I am not a fan of the keto diet, particularly as a registered dietitian specializing in sports and performance nutrition and plant based eating. In my opinion, a traditional keto plan is far too limited in carbs and fiber, and the emphasis on animal based foods, like red meat, has been linked to an increase in inflammation and health risks. And those are just a few of my concerns.
Now, a new version of keto, called keto 2.0, aims to resolve some of these limitations. It allows for more carbs, emphasizes healthier plant based fats, and as a result may be more sustainable long term and better for your health (note: the jury is out on the latter, as the diet hasn’t been studied). Here’s my take on it as a nutritionist, and my bottom line advice on how to determine the best diet for you, not just for weight loss, but for your overall health of mind, body, and spirit.
What is keto 2.0?
When keto began to bubble up, I hoped it would be a passing fad. But it has turned into quite the dietary juggernaut. In a traditional keto diet, 75-90% of the calories come from fat, about 5% from carbs, and the remaining percent from protein. (On a 1600-calorie diet, that’s just 80 calories from carbs, or 20 grams.)
Those strict macros wind up forcing people to forego fruits, whole grains, and healthy, higher-carb veggies, and instead load up on products that are carb- and fiber-free, like cheese and pepperoni. And even with weight loss, I have seen this eating pattern result in spikes in “bad” LDL cholesterol, in addition to other unpleasant side effects, including constipation, hemorrhoids, and irritability.
In keto 2.0, the proposed macros shift to 50% fat, 20% carb, and 30% protein. For that same 1600-calorie diet, that’s now 320 from carbs, or 80 grams worth. While still limiting overall, this modification makes room for more plant based foods, like fresh fruit, oats, and lentils.
As for fat, one of the reasons keto works so well for weight loss (healthfulness aside) is because fat is highly satiating. At 50%, keto 2.0 is still high enough in fat to promote fullness and delay the return of hunger, which helps prevent overeating.
Also important: Keto 2.0 emphasizes leaner protein sources, like fish in place of steak. Perhaps most importantly, a higher allowance of plant based foods and fiber better supports the growth of beneficial microbes in the gut tied to anti-inflammation, immunity, and positive mood.
So, is keto 2.0 healthy?
“Healthy” may be a stretch, but compared to the standard keto diet, keto 2.0 is better, and much closer to a traditional Mediterranean Diet, long considered a gold standard for weight loss and health. That said, I’m not convinced that this revamped keto plan is the most ideal diet.
First, the keto 2.0 macros would be difficult to achieve for those who chose to follow an entirely plant-based diet. It’s important to note that a primarily plant based diet has been tied to lower BMI (body mass index), a reduced risk of chronic diseases, and improved longevity, in addition to being better for the planet.
This connects to the bigger issue, which is that healthful, sustainable weight loss is less about your exact macro ratio, and more about the quality and balance of what you eat. For example, while I don’t believe there is a one-size-fits-all approach to dieting, in my two decades of counseling clients, I’ve seen that long-term weight management and better health often results from nixing processed foods, eating plenty of non-starchy veggies and plant-based fats, opting for lean sources of protein, and eating whole-food carbs that match your body’s energy demands.
Noticed I mentioned carbs in that last paragraph—that’s because many people have come to believe that carbs are inherently fattening, and that’s not accurate. Carbs become problematic for weight management and health when they’re highly processed (stripped of nutrients and fiber, and combined with man made additives and/or sugar), and when the amount consumed exceeds your body’s ability to burn them—even healthy carbs. But, nixing carbs completely, or severely restricting them is also not the solution. Balance is key.
Should you try the keto 2.0 diet?
Overall, keto 2.0 is closer to a balanced diet that standard keto—it ticks some of the key nutritional boxes, like more fiber, the inclusion of plant based fats, and leaner proteins. But, it still may not be 100% right for you.
Ideally, we need to get away from these all-or-nothing extreme diets and focus on balance and food quality. For long term weight loss and optimal health, it’s also important to consider how any particular diet makes you feel. Evaluate your energy, mental focus, sleep, digestive health, workout quality and recovery, immune function, mood, and happiness. If you’re eating in a way that detracts from your mental and physical well being, or negatively impacts your quality of life, it’s not supporting your health, even if you are losing weight; and it probably won’t be sustainable.
Still, if you want to give keto 2.0 a try, go for it. Just keep in mind that it’s always important to listen to your body and your gut instinct. And it’s OK to make tweaks to your eating plan that feel like a better fit, even if they aren’t in line with the newest trend.
Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health's contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a private practice performance nutritionist who has consulted for five professional sports teams.
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