Ketogenic and the Whole 30 Diets – Yay or Nay?

I’ve recently started a series on some of the more popular diets right now to hopefully take the guess work out of whether or not you should consider them. For this week, I’m gonna focus on the Ketogenic diet and the Whole 30 diet.

Ketogenic diet: a special high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet – usually three to four grams of fat per gram of carbohydrate and protein combined coming from heavy whipping cream, butter, mayonnaise, and oils. Why it is used: it helps to control seizures in some people with epilepsy and should be prescribed by a physician and carefully monitored by a dietitian. This is not just a low carb diet like the Atkins.  It is supposed to produce ketones in the body (hence the name), which are formed when the body uses fat for its source of energy. Normally our body uses carbohydrate as its primary energy source. In normal circumstances, the bare minimum I ever recommend is 100 to 130 grams of carbohydrate. This diet includes minimum carbs, often under ten grams per day, to force the body to use fat for energy.

Pros: in those with intractable seizures meaning, non responsive to medications, it can greatly reduce their frequency and severity of seizures. It can cause rapid weight loss, but a ketogenic diet in the true sense is going to do anything but. Also, prolonged ketosis is not a natural state that the human body functions well in (which I will explain below in the “cons” section.) Having said that, it can be life saving and changing for those merely surviving one seizure to the next.

Cons: since the body is designed to use carbohydrates for energy, expect to feel pretty sluggish. Our primary food sources of carbohydrate include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and dairy. So you can expect constipation as well. If you aren’t constipated, you may have diarrhea due to the high fat content or, if you’re really lucky, alternating. Other issues related to a high fat diet include reflux, nausea, vomitting, and kidney stones. In addition, it’s not very nutritionally balanced and even mineral absorption issues can occur causing hair loss, weakened bones, muscle cramps, acute pancreatitis, impaired focus and memory (the brain needs sugar), high cholesterol, increased inflammation, depressed mood, and even menstrual irregularities. Sounds fun, right?

Whole 30 diet: this diet claims that food, primarily grains, sugar, alcohol, and legumes, are the root of all your health ailments. I see this one daily in the health circles I run in. Most people that follow this are doing so because they want to feel better. Nothing wrong with that. It’s temporary and the closest thing I can compare it to is an elimination diet I put people on who are allergic to multiple foods and they aren’t sure which one(s) are the culprit. The theory is after thirty-one days, you will know right away which food is the cause of your health problems because you feel terrible once you reintroduce it back into your diet. While I agree we could all go without sugar and alcohol and be better off for it, I have never met a person who has allergies, irritable bowel syndrome, or chronic knee pain because they eat mini wheats for breakfast and legumes at dinner time. Sorry, but I’ve been a dietitian for a while now and I’ve never seen nor read any validated research backing this up. Having said that, I’m all for a diet that advocates eating more fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and advocates cooking more and eating less processed food.

Pros: it’s an overall very healthy diet that eliminates sugar and refined, processed food – all of which we eat too much of. It’s also high in fiber and protein, two things I’m a big fan of in any diet.

Cons: while I love the idea of getting people to cook more and eat more whole foods, zero eating out and zero convenience food options is going to make this difficult for many in our fast paced society. This diet is only for the motivated individual who can really dedicate themselves to focusing on their food for the month. I’m not really excited about the idea that it’s a temporary diet – going on a diet just means you plan to go off a diet. But hey, if you truly feel better, it could be the beginning of something great, right?

So there ya have it. Two more diets for you. If you are totally in love with either of these diets, I’m only offering my insight and opinions. None of this is meant to hurt feelings of any die hard fans. If you would like to learn more about a specific diet, let me know in the comments section.

Also, if you’d like more information on the diet that I do recommend and how I’ve helped others lose 30-80lbs following simple steps, contact me here.

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Jillian McMullen, CSOWM, RDN, LDN