Note: Talk with your doctor before starting ANY diet/weight loss method. It’s important to educate yourself about any potential risks whenever you consider a diet. Going Keto/Ketogenic/Low Carb may be a great choice for someone else, but it may not be the right choice for you.
There has been quite a low-carb craze over the past few years and that only seems to be growing in popularity. A growing number of people want to know more about what they are eating and its effect on the body. Perhaps they are younger people doubting how healthy the average American diet is or the older generation looking for an answer to their health problems. Recently, there has been a buzz about how low carb diets, and American diets in general, should include more healthy fats.
“People who avoid carbohydrates and eat more fat, even saturated fat, lose more body fat and have fewer cardiovascular risks than people who follow the low-fat diet that health authorities have favored for decades, a major new study shows…
By the end of the yearlong trial, people in the low-carbohydrate group had lost about eight pounds more on average than those in the low-fat group. They had significantly greater reductions in body fat than the low-fat group, and improvements in lean muscle mass — even though neither group changed their levels of physical activity.” – The NY Times reported on this study.
One low-carb style diet under a lot of scrutiny and gaining a lot of fans is the ketogenic diet. While some people wholeheartedly back the benefits of this way of eating a Low Carb/High Fat Diet/Moderate Protein, it seems as though an equal number or more people claim it’s unhealthy. Most of this criticism is tied to old criticism about low carb diets, like the Atkins plan and the notion that “Fat is Bad”.
“Diets low in carbohydrates and higher in fat and protein have been commonly used for weight loss since Dr. Robert Atkins popularized the approach in the 1970s. Among the longstanding criticisms is that these diets cause people to lose weight in the form of water instead of body fat, and that cholesterol and other heart disease risk factors climb because dieters invariably raise their intake of saturated fat by eating more meat and dairy.” – Source
Like so many diets that contradict what is traditional or what is in a government food pyramid, keto diets are largely misunderstood – even by doctors- mostly due to a lack of research. Serious, adverse reactions have been seen in people using a Keto diet and some see it as a treatment for disease more so than a diet that should be used for weight loss.
History of the Ketogenic Diet
Though it may be in the spotlight right now ketogenic diets certainly aren’t new. In fact, the ketogenic diet was developed in 1924 by Dr. Russell Wilder as a treatment for epilepsy. Despite being very successful, the ketogenic diet unfortunately wasn’t able to maintain its popularity as anti-seizure medication took over in the ‘40s. Many people felt that a pill was an easier fix than a diet.
To this day there are many people that successfully use the ketogenic diet to maintain their epileptic condition and prevent seizures from occurring. One organization that promotes this diet for epileptic conditions is The Charlie Foundation which has been successful for 21 years now.
For the non-epileptic, the ketogenic diet still holds a lot of promise as a means to weight loss and overall improved health. I must note however, that in my opinion this diet is not for people with blood sugar issues, diabetes, kidney issues or cirrhosis of the liver. Not everyone can drastically reduce their carbohydrate intake or eat a diet that is rich in fats. For example, if you are on insulin or blood sugar medication and you remove all carbs from you diet, that could be a serious problem.
It is a drastic change for most people, illness or not, so please make a doctor’s visit before embarking on this way of eating. I have seem commentary online from people with diabetes or pre-diabetes and insulin resistance who sing the praises of Keto. However, I can’t recommend it universally due to the potential risk.
How does it work?
When you are on a Keto diet, your body uses fat (lipid energy) instead of glycogen from carbs/sugars as fuel for the body.
“What exactly is Ketosis? The metabolic state of ketosis simply means that the quantity of ketone bodies in the blood have reached higher-than-normal levels. When the body is in a ketogenic state, this means that lipid energy metabolism is intact. The body will start breaking down your own body fat to fuel the body’s normal, everyday functions.” – Bodybuilding.com
Benefits of the Ketogenic Diet
There are a lot of benefits people find when they change to a ketogenic diet. The following are some of the most common.
- It Reduces Appetite
The combination of protein, healthy fat, lack of grains and low number of carbs means you feel satiated more quickly and for longer. Many studies (see below) find that participants on the keto diet never complained of hunger, despite eating less.
- It’s More Effective for Weight Loss
Ketogenic diets are incredibly successful for healthy weight loss as going into Ketosis causes your body to use fat as energy. Many people find that they begin losing weight very quickly even without exercise.
- Visceral Fat is Greatly Reduced
Many diets can help reduce subcutaneous fat, like the jiggle on your legs and arms, but few are as effective as getting rid of visceral fat. Visceral fat is the dangerous fat on the abdomen that surrounds the organs.
- Increase Good Cholesterol
Not all cholesterol is bad. HDL is actually a lipoprotein that carrier cholesterol away from the body and towards the liver where it can be used or excreted. Traditional diets increase LDL which does the opposite of HDL. (more info)
- Naturally Improves Blood Sugar
Carbs break down into mostly glucose which increase insulin and blood sugar. By keeping carbs to a minimum and obtaining them only from plant or animal sources, blood sugar levels don’t experience spikes. This is also the reason why people with blood sugar issues have to be careful and seek a doctor’s care when trying a Keto diet. If their blood sugar drops too rapidly, that could be a serious health issue.
- Lower Blood Pressure
Hypertension is dangerous as it increase the chance of stroke, heart attack and organ failure. Studies have shown that those who eat low carbs have lowered blood pressure. (more info on this from WebMD)
- Helps to Heal Brain and Mental Health Issues
The brain physically and psychologically improves on low-carb diets like keto. This diet provides the brain with ketones which it can burn. Glucose is provided naturally by the liver. The epilepsy example given early is excellent proof as to how healing ketogenic diets are for the brain. (more info)
Ketogenic and low-carb diets have been studied quite extensively and in nearly every study they come out on top as more beneficial for the participants. You can find a reference list to ketogenic/low-carb studies by clicking here.
Pursing any type of new diet, particularly one with dietary food group exclusions, requires research on your part. It is always a good idea to consult your doctor before starting a new diet. He/she may point out concerns you had not considered based on your unique situation. If you have questions about this way of eating, you may want to find a dietitian or nutritionist who has some experience with low carb diets and general nutrition. There are also books on the market to help those who want to learn more about going Keto. There is no one size fits all plan, so do your research.
I’d talked about the benefits a lot, so let me present some balance. Here are some articles that talk about the pros and cons of Keto and Ketosis: