The Keto Diet: Facts & Misconceptions
The Ketogenic or “keto” diet is one of the hottest diet trends today, but what is it exactly? The Ketogenic diet is a low carbohydrate, high fat, moderate protein plan introduced in the 1920s as a therapeutic diet to treat medical conditions. Keto was most commonly used to treat epilepsy in children for which medication was ineffective.
Today, many have turned to this diet as a tool for weight loss due to the low-carbohydrate aspect, but how does it actually work?
How the Keto Diet Works
Carbohydrates are the body’s primary source of energy and is essential for many major processes. The idea of the ketogenic diet is to replace your carbohydrates with fat for energy.
When your body is deprived of carbohydrates, the body goes into a catabolic state--the break down of fat and muscle. Once your glucose stores have been depleted, your body then looks for an alternative energy source; this is known as ketogenesis.
This ketogenic state produces ketone bodies that accumulate in the blood and is then used as a primary source of energy. While in this state, fat is not being stored and is instead being broken down and used to ultimately sustain the body.
Some Stats on Keto
The average American diet consists of approximately 55% carbohydrates, or roughly 200 to 350 grams per day. The ketogenic diet cuts carbohydrates down to an average of 5-10% and increases fat intake anywhere from 55-80% of total daily calories. Too much protein intake on the keto diet is said to prevent ketosis; Therefore, protein is kept at a moderate level of 20-35% of total daily calories.
The percentages of fat, carbohydrate and protein are individualized based on a combination of your body mass index (BMI), body fat percentage and resting metabolic rate (BMR), so not everyone will have the same numbers to follow.
Foods That You Can and Cannot Have
This diet does not have any boundaries when it comes to fatty foods. It allows not only unsaturated fat, but saturated fats as well, to meet the high fat intake demands. This includes fatty meats such as beef and pork, butter, high-fat dairy products as well as nuts, seeds, fatty fish such as salmon, coconut oil and avocado.
Foods that are eliminated with the keto diet include: all grains and starches such as bread, pasta, rice, quinoa, corn and flour. Other banned foods include fruits and fruit juices, beans and legumes, sweeteners and root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots and parsnips.
The carbohydrate portion of the diet can be met with non-starchy vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce/spinach, peppers and zucchini to name a few. Berries and nuts also provide carbohydrates and are allowable when following a keto diet.
Are the Benefits Worth it?
There is growing research linking the ketogenic diet with weight loss. Researchers have estimated that weight loss from this diet can be due to increased fat loss, improved insulin sensitivity, increased calorie expenditure, as well as an increase in sense of fullness (satiety) and decreased appetite simply by being in a state of ketosis in the short-term.
Research suggests calorie intake is reduced due to limited food options, resulting in weight loss as well. But as a fair warning, diets that are restrictive (such as this one) are challenging to maintain long-term. There have also been significant studies showing the ketogenic diet may have positive outcomes in patients with neurological disorders in addition to weight loss benefits.
As a caveat though, all of this is pulled from short-term data. There is little research for the keto diet long-term, but it is suggested that there may be an increased risk for kidney stones, bad cholesterol or LDL cholesterol, hypoglycemia, vitamin and mineral deficiencies and electrolyte imbalances.
Does the Ketogenic Diet Actually Work for Weight Loss?
There is no real answer to this question, or for any diet out there for that matter. Bottom line-weight loss was not the intended purpose of this diet. The research overwhelmingly shows that this diet has significant advantages when used therapeutically for epilepsy and other medical conditions when carefully managed by health care professionals.
While there is some research that “going keto” may have a positive impact on weight loss and overall health, the figures are only for a short period of time. Diets high in saturated fat have always been associated with increasing the risk for heart disease, but in regards to the ketogenic diet it has not fully been studied. The long-term research is lacking and that leaves many questions unanswered as far as safety, longevity and side effects.