The Benefits and Drawbacks of the Ketogenic Diet
Was losing weight one of your New Year’s resolutions? If so, how is it going? If you are like me, you are one of the many North Americans trying to lose weight. But, with so many diets out there, how do you choose the right one?
For instance, the ketogenic diet is all the rage right now, but the question is “Does it really work”, and more importantly, “Is it healthy for you?”
Join me as I delve into the science behind this popular diet, and outline the benefits and drawbacks!
First of all, what is the ketogenic diet?
The ketogenic diet is a diet that is high in fat, contains moderate amounts of protein, and very little carbohydrate. If you are on a ketogenic diet, you can expect your diet to contain 55% to 60% fat, 30% to 35% protein, and 5% to 10% carbohydrate. On a 2000 kcal per day diet, this translates to 20 to 50g of carbohydrate a day.
Whoa! 55% to 60% of this diet is fat- isn’t that unhealthy, you may ask? I will answer that question later, but for now, let’s delve into what happens to your body when you are on a ketogenic diet.
Ok, what happens to my body on the ketogenic diet?
To answer this question, we first of all need to understand what happens when you eat enough carbohydrate (as in a typical North American diet).
When you eat enough carbohydrate, your body breaks the carbohydrate down to simple sugars. These sugars in turn provide your body with energy.
If on the other hand you are on a ketogenic diet, your body does not have enough carbohydrate to use as a fuel source. So, your body goes kaput, right? Actually, your body is quite smart- it looks for an alternative source of energy! Your body breaks down fat from your fat cells to form ketone bodies which are used to fuel your body. You are now in a state of ketosis.
What else happens during ketosis? The hormone insulin drops, which reduces the stimulus that tells your body to store fat and sugars.
What are some of the benefits of the ketogenic diet?
· A ketogenic diet may help you lose weight fast!
Research has shown that in the early stages of this diet, you can expect to lose up to 10 lbs in 2 weeks or even less. Granted, some of this is water weight, but still, this is outstanding weight loss.
Research has also shown that you can expect to lose more weight on the ketogenic diet than the standard low fat, high carbohydrate diet (which was touted for years as the diet to follow). What a bombshell! In fact recent research now concludes that “there is no sound evidence for recommending low-fat diets.”
Why is the ketogenic diet such an effective diet for weight loss?
Well, for starters, this diet encourages your body to burn fat and prevents it from storing fat. In addition, it is better at maintaining your basal metabolic rate (the calories that your body burns in order to keep you alive).
Why is this important? When you have a higher basal metabolic rate, you lose more weight. However, when you go on a diet, the body goes into starvation mode and lowers your basal metabolic, making it harder for you to lose weight and easier for you to gain all the weight back (with a vengeance) when you stop dieting!
Also, do you know how dieting can leave you feeling hungry and so moody that you want to eat anything and everything in sight? Well, research shows that the ketogenic diet helps you feel full and improves your mood. Move over roaring lion!
· A ketogenic diet may be good for your heart
Yes, you heard that right- a diet high in fat may be good for your heart! Why? Losing just 5% to 10% of your body weight can reduce your risk for heart disease. As the ketogenic diet can do this and more, it makes it a good diet for your heart.
But beyond the heart benefits produced by weight loss, the ketogenic diet improves your HDL (good cholesterol levels), and reduces your blood triglycerides. The ketogenic diet does increase your LDL (bad cholesterol); however, it increases the size of your LDLs. Having larger LDLs can help protect against heart disease.
· A ketogenic diet may be helpful if you suffer from diabetes
Do you suffer from type 2 diabetes? A ketogenic diet may be the diet to follow to improve your blood sugars and reduce your need for diabetic medications! In a study in which diabetic patients followed a ketogenic diet for 16 weeks, 25% of the participants were able to discontinue their medications, while another 36% of patients were able to reduce their medication levels.
Furthermore, another study comparing the ketogenic diet to a low glycemic index diet (a standard diet for diabetics) found that 95% of those who were on the ketogenic diet reduced or no longer needed their diabetic medications compared to 62% for those on the low glycemic index diet.
