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Here's why people in Kent and Medway are trying the Keto diet

Growing numbers of people in Kent are continuing to embrace a diet branded "dangerous" by some health professionals.

The Ketogenic lifestyle appears to go against all conventional advice in that it involves consuming high amounts of fat and reducing carbohydrates to as low as 25g per day.

Typical foods on the Keto diet
Typical foods on the Keto diet

Followers typically eliminate all fast food, bread, pasta, potatoes, rice, breakfast cereals and sugary snacks and drinks - along with most fruit - in favour of 'superfoods' such as avocados, spinach, kale, sardines, eggs, and nuts and seeds.

It has some similarities to the controversial Atkins diet and has been popularised by celebrities including Kim Kardashian, Megan Fox and Halle Berry, due to the associated quick weight loss.

Some professional sportsmen have also jumped on the bandwagon with F1 driver Daniel Ricciardo among the high-profile figures to extol the virtues of Keto.

Dawn Waldron, a Tunbridge Wells-based lifestyle coach and nutritional therapist with 15 years' experience, reports a big increase in referrals from GPs and oncologists sending patients to her to get help with the Keto diet.

"Among my clients 10 years ago it was quite difficult for me to fill my clinic each week, now I turn people away," she said.

"There is no question that more and more people are interested in their nutrition and want to get advice from a neutral expert because people are confused.

"In gyms and personal training organisations people are learning about their metabolism much more and understanding the roles of carbohydrates and fats.

"It's not difficult to eat a Ketogenic diet made up of fresh fish and vegetables and Kent is very well supplied with good food producers."

Despite concerns about the Keto diet, there is medical evidence to suggest it can help reverse type 2 diabetes and be useful in the treatment of cancers, obesity and preventing Alzheimer's disease.

Kim Kardashian reportedly lost more than five stone on the Keto diet. Picture: Wikimedia Commons
Kim Kardashian reportedly lost more than five stone on the Keto diet. Picture: Wikimedia Commons

It is also used as a treatment for epilepsy in children by helping reduce seizures.

Ms Waldron turned to the diet in 2011 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, prompting a complete rethink about her lifestyle.

"I had a number of health problems as well as breast cancer and I had a two-and-a-half-year-old toddler and I wanted to stay alive," she said.

"So I went back to first principals and tried to look at what might be going on metabolically and stumbled across the idea of using fats for energy instead of carbohydrates to see what would happen.

Illustrative graphic
Illustrative graphic

"I wrote a book about the Ketogentic diet in 2012 [The Dissident Diet: the expert guide to ketogenic health: Discover the healthy way to eat to beat obesity, diabetes and cancer] which was way before the current craze for ketosis.

"I did a trial with 16 volunteers who all had lifelong weight problems - everybody lost about 21 pounds in 12 weeks so the results were amazing."

Latest advice on the NHS website warns against low carbohydrate diets, stating: "Cutting out carbohydrates from your diet could put you at increased risk of a deficiency in certain nutrients, leading to health problems, unless you're able to make up for the nutritional shortfall with healthy substitutes.

"When you are low on glucose, the body breaks down stored fat to convert it into energy.

Dawn Waldron
Dawn Waldron

"This process causes a build-up of ketones in the blood, resulting in ketosis.

"Ketosis as a result of a low carbohydrate diet can be linked, at least in the short term, to headaches, weakness, nausea, dehydration, dizziness and irritability.

"Try to limit the amount of sugary foods you eat and instead include healthier sources of carbohydrate in your diet such as wholegrains, potatoes, vegetables, fruits, legumes and lower fat dairy products."

Ms Waldron feels criticism about the Keto diet could be the result of confusion about the medical condition ketoacidosis, which can be fatal for people with diabetes if their body starts to run out of insulin.

"It [Keto] is still viewed as dangerous by the establishment," she admitted.

"Interestingly colostrum, which is the very first milk that is secreted after a baby is born, is primarily a ketogenic fuel so most babies - if they are not given formula - are going to be in ketosis for the first 48 hours of their lives which indicates it probably isn't an unhealthy state.

