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This article is part of our Fad Diet series

You are what you eat.

The food we eat contains nutrients which enter our body and are processed in our digestive tract. We can classify nutrients into six categories: carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins minerals and water. Carbohydrates, proteins and fats are known as macronutrients because they make up the bulk of our diet. When ingested, they are broken down into simpler forms and absorbed for our body to use for energy, which drives all our cellular reactions and keeps us well…alive.

What is a fad diet?

Some of you may be asking, what exactly is a fad diet? It’s a diet that is popular for a short time, without being a standard dietary recommendation. It often promises unreasonably fast weight loss or improvements in health, and usually with little effort. Arguably one of the most popular fad diets, is the low carb diet—this is because it offers a quick way to lose weight. There are, however, many variations of a low carb diet, so let’s take a closer look at the ketogenic diet.

The Keto diet

The keto diet involves severely cutting carbohydrates—to less than 50 grams a day (so, no more than 2 apples worth)—and increasing fat intake. As such the keto diet typically includes meat, eggs, cheese, fish, nuts, butter, oils and seeds. But, as we well know, the excessive intake of these foods can be unhealthy. Low carb diets such as keto, make it easy to neglect key nutrients such as magnesium, calcium and potassium which are easily obtained from high carb foods such as beans and bananas. It can be hard to follow over a long period because of how restrictive it is. In the beginning, some people report feeling tired, while others have bad breath, nausea, vomiting, constipation and even sleep issues.

Most cells prefer to use carbs to make energy. In the absence of carbs, the body undergoes ketosis and starts breaking down stored fat into molecules called ketone bodies to generate energy. This usually happens over 2-4 days of eating less than 50 grams of carbohydrates. As the body breaks down fats, rather than carbohydrates, it produces ketones as a by-product.

Is it healthy?

There are some benefits to following a keto diet. Following a high-fat, low-carb diet is a good way to rapidly lose weight and to control blood sugar levels in patients with type 2 diabetes. In a study of obese patients, following a keto diet for 24 weeks decreased body weight and BMI. There is also evidence that a keto diet reduces epileptic seizures in children.

However, there are also downsides.

In another study involving obese patients on 4-week high carbohydrate diet followed by a 4-week isocaloric keto diet showed that the keto diet does not burn much more body fat than a regular diet. In a long-term study (25 years) of more than 447 000 people worldwide, researchers analysed diet and how long the study participants lived. Published in The Lancet, the researchers found that people who eat a moderate amount of carbs, tended to live the longest. People who derived more than 70% or less than 40% of their energy from carbs were more likely to die.

The take-home message is that balance is key! Our bodies are not made to fuel up on fat unless we are in starvation mode, they prefer making energy through breaking down carbs. Cutting out major food groups can cause nutrition deficiencies.

Not everyone is suited to the restrictive diet that is keto. For various reasons including kidney disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and nutrient deficiencies. Please speak to a medical professional and do your research if you are thinking of going on a diet.