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Sylvain CharleboisAre you on the ketogenic diet?

Apparently, many people are or have tried it in the last year or so. It may be the most popular dietary trend in North America right now. Over the last 12 months, the word ‘keto’ was the most googled food-related topic in the world, not just in Canada.

The ketogenic diet is certainly not for everyone but the numbers show that this trend is not going away anytime soon.

The ketogenic diet is one of any number of options out there. The world of diets is more fragmented than ever, as we seem to compartmentalize consumers, putting them in boxes with labels. Flexitarian, vegan, pescatarian, raw food, Atkins, you name it, there’s a diet for you.

But it’s difficult to measure the number of people following a certain diet. On a given day, a consumer could follow two or three diets. We all have different approaches to diet and nutrition, as we have different needs and tastes. Most of us don’t give our diet a name.

We don’t know for sure how many Canadians are following the ketogenic diet, but we believe the number is growing. A recent poll conducted by Dalhousie University tells us that 26 per cent of Canadians have either adopted the keto diet, have tried it or have considered trying it in the last 18 months.

In fact, one of Canada’s best-selling food books is about the ketogenic diet.

The ketogenic diet is basically a deliberate switch from carbohydrates to proteins and fats. There are different kinds of ketogenic diets, but essentially, the diet is about reducing carbohydrate intake.

Developed and named in the 1920s to treat children with seizure disorders, the keto diet, as many people call it, puts the human body into a metabolic state known as ketosis. Ketosis occurs when your body metabolizes fat instead of carbohydrates to produce energy. In other words, with less sugar, the body will eventually lose weight. It can also help control type 2 diabetes.

Foods not allowed on a ketogenic diet include sugary items, grains and starches, bread, alcohol, most fruit, beans and legumes.

This is a potential nightmare for some but a godsend for others trying to lose weight fast.

It’s not recommended for people who exercise vigorously, as it can restrict the body’s access to sugars during an intense workout.

What’s unique about the ketogenic diet is that we’re starting to see many food products indicating their suitability for a ketogenic diet on their labels. Many food product launches target consumers following this diet. This is certainly a sign that the diet is gaining strength and popularity.

However, even if it has been around for decades, little is known about the suitability of the diet for the average person. It remains premature to state whether this diet can be medically popularized. Many studies are underway to see whether this type of diet is beneficial.

So anyone thinking about adopting the keto diet should proceed with great caution or consult their doctor first.

The choice to follow the ketogenic diet also comes at a price. One recent report suggests that it’s anywhere from five to 10 per cent more expensive than a regular diet without restrictions.

In the end, diet trends and fads are often an opportunity for the food industry to reflect on its innovation portfolio. And until the last two to three years, innovative ideas in the food industry have been scarce.

When a movement like this gets traction, it opens a variety of possibilities for the sector. A new pathway to better-quality food products, adapted to our modern lifestyles, is likely to reach grocery stores.

For years, gluten-free products were sub-par. Then a larger number of consumers started to seek out these products, for one reason or another. Today, these products taste better and are of high quality.

With vegetarian and vegan options, the same phenomenon is occurring. This is the Beyond Meat legacy.

It’s hard to tell where the keto diet trend will lead. It remains a medical mystery. But the marketing appears to be gaining steam and that may continue for some time.

Smart consumers will carefully consider any ketogenic options found in a grocery store.

Dr. Sylvain Charlebois is senior director of the agri-food analytics lab and a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University, and a senior fellow with the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies.

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