You already know that the best way to lose weight is to do more exercise and improve your diet. There's no shortage of workout programs and weight-loss diets grappling for your attention and the reality is that trying any of them is better than trying none. The challenge is finding a program and diet that are compatible with your lifestyle and will help you achieve your goals optimally.
While there are a plethora of diets out there, a lot of people gravitate towards low-carb diets as an effective way to lose weight, the most popular of which is the ketogenic diet. There's no question about it, keto works if you want to lose weight—it's proven to shed kilograms fast—but do you know what keto is or are you just jumping on the bandwagon?
Let's take a closer look at what carbohydrates are and how your body uses them, what the keto diet is, evaluate for whom keto is a good or a bad idea, and ask the question: is it sustainable?
What are carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are sugar molecules. Along with proteins and fats, carbohydrates are one of the 3 macronutrients found in foods and drinks you consume. Your body can break down carbohydrates into glucose (also known as blood sugar), which is your body's primary energy source (fuel).
When your body has an abundance of glucose, it stores it in the liver and muscles as glycogen until it needs it for a quick energy boost.
What is ketosis?
The keto diet drastically reduces the number of carbohydrates you consume each day and replaces them with fats (your macros will look something like P20 C5 F75).
Over time, your body will slowly switch gears to burn fats, not carbohydrates, as its primary fuel. This is the metabolic state known as ketosis, and it is then that noticeable weight loss will occur.
To keto or not to keto?
The question we're asking here is: for whom is a low-carb, high-fat diet a good idea or a bad idea?
A good idea if you want to lose weight
Keto is undeniably an effective way to lose weight. If you are in a caloric deficit and stay consistent with your diet, you can expect to lose up to 4–5kg in the first month.
A good idea if you do less cardio
If you are reducing the amount of cardio you do or entering a period of low activity or inactivity, your body simply won't need as much energy each day. This is where keto could be useful, you don't need to consume as many carbohydrates.
You will read elsewhere that keto can impair muscle growth and performance, however, if you stay consistent with your caloric goals (be it a deficit or surplus) and maintain an adequate amount of protein each day, you should be fine. Also, your body can convert fat into glycogen (gluconeogenesis), it just doesn't do so as quickly or as optimally as it converts carbohydrates.
A (very) bad idea if you have type 1 diabetes
If you have type 1 diabetes, do not do keto.
Keto considerably lowers blood-sugar levels and, without proper insulin adjustment, your levels may become too low, likely leading to serious health complications.
A bad idea if you struggle with consistency
As with any new workout program or diet, consistency is king.
It is fundamental to the keto diet that you allow your body to enter ketosis, which can take up to a week. The worst thing you can do is sway back and forth between days when you are strict and days you don't stick to your plan.
Is keto sustainable?
While the keto diet is sustainable in the short term, especially since you'll see rapid weight loss which will motivate you to stay consistent, the sustainability of it long-term is questionable.
This is due to the severe carbohydrate restrictions and the potential health risks associated with a predominantly high-fat diet, which can raise cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease. In addition, the keto diet can lack important micronutrients, such as fibre and other vitamins and minerals found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
It's important to also acknowledge the social impact of maintaining a restrictive diet. You're going to frequently deprive yourself of food and drink in social situations, which may cause you to feel excluded. Eventually, that will take its toll.
So what should you do?
There's no single correct answer to this question, but I do know that a good diet is both balanced and sustainable. For example, a long-term alternative to the keto diet may be a more varied one with a moderate number of carbohydrates.
Ultimately, I think it's important to view any diet as temporary, you have to mix it up now and again to keep things interesting. So, don't be afraid to take occasional breaks, it'll help you maintain good habits and avoid potential health risks.
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