A ‘keto’, or ketogenic, diet is where you consume an extremely low amount of carbohydrates and high amounts of fat, kind of like a ‘souped-up’ paleo diet. The name keto comes from the fact that the aim of a ketogenic diet is to get the body to produce small fuel molecules called ‘ketones’ which are an alternative fuel source for the body.
In a standard diet, where high levels of carbohydrates are consumed, something like cereal for breakfast, sandwich for lunch and pasta or rice for dinner, means the body is getting a constant supply of glucose from food. In contrast, on a keto diet the body is largely deprived of dietary carbohydrates, which sends the body into a state of ‘ketosis’. It’s the same thing that occurs when you fast, except that in this case you continue to eat. Your body, deprived of its ready supply of carbs, makes its own glucose by breaking down fat stores and converting them into energy.
It’s an appealing idea that you can burn up your fat stores and lose weight without having to fast. Not only that, proponents of keto diets, like proponents of intermittent fasting diets, attest to clarity of thinking and abundant energy as a benefit of steady glucose levels.
Unsurprisingly, in the hotly contested diet space, not everyone is jumping on the keto bandwagon. The main areas of concern are:
High saturated fat levels: It’s a contentious issue, however the idea that eating a diet high in saturated fat will give you high cholesterol, clog your arteries and give you a heart attack is either a well-accepted fact, or one of the biggest nutrition myths of all time, depending on who you talk to!
Too much meat: Whether your concerns are ethical, environmental or otherwise, it is apparently possible, although not common, to do a vegetarian keto diet.
Missing nutrients: Are you going to experience nutrient deficiencies on a keto diet? Probably not. In fact, you’re probably going to eat a lot less processed and refined food and more wholefoods.
Stressed kidneys, thyroid or liver: Can a keto diet damage your thyroid or kidneys? No, but any significant dietary change is best discussed with a trusted health professional so that your individual health needs can be considered.
When it comes to diet there is one thing of which I am certain: there is no one size fits all approach. So, just because you’re favorite Instagram model is doing keto doesn’t mean you should too. However, by all means be inspired by them, get (even more) educated about diet, seek advice from people you trust and then make a plan that works for you.
Editor’s note: Our rotating wellbeing and fitness columns provide advice that is general in nature. Please always refer to your preferred health professional for advice suited to your personal healthcare requirements.