There is a lot of hype around the ketogenic diet lately, which brings about a lot of questions as to whether or not this is the next weight loss fad or even safe to try.
What is the Ketogenic Diet?
If you don’t know much about the ketogenic diet, it is one that is high in fat, moderate in protein and low in carbs. A typical ketogenic diet consists of the following.
- About 70% of calories from high-quality fats such as avocado, unsaturated and medium-chain triglyceride oils, nuts and seeds, and coconut
- 20% of calories from proteins (fish, poultry, grass fed beef)
- About 10% of calories from healthy, complex carbs such as leafy greens, non-starchy vegetables, or a limited amount of legumes and berries
Is the Ketogenic Diet a Fad?
The ketogenic diet was actually developed in the 1920’s as a treatment for seizures. MCT oil was used in the treatment of epilepsy as early as 1971. Starting in the early 2000, Atkins became very popular which had a large emphasis on low carb and high fat. While Dr. Atkin did have some great ideas, this new and adapted ketogenic diet is much different in terms of what fats are promoted and also the fact that there is more of an emphasis on vegetable intake.
Ketosis is an adaptive metabolic process your body utilizes when there aren’t enough carbohydrates available to burn for energy. When carbs are scarce, your body adapts to burning fat instead and as a byproduct ketones are produced. Ketones have a very beneficial effect on hormones that often sabotage weight loss such as insulin, leptin and ghrelin. Not only can this help people lose weight but ghrelin and leptin control appetite, so those in ketosis tend to have the added benefit of reduced appetite and cravings.
Is there any research behind the Ketogenic Diet?
The process of ketosis is actually being widely researched at this point in everything from cancer, to neurodegenerative disease such as parkinsons and alzheimers. Latest research has also discovered benefits in drug resistant migraine and cluster headaches as well brain injuries such as concussion.
In terms of everyday life benefits, people in ketosis often find the following benefits.
- Increased Energy - It has been found that we are only able to store about 2000 kcals of extra energy in the form of “carbs” also known as muscle and liver glycogen. After that the excess amount of energy will be stored as fat which can hold over 40,000 kcals of energy. When in ketosis your body has a steady and long term access to energy stores often allowing people to avoid those hypoglycemic lows or hangry feelings that often accompany a high carbohydrate diet
- Better Lipid Control - Do you remember when health professionals would advocate for a lower fat diet when dealing with high cholesterol? According to recent research, a high fat/low carb diet has been shown to greatly reduce LDL, triglycerides and raises HDL. More importantly, it has been shown to be able to reduce the size of LDL particles (something that statin medications do not do). This is important because even if you have low/normal cholesterol but the size of your particles are small and dense you will have a significant increase risk for cardiovascular disease. These small dense LDL particles have been found to more easily penetrate the endothelial lining and initiate the inflammatory cascade. The high fat/low carb diet has been shown to increase the size of the LDL particles and therefore reduce overall cardiovascular risk.
Christophe Kosinski. Nutrients Review, 2017
- Blood Sugar Management - According to recent studies on diabetics, those on a ketogenic diet will lose more weight, reduce more diabetic medication and lower HbA1C levels than those following a higher carb diet.
Saslow et al. Nutrition and Diabetes, 2017
- Increased Focus - Ketone bodies have been found to improve mitochondrial function and metabolic efficiency by raising ATP levels in the brain and lowering oxidative stress. As a results when in ketosis people tend to feel much more alert and focused
D’Anci KE, Watts KL. Low-carbohydrate weight-loss diets. Effects on cognition and mood. Appetite. 2009
So does this mean that I think that everyone should adapt a ketogenic diet?
If you have certain neurodegenerative disease, that is a different story - but for average weight loss I believe that ketogenic diets are tools. Like pressing the control alt delete button on your computer, ketogenics diets can help to reset metabolism in those with sluggish weight loss, insulin resistance or other metabolic concerns.
If you are interested in trying a ketogenic diet, it is important to speak to a qualified and knowledgeable health professional. I don’t support the use of artificial sweeteners that are often allowed on these plans, nor do I like most people consuming copious amounts of dairy. I also do not believe in using this program long term, at least without some carbohydrates added back in. It is a tool, and an adaptive process that can get your system back on track, and then it is important to find a program that is sustainable and fits your lifestyle.