Nutritionist debunks myths about our most popular diet
The trendy keto or "ketogenic" diet has risen in the ranks to become one of the most popular ways to shed kilos fast or kickstart a sluggish metabolism.
It is a style of eating that favours a low-carb approach in order to make the body release ketones - which are chemicals produced in your liver.
In the absence of circulating blood sugar from food (mainly carbohydrates), we start breaking down stored fat into molecules called ketone bodies (the process is called ketosis).
In other words, the keto diet got its name because ketones are the source of energy that the body uses when it's burning fat.
So, how do you master this process? Basically, you need to eat a diet that's centred around protein and fats, along with a strict reduction in carbohydrates which some health experts label as risky.
But before you make your mind up, here are some keto myths you can ignore.
MYTH 1: HIGH PRODUCTION OF KETONES IS DANGEROUS
Plain and simple, ketones are a natural chemical in the body and a source of fuel that you can thrive on.
The key is to not mistake ketosis with ketoacidosis, which can be life threatening.
Unlike ketoacidosis, a balanced keto diet involves low (and safe) levels of ketones, which are linked with benefits such as weight loss.
That said, a ketogenic diet isn't recommended for the general population, as the effects of maintaining ketosis for long periods of time are unknown.
However, if a low-carb or keto diet is an eating pattern that is working for you, are able to stick to and is meeting your nutritional requirements - then the research backs this.
MYTH 2: REACHING KETOSIS MEANS RESTRICTING CARBS - ALL TOGETHER
Keto it often thought to have a zero-carb policy, however, this is not quite the case.
A successful ketogenic diet should be about colourful, fibrous vegies; quality fats (such as extra virgin olive oil, avocado and nuts) and a range of lean sources of proteins.
To reach ketosis, you usually have to consume less than 50g of carbs per day (equivalent of around two slices of bread, and a banana). Definitely not zilch.
However, filling up on processed meats, sausages, butter, cream, bulletproof coffee, poor quality fats from processed foods with very few fruits and vegetables is not ideal and may have the opposite effect: weight gain, poor gut health (from lack of fibre) and kidney issues.
MYTH 3: KETOGENIC IS KING OF ALL DIETS
Is any restrictive diet better than the others? Not really.
As keto involves drastically cutting carbs and upping your intake of protein and fats, it's not one to live by.
A couple of studies found that keto followers often suffer from a lowered desire to eat.
Plus, they're susceptible to side effects including headaches, digestion issues, bad breath, fatigue, headaches and poor exercise tolerance - sometimes referred to as "keto flu".
And if the diet is not balanced, it can easily lead to nutrient deficiencies.
While it can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks for individuals to become "fat adapted" to the ketogenic diet, symptoms typically subside - provided you can sustain the diet long-term.
MYTH 4: KETO IS A LONG-TERM WEIGHT LOSS SOLUTION
Religious keto followers beware: Following this kind of super low-carb diet for long periods of time could pose more risk than reward.
Long-term, your muscle mass can diminish, which leads to a decline in metabolic rate and fewer calories burned.
Further, it's tough to stick to as slashing your intake of carbs to less than 50 grams a day would likely mean limiting fruit to only one serve a day, or eating it in place of other nutritious foods like vegetables, dairy foods, and whole grains.
According to the Dietitians Associations of Australia, this requirement to strictly limit certain foods makes it near impossible to meet nutrients needs without supplementation.
In order to avoid some of these risks, the diet needs to be well planned to ensure you're hitting all of your nutritional bases.
Unfortunately, such severe restriction of certain food groups makes this planning a challenge, especially if you're not working with a degree-qualified dietitian.
WHAT IS THE BOTTOM LINE?
While keto can be good for a weight-loss fix, it's more of a Band-Aid than a brilliant way of life - and should probably only be followed for a few weeks at a time.
Kathleen Alleaume is a nutrition and exercise scientist and founder of The Right Balance. Follow her @therightbalance