If I was being cute(kute) I would have said “Keto Kautions.” I decided that was dumb but now I guess I’ve said it anyway so here we are.
Chances are you or someone you know is on “the keto diet.” I put that in quotes because it’s not actually a diet of specific foods. A keto diet refers to a way of eating that puts the body into ketosis, a metabolic state where the liver produces ketone bodies from dietary and body fat to use as an alternative source of fuel when glucose isn’t available. You can read my previous posts about keto here and here.
Being in ketosis can be beneficial for a number of reasons. When dietary carbohydrates are kept low enough to encourage this metabolic shift, the burning of ketones for fuel instead of glucose will encourage the body to burn fat, anti-inflame, normalize blood sugar and insulin levels, and can provide longer, more steady-burning fuel.
Here’s the thing though – it’s really important that you actually eat real, whole, nutrient-dense foods when eating a keto diet (or any “diet”). And this is where I see the biggest pitfalls with people and their approach to a keto way of eating.
Keto is becoming so popular and there are more and more products becoming available for those adhering to this way of eating. A lot of them are intending to provide a substitution for the junky foods people were eating before embarking on this new diet.
Instead of regular cookies, there are “keto” cookies.
Instead of regular ice cream, there’s keto ice cream.
There’s also the tendency to eat anything as long as it’s low or no carb instead of focusing in on the quality of that food. Processed meats, poor quality oils in condiments, and loads of conventional dairy products will cause your body to go into ketosis in the absence of carbohydrates, but you are setting your body up for nutritional deficiencies, an unhappy gut, and more health problems down the road.
Zero calorie sweeteners are not totally innocent additions to your diet. Many of them still cause an insulin response (which will tell your body to store fat), have a negative impact on the gut microbiome, and can exacerbate symptoms of IBS and IBD.
Another issue I see with zero-calorie sweeteners used in many keto recipes and products is that they keep you craving that sweet taste. One great part about embarking on a low carb, high fat or ketogenic lifestyle is that it can really change your palate so that you don’t crave those sweet and high carb foods. You start to taste things differently. Fruit becomes sweeter, really dark chocolate becomes a treat, and you break free from the grip that sugar has had over your life. If you’re still consuming keto treats on a regular basis, it’s really hard to break that desire for sweet foods. And, many of those sweeteners are much sweeter than sugar so you might be getting an even bigger hit of that sweet taste!
Now I’m not saying that you should never use zero-calorie sweeteners. There can be a time and a place for things like stevia, monk fruit, and even sugar alcohols if you tolerate them. But daily consumption of these could be setting you up for more health issues and a continued reliance on sugar if you’re not careful.
I guarantee if you take a 6 week break from all sugar you will be amazed at how your tastes and cravings will change! I find it pretty freeing, actually. I used to be consumed with cravings for things like ice cream, brownies, and cookies. If I was trying to “be good” I’d have to rely on will power to not eat them way past the point of moderation (I’ve never been good with that!). Now that I’ve been keto-adapted for some time I just don’t crave those things or feel like I’m missing out if I’m faced with them in a social situation. Those foods just don’t have control over me anymore. That’s not to say that I don’t EVER want them, I just don’t feel the overwhelming pull or craving like I used to. AND when you’ve freed your taste buds, mind, and body from sugar it takes way less sugar to sweeten things. So, you could stick with the real stuff like honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar, sucanat or fruits like dates or ripe bananas to sweeten a homemade treat and you won’t need nearly as much as you would have before.