Keto What? The Low Down on 3 Popular “Fad” Diets
In our last blog post we showed you how to spot a fad diet. Now we test your savvy with 3 diets that have been working their way into the mainstream elite and recreational athlete communities.
Popularized by celebrities and pseudo-nutrition expert bloggers, these diets appear to have credibility to the layperson. In fact, some of these diets are helpful to certain people with specific medical issues. By in large though, all of these diets have a significant downside to consider before embracing them as part of your lifestyle. Let’s see if you can identify the red flags in our fad diet review.
The Ketogenic Diet
What is it?
The keto diet is a very low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet. By restricting carbohydrate intake, the body enters a metabolic state called ketosis. Ketosis causes the body to start burning fat for energy instead of the usual glucose which is provided by carbs. The main philosophy of this diet is to consume whole, natural foods that are high in protein and healthy fats. This is a benefit of this diet.
What are the claims?
The keto diet has been historically used for kids with epilepsy that do not respond to conventional treatment. Preliminary results suggest that this diet may reduce seizure frequency and improve cognition. To date, the number of randomised controlled studies (the standard for identifying cause and effect) on children are limited, and there are none for adults.
Your friends use the keto diet for a different purpose. For healthy adults, the keto diet is often used to promote fat loss and improvements in overall health. Some endurance athletes, particularly triathletes and cyclists, use the keto diet to enhance fat use for fuel over long distances. They do this because our body has a higher capacity to store fat than carbohydrates, and the theory is that by more efficiently tapping into these fat stores, an athlete may improve endurance capacity.
- Sugary foods
- Most fruits
- Beans and legumes
- Low-fat foods
- Sugar-free foods
- Nuts and seeds
- Healthy oils and fats
- Low carb vegetables
The main philosophy of this diet is to consume whole, unprocessed foods that are high in protein and healthy fats. Cooking from scratch is never a bad thing to encourage. We also like that the diet promotes fish, nuts and seeds and vegetables.
And the Bad …
In addition to healthy plant fats, the diet promotes fat from less healthy sources. Cheese, butter and other animal fats are high in saturated fat which can adversely affect your cardiac health.
Some side effects include the “keto flu” which begins when you first start the diet. This “keto flu” causes poor energy and mental function, increased hunger, and decreased performance caused by the body adapting to a new diet as well as a lack of energy from carbohydrates.
The predominant red flag is that the ketogenic diet omits large groups of food including fruit, high carbohydrate vegetables, grains, beans, and legumes. Most importantly, the practice of avoiding many foods puts you at risk for nutrient deficiency. But also, strict diets are tricky to follow for the long term and do not teach you healthy eating strategies. As such, there is a high possibility of the lost weight returning once you resume your usual diet habits.
Is it a Fad?
Yes… and no. The ketogenic diet may be helpful for certain medical conditions including childhood epilepsy. Research regarding the benefits for weight loss is ongoing but it does check some of the boxes that make its use for weight change concerning. At present, it appears that a high fat, low carbohydrate diet is not beneficial for endurance performance on race day. The verdict? If you want to lose weight or improve performance it is better to leave this diet on the sidelines until more research is completed.
What is it?
Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern in which you cycle periods of fasting and eating. There are two popular types of intermittent fasting; daily 16-hour fasts or 24-hour fasts twice per week. During both of these diets, calorie-free liquids (such as water, coffee, and tea) may be consumed during the fasting periods.
What are the claims?
The main purpose of intermittent fasting is to reduce weight through calorie restriction. Some use intermittent fasting with a proposed goal of improving aging and extending life expectancy. Athletes may use intermittent fasting as part of their train/sleep low carbohydrate training cycle or day.
The 16-hour fast involves eating only within an 8-hour period each day. For example, you could choose to eat between 1 pm and 9 pm, and fast for the other 16 hours.
The 24-hour fast can be done once or twice per week in which you fast from dinner to dinner and eat regularly the rest of the week.
There are many things that occur in the body when you fast. For example, human growth hormone levels rise sharply which increases fat loss and muscle gain. Insulin sensitivity improves, dropping insulin levels which makes stored fat more accessible to use for energy.
There is some emerging evidence to suggest that intermittent fasting may be beneficial for weight control and overall health of the body and brain. However, much of the evidence is from animal studies. This research suggests intermittent fasting may lower blood sugar and help protect against type 2 diabetes, reduce insulin needs, improve heart health by reducing bad cholesterol, and extend the lifespan.
