Are you looking to make a dietary change?
Associate Professor and researcher in U of T’s Department of Nutritional Sciences Dr. John Sievenpiper talks about the difference between low-carb and keto diets.

One of the best decisions I ever made for my personal health was adopting a ketogenic—or “keto”—diet. Before keto, I would feel gassy and tired after meals and was generally conscious about my weight. Since reducing my carb intake, however, I have lost weight, increased my energy, and improved my productivity. Simple in theory, the diet mostly involves replacing high carb foods with available low-carb alternatives such as chickpea pasta and lettuce wraps

In practice, however, keto is more complex than it seems. It’s crucial that a person understands everything about the diet to make an informed decision when trying it out. The Medium spoke to Dr. John Sievenpiper, an associate professor for the Department of Nutritional Studies at U of T, who describes keto as a “variant of a low-carb diet [that] is often conflated with all low carbohydrate diets, [which keto is] not, because it’s actually very high in fat [and protein].” 

“There are many different [healthy and unhealthy] ways to do [low-carb diets],” says Dr. Sievenpiper, as they mainly involve a focus on micro-nutrients and certain foods. The most important aspect of these diets is understanding where they line up on the glycemic index. 

“The glycemic index (GI) is a scale that ranks a carbohydrate-containing food or drink by how much it raises blood glucose after it is eaten or drank,” according to Diabetes Canada. “Foods with a high GI increase blood glucose higher and faster than foods with a low GI,” their website adds. Low glycemic index foods slow the body’s absorption of carbohydrates and boost metabolism

One example of an ingredient that Dr. Sievenpiper recommends to his patients is psyillum husk. Psyillum husk is a kind of fiber supplement that lowers cholesterol, aids in the relief of digestive issues, and regulates blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. For this reason, psyllium husk is a popular ingredient in low-carb cooking and baking.

Different approaches to low-carb diets have their own advantages and disadvantages. For example, in a 2020 study published in Nutrition Reviews, Dr. Sievenpiper found that the “Eco-Atkins” diet, a low-carb diet centered on plant proteins, decreased low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in participants because of fiber consumed through plants. This diet may in turn induce weight loss. “A lot of the benefit may be from just restricting foods [and] cutting calories due to eating less,” says Dr. Sievenpiper.

Low-carb diets, namely keto, require a high intake of animal products such as processed meats that may “increase LDL cholesterol [and increase the risk of] certain cardiovascular diseases,” Dr. Sievenpiper says. Such risk factors devalue any potential benefits of weight loss. To counter this issue, Dr. Sievenpiper stresses the importance of knowing the extremes your diet should follow so that it may be a sustainable long-term commitment. 

Transcultural diets are one key to sustainability. Try out new and different recipes but also make foods that are familiar to you and align with your dietary restrictions. I have adopted this method myself by exploring keto-friendly recipes for baked goods, for example, and this has certainly helped me sustain the lifestyle. 

Remember, there are different ways of doing low-carb diets, so be sure to choose the version that works for you. It’s also possible that a low-carb diet may not be for you at all. 

Staff Writer (Volume 49 & 50) — Yusuf is in his fourth year completing a double major in English and Cinema Studies and a minor in History of Religions. He first joined The Medium in 2022 when he sought to get involved in the on-campus community. He has developed strong writing skills throughout the experience and enjoys learning about new topics he wouldn’t know about otherwise. You can connect with Yusuf on LinkedIn.


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