The ketogenic diet-— or keto, as it’s often referred to, is a dietary preference in which carbohydrates are severely restricted, protein is consumed in moderate amounts and fats provide the majority of daily calories. Fat is then used as the primary energy source, so protein and muscle are preserved in order to allow for fat to be broken down instead.
I think it’s fair to say that the keto diet has many people confused—so much so, that I receive questions on almost a daily basis about whether or not it’s a healthy or sustainable means of losing weight. It seems everywhere we look there’s another unfamiliar (or strange) nutritional approach circulating throughout social media. But the keto diet is by far the most popular diet trend to date. In fact, according to Google’s annual Year In Search report, the keto diet was the most Google-serached nutrition term and most talked about method of dieting on social media in 2018. (3)
Where Did This Concept Originate?
Proponents of the keto diet say that we should strive to keep ourselves in a constant state of ketosis because that’s what our early ancestors did. However critics of keto argue that keeping ourselves in a permanent state of ketosis is something that is completely foreign to pre-civilization humans. These critics maintain that our human ancestors did not all necessarily consume high-fat low-carb diets. And the ones that did were largely Inuit, and consumed mostly game meats, migratory birds, marine life, roots and berries.
In 1924, the keto diet was popularized by Dr. Russell Wilder at the Mayo Clinic as a treatment for paediatric epilepsy (1). The idea was to mimic the metabolism of fasting which was said to have an anticonvulsant effect in seizure patients (1).
Wilder discovered that severely restricting carbohydrate intake and limiting protein intake, while having fats contributed the majority of daily calories, also lead to a rise in ketone bodies and a corresponding drop in blood glucose levels–the state known as ketosis. The therapy was widely used for decades but was soon phased out after the discovery of antiepileptic drug treatments.
As humans, we can be absurd in our dietary beliefs. Animals eat out of necessity and for pragmatic reasons, while we on the other hand, partake in eating plans that thwart our basic biological needs. But here’s where we get confused….we think that because a diet has been popularized in the media that it will be suitable for us and meet all of our needs. This couldn’t be any further from the truth. We complicate things when it’s actually pretty simple… CJ Gotcher , a freelance writer for Breaking Muscle, describes it best when he writes… ‘As complicated as it may seem, a diet isn’t necessarily complicated if you don’t have a medical condition. At it’s most basic, a good diet will: Meet the biological minimums required for good health, correct direct calorie balance, improve performance and subjective well-being and (my personal favourite), be sustainable for as long as possible’. (2)
So What’s My Advice?
I believe that we should be eating in order to balance both our bodies and minds. I’ve been vegan for over half of my life and find that it’s most suitable lifestyle for me and my needs. Veganism is the only diet that I have found that leaves me feeling energized and supports my rigorous training regimen. However it’s not for everybody and that’s just the point. Though I’m not a fan of any ‘diet’ be it keto, paleo, caveman, Atkins etc. I am a believer in finding your best fit and in individualized eating plans. Similar to Paul Chek–renowned fitness and wellness expert— I believe that if we are truly striving for overall health and wellness then it’s time we stop allowing magazines, social media and books about diet dogma to dictate how we should be eating and instead, start cultivating healthy relationships with both food and ourselves. With that objective at the forefront, we will naturally gravitate to diets that energize and nourish us, that don’t leave us feeling deprived and that are are based upon our individual needs, preferences and personal goals.