Ketogenic (“keto”) diets are getting a lot of media attention lately. There are countless books, articles, recipes, and videos about keto diets. This is because keto diets have been around for a long time in the clinical setting, and have proven effective at promoting weight loss.
There is a reason, however, as to why keto diets have remained in a clinical setting for such a long time. The diet can result in less than favorable symptoms in certain individuals and can be harmful to your health if not executed properly. Furthermore, like most diets, the benefits of ketogenic diets tend to be short-lived and weight can be regained.
What is a Keto Diet?
A keto diet is essentially a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet. This diet relies on the process of ketosis for weight loss. During ketosis, the body breaks down fat stores into fatty acids and ketones bodies to serve as backup fuel for the absent carbohydrate.
Ketosis is not uncommon in the body. Most undergo ketosis during long periods of fasting and overnight. Virtually all cells in the body with the exception of a few, like red blood cells, can use ketones as fuel. This allows the body to function normally for low periods of time with minimal carbohydrate intake.
The Science Behind Keto Diets
Carbohydrates are a primary fuel source for the body (especially the brain). When one restricts carbohydrate, the body starts to use its glycogen stores (from muscle and liver) to make up for this deficit. Once glycogen stores deplete (and even before that), the body looks for alternate fuel sources- like fat.
Fat, being the energy store molecule, breaks down to fuel the body and maintain normal function. Over time, fat stores in the body deplete leading to weight loss.
Benefits of a Keto Diet
Keto diets are used in the clinical setting to treat conditions such as obesity and metabolic syndrome. It has also proven beneficial to individuals with type II diabetes and those at risk for cardiovascular disease. Blood sugar and lipid levels seem to benefit from a ketogenic diet.
The low-carbohydrate and high-fat content of ketogenic diets elicit a satiety effect in individuals. This means that they will feel fuller (or less hungry) for longer. Although ketogenic diets do not control for calories directly, it does seem to lower overall caloric intake.
Short-term symptoms from a ketogenic diet result from the absence of carbohydrate (sugar). The brain, for example, relies primarily on sugar as fuel and a “brain fog” is a common side effect. Many of the initial symptoms, however, you can prevent by staying hydrated and subside within a couple of weeks. Other short-term side-effects include:
• Muscle weakness/aches
• Bad breath
Long-term side effects depend a lot on the individual. Ketoacidosis, a condition characterized by alarmingly high blood ketone levels, is more likely in individuals with type I diabetes. This is because insulin acts as a regulator of ketone levels, which is absent in people with type I diabetes. Other potential long-term side effects include:
• Increased risk for osteoporosis
• Increased risk of kidney stones
• Elevated uric acid in the blood (risk factor of gout)
• Nutrient deficiencies
Short-term VS Long-term Weight Loss
Ketogenic diets are effective at promoting short-term weight loss. This is maintainable when following an appropriate nutrition plan. In contrast, weight is quickly regained if carbohydrate is reintroduced too quickly or in large quantities. Carbohydrate is slowly reintroduced as the individual approaches their target weight.
The long-term weight loss effects of the ketogenic diets seem to be similar to that of a low-calorie and low-fat diets. Weight is usually regained within a year of dieting. This is mostly due to the lack of diet planning after the ketogenic period. It is important to have a plan for maintaining weight after a ketogenic diet to make it worth potential risks.
There is currently insufficient scientific evidence to make a definitive statement of the safety of ketogenic diets, but they are effective. It is important to realize that anything that is popular on the internet has a marketing incentive. It is good practice to get your health advice from individuals with credentials in the field and not just some diet quack.
If you are planning to undertake a ketogenic diet, please consult a professional (dietitian or physician) in the field to ensure that you are doing it safely. This will also help in figuring out a diet plan for after the ketogenic phase to ensure that the benefits are long-lasting and that the weight stays off.
At Santa Cruz CORE, our Nutritional Counselors and CORE Pro Elite Trainers are equipped with the education, knowledge, and hands-on experience to guide and support you during every step of your journey no matter your end goal. Visit us today for a Nutritional Consultation and to discover a personalized weight loss program that will work for you!