· A ketogenic diet may be helpful if you suffer from epilepsy
Yes, the ketogenic diet may be the new kid on the block when it comes to weight loss, but did you know that the ketogenic diet has been used for almost 100 years to treat epilepsy? It was first used to treat severe childhood epilepsy in the 1920s, but later fell by the curbside with the introduction of anticonvulsant medications. It has made a resurgence in later years to treat epilepsy that does not respond well to medications.
The ketogenic diet sounds good, but are there any side effects?
Yes. When you first start this diet, you may suffer from what is known as the “keto flu”. This consists of symptoms such as nausea, headaches, vomiting, fatigue, dizziness, insomnia, exercise intolerance and constipation. The good news is that this keto flu disappears after a few days to a few weeks. By staying well-hydrated and ensuring you are getting enough electrolytes, you can avoid some of these symptoms.
Some of the long-term side effects of this diet include kidney stones, hepatic steatosis (the buildup of fat in your liver) and hypoproteinemia (low levels of protein in your blood). You may also not be getting enough vitamins and minerals in your diet.
Are there any special cautions or contraindications to the Ketogenic Diet?
Yes. If you are diabetic, you need to make sure you adjust your diabetic medications before starting this diet as this diet can cause severe hypoglycemia (a drop in your blood sugars that can be life-threatening).
In addition, if you suffer from pancreatitis, liver failure, fat metabolism disorders, and various disorders including those that prevent you from using fats for energy, you should not be on this diet.
Also, be aware, as this diet can on occasion, give you a false positive alcohol breath test.
What foods can I eat on the Ketogenic Diet?
· Meat (especially fatty cuts): Meat is a good source of protein and fat, particularly if you choose fattier cuts. Examples of good keto-friendly meats include bacon, prosciutto, steak, lamb, chicken thighs, sausage and ground beef.
· Fatty fish: Fatty fish is a good source of protein and fat. Examples of these include mackerel, trout, salmon and tuna.
· Eggs: Eggs are good sources of protein and fat. You can prepare them in a number of ways: boiled, fried, scrambled, or as omelettes.
· Cheese: Cheese is a good source of protein and fat. Examples include ricotta cheese, parmesan cheese, cheddar cheese and mozzarella cheese.
· Nuts and seeds: Nuts and seeds are good sources of protein and fat. Though they contain some carbohydrates, a lot of this carbohydrate is fiber, which attenuates the carbohydrate content.
· Vegetables that are low in carbohydrates: On a ketogenic diet, you want to avoid vegetables such as starchy vegetables that are high in carbohydrates. Opt instead for low carbohydrate vegetables such as leafy vegetables (arugula, lettuce, kale, spinach), mushrooms, broccoli, zucchini, and cucumber.
Curious as to what a one-day Ketogenic Diet meal plan might look like? Here are some ideas!
Breakfast: 2 slices bacon and 1 large fried egg
Snack: 1 slice cheddar cheese
Lunch: Beefsteak with butter and garden salad (romaine lettuce, cucumbers, onions, and 6 cherry tomatoes)
Snack: 1 oz. Brazil nuts
Dinner: Grilled chicken thighs with butter and garden salad
Conclusion of the Benefits of the Ketogenic Diet.
The ketogenic diet can help you lose weight fast and help you lose more weight than a standard low fat diet. It also helps you burn more calories while you are at rest. Additionally, it keep you feeling full and improves your mood! Aside from helping you lose weight, this diet can also help you control your blood lipids, blood sugars, and epilepsy.
However, one drawback is that it tends to be deficient in minerals and vitamins, substances which tend to occur in plant-based, albeit carbohydrate-rich foods. As a result, you may want to ensure you are taking a multi-vitamin and/or ensure that your intake of low-carbohydrate vegetables is adequate if you are on this diet.
On the basis of these points, I would give the ketogenic diet 4 stars out of 5. Happy dieting!
Ellie Whitney & Sharon Rady Rolfes. Understanding Nutrition: Chapter 4. , 2007.