables also fall into this category and contain essential vitamins and minerals that cannot be found anywhere else (5). Plus, carbohydrates are the only source of dietary fiber, which is something people already don’t get enough of (5). By minimizing intake of carbohydrates, you can easily be missing out on nutrients that are critical for proper bodily functioning.
Most people don’t consume enough healthy carbohydrates, so when they cut carbs, the foods they are giving up are usually sweets, unhealthy snacks, and fast food. This is where the true weight loss is not necessarily from removing carbohydrates, but usually from eliminating processed foods from the diet. The reality is that carbohydrates are good for you, but the extra added stuff in the carbs people eat makes them unhealthy. It comes down to paying attention to the nutrition facts for the carbs you eat to really see what the culprit is, such as added sugar, high sodium levels, or saturated fat.
In the end, the best way to support healthy weight loss is by finding long-term solutions. It may be tempting to drop 20 pounds in 2 weeks, but when it comes to your health, you want to make sure you are giving your body everything it needs. Rather than swearing off carbs and eating as much bacon as you want, look at the content of your foods and find ways to include healthier carbs into your diet. Your body will thank you for it in the long-run!