The ketogenic diet has been increasingly used for weight loss recently. So what is it and does it really help?
Let's try to analyze this diet.
What is the ketogenic diet?
Traditionally the healthy balanced diet consists of 45-50% of healthy carbs, 10-20% of protein and 30-40% of fat. The ketogenic diet is high fat, adequate protein, and very low carb diet. Typically it involves 70-80% of fat, 10 % protein and 5-10% of carbs. In MCT ketogenic diet foods high in MCT( medium chain triglycerides) like coconut oils are used with some liberation in carbs intake.
People on this diet are advised to eat more meat, butter, fish, eggs, nuts, and some vegetables. Whole grains, beans, legumes, and many fruits are not allowed. In short, it is a very high fat and severely restricted carb diet. The keto diet has been shown in medical studies to improve seizure control, especially in pediatric patients. It has been used in pediatric patients with the seizure disorder for almost 100 years now.
But how about weight loss?
Let's try to understand the medical science behind the weight loss effect of the keto diet. Conventionally our body ( especially our brain) utilizes primarily glucose for energy supply. Glucose is mainly obtained from carbs in our diet. But when we severely restrict carbohydrates in our diet body has no other option but to start using fat for energy supply. It breaks down fat into little chemical particles known as ketone bodies. These ketone bodies are then used by our body and brain as a fuel. In the short term, the ketogenic diet can help lose weight due to the following mechanisms. 1) Restore insulin balance- very low carb diet minimize the blood sugar spikes which in turn can lower blood insulin level. Lower insulin level helps the body release more fat for energy supply. 2) The high amount of ketone bodies in blood also can cause and nausea and suppress appetite.
How about long term benefits?
There are some facts to consider when we try to evaluate long term health benefits of the ketogenic diet
1)Most studies have found that at 12 or 24 months, the benefits of a low-carb diet are not very large.
2)A report from the American Heart Association, the American College of Cardiology and the Obesity Society concluded that there isn't enough evidence to say whether most low-carbohydrate diets provide heart-healthy benefits.
3) Very low carbohydrate intake in the long term can result in vitamin or mineral deficiencies, bone loss, and gastrointestinal disturbances and may increase risks of various chronic diseases.
4) Because low-carb diets may not provide necessary nutrients, these diets aren't recommended as a method of weight loss for preteens and high schoolers.
5)With large amounts of fat and protein from animal sources risks of heart disease or certain cancers may actually increase.
6) Selenium deficiency – Selenium deficiency has been found in up to 20 percent of children on the ketogenic diet. Selenium is an important micronutrient and its deficiency can cause severe heart disease.
7)A Mediterranean diet that has been strongly shown to improve cardiovascular health recommends diet rich in whole grains, veggies, and fruits with minimum consumption of meat.
8) Medical studies have also shown a higher risk of diabetes, heart disease as well as some kind of cancers with as little as one serving size of red meat a day.
9) Studies of centenarians ( people who live healthy productive life into 100 years) have consistently shown that their diet consists of mainly whole grains, legumes, veggies and fruits and very little meat.
10) The ketogenic diet may lead to higher consumption of processed meats, butter, cheese, salty food which are unhealthy in long term.
11) The ketogenic diet is also very low in fiber-rich foods. Fibers are an essential part of our diet and have many health advantages.
The ketogenic diet may confer short term benefits but its utility in long term has not been proven. ( except for some medical conditions like seizure disorder).Also the high amount of meat consumption may prove harmful in long term. The healthy balanced diet that provides all healthy macronutrients and micronutrients is the best for long term well being. A principal determinant of weight loss is the degree of adherence to the diet rather than a particular macronutrient composition. And the healthy balanced diet gives the most flexibility and adherence.
Also most importantly it is not dieting but mindful eating and a healthy lifestyle which holds the key to long term overall well being.