Dirty Keto: How to Avoid the Pitfalls of Processed Food

A low-carbohydrate or ketogenic diet creates amazing benefits and offers an effective way to lose weight and create positive health change. As with many approaches, however, following a low-carb or keto diet requires attention and intentional effort to create success. Food manufacturers, looking to capitalize on those who are following a low-carb or keto diet, often advertise products that are low in net carbs, convenient, and often tasty. In fact, if you take a look around you may quickly recognize a variety of “keto friendly” products both online and in stores. These products, ranging from keto frozen meals and shakes to keto cookies and other products, can be easily found and purchased with very little effort. Although food manufacturers highlight the supposed “benefits” of these products they often neglect other important information, such as the presence of highly processed or unnatural ingredients and additives. These ingredients have important biological effects and it is helpful to examine their impact on our bodies and minds.

Low-carb and keto food products often claim to have fewer or no net carbs. Net carbs are the carbohydrates your body digests. They include any carbohydrates other than fiber. To calculate net carbs you simply subtract fiber from the total carbohydrates listed in a food product. Although this seems simple there is a caveat to this equation.  A certain category of sweeteners, sugar alcohols (examples: erythritol, xylitol, maltitol), are partially digested within our bodies. This means approximately 50 % of the sweetener is digested. For example, if a product contains 4 grams of erythritol approximately 2 grams (50 % of 4 grams) is digested. This means that the product contains 2 grams of net carb from erythritol. Many low-carb and keto food manufacturers claim that sugar alcohols provide NO NET CARBS to their products. This statement is simply false and it leads to misrepresentation of many low-carb and keto products. 

Why is this important? If you consume these products under the false representation of very low carb content you may unknowingly consume more digestible carbohydrates than you realize. This could easily prevent or hinder the production of beneficial ketones within your body. It could also reduce the beneficial health or weight loss effects you are seeking by following a low-carb or keto plan! In addition, the consumption of sugar alcohols can lead to digestive discomfort, insulin resistance, poor gut health, food cravings, and headaches. These are certainly not effects you are seeking within your low-carb or keto eating plan!

 In addition to sugar alcohols, many low-carb and keto food products are highly processed. This means they do not resemble their original food sources. For example, a keto meal bar or shake may contain a plant ingredient, such as soy protein isolate, however it may look nothing like a soybean. When this ingredient is combined with other hyper palatable ingredients, such as sweeteners (examples: erythritol , stevia, and monk fruit extract), cocoa, or dextrose, the product may take on a “supercharged” taste. This means it is very tasty and it may be challenging to limit or stop eating the item. Food manufacturers understand this characteristic and they spend large amounts of money to create these exact products in their food laboratories.  (That is why you often see products with chocolate, vanilla cake batter, and other sweet flavors, rather than asparagus or green bean flavored products).  The goal is to make money, not help you improve your health or prevent disease.

In addition to being highly processed, many low-carb and keto food products contain highly altered or highly concentrated food ingredients. For example, a keto frozen meal, snack bar, or shake may contain whey protein (examples: whey protein concentrate or whey protein isolate). Although whey protein is found naturally in cow’s milk, concentrated or isolated whey does not resemble a glass of milk in any recognizable way. This means our bodies are unaccustomed to digesting and regulating intake of this type of whey protein. Consumption of this ingredient may lead to digestive discomfort (gas, bloating, constipation, or diarrhea) and possibly food cravings. In addition, the whey protein found in these products may come from a poor quality source, such as conventionally produced cow’s milk. This means it is produced from milk that is full of added antibiotics and other undesirable additives. Regular consumption of this type of ingredient produces changes in our endocrine and metabolic function, leads to a buildup of unhealthy chemicals in our bodies, and may possibly contribute to antibiotic resistance in humans. Also, highly altered or highly concentrated food ingredients tend to “crowd out” whole food ingredients. This means many low-carb and keto products lack beneficial vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients (plant compounds that help prevent disease and optimize health). Regular consumption of these products can contribute to low energy, brain fog, nutrient deficiencies, or general poor health.

When examining the ingredients of many low-carb and keto food products it’s easy to see that they simply do not offer the nourishment and long-lasting benefits we are seeking. Remember, our goal is to healthfully lose weight and/or optimize our health and longevity. If we regularly consume “keto friendly” products with undesirable ingredients we work against this goal and undermine our hard-earned efforts! If we want to create and maintain SUSTAINABLE SUCCESS our best bet is to choose REAL FOODS, food we can recognize in nature, foods we can grow, hunt, or fish). This will nourish our bodies and minds, help prevent food cravings, and lead us to great success! 

Reference: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29435959/