- Keto was ranked among the worst diets for the third year in a row by nutrition experts for its high saturated fat, low fiber, and strict limits on carbohydrates.
- Low-carb advocates like Gary Taubes say keto diets work for people who have struggled to lose weight with mainstream nutrition advice to eat whole grains and avoid too much fat.
- While research is ongoing about whether keto really works better, we might all benefit from choosing higher-quality carbs in our lives.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The ketogenic diet has been ranked among the worst for health yet again by nutrition experts.
But advocates of the high-fat, low-carb are pushing back, arguing that conventional nutrition advice doesn’t work for everyone.
Journalist and low-carb advocate Gary Taubes said he’s one example of how the common wisdom of “eat less, move more” can leave people hungry and frustrated without helping them lose weight or become healthier.
As someone who himself tried and failed to lose weight for more than 20 years on low-fat, mainly plant-based diets, Taubes told Insider that many people become disillusioned with mainstream nutrition if following that advice doesn’t lead to results. When he started a high-fat Atkins diet (similar to keto) in the early 2000s, he began losing weight for the first time, and didn’t feel ravenous as he did on other diets.
“The problem is we’ve been taking diet advice from lean and healthy people. My argument is if we do what they do, we get hungry and fatter, so we can’t do it,” said Taubes, the author of the new book “The Case For Keto” (its initial working title was “In Praise of Fad Diets,” he said).
While not all fad diets are created equal, Taubes argues that keto works because it defies conventional wisdom. For example, while many diets restrict rich foods like bacon and butter, keto dieters are not only allowed but encouraged to indulge.
“Nutritionists say the best diet is one you can stick to,” Taubes said. “People might think might think of keto as a fad diet but if it’s working for you, you’re likely to continue doing it.”
Experts are skeptical of keto claims and worry about the long-term risks
According to Taubes, the disappointment of trying to eat healthily, without seeing results, can drive skeptical dieters like himself to so-called “fad” diets, including keto.
But experts have repeatedly voiced concern about how the keto diet involves copious amounts of saturated fat with little fiber.
Research suggests that low-carb diets are linked to a higher risk of diseases if people are eating too much saturated fat and cholesterol, and skimping on fruits and veggies (which are healthy, but often high-carb).
While experts now consider dietary fat to be less harmful that previously thought, it’s still recommended in moderation, particularly saturated fat.
Taubes says the way we study nutrition is outdated
Proponents of high-fat diets question the quality of evidence that suggests saturated fat and cholesterol cause
Most studies linking fat with health risks are observational, meaning they can track associations between diets and disease outcomes over years, but can’t directly show whether certain foods cause more or less risk.
There are very few randomized controlled trials — the “gold standard” of evidence — which directly tests how participants respond to a given treatment like a diet or medication. But these are costly, and very difficult to do for long periods of time when you’re tracking something like food.
As a result, Taubes and other low-carb proponents argue that we cannot rely on published evidence to tell us what diet is best for long term health, and which is worst.
An effective diet is one you stick to. Taubes says keto’s quick, visible results keep people motivated.
Taubes says we should measure a diet’s effectiveness by looking at its health benefits (blood sugar; cholesterol), how it helps to control weight, but also how likely a person is to stick to it.
Keto does have measurable health benefits. For example, there is some evidence that keto is a promising treatment for diabetes. More studies are being done on keto for diabetes and weight loss, although nutrition authorities like the USDA still don’t acknowledge low-carb diets as a viable form of healthy eating.
But, while other diets may have similar benefits, Taubes said, he found keto to be unique in delivering visible results quickly. That matters to keep people motivated and sticking to the diet.
A quick internet search uncovers a wealth of personal stories illustrating how people have reportedly lost weight and improved their lives on a keto diet. There’s no clear evidence low-carb is superior for health or weight loss, and it’s also not true that weight loss automatically translates to better health.
“You can try the low-carb high fat diet and get healthier by any definition of health beyond LDL cholesterol. You can actually experience better health and you’ll know it,” he said “So do you stay on the diet that will make you hypothetically live longer even if you remain heavier and on medication? Or do you do the diet that makes you feel healthier in the short run and hope that’s true in the long run?”
What can we learn from the keto diet?
Available research still isn’t clear about whether the keto diet works the way Taubes and others have theorized, and keto still may not be the right diet for everyone.
Some people who try the keto diet, but ultimately go back to eating carbs, may incorporate some elements of low-carb into their daily lives, such as eating healthy fats and whole foods, while avoiding refined sugars and starches.
One thing that isn’t controversial about the ketogenic diet is that it seems to be a successful way for some people to cut down on processed foods and added sugar, which experts unanimously agree is a good thing.
“If anyone wants to be healthy they will be healthier and remain healthier if they restrict refined carbs and sugars. I think anyone would benefit from improving the quality of carbs they eat,” Taubes said.