Megan Rasmussen MS, RDN
If I asked you what the top trending diet is today, what would you say? I’m willing to wager many of you would say keto. In fact, a quick Google search of ‘the top 5 diet trends in 2021’ puts the keto diet at the very top. If for some reason you have not heard of the keto diet, let me break it down. The keto, or ketogenic, diet is a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet.
It was originally created to manage seizures in children with epilepsy. Today, it is widely used as a weight loss diet. The keto diet typically restricts carb intake to 5-10% of daily calories. However, the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans, written jointly by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommend that 45-65% of your daily calories come from carbs.1 To help you understand which of these recommendations you should follow, I’m going to break down why you need carbs, what happens if you don’t eat enough, and how to include them in a balanced diet.
First, let’s discuss why you need carbs. The body uses carbs for many different functions every day. They are the main energy source for the brain, central nervous system, and red blood cells.3 They provide a quick fuel source that can be easily used during everyday activities and exercise.2 They are also used in the production of RNA and DNA, and to spare protein and fats for other important functions in the body.2 It’s safe to say that carbs are a necessary part of daily life.
So what happens when we don’t eat enough of them? There are three main side effects you’ll want to know about.
- Muscle breakdown. If you neglect your carb intake, your body still needs energy from somewhere. And that somewhere is muscle. Muscle will break down into amino acids that can be converted to glucose for energy.
- Lack of energy. Carbs serve as a primary energy supply to all of the body’s cells.2 Therefore, neglecting your carb intake can leave you feeling groggy.
- Keto breath. Possibly the most unattractive side effect of a low-carb diet is bad breath. This occurs because the body is producing ketones for energy. Of these ketones is acetone, an organic compound used in the manufacturing of nail polish. If you notice your breath smells like this, you’re likely not eating enough carbs.
Now, don’t panic. You can easily avoid all of these side effects. Here’s how:
Include carbs in all meals and snacks. And before you go breaking out your cookies, chips, and soda, remember that the source of carb and how we balance it matters. Choose complex sources of carbs like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, which are loaded with fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Also, balance your carb intake with a source of protein to slow the rise of blood sugar. Some common examples are a banana with peanut butter, crackers and cheese, or Greek yogurt and berries. Following these strategies will help you strike a balance between too many and too few carbs.
I know the keto diet sounds tempting. Everyone seems to be doing it these days. However, carbs are important for many of the body’s functions. Plus, not having enough can lead to some pretty negative side effects. So instead of restricting your carb intake, practice creating a healthy balance.
- gov. 2021. [online] Available at: <https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2021-03/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans-2020-2025.pdf> [Accessed 2 November 2021].
- Medicine LibreTexts. 2021. 4: The Functions of Carbohydrates in the Body. [online] Available at: <https://med.libretexts.org/Courses/American_Public_University/APUS%3A_An_Introduction_to_Nutrition_(Byerley)/Text/03%3A_Carbohydrates/3.04%3A_The_Functions_of_Carbohydrates_in_the_Body> [Accessed 2 November 2021].
Slavin, J. and Carlson, J., 2014. Carbohydrates. Advances in Nutrition, 5(6), pp.760-761.