There is mixed research on whether or not intermittent fasting is for everyone. Some studies show that it is beneficial for men but not for women. There may also be some negative side effects such as hunger, body weakness, and lower brain performance. Help from a nutrition specialist can help modulate some of these effects. Even so, the regimented approach of an intermittent fasting diet may make it difficult to follow in the long term.
Is it a Fad?
A modified approach to the intermittent fasting regime may be used in the future especially when it comes to manipulating training responses in athletes. For general health though, it is likely that many people will find this a difficult diet to follow, and the popularity of the diet will fade as a trend.
The Atkins Diet
What is it?
The Atkins diet is similar to the keto diet because it is a low carb diet. There are two tracks; Atkins 20 and Atkins 40. On the Atkins 20 track you can consume 20g of net carbs per day and on the Atkins 40 you can consume 40g of net carbs per day. Net carbs are defined as carbs minus fiber and sugar alcohols.
What are the claims?
The Atkins diet promises you will lose weight “even when more calories are consumed”. The diet also boasts a hunger-free strategy to weight loss.
On both tracks one should start by consuming 4-6 ounces of protein per meal, eating 3 meals per day and you should also consume 2-4 servings of fat each day. Carbs should be broken down evenly into 3 meals and 2 snacks per day. As you get closer to your goal weight you can begin increasing portion sizes and the amount of carbs you consume. Also, despite suggestions to the contrary the diet does limit calories to precipitate weight change.
The Atkins website provides a list of all the foods that are allowed while on the diet and how many grams of carbs are in each serving of each food. For more information on the Atkins diets click the following link https://www.atkins.ca/how-it-works.
The Atkins diet will likely increase your awareness of how you eat and which foods contribute to your total caloric intake. The diet is also higher in protein which may help improve the satiety of the diet. Additionally, the diet encourages incorporating healthy fats into your way of eating.
Finally, emerging nutrigenomics science suggests that optimal diet composition is not one size fits all. Instead, some people may achieve weight changes more easily using a higher protein diet, while others need to focus on a low to moderate fat diet. Needless to say, there are elements of the Atkins diet that may work well for certain people, and not so well for others in part probably because of their genetic makeup.
The main drawback of the diet is that depending on the Phase, entire food groups are eliminated. This makes it challenging for you to meet your nutrient requirements without supplements.
Another drawback of this diet is the restricted calorie intake. At the beginning of the diet, portion sizes are drastically decreased from what you would have been eating beforehand. Calorie restriction is definitely part of proper weight loss, however, it is important not to be too restrictive as that can become a dangerous way to lose weight.
Is it a Fad?
The Atkins diet has already come and gone a few times in popular culture. Each time it comes back, it incorporates a new facet of the low carb trend. This diet definitely has many of the indicators of a solid fad. This status is mostly because it promotes an initial carbohydrate level far below what is recommended to achieve a balanced diet that provides adequate nutrients. Even in it’s most “liberal” phase (phase 4), daily net carbs max out at 80-100 g, well below the Recommended Daily Allowance of 130 g for adults.
The Bottom Line
If you’re thinking of starting diet that seems like it may be a fad, make sure you do proper research from reliable sources and rule out any diets with red flags. Remember, healthy eating isn’t fancy. There is not catchy name for it, or cult following. Healthy eating is often plain – favouring fresh and simple items over processed food. In fact, the general guidelines for healthy eating never really change; eat a diet that includes lots of vegetables, moderate amounts of lean protein and whole grains, and calcium-containing foods and healthy fats on the side. Our preference? Leave the fad diets to the rookies and incorporate good eating sense like a seasoned pro.
Nutritional planning is integral to achieve your optimal athletic performance. Gazelle Nutrition Lab delivers one on one or group nutritional counselling and consulting to both recreational and high-performance athletes. Also, the Food For Thought Blog is a free resource for healthy recipes and health tips. Have questions? We’d love to hear from you! Get in touch!
Jess parkerNovember 29, 2018 at 2:20 pm
Great post! I tried intermittent fasting and I couldn’t get use to eating huge meals after a certain time in the day, but I didn’t mind the not eating in the morning. I am very suspicious about the keto diet because I do not think it is something that I could do long term and do not know how my body would react if I were to stop. I started taking some extra supplements that have been helping me get all of my vitamins and minerals. A great one is iodine, because it is hard to find in other foods and our body cannot make it on it’s own. It has helped with my metabolism so much!
Ashley LeoneDecember 5, 2018 at 12:39 pm
Thanks! Yes, you have to find a healthy way of eating that works into your lifestyle. Great to hear about your experiences!!:)