If you are not doing it yourself it is highly likely that you know someone who is – keto – the extremely low carb approach to dieting that shifts energy metabolism from burning glucose as its primary fuel to instead breaking down fat stores into ketones and using them as energy.
The proposed benefits of eating keto are well publicised – rapid weight loss, mental clarity and no hunger just a name a few and indeed when keto diets are followed as intended they are extremely effective in achieving relatively quick weight loss. The reality though is that many people who think they are eating keto are really not – here are the reasons why.
Ketosis is a metabolic state in which the body’s energy is coming from ketones, which are produced then fat as opposed to glucose from carbohydrate is being utilised as energy. In order for ketosis or fat burning to be induced, very, very small amounts of carbohydrate need to be consumed – less than 10-20% of total energy, or as little as 20g of total carbohydrates. This means no fruit, few vegetables and no legumes, dairy or grains.
As ketosis is not the body’s default metabolic process, when carbohydrate intake is dramatically reduced it takes a number of days to actually achieve ketosis. It is not just a matter of cutting your carbs for a couple of meals. Rather once you eliminate carbs from your diet it takes some time for glycogen stores in the muscles to be depleted and for ketosis to be induced, 2-3 days at least. The other specific requirement for ketosis is that the majority of calories are coming from fats, at least 70% of total calories. As the foods that are mostly fat are limited to oils, seeds, nuts and avocado, a keto diet is not that easy to implement in real life.
Keto diets fail on a day to day basis for a number of reasons. One of the most common issues is that up to 1/3 of our daily meals are purchased away from the home and finding high fat, low carbohydrate choices in a food court is not so easy. In order to keep carbohydrate as low as it needs to be on a keto diet day in day out, most food would need to be prepared at home. In real life this means that most people do not follow keto this strictly.
The other common issue that impacts keto is those little extra foods and drinks that tend to slip into our diet on a daily basis. Once you are actually in ketosis, if you break your diet with a couple of beers or a piece of birthday cake, it will then again take some time to get back into ketosis. In a life filled with diet cheats, many keto fans are regularly cheating themselves out of ketosis.
Perhaps the most common reason keto followers are not actually in ketosis is that they eat too much protein. Whilst a keto diet primarily requires a low carb approach, if too much energy is consumed in the form of protein, or more than the 20-25% the body requires to function, gluconeogenesis will be triggered where excessive amino acids will be converted to glucose and used as energy. For keto followers this mean that extra eggs, dried meats, smoked salmon and meats consumed at both snacks and at meal times can easily tip you over the 20-25% of daily energy coming from protein and halt ketosis.
Keto diets work when they are followed but they require at least 70% or more of energy in our diets coming from fats – oils, seeds, nuts, avocado. This is not easy to achieve. So if you are committed to a keto lifestyle the best thing you can do is keep an eye on your macros via a calorie monitoring app such as my fitness pal. Or use keto sticks to check your urine and ensure you are actually in ketosis and as a general rule of fun if your breath does not smell funny, you are probably just eating low carb, not a keto diet.