Everyone's raving about the Keto Diet, but how safe is it?

On the Keto Diet, saturated fats from oils can be consumed in high amounts, as well as smaller amounts of healthy unsaturated fats.
On the Keto Diet, saturated fats from oils can be consumed in high amounts, as well as smaller amounts of healthy unsaturated fats.
Image: 123RF/Anaumenko

HOW IT WORKS

Odds are you’ve heard of the Keto Diet and have even considered trying it out to shake off those unwanted kilos. You probably know it’s a high-fat, low-carb diet and wonder what makes it different to other, similar diets.

On the Keto Diet, instead of using sugar that comes from carbohydrates as a fuel, the body is forced to use ketone bodies, a fuel the liver produces from stored fat during a process known as ketosis.

Ashleigh Caradas, a registered dietitian based in Parktown North, Joburg, says: “It tricks the body into starvation because the body becomes starved for glucose and starts to burn its own fat for energy.”

The fastest way to achieve this is by actually fasting, but the Keto Diet offers an alternative that allows you to eat.

How does this differ from the Banting Diet? The latter recommends you should eat minimal carbs, a large amount of fat and a medium amount of protein. On the Keto Diet, however, your protein intake is smaller as the end game is to reach a state of ketosis.

WHAT TO EAT

Caradas says 60 to 80% of your daily calories on Keto Diet come from fat. Protein intake should be moderate, meaning you can’t eat big steaks, and all carbs are limited, even vegetables.

On a basic level, this is what you are allowed to eat:

  • Saturated fats from oils can be consumed in high amounts, as well as smaller amounts of healthy unsaturated fats.
  • Fruits are discouraged because they are rich in carbs but small portions of certain fruits, like berries, are allowed.
  • Carbohydrate-rich vegetables are restricted. Opt for leafy green vegetables that grow above ground.
  • Large quantities of meat are discouraged but low-carb unprocessed meats can be eaten.
  • Fish and other seafood is good.

DANGERS

Caradas says the Keto Diet is good for weight loss, especially for people who are insulin resistant or diabetic, but it comes with side effects. “Studies have shown that a long-term Keto Diet is harmful to the body.”

One of the dangers in following a Keto Diet is that it’s very high in saturated fat, which might be linked to an increase in bad cholesterol and heart disease.

When you cut out a variety of fruits, vegetables and grains, you could become deficient in nutrients and vitamins. If you are not consuming enough fibre because you are limiting these foods, you might experience constipation.

SHOULD YOU OR SHOULDN'T YOU?

Johannesburg-based registered dietitian and certified health coach Philippa Bramwell-Jones says the Keto Diet is hard to follow and requires rigorous preparation. She adds, “There are significant health risks from flipping in and out of ketosis. It is not a diet to take flippantly.”

While she has had clients who have done very well on the Keto Diet (after thorough education on the subject), she has also had clients who have felt awful on it.

There are significant health risks from flipping in and out of ketosis. It is not a diet to take flippantly
Philippa Bramwell-Jones, registered dietitian

Her advice? “There is no hard-and-fast rule, as far as I am concerned. If a patient has a clinical condition, where there is scientific evidence that the Keto Diet would be of therapeutic value, then I would highly recommend trying it, with the support of a knowledgeable health professional or team. But, for the average person, I would encourage them to gain a full understanding of the biochemistry behind ketogenesis before jumping into it."

“We should start listening to ourselves and what works well for us. It’s about understanding what works well for you, the individual, and ensuring that your primary focus is on benefiting your health based on your intuitive knowledge of yourself,” Bramwell-Jones says.


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