Why The Hell Is Everyone Talking About Keto?

By Esté Swanepoel
12th Jun 2018

Why The Hell Is Everyone Talking About Keto?

Keto’s a pretty hot topic at the moment with old Paleo Pete and the whole ‘The Magic Pill’ documentary causing a stir.

Here we delve into the world of the keto or ketogenic diet.

The Breakdown

The keto or ketogenic diet is a high fat, moderate protein and low carb diet that gets its name from the ketones it causes the body to produce. When someone eats a diet high in carbs, the body produces glucose from the carbohydrates and uses this as its main source of energy. This means that any fats consumed are not needed and are therefore stored. Lowering your intake of carbs takes away the energy source your body is used to and puts it into ketosis. Ketosis is a process the body naturally kick starts to help us survive when our food intake is low. During this time, we produce ketones, which come from the breakdown of fats in the liver. Now this is all pretty science-y, but bear with us­—it’s interesting stuff.

The keto diet is often paired with intermittent fasting as ketosis itself is essentially the state your body reaches when fasting for an extended period of time. Rather than cutting calories, the keto diet removes carbohydrates to reach this state in a way that is sustainable indefinitely. The keto diet is believed to be incredibly effective for weight loss and maintenance as you burn fat without cutting calories. Optimal ketone levels are said to boost overall physical and mental health and performance.

Since carbs make up a pretty hefty proportion of our daily energy intake for most of us, the carbs removed in the keto diet need to be replaced with something else. While the paleo diet focuses on protein, the majority of the calories in the keto diet come from fat. This marks an important difference between the two diets as excess protein can also be converted to glucose and keto eaters want to avoid compromising their state of ketosis at all costs. The keto diet is based around the fats in coconut and avocado oil as well as animal fats found in meats, eggs, fish and dairy. Most followers of the keto diet restrict their daily intake of carbs to between 20 - 50grams. This means no bread, pasta, rice, starchy vegetables or fruit. Sugar is off limits too, so you’ll have to reach for a handful of nuts to beat that 3pm slump instead.

Is Keto A New Thing?

While the keto diet has definitely reached new heights of popularity in recent years, it’s not a new invention. It actually came about in the 1920’s as a method of treating epilepsy in children and was widely used with significant success for the following decade. It dropped in popularity as effective epilepsy medication hit the market but has experienced a resurgence in the last few years as people began investigating the benefits of high fat, low carb diets. It is still believed to have a beneficial impact on people with diabetes, autism, high blood pressure and epilepsy.

The Pros And Cons Of A Keto Diet

The keto diet has plenty of benefits to it. Many people find the clear guidelines around which foods to eat take the stress and uncertainty out of planning meals. The keto diet has yielded great weight loss results for thousands, as a quick Google search of testimonials will tell you. It also helps control blood sugar, improves mental focus, normalizes hunger and cravings, improves skin and hair and controls cholesterol and blood pressure.

Unfortunately, it’s not all good. The keto diet has been under some serious fire over the past few months after Pete Evans documentary, ‘The Magic Pill,’ was picked up by Netflix. The doco exalts the keto diet as a magic cure all for conditions such as diabetes, cancer and autism. Michael Gannon, president of the Australian Medical Association, ripped the film apart, saying the ideas promoted in the documentary were both hurtful and harmful, lacking the hard science needed to make these claims.

Followers of the keto diet frequently experience a number of nasty side effects too, particularly in the first few weeks or months of the diet. Cramps, constipation, heart palpitations and low energy are just a few of the adverse effects people have reported. Physical and mental performance are often reduced for the first few weeks as the body adjusts to burning fat rather than carbs. The transition to ketosis is so hard on the body that the symptoms have been dubbed as the ‘keto flu.’ In this time, you might find yourself experiencing fatigue, headaches, brain fog, dizziness and nausea. It’s also a pretty strict diet to follow so eating out or cooking for a family with different dietary requirements could be a bit of a headache.

So Is It Worth The Hype?

It’s hard to say if keto’s worth the hype, the jury’s still out on this one. It’s a hotly contested topic with passionate advocates either way. While there are definitely benefits to following the keto diet, it’s a pretty extreme lifestyle that comes with a number of side effects not always made known. If you’re considering trying it out, it would probably pay to do so under the guidance of a doctor or registered dietitian make sure you know your stuff before you start stirring butter into your morning coffee.

Thinking about going meat-free instead? Here's the difference between veganism and being plant-based. 

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