Are the weight-loss benefits of the high-fat Ketogenic Diet really worth it? Personal trainer and nutrition advisor Eleanor Heaton-Armstrong gives us the low down...
For some reason unbeknownst to many a healthcare professional, carbohydrates have always been the dietary villain. And every villain needs a hero. For years protein has been the Batman to carbs’ Joker, but in recent months it’s been fat that’s taken the top spot, with celebs everywhere lauding a diet high in fat, adequate in protein and low in carbs – the Ketogenic Diet.
It is important to note before we begin dissecting this diet, the Ketogenic Diet actually started as a medical way to treat refractory epilepsy. We surely have to ask ourselves what good can come of a non-sufferer trying a diet intended for such a serious medical condition…
So what are the risks of the ‘Keto’ diet? We are all familiar with the dangers of omitting carbohydrates from meals, but since it’s been a while since Atkins got a pasting, lets refresh our memories.
The body runs on carbs the same way a car runs on petrol – simply put, it is our fuel and we can’t function properly without it. A lack of carbohydrates is likely to lead to fatigue, a lack of energy, headaches, difficulty concentrating and mood swings. Low-carb also means low fibre – which is never good for the body…
But what of the high-fat content itself? As lovely though it sounds to eat meat, eggs, butter and cheese for upwards of four weeks, the damage you could cause your body is worth noting.
For starters you’re at risk of everything that comes with the aforementioned toilet troubles – extreme discomfort, lack of energy and loss of appetite. Higher cholesterol and an inflamed gall bladder (lovely stuff eh?) are also risks.
And lets not forget that a Ketogenic Diet is simply quite difficult to balance – because of the lack of variety of foods in this and indeed any non-balanced diet, you will need to eat a veritable market of vegetables (although they can’t be too carby remember!) each day to make sure your brain, blood, eyes, and pretty much everything else in your body doesn’t suffer.
Nutritional therapist Chris Sandel says, “All of the macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein and fat) have their role to play in health. Inducing ketosis, through carbohydrate restriction or intermittent fasting, doesn’t automatically lead to improved results, despite how it is often portrayed.
“This is especially true for women. Women’s bodies are more sensitive to drops in energy and less nutrients coming in. So the promise of better health on a Ketogenic Diet may instead just wreak havoc on your menstrual cycle.”
From a PT’s point of view, a client following a fad diet is always a fairly alarming prospect. I’d be less likely to recommend the Ketogenic diet quite simply because for optimum performance during a session a client needs energy and focus – and a 70%+ fat 5% carb ratio just isn’t going to give most of us the tools we need to exert ourselves for 60 minutes.
But for those of you who enjoy a fat-rich diet, there is good news. Fat is absolutely essential to our health and a low-fat diet is just as risky as a high-fat one.
Sources of ‘healthy’ fats – that’s unsaturated fats, monounsaturated fats and omegas 3 & 6 – include free-range eggs, good quality oils, nuts, seeds, avocados and oily fish.
And above all remember that no matter your goals, be they weight-loss, muscle gain or simply to be healthier and happier, a balanced diet with enough of all the good stuff (and the odd treat or two) will always see you right.
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