The ketogenic diet is becoming increasingly popular. But is it good? Will you lose weight? What are the pros and cons?
Here is a breakdown of what the ketogenic diet is, if it is right for you and some of the possible benefits and drawbacks of the diet.
First of all, I don’t normally support any kind of specific “diet.” I think having a mindset of restriction and avoiding certain foods, unless it is for allergy reasons, typically isn’t successful in the longterm. I think the problem of weight gain begins simply with eating to many processed and high sugar foods. If we make small changes in our diet to eliminate these foods, weight loss would occur more naturally. Eliminating these foods is essentially the basis for most diets, including Whole 30, Mediterranean, Paleo, Ketogenic, etc. The problem is that is usually in more of a dramatic way, so it leads to quick but unsustainable weight loss.
Secondly, please be cautious of trying this diet if you have any kidney problems or low-blood sugar issues. If you have any disease such as diabetes, heart conditions, etc. please consult your doctor before trying this diet. Now on to the specifics of the ketogenic diet.
The ketogenic diet is not new by any means. It was originally studied over 100 years ago as a diet that helped children with epilepsy. When the body is in state of ketosis children with epilepsy tend to experience less seizures and it has been proven to be a successful diet for treatment, sometimes even more than medication.
The Adkins diet, if you remember- a low-carbohydrate fad diet, also started with a 2-week, very low-carbohydrate, ketogenic phase.
The ketogenic diet is a very low-carbohydrate, moderate protein, high-fat diet. The breakdown is typically 75-80% fat, 20% protein and only 5% carbs, or 20-50 grams of carbohydrate (normal diets are around 200-300 grams per day). This ratio of macronutrients (fat, carbohydrate, and protein) puts your body into a state of ketosis.
Here’s where we get a little “sciencey” so stick with me. The body has two main sources of energy, glucose and ketones. Glucose is made from the breakdown of carbohydrates and is the primary or preferred source of energy in the body, especially the brain. Glucose is stored in our body as glycogen. When our body runs out of glycogen, as it does when we limit carbohydrate intake, it turns to breaking down fat. Fat needs to be broken down into molecules small enough to be used for energy, these molecules are called ketone bodies. The processes of breaking down fat into ketone bodies is called ketosis.
Once most of your cells are using ketone bodies as energy, rather than the glucose in your blood, you are in ketosis. This will happen until you consume adequate carbohydrate amounts to replenish your stores. The process usually takes a 2-7 days of eating less than 20-50 grams of carbohydrates. The amount of time and amount of carbohydrate restriction to get into a state of ketosis will depend on the individual.
Foods that are high in fats and proteins with low or no carbohydrates. People who follow this diet eat plenty of:
Read more about carbohydrates here.
As I said in the intro, there is proven evidence that the ketogenic diet reduces seizure in children.
There is also research showing people following a ketogenic diet have lost more weight in less time than those following a low-fat diet or even a mediterranean diet. Along with weight loss people have experienced better blood sugar control and slightly lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.
Many of these studies are short term studies and the weight loss will plateau over time. The other thing to keep in mind is that these studies are highly controlled and are often being compared to a low-fat diet.
It is a hard diet to stick to because it is so strict. It is hard for people to restrict carbohydrates to less than 15% of the total diet for the long term. The average American diet is closer to 50% carbohydrates. Any “fad” diet often ends up as a “yo-yo” situation where people lose weight and then gain the weight again. If you are using this as an opportunity to learn about eating less sugar, less processed foods and more fresh vegetables that is great but it needs to be a lifestyle choice and not result in a feeling of restriction. If you are constantly feeling restricted from avoiding high carbohydrate foods, as soon as the diet is over you will go back to your old ways.
Additionally, many people use the high fat, moderate protein diet as an excuse to eat processed meats while still not adding vegetables into their diet. Just because bacon and butter are allowed on the diet does not mean it is a healthy option. You still have to make a point to make sure you are eating plenty of fibrous vegetables to get your vitamins and minerals. These foods can also lead to constipation if you are not eating enough fiber and drinking enough water.
If you do choose to follow the ketogenic diet be sure to make vegetables the star of the plate at every meal. Include plenty of seeds, avocado, olive oil, and limiting processed foods including meats and other “keto” friendly packaged foods.
Overall I believe the best diet is not a diet at all but a lifestyle choice of eating whole, unprocessed foods, full of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, lean proteins, olive and coconut oils, whole grains and limiting sugary foods. There is plenty of evidence showing eating these foods can lead to a healthy weight, less heart disease, less diabetes, lower rates of cancer and can lead to a longer more vibrant lifestyle in a sustainable way.
For more information on healthy eating and creating a sustainable diet read this post.
If you have any other questions or are considering ketogenic or other diet please feel free to make a consultation with me to discuss.