Every year there are an overwhelming amount of “health” fads to keep up with. It’s hard to tell which ones will stick around and which diets really work. Here’s a brief breakdown of from a Registered Dietitian’s perspective of Keto, Intermittent Fasting and Whole30.
The Ketogenic Diet
The ketogenic diet isn’t just Atkins with a new name. Yes, it’s low carb but there’s a lot more to it. The keto diet is very low in carbohydrates and very high in fat, which can put your body into ketosis (the burning of fat instead of glucose for energy).
What you can eat on the keto diet
Get ready to stock up on fish, seafood, low-carb veggies (forget potatoes), cheese, meat, poultry, eggs, dairy, and of course fats. The foods you’ll be leaving out are fruits, grains, legumes and anything with added sugar.
Where you might go wrong
The ketogenic diet is popular because you can shed weight quickly, at least in the short term (remember, you are making an extreme diet change, restricting a whole food group and likely will have fluid loss to account for).
In most cases, the average person doesn’t fully understand what ketosis is, or that it’s necessary to measure blood levels of ketones and that this diet isn’t for everyone. The presence of a few ketones doesn’t make one in ketosis and peeing on a stick isn’t the way to measure blood levels of ketones. Urine analysis doesn’t always indicate true ketosis.
Controversies and Thoughts
If you are choosing to follow a keto diet, I suggest working with a Registered Dietitian or healthcare professional to help monitor ketone levels, energy levels, and cognitive function. Personalizing the diet and making sure you are still consuming adequate nutrition is important. There also can be side effects to be aware of. The “keto flu,” can include lightheadedness, fatigue, headaches, nausea, and constipation. Not to mention avoiding carbs the rest of your life can be very difficult to sustain and you may need additional support.
Another error I have seen is missing quality protein sources which can lead to loss of muscle. Following a high fat diet may also change gut health, reduce fiber intake, and increase heart risk indicators including elevated cholesterol. There has been conflicting research regarding improvements for blood sugar control and reducing heart disease risk factors. Further research needs to be done for the general public from a dietitian’s perspective.
What does fasting even mean anymore? The truth is intermittent fasting can mean something totally different to each person. A fasting diet can be two days on and five days off or, it could involve 24-hour fasts one or two times per week, or randomly skipping meals. Some research shows that fasting diets can be beneficial. A recent study showed the alternate-day fasting group lost approximately 1 lb per week and experienced cardioprotective effects at the end of treatment (suspected due to the weight loss) while another study showed fasting can make it more difficult for your heart to function.
How Fasting Works
Fasting works for some people because the dieter eats less in one week than they normally would and generally any time a person consumes fewer calories the person should lose weight. For some people alternate-day fasting can be easier than reducing the number of calories they eat each day. What helps get people through fast days is knowing that on feed days they will feel normal again. With reduced-calorie diets, they’re hungry all the time. An important thing to consider is not overeating on “feed” days. Side effects of 24 hours fast aren’t conclusive.
What Research Shows
Despite the evidence that intermittent fasting can cause weight loss and improve risk factors for heart disease, I am skeptical and wouldn’t recommend this dietary pattern as a weight-loss tool for most people. There are better diets that we have long-term evidence for and this type of eating pattern can be very difficult to sustain.
Controversies and Thoughts
Individuals who wish to try intermittent fasting should ask their RD whether they should take vitamin and mineral supplements and what foods they should eat on nonfasting days. It’s still important to include a variety of healthful foods, including lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and some healthful fats in your diet.
The Whole30 plan was developed by Dallas Hartwig and Melissa Hartwig. It’s a 30-day plan designed to help you reset eating habits and change your health. Eating Whole30 means cutting out a lot of foods, including grains, dairy, legumes, soy and any added sugars or sweeteners.
What Can You Eat on Whole30?
Most vegetables, fruits, fish, seafood, eggs, meat (minimally processed) and healthful oils are permitted. Dairy, beans, legumes, grains, added sugar, soy, alcohol and most processed foods are a big no.
The Reasoning Behind Eliminating Certain Foods
Whole30 encourages eating whole foods with few ingredients and to avoid highly processed foods with “hard to pronounce” ingredients. This diet challenges the dieter to read nutrition labels and to choose less processed alternatives which can often significant reduced added sugar and additives. By limiting food options and alcohol many people are able to lose weight. There is no calorie counting and the diet encourages you to read The Whole30 book while journaling throughout the process.
There are no conclusive studies reported for people following Whole30.
Controversies and Thoughts
Avoiding all processed foods can be very difficult if you enjoy social events, eating out or need food items that are portable and convenient. Not all processed food is “bad” either. Depriving yourself of dairy, grains, beans and legumes could also mean missing out on major micronutrients which I do not agree with unless you have an intolerance. There is research regarding positive health impacts of these foods for the general population so therefore I do not encourage taking them out of your diet if you have no negative symptoms or allergies.
So are these diets worth it?
I recommend individualized nutrition which means I do not recommend a specific “diet” and I am skeptical of trends without long term conclusive research. Healthy lifestyle changes take time and work, quick fixes aren’t the answer. Keto, Intermittent Fasting and Whole30 may not be right for you.