Providence physician shares her perspective on the “keto” diet

November 1, 2018 Providence Health Team

In recent times, the “keto” diet has been gaining in popularity across the country. The diet, which involves a drastic reduction of carbohydrates, reportedly has the ability to incinerate fat, causing rapid weight loss. But is this diet safe and is it for you? We asked Providence Medical Group Alaska’s Cydney Fenton, M.D., pediatric endocrinologist, to weigh in.

According to Dr. Fenton, the keto diet (not to be confused with the ketogenic diet — a diet prescribed by a doctor to prevent events such as seizures) involves cutting carbohydrates to the point where the body is in a state of ketosis, or when the body is using fat as a fuel source.

 “Think of carbohydrates and fat as fuel sources. If you don’t eat enough carbohydrates to fuel your body, your body will look for another energy source — in this case fat,” Dr. Fenton explains. “When fat is used as the energy source, the byproducts of using fat are ketones. If you think of fat as wood, then burning fat leaves you with the ketones, or the ashes.”

The keto diet involves cutting carbohydrates to between 20-30 grams per day. Understanding that one slice of whole grain bread has about 12 grams of carbohydrates lends perspective to the restrictive nature of the diet.

Many people do report success in losing weight from the keto diet, including Angie Anderson, an executive administrative assistant at Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center.

“I’ve been doing the keto diet on and off for about six months and have lost 25 pounds,” she said. “Besides the weight loss, the biggest benefit I’ve found of the keto diet is a sustained high level of energy.”

The keto diet can also improve insulin resistance, which can be beneficial for those with type 2 diabetes. However, Dr. Fenton advises that anyone with type 1 diabetes on insulin should be supervised by an endocrinologist if using the keto diet.

But is this diet safe? Dr. Fenton said that while it isn’t necessarily an unhealthy diet, it does come with some side effects.

“The brain runs on carbs, but it can also run on ketones,” she added.  “When the brain is transitioning from glucose to ketones there can be some fuzzy thinking.” Other side effects can include constipation and bad breath.

Furthermore, Dr. Fenton warns that the keto diet is just that — a diet. Once a person stops a diet and goes back to the way they used to eat, they will almost certainly gain the weight back. A person who stops the keto diet will have to exercise if they want to keep the weight off. The best measures for people needing to lose weight are to make lifestyle changes that are sustainable, and to eat in moderation.

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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