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'Keto' Diet Rising In Popularity, But How Healthy Is It?

MIAMI (CBSMiami)- When it comes to getting in shape, people are always looking to try the latest and greatest and the ketogenic diet, or 'keto,' is one that is rising in popularity.

It's not uncommon to see 'keto friendly' items now at grocery stores, restaurants, or even coffee shops.

Many people have seen great success on this high-fat, low-carb lifestyle, including Monica Alvarez, a mother in Coral Gables.

"I wasn't able to run after my kids. It was bad," said Alvarez.

Once dangerously overweight, she decided it was time for a major change

Now, she stands in the kitchen cracking eggs to whip up a quick keto-friendly meal. 

"I used to have Diabetes, Type 2 Diabetes. I had high cholesterol and high triglycerides. After I did keto, it disappeared," Alvarez said. 

Having been on the diet for 19 months, she said she's lost 150 pounds.

A ketogenic diet is one that is high in fat, moderate in protein and extremely low in carbohydrates. 

It works by burning fat in the body, instead of carbs and sugar in a process called 'ketosis.' 

When the majority of carbs and sugar are removed from someone's diet, the body turns to the next source of energy, fat.

"Meat, eggs, cheese and leafy green vegetables," Alvarez showed CBS4, going through the fridge. 

Meanwhile, she makes a 'keto pancake,' which is not the typical flapjack. It's made with just cream cheese, eggs and a bit of cinnamon cooked in some butter. 

"I never felt hungry," said Alvarez, making it different from other diets she had tried.  

Bacon, butter, cheese, nuts, meat and avocados are all among items approved for the grocery list.

However, it begs the question: is this actually healthy?

"It really does make changes short term to weight, to diabetes and blood sugar levels," said Registered Dietician Ronni Litz Julien. "But that's mostly because of weight loss and not because of the chemistry of the diet itself."

Litz Julien said taking out carbohydrates means the person is eliminating calories, resulting in weight loss.  The weight loss isn't necessarily the result of the types of foods themselves. 

She also points out that removing food groups means removing nutrients. 

"We need potassium and fiber, and we need antioxidants," Litz Julien said.

While lowering carbohydrates is a common theme in diets, keto takes it more extreme by eliminating whole grains and even most fruit. 

"We do need a good complex carbohydrate. Whole grain, a brown rice, a quinoa," said Litz Julien.

A complex carbohydrate is one that is high in fiber.  

Litz Julien takes out items from her own cabinet, placing them on the counter. She sets out a loaf of whole grain bread, fiber cereal and some whole grain crackers. 

Flipping the box over, she points to the label. 

"I typically go for at least 3 grams of fiber," said Litz Julien.  

Nutritionally, she said there can be some serious health risks to keto. Research shows high fat and protein could affect your heart. Cutting out most fruits and grains removes vitamins and fiber. 

"Very few I've seen can sustain living without, in this case, carbohydrates," Litz Julien said. 

If you want to eat healthier, she suggests ditching 'dieting' altogether.

Instead, focus on a balance of lean protein, healthy fat and even, yes, complex carbohydrates. 

"If this isn't something you can do forever, that just means the weight comes back and your numbers go back up," said Litz Julien. "The more of that yo-yo up and down you do, by the way, the more damage it is to the heart and risk for other diseases."

However, Litz Julien said people need to do what works for their lifestyle. 

"The goal is to choose food to live a healthy long life in the way that is comfortable and the way you're able to sustain," Litz Julien said. 

For Alvarez, the ketogenic diet continues to be what works best for her and she said she's committed.  

"I feel like I found something that works and I can stick to it the rest of my life," Alvarez said.

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