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Keto Diet

A health coach’s guide to the keto diet

“I’m starting the keto diet!” You have probably heard this statement from a friend or family member in the past six months. This “new” diet has taken the country by storm lately with new cookbooks, celebrity endorsements, and Pinterest recipes. This emerging trend is not really “new;” in fact, the keto diet has been around since 400 B.C.! Crazy, right? In more recent times, the diet has been used to help prevent seizures. You may also recognize elements of the keto diet in the Atkins and paleo diets. Today I am going to break down the keto diet from a health coach’s perspective, so you can make an educated choice about whether this diet is right for you.

What is the keto diet?

The keto diet is essentially fasting without fasting. When professionals began studying this diet, they tried to find a way to fast while also eating to help possibly treat certain neurological disorders. Studies found that starving the brain of carbohydrates provided significant results for problems such as epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, and traumatic brain injuries. They also found that it produced high volumes of weight loss (we’ll get to that). A typical, non-keto meal usually includes about 30 percent protein, 30 percent fat, and 30 percent carbohydrates—our three main energy sources for everyday functioning. Here’s an example of a typical keto meal: 20 percent protein, 75 percent fat, and 5 percent carbohydrates. Quite a difference! The keto diet is very high in fat (we’ll talk about this later) and  restrictive (we’ll also talk about that).

If it’s high in fat, how does it help weight loss?

The low amount of carbohydrate and high amount of fat lead to the production of ketones. Ketones are organic compounds in our body that can be used as energy sources (instead of carbs in this case). They are released by the liver into the blood, where any cell that needs energy can grab them. Then, when you have produced more ketones than normal, you are in ketosis. Ketosis, however, can only be measured by urine sampling and is rather hard to achieve. Once your body starts producing ketones, your body runs out of stored glucose to use as energy and turns to fats. The weight loss when your body quickly uses up stored glycogen and water.

Is it healthy?

While the keto diet has benefits for specific populations, this diet would not be considered healthy for the average person. Because of the high volume of fat consumed, it’s easy to incorporate unhealthy fats into this meal plan. A high-fat diet may lead to high cholesterol, which can lead to other chronic health conditions in the future.

Also, the restrictiveness of the diet can make you feel deprived, which may lead to bingeing and weight gain that surpasses the weight you lost. All the stored glucose and water your body burns through on the keto diet will, unfortunately, come back when you start eating your regular diet again.

Who can benefit from the keto diet?

Current research points to no real benefits of the keto diet when it comes to long-term weight loss. Due to its restrictive nature, the diet makes it challenging to maintain the initial results. However, for those on the cusp of type 2 diabetes or another metabolic disease, the keto diet may help them get a jumpstart on lowering their numbers. Research that ketosis can also help treat certain neurodegenerative disorders—Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, among others. Finally, ketosis may be beneficial in recovery from traumatic brain injuries. These studies have only been performed on rats so far, but they documented positive outcomes!

Health coach recommendation

I will always recommend a diet that is sustainable in the long term. The trick is to find a way of eating that you can stick with for years to come—and, realistically, that’s going to include foods you love. Life is about balance and moderation; weight loss can be, too! You can become lean, healthy, and fit with plenty of brown rice, pasta, and even cookies (in moderation, of course). Remember, nothing I’ve said should replace your doctor’s advice. If you’re a UPMC Health Plan member and need help finding a sustainable weight-loss plan, call a UPMC Health Plan health coach today.