If you’re like many Americans, you’ve probably thought about losing weight at some point in your life. It could be that your doctor recommended it, that you stepped on the scale one day and were greeted with disappointment, or maybe because you just wanted to feel better.
Whatever your reason, you’ve likely heard of the highly popular low-carb and keto diets, and may be trying to determine if either is right for your weight loss journey. We reached out to Lori Knapp, Clinical Dietician at Thedacare, to find out what’s behind these growing trends and what you need to know before you jump on the bandwagon.
What is a Low-Carb Diet?
As you may have guessed by the name, a low-carb diet focuses on changing your intake of carbohydrates — or carbs.
“A low-carb diet is a way of eating that restricts dietary carbohydrates, mainly from starch, sugar-sweetened beverages, and fruit,” explained Knapp.
And while there’s no exact amount for a diet to be considered low-carb, generally it consists of consuming only 10-30% of your total calories from carbs — or about 50-150 grams.
For many low-carb dieters, this means increasing their intake of proteins, vegetables, and healthy fats to compensate for the feeling of fullness normally reached by eating carbs.
Studies have shown the diet can have a significant short-term effect on decreasing weight, primarily because extra protein and fat will help you feel full longer, and eat less. It may also provide other health benefits to those with diabetes, such as improving cardiovascular risk factors.
What is a Keto diet?
Originally applied as a treatment for childhood epilepsy in the 1920s, nowadays the ketogenic — or keto — diet is used primarily for weight loss. The diet is typically comprised of 70-80% fat, around 20% protein, and 5-10% carbohydrates.
“When following a keto diet, the goal is to reach ketosis,” explained Knapp.
In a state of nutritional ketosis, the body will begin to use fat as its main fuel source instead of the carbs it normally uses. Subsequently, the body will produce ketones from fat in your liver.
Similar to the low-carb diet, the keto diet has also been shown to help with short-term weight loss, as well as improve blood pressure and cholesterol. The primary difference between the two diets, however, is that the keto diet is much more rigorous and requires constant, careful measurements of your food intake. Not to mention, it often involves having to cook most – if not all – of your meals. As a result, the keto diet is often more difficult for people to sustain.
What are the Potential Consequences of Restrictive Diets?
Despite being safe to follow in the short term, low-carb and keto diets may result in some long-term health issues. This is especially evident with the keto diet.
“While the keto diet helps with weight loss and has short-term health benefits, it could lead to nutrient deficiencies, digestive issues, and poor bone health over time,” warned Knapp.
Though long-term health effects of low-carb diets are still being evaluated, experts say restricting carbs could contribute to vitamin or mineral deficiencies, as well as gastrointestinal issues.
How do You Know Which Diet is Best for You?
“It really depends on an individual’s health issues and needs,” said Knapp.
Generally speaking, the low-carb diet often has better results because its more sustainable than the ultra-strict keto diet.
“Alternatively, there are variations to the keto diet that allow for fruit and a more moderate fat intake,” suggested Knapp. “Limiting carbs is still the focus, but the calorie counting isn’t quite as restrictive.”
If neither the low-carb diet or keto diet sound like your cup of tea, one of the following diets might be more to your liking:
- Mediterranean Diet: If you’re ok with staying away from most red meats and incorporating a fair amount of olive oil, fish and legumes into your diet, this is a nutritionally-balanced option that allows for diversity in food and flavor.
- DASH Diet: Short for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension,” this option allows you to enjoy an assortment of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy foods, while limiting your sodium intake.
- Flexitarian Diet: True to its name, this diet provides the flexibility to replace most – but not all – of your meat consumption with proteins like beans, peas or eggs. It’s a great option if you aren’t ready to go full vegetarian.
“No matter which diet you’re considering, discuss it with your doctor or a registered dietician first,” advised Knapp. “Your best bet is to choose something that is balanced, sustainable for the long term, complimentary to your lifestyle, and most importantly – well-suited for your specific nutritional needs.”