"Like all changing ideas, there are some people who are slow to adapt and who are looking for the negatives and quite rightly they want to be sure it is a safe thing to do.

"While it might not be the perfect diet for everybody, I haven't yet seen any research that makes me think that it is a dangerous diet."

Daniel Ricciardo has publicly admitted he's a fan of the Keto diet. Picture: Wikimedia Commons
Daniel Ricciardo has publicly admitted he's a fan of the Keto diet. Picture: Wikimedia Commons

Government advice about carbohydrate nutrition was last reviewed in 2015 and no changes were made to its guidelines, but Ms Waldron says there appears to be a groundswell of medical opinion now supportive of low-carb diets.

"What you can start to see is organisation like Diabetes UK starting to talk about low-carbing on their website so that's quite interesting," she said.

"There is a lot of research available to suggest that the current level of carbohydrates is too high for the majority of the population.

"I think there's some reluctance to change but from where I'm sitting the tide is definitely turning.

"I do wonder if there's worries about litigation [among health professionals] if the advice changes radically will people come back and say 'you told me to eat like this and now I've got diabetes' so I do wonder if there are some legal worries and definitely there are some corporate interests involved."

Diabetes UK offers advice on its website for people considering going on the Keto diet, saying it can be effective at controlling diabetes, lowering a person's blood glucose levels and helping them reduce weight.

"There is no question that more and more people are interested in their nutrition and want to get advice from a neutral expert because people are confused" - nutritionist Dawn Waldron

But the organisation's senior clinical advisor Emma Elvin said there was a big difference between a low-carb diet (less than 130g of carbs per day) and a Ketogenic diet (20-50g of carbs per day).

"We recommend low-carb diets to some people because we know that they can be helpful in losing weight, managing diabetes and reducing diabetes medications," she told KentOnline.

"However, we don't have long term evidence to show how people with diabetes can safely follow Ketogenic diets, so we can't recommend them.

"What is important is that people choosing these diets are supported to eat more foods that are known to be beneficial, including vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, dairy, seafood, pulses, and nuts.

"People should also be encouraged to reduce their intake of red meat and processed meat, sugar-sweetened foods, particularly sugar-sweetened drinks, and refined grains such as white bread."

Concerns about the diet have not stopped fitness model and Men's Physique competitor Arron Murphy from embracing Keto and offering advice to others seeking help via his Instagram account.

Scroll down to hear Arron Murphy's take on the keto diet

Arron Murphy came fourth at a recent International Federation of BodyBuilding & Fitness men's physique competition
Arron Murphy came fourth at a recent International Federation of BodyBuilding & Fitness men's physique competition

“I've been on it for around 10 months,” he said.

"I came across an article about insulin and the health benefits of the ketogentic diet and it really appealed to me and I thought 'why am I not doing this'.

"The benefits are sustained energy, good skin, great focus, really good sleep, also I'm never hungry.

"I'm quite a big eater and my hunger is completely suppressed."

Arron, 32, who lives in Twydall in Medway, also posts the results of regular blood checks to show his followers what he is eating has not harmed his health.

However, despite its apparent growing popularity, Public Health England (PHE) remains wary of low-carb diets.

Chief nutritionist Dr Alison Tedstone said: "High-fat diets are often high in calories and can lead to weight gain - this can increase the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.

"Too much saturated fat increases blood cholesterol, which also increases the risk of heart disease.

"Cutting out carbohydrates such as potatoes, rice and pasta goes against a healthy balanced diet.

"We recommend a balanced diet based on starchy high fibre carbohydrates which is also low in saturated fats."

Changes could be in the offing though, as the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), which advises PHE and governments, is consulting experts about a holding a comprehensive evidence review and draft advice about saturated fat and health.

It has also formed a separate working group with NHS England and Diabetes UK to review the evidence about lower carbohydrate diets (alongside higher fat and/or higher protein) compared to current government advice for adults with type 2 diabetes.

Officials say the aim is to publish the review and then put it out for consultation.

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