Ketogenic vs. Plant-Based Diet: Which One Is Better?

Fad diets have been around for decades. They are successful, in the short-term, because they promise quick weight loss. However, those of us who have been in the health profession for many years know that quick results does not mean healthy, safe or long-lasting. In this blog, I will discuss the detrimental effects of fad diets and what  diet many experts now prove is the safest, healthiest and provides the best long-term results.

A World Seeking Perfection

The desire for the “perfect body” has plagued our society for decades, maybe even centuries. It’s an epidemic that has killed, or almost killed, many people. The media consistently shows people in pictures that seem to be perfect. Although, many pictures have been altered. Let me give you an example of this. The other day I noticed Oprah on the cover of the latest O magazine. She looked quite slim in her face and body. Yet, I had just seen her in a live episode of Super Soul Sunday and she looked nothing like that. Even Oprah, or the people who advise her, don’t think she’s good enough to be on the cover of her own magazine without the help of Photoshop. It’s sad. She’s a beautiful and influential woman who you’d think would be confident enough to show herself exactly as she is.

But this is my point.

Pick up any magazine, or turn on any social media platform and you will see people living this so-called perfect life with these so-called perfect bodies. We then see these same people, who have seen some personal results, promoting extreme, fad diets to the public. These individuals giving health and nutrition advice are not qualified to do so and are placing the people who follow and trust them at risk of adverse health problems.

Many young people believe that they are worthless unless they have the perfect body or are showing off their bodies in inappropriate ways online. Girls as young as eight years of age have eating disorders because they want to have the perfect body. I have even fallen prey to this. I have felt very insecure about my body for as long as I can remember. Even though my body is healthy and strong I have never felt good enough because someone has made a comment about my weight or I’ve seen women online, or in the media, who look better. Luckily, I am making healthier choices now and appreciating my body for being healthy and strong even as I get older.

Part of my mission has been to help women love themselves and realize they don’t have to go to extremes to be healthy and look great! That is why I get frustrated when I hear people say they are on the latest fad diet. What usually follows, is that they feel deprived, tired, irritable and in some cases even sick.

Fad Diets

In his book, Living Foods For Optimal Health, Dr. Brian Clement reviews some fad diets that promised fast weight-loss but most ended in disaster. The Atkins Diet is one diet he speaks about. This diet guaranteed weight loss by having the dieter cut out carbohydrates. The Atkins diet allowed people to eat as much fat and protein as they wanted, including eating bacon, eggs, heavy cream, butter and deli meats. What Dr. Atkins failed to realize, or communicate to the public, was that high-fat diets can have detrimental effects on the body. The body will store all of the excess fat in and around the organs, if not in the extremities, causing cholesterol levels to rise and increase risk of heart disease. If you mention the Atkins diet now, most people know it was a not a healthy, long-term solution.

Then why is the ketogenic diet now so popular? It seems to be nothing more than a modern version of the Atkins Diet and is showing to have similar negative health effects.

What Is The Ketogenic Diet?

In the 1920’s, a ketogenic (Keto) diet was shown to be a therapeutic way to manage epilepsy and other chronic diseases. In the 1960’s, researchers found that restricting carbohydrates could burn fat. However, what they didn’t look at was the detrimental long-term effects low carb, high-fat diets have on health. Much like what happened with the Atkins diet.

The ketogenic diet typically promotes that people consume 75% of their daily calories from fat, 20% from protein and only 5% from carbohydrates. The premise for this diet comes from the fact that by restricting carbohydrates you will burn through the stored glycogen, which is in the muscles and liver, and cause the body to burn fat as fuel instead.

The by-products of this process are the release of ketones, which enter the bloodstream to be used for fuel. Unfortunately, there are many risks that come with being in a state of ketosis.

For many years, I worked with people with chronic disease, specifically diabetes. The one thing we had to do before they could exercise was check their blood sugar level to make sure they were not too low or too high. We also had to check their blood for ketones. If they were in a state of ketosis, it was considered a state of emergency that warranted an immediate visit to their doctor. This high state of acidosis is extremely detrimental to the body long-term.

Ketones are waste products that result from the body metabolizing fat. Although fat loss is something many people desire, placing the body in a state of ketosis is dangerous because it causes an increase blood acidity levels. This acidic state may result in the wasting away of muscle tissue, inflammation, gout, high cholesterol, heart stress, liver damage, constipation, vitamin deficiency, exhaustion, bone damage, tooth decay and increase risk of cancer.

The ketogenic diet is sometimes recommended to people who are very sick and dying from cancer. They are in a hospital bed and the diet is specifically designed for their special needs. The goal is to starve the cancer by restricting the intake of carbohydrates since sugar feeds cancer. However, when a person is active and athletic, this type of diet is one of the worst.

Is There A Better, Safer Way To Lose Weight And Gian Better Health? 

There is a better and healthier way to lose weight and reduce the incidence of chronic disease without having to
put the body in a dangerous state of ketosis. Losing weight is great but is it worth sacrificing the health of your body? I don’t think so…

Cutting out processed carbohydrates such as sugar, breads and pasta is a good for your health since these are not whole foods and are usually devoid of nutrients. But cutting out healthy carbohydrates, that contain fibre, vitamins and minerals the body needs to thrive will cause many problems. The keto diet does not allow for healthy carbohydrates such as beans, legumes, whole grains and fruit. These are all whole-food nutrients that are essential to be healthy on the long-term.

