The Keto Diet is the Atkins Diet with a few minor adjustments. “Keto” refers to “ketogenic”, or “ketosis”. In the simplest terms, ketones are chemicals that are released in the body when the body breaks down fat. Ketones are then used as fuel.
The Atkins Diet does this by strictly limiting carbohydrates, especially “bad” carbs. The Keto Diet takes it further by also limiting proteins. The theory is that protein can be used as fuel and thus prevent the transition to fat burning.
Most Keto diets are simply Atkins “phase 1” where carbs are limited to less than 20 grams/day
Does the Keto Diet work?
Someone I know who has gained and lost significant weight a number of times says “ALL diets work”. By that he simply means that while all the big programs out there work differently, they all require monitoring and REDUCING CALORIC INTAKE. THAT always works.
Well, as I mentioned in my discussion of the Atkins Diet, if you tell someone they can’t eat carbs, very naturally the calorie count drops like a rock. It may SEEM like a diet of bacon, cheese, butter, oil, and mayonnaise would be a REALLY high calorie diet.
It can be a high calorie diet, but the contexts in which those high-fat foods really hurt is when the bacon and butter comes with BISCUITS, JAM, PANCAKES, and SYRUP. Try eating 2000 calories of bacon, cheese, butter, oil, and mayonnaise without the tasty carbs that are almost always connected.
Basic rationale of low-carb
The basic rationale of all the low-carb diets goes as follows to some extent.
Eating carbs – especially “bad” carbs or carbs in great quantity – causes more insulin release. More insulin release means more stored fat. The body will use carbs as its primary fuel if they are available, otherwise it burns fat for energy. Consequently, lower carbs leads to less stored fat.
Advocates for these low-carb diets offer confident, scientific explanations that sound quite convincing.
Sounds great, but can we test it?
Here we have something that scientists call a “hypothesis”. A hypothesis is an “educated guess”. We have some good sounding ideas, and they seem to make sense, but then they need to be TESTED. Is this possible with the low-carb/Keto diet?
It turns out YES. The claims of the low-carbers can be tested.
We could take two groups of subjects and feed them carefully controlled diets over a few months and then measure the before/after stats (weight loss/gain, fat loss/gain, etc.). We could make both groups consume the same number of calories and the same amount of protein for the test. But one group would be on a low-carb diet and the other on a low-fat diet.
THAT would be interesting, wouldn’t it?
Well, that test has been done (see Energy expenditure and body composition changes after an isocaloric ketogenic diet in overweight and obese men).
Subjects on the Keto diet had less insulin and more ketosis (fat burning) than the low-fat subjects, just as the Keto advocates would predict. BUT, the subjects on the low-fat diet lost more weight AND more fat than the subjects on the low-carb diet.
But wait… That doesn’t make sense according to all the confident scientific explanations of the low-carbers.
But that’s how science works. You have a hypothesis. You come up with that theory based on all your own observations and all your knowledge and training, and THEN you TEST IT.
If the tests yield the expected results you can rest comfortably knowing that your theory survives, at least for now. If the tests DO NOT yield the expected results, it means YOU MISSED SOMETHING – or maybe EVERYTHING. It just doesn’t work like you thought it worked.
The human body is more complex than that
It’s the best we can do to make a good, educated guess and try it out. But it turns out that the predictions of the low-carb/Keto diets just doesn’t pass the test.
It doesn’t mean the Keto diet is bad or ineffective. In these tests the subjects from each group consumed the same number of calories, BUT that calorie count was a deficit (BELOW what was burned). In other words, both the low-carb diet and the low-fat diets lead to weight loss, but both probably because of the calorie deficit, not because of any carb/fat ratio.
The experiment that would truly prove my hypothesis would be if they had a third and maybe fourth groups of subjects. The third group would be assigned to a very low carb diet, but with a +500 calorie/day surplus. The fourth group would be assigned a low fat diet also with a +500 calorie/day surplus.
I believe that experiment would show both groups GAINING WEIGHT and FAT. Perhaps those gains would be significantly higher or lower in one group or the other, but we really couldn’t know that without testing.
If you read much about diets you’ll come upon the words “compliance” or “adherence”. Strictly limiting one’s carbs can easily result in a calorie deficit without carefully COUNTING. And limiting carbs is a fairly easy way to slice a LOT of calories from one’s diet.
Think about what you eat for a moment. What did you eat yesterday? Today? Now, how much of that was carbohydrates?
Before answering, remember that sugar in any form – natural or processed – is carbohydrate. That means fruit is 100% carb. Honey is 100% carb. And don’t just include the sugars that you ADD. Remember that MANY products contain sugar.
Remember also how prevalent wheat products are! That includes ANY KIND OF breads, natural/healthy or not. It also includes nearly any kind of crackers, many kinds of cereals. All pasta is wheat.
All potato and rice products are almost all carbohydrates.
So maybe the Keto diet works for many people simply because it limits so many high-calorie food sources.
Of course fat and protein foods have calories too. But personally I find it a lot harder to sit and gorge on fish or meat snacks, or cheese, than I can on bread/wheat products.
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