The keto diet is everywhere. You can read endless articles about the diet online, while markets carry all sorts of keto-friendly products. People just love talking about the keto diet, and many dieters attribute their weight-loss success to the plan. On the other hand, many nutrition experts don't promote (and actually hate!) the keto diet. Why is this diet in a love-hate relationship with nutrition experts and dieters?|
Dieters all over social media have been touting the benefits of keto, but it's rare to find a full explanation of the physiological response to the diet. This high-fat, moderate-protein and very-low-carb diet has dieters giving up grains, legumes, sugar, low- and non-fat dairy, some nuts and seeds, some vegetables and most fruit. The science behind the diet is that by cutting carbs this low, your body needs to use an alternative mechanism to provide the body energy. As such, your body turns fat into ketones, which are, ultimately, the body's backup mechanism for providing energy. But with so many success stories, why aren't nutrition experts hopping on the keto bandwagon?
What Nutrition Experts Say
Keith Ayoob, EdD, R.D.N., an associate clinical professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, says putting your body into a state of ketosis is never recommended, and could even be harmful. "It's certainly a sign of an unbalanced diet. You may lose weight on it, but a ketogenic diet is, by definition, unbalanced and should never be maintained—that's a red flag for a bad diet."
But long-term maintenance isn't the only reason nutrition experts aren't fans. "I hate the keto diet because it limits the amount of fiber you would receive from fruits and whole grains, which could lead to constipation," says Jonathan Valdez, owner of Genki Nutrition and a media spokesperson for New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics "Stay constipated long enough, you will also feel bloated and very uncomfortable. Plus, long periods of time on the toilet due to constipation is not a cute look especially when you're on-the-go with family and kids."
Nutrition experts also don't like the fact that the keto diet omits entire food groups. Ayoob says that food decisions may be easier with limited choices, and might even explain why many people like the diet—until they get bored. "You still need the nutrients from those omitted food groups," Ayoob explains. "No dairy, no grains, no fruit, not even many veggies, and no scientific evidence behind it? No way this is a good diet. I can't get behind any diet that demonizes foods like apples, whole-grain breads, and yogurt."
The diet's rigidity is also a concern to Malina Malkani, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N., media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and creator of the Wholitarian™ Lifestyle. "A lifestyle requiring so many restrictions—like counting grams of carbohydrates, eliminating major food groups, watching protein intake and restricting food choices within allowed food groups—is hard enough to maintain in the long-term as an individual. For parents, maintaining these restrictions over time is even more challenging in the context of feeding a family and socializing within a community, and it can be detrimental when trying to role model a healthy relationship with food for children," Malkani explains.
As a registered dietitian, I have developed keto recipes and understand first-hand how difficult it is to stay within the carb limits of this diet. It took me, an expert, a while to compute every single carb in dishes, which means it would certainly be time-consuming for others to get all the numbers right.
Where do these hidden carbs come from? There are so many hidden sources. For example, the keto diet promotes consumption of avocados, but even moderate portions will add a few grams of carbs. The same is true with dried herbs—add one to two teaspoons to a dish and you've got some grams there, too. As such, it would seem that most people are unknowingly doing a modified version of the keto plan and eating more carbs than they think (which, again, isn't a bad thing!).
A modified keto diet tends to be followed by a dieter who is trying to ease off the plan. The diet consists of 55 percent fat, 30 percent protein and 15 percent carbs. It can also be used by those who don't like the strictness of the actual keto plan and need something more doable. It also allows for more fiber and nutrients from fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. You can even add a touch of whole grains, legumes, and other foods that are strictly forbidden on the traditional keto diet, all of which would add essential fiber, vitamins and minerals.
The bottom line is this: Although you may be in love with the keto diet now, there are good reasons for nutrition experts to dislike the diet plan. Very strict diets have a very high rate of failure, and the best diet is one that is sustainable for the long-term. Adding a few more carbs through various healthy foods in your diet isn't a bad thing, and that's most likely what's happening without you even realizing it.