When you restrict carbohydrates, which is the macronutrient the body prefers to use for fuel, the body goes into a state of emergency.  Although the body will break down and use fat as fuel for low-intensity, long duration activities it will also breakdown protein to be used as fuel to help support the lack of carbohydrates. The body does not want to do this. If protein is used as fuel it cannot be used effectively to help repair tissues and you will begin to lose muscle mass, your hair may fall out and your skin and nails will not be healthy. 

Research shows that for an active person to sustain top performance carbohydrate intake should be about 45% to 55% of the diet and consist of about six to 10 grams of carbs for every kilogram of body weight.  This of course does not mean processed carbs but healthy carbohydrates such as the ones mentioned above. The recommend intake for protein is 15%-35% and between 0.8 and 1.7 grams per kilogram of bodyweight. Fat intake should be about 20%-35% of the diet,  although some research says we don’t even need that much fat. I have seen research suggest as low as 5% of dietary fat will result in the best health.

The American Heart Association recommends that for optimal health less than 7% of the diet should be comprised of saturated fat. My question to the people who believe in the Keto, and other high-fat diets that recommend people eat all the animal saturated fats they want, what science are you looking at?

The weight loss that many people experience when following a ketogenic diet is often the result of losing the stored glycogen in the muscles and liver and the water molecules attached to them, which is about six to eight pounds. This weight loss usually is short lived since as soon as you eat carbohydrates again you will gain back the weight and more. 

A colleague of mine, an athlete, even tried to do a vegetarian keto diet using eggs as the main source of fat. However, he ended up having a heart attack during his event due to the lack of glucose his body needed to fuel his body for the endurance event.

The main problems with the keto diet are that the diet:

  • Is low in fibre, which has been shown to reduce colon cancer, and other chronic conditions and feed healthy gut bacteria. 
  • Does not promote, or discuss, the importance of eating phytonutrients. 
  • Does not provide any distinction between healthy and unhealthy carbs. Whole grains, beans, legumes and fruit all are healthy carbohydrates that provide the body with many healing nutrients required for optional long-term health. 
  • Does not provide any distinction between healthy and unhealthy fats. The keto diet promotes the high intake of animal fats, which contain high amount of cholesterol and saturated fats and minimal healthy fats such as omega fats. 
  • Keto promoting websites do not back their claims with real science. The American Dietetic Association states that a healthy diet should not contain any more that 7% saturated fat, whereas on a keto diet a person many eat up to 75% of their diet as saturated fat. This is a heart attack waiting to happen! Some sites may even say that the body has zero need for carbs and this is absolutely NOT TRUE! The body needs carbs in order to perform at it’s peak level. 
  • Is not safe for pregnant women, nursing mothers or kids. 
  • Promotes diet sodas that contain artificial sweeteners, which have been proven to have many negative sides effects and promote long-term weight gain.

The unfortunate side effects of the keto diet include:

  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Heart palpitations
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Lack of energy
  • Reduced performance
  • Leg cramps
  • Tiredness
  • Weakness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Headaches
  • Brain fog
  • Irritability
  • Cravings for carbohydrates, especially sugar
  • Bad breath, sometimes called “keto breath”
  • Low libido
  • Constipation
  • Bloating
  • General digestive discomfort
  • May elevate cholesterol 
  • Risk of getting gout

All of this just to lose a little weight…seems sad when there’s a better way don’t you think? 

What Diet Is Best For Long-Term Health? 

It has been proven time and time again that a diet rich in whole, plant-based foods is the best diet for long-term health. Plant-based foods are rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients that nourish the body and reduces toxins and inflammation.

When the body releases toxins and is no longer in a state of inflammation weight loss will occur without even having to think about it. When the body is healthy and in an anti-inflammatory state it longer needs to hang on to excess fat, which protects the body and its organs from harm when in a toxic state.

Eating plant-based foods is safe for everyone, including pregnant and nursing moms, kids and athletes and is a safer way to shred excess fat without all the negative side effects and feelings of deprivation and starvation. 

There are some risks associated with the plant-based diet if a person eats more processed than whole foods. These include:

  • Nutrient deficiency as a result of eating foods that are low in vitamins and minerals.
  • Low energy from not eating enough calories. Plant-based foods are lower in calories than animal-based foods so vegans must eat more calories to maintain higher levels of energy. 

However, if a person eats a diet rich in real, whole, plant-based foods the benefits outweigh the risks. Benefits of eating a plant-based diet include:

  • Reduced inflammation
  • Weight loss
  • Reduced risk of heart disease
  • Reduced risk of cancer
  • Reduced risk of arthritis and gout
  • Better kidney function
  • Reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease
  • May help keep the blood sugar in check and reducing risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Healthier gut flora
  • Reduced destruction of the environment
  • Reduced animal cruelty and exploitation

What You Can Do Now

Overall, it seems that the keto diet is just a fad that is not beneficial over the long-term. It is essential to eat foods that are rich in phytonutrients such as vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants to thrive and perform at your peak. Wouldn’t you rather eat more food, have more energy and feel better than starve and deprive yourself of all the delicious and healthy foods you could be eating on a plant-based diet? 

If you would like to learn more about how to make the switch to a plant-based diet that is rich in all the nutrients you need to thrive, lose weight, have more energy and perform at your best please take some time to further educate yourself on this topic. 

A variety of documentaries and books are available that will help you gain a border perceptive on this topic and help you make an informed decision. 

Some of the books I recommend reading include: 

Some of the documentaries I recommend watching include:

Until next time…


Rachel Joy Olsen, BSc., MBA

Plant-Based Health & Wellness Coach