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Is the keto diet right for you?

April 18, 2022

Primary Care
shot of a healthy Southeast Asian woman eating a bowl of vegetable salad for lunch.

Losing weight. Eating healthy. These are common goals for many U.S. adults. For example, a 2018 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 49.1% of adults tried to lose weight. 

With so much attention on the scale, it’s not surprising that a new dieting trend comes along every couple of years (if not more often). One of the most popular trends lately is the keto diet.

“People are very interested in how they can lose weight or maintain a healthy weight,” shares Kimberley D. Maigi, a family nurse practitioner with Riverside Primary Care Norge. “When it comes down to it, it’s a matter of safely burning more calories than you consume. The key here is safely. If you’re looking to lose weight, talk with your primary care provider to make sure there aren’t any restrictions or concerns when it comes to how or what you eat.”

Here, Ms. Maigi shares her insight on the keto diet and what benefits individuals may experience.

What is the keto diet?

Keto stands for ketogenic. The keto diet is essentially a low-carb diet. The idea is that when your body doesn’t have any carbohydrates to burn for energy, it will start to burn fat. This process is called ketogenesis, and it’s where the diet gets its name.

“It’s important to note that you have to severely cut down carbohydrates to get your body to switch from burning carbs to burning fat. It’s a complex process, and one that should be carefully approached to ensure your diet includes the nutrients and calories your body needs,” reminds Ms. Maigi. 

Though originally used to manage epilepsy, today, the keto diet is primarily used for weight loss. It’s not intended to be a lifestyle diet or long-term approach. Another important note is that while you may see rapid weight loss in the first few weeks, that initial drop on the scale is likely mostly water weight. Research is still unclear whether the keto diet leads to long-term weight loss. 

“If you want to try the keto diet, it’s best to look at it as a short-term solution. Once you reach your desired weight, you will still have to improve your eating habits and exercise regularly,” reminds Ms. Maigi. 

What can I eat on the keto diet?

The keto diet restricts how many carbohydrates you consume to just 20-50 grams each day. (For comparison, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends about 225 to 325 grams of carbohydrates a day.) 

That seems like a drastic change, but most of the carbs we eat come from unhealthy sources, like processed foods or refined grains. The keto diet focuses on protein, dairy (or dairy alternative), vegetables and plant-based foods.

Not sure what to eat? Check on these sample meals.

Keto-friendly breakfast

  • Bell pepper stuffed with cheese and eggs
  • Mushroom omelet
  • Greek yogurt and keto granola

Keto-friendly lunch

  • Caesar salad and chicken
  • Cobb salad (greens, eggs, avocado, cheese and turkey)
  • Tuna salad and tossed salad

Keto-friendly dinner

  • Grilled salmon and sauteed spinach
  • Pork chops and roasted vegetables
  • Roast chicken and sauteed broccoli

What are the benefits of the keto diet?

In addition to losing weight, the keto diet may offer other health benefits, which researchers are still working to understand. For now, some benefits of the keto diet may include:

  • Lower risk of certain cancers
  • Improved heart health 
  • Clearer skin
  • Better controlled epilepsy
  • Reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and sleep disorders
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) management
  • Improved endurance

What are the risks of the keto diet?

The keto diet isn’t for everyone. In fact, it’s not recommended for individuals with:

  • Eating disorders or a history of eating disorders
  • Liver conditions
  • Gallbladder disease or those who’ve had their gallbladders removed
  • Thyroid problems
  • Pancreatic disease

The keto diet also comes with other risks.

  • You might not get all the vitamins and nutrients you need if you avoid certain fruits or vegetables.
  • You may experience liver or kidney problems because your body is working hard to metabolize the fat and protein.
  • You may get constipated from lack of fiber.
  • You may experience fuzzy thinking or mood swings because you’re not getting enough sugar from healthy carbohydrates.  

Again, it’s important to talk to your doctor before starting any restrictive diet, including the keto diet. Some individuals, including those with diabetes, may be at higher risk of complications and experience adverse effects. 

If you’re interested in learning more about the keto diet or want to find the safest approach for weight loss, schedule an appointment with Ms. Maigi or your Riverside primary care doctor. 

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