If you’re confused about the ketogenic diet and whether or not it’s a good option for you, I don’t blame you. You have likely heard it’s the best way to help you lose fat, lean up, decrease your appetite, combat diabetes and inflammation, and maybe even enhance your athletic performance. And you have probably also heard it’s not a sustainable way to eat, that your body needs carbs, that it causes cancer, and that that much fat is bad for your long-term health. Which one is it then? I’m not here to preach the ketogenic diet one way or another, but I’m here to give you a closer look at to what the yes side and the no side is saying.
What is the ketogenic diet:
Simply put, eating a ketogenic diet means you’re eating close to 75% fat, 20% protein and just 5% carbs. A true ketogenic diet would mean eating just 10 to 15 grams of carbs per day, which is equivalent to just one apple a day. Basically this means no sugar, no processed foods, little to no fruit, and just whole lot of healthy fats, animal products and some vegetables. Read more about exactly what you can and can’t eat on a ketogenic diet here: (https://www.perfectketo.com/full-ketogenic-diet-food-list/)
What are ketones and what is ketosis?
Ketones are a group of organic compounds, two of which can be used as energy sources in our bodies: acetoacetate and D-β-hydroxybutyrate. Our body can also make its own ketones under certain circumstances: when we’re fasting, during starvation, or when carbohydrates aren’t present (if carb levels are super low). These ketones are then released by the liver into the blood to then be used as energy by our body. More specifically, ketosis occurs when ketones in your blood are higher than normal (and blood glucose is very low). How fast you go into ketosis varies a lot by age. Interestingly, human beings go into ketosis a lot faster than other mammals—as we know, bears can hibernate for an entire winter without hitting ketosis. Meanwhile, young human babies will go into ketosis in just a few hours. Experts believe this has to do with how developed the human brain is; ketosis happens in humans to give our brains energy during times of starvation or fasting. So basically, the ketosis diet then cuts off our body’s glucose supply, forcing our bodies to use fat as energy, as opposed to glucose.
What the YES TEAM says:
- Helps Metabolic Diseases
There’s certainly some evidence that fasting is a short-term treatment for some metabolic diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes or chronic inflammation, and that ketosis can even help the body return to a normal, well-regulated state. Makes a ton of sense for the diabetes argument: Less sugar is sure to increase insulin deficiencies. Check out this study published in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism: (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1325029/) for more on the topic.
- Helps Brain Injuries and Degenerative Brain Diseases
Some research suggests that brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, as well as brain injuries, seem to be helped by the presence of ketones, but it’s important to note most of the research in this area hasn’t been done on humans.
- Best Way to Lose Fat
No doubt about it, people report they lean up when they’re following a ketogenic diet. However, this could be due to eating whole foods and avoiding processed foods as much as it is about eating all the fat and none of the carbs. Check out this study for more: (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27385608).
What the NO TEAM says
- Not a Sustainable Fat Loss Strategy
Contrary to many success stories, there’s a school of thought that doesn’t think such a high-fat diet is helpful for long-term weight loss. The reputable Precision Nutrition, for example, says this: “For women in particular, lowering carbohydrate intake seems to have negative effects. …Women’s bodies go on high alert faster when they sense less energy and fewer nutrients coming in. Many women have found that the low-carb diet that worked great for their husband not only didn’t work for them, but it knocked out their menstrual cycle on the way out the door.” As a result, “We don’t recommend the ketogenic diet for sustainable fat loss,” reported Krista Scott-Dixon, Ph.D. and Helen Kollias, Ph.Din their article, “The Ketogenic Diet:
Does it live up to the hype?” (https://www.precisionnutrition.com/ketogenic-diet)
- Unhealthy in the Long Term
Critics often argue it’s not healthy for long periods of time because it causes you to lose muscle and eventually become chronically fatigued, and can even do long term damage to the heart. However, this study that looked at obese patients who switched to the ketogenic diet suggests its perfectly healthy in the long term: (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2716748/) Then again, this study suggests the maximum time you should stay on a ketogenic diet is 6 to 12 months: (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3945587/)
Critics argue that the ketogenic diet doesn’t include enough plant-base foods, and that consuming too many animal products leads to various health problems down the road—all sorts of chronic diseases, cancer and ultimately premature death. Read more here: (https://www.mdanderson.org/publications/cancerwise/2018/04/the-keto-diet-and-cancer–what-patients-should-know.html).
We aren’t here to make a choice for you in one way or another. However, more often than not, what appears to be too good to be true, generally is. Extremes are exactly that, extremes! As a general rule, being physically active and eating a well balanced diet should be enough to support you in a healthy lifestyle.