WARNING: The video above does include profane language and a sassy dietitian!
The ketogenic diet, also referred to as keto, is easily one of the most buzzed about diets these days. People are raving about this diet due to it being a diet that results in quick weight loss. One quick Google search on “keto” and it will flood your computer with thousands of different articles. Although researching this diet does provide you with plenty of information, you should always ask yourself “is this information credible or scientifically based?” A lot of the information you find on the Internet (or even social media) has no scientific evidence to back it up. This means that this information might not be the best to reference because there is a possibility that it is incorrect and/or misleading. When doing research on the keto diet or ANY diet for that matter…make sure you are getting information from credible sources. So, let’s dive into what keto is all about.
What is the Ketogenic diet and where did it come from?
The ketogenic diet has actually been around since 1921. It was originally created to help treat epilepsy in children. The idea of using this diet for weight loss is a relatively new theory. So, what exactly does the keto diet consist of? The diet consists of eating mostly fat, 90% to be exact, and low amounts of carbohydrates and protein.
Does your body need all three macronutrients?
The three macronutrients that make up all of the food that we consume are fat, carbohydrates, and protein. Since the keto diet extremely restricts two out of these three macronutrients, knowing what each one does in our body can be a starting point when looking into this diet, or any diet that requires you to limit one of these. Fat is an essential component in your diet. It gives your body energy and is used to support cell growth. Fat also helps your body absorb some nutrients and produce important hormones1. Carbohydrates are what provide your body with energy2. You need to consume carbs in order for your body (and BRAIN) to properly function and have the energy to do so. The last macronutrient that is vital in your daily diet is protein. Protein helps to build and repair muscles and tissues in the body. All three of these are vital and needed in order for your body to properly function. By limiting any one of these macronutrients, you are depriving your body of what it needs to function and THRIVE on a day to day basis.
How does the keto diet work on your body?
Knowing how this diet works can be very beneficial. The keto diet essentially forces your body to use a different type a fuel than it normally would. When carbs are readily available to our body, our body will ALWAYS choose carbs as it’s main energy source. They are the easiest macronutrient to digest and our body loves quick, easy energy. When on the ketogenic diet, it forces our body to go into an emergency state and use ketone bodies; a type of fuel the liver produces from stored fat, instead of using glucose; a type of fuel that comes from carbs. The lack of carbs and glucose causes your body to start breaking down stored fat into molecules called ketone bodies 3. This is essentially supposed to burn fat, which results in weight loss. This shift of energy source is called ketosis and is the goal of this diet4. This process takes 2-4 days of eating 20-40 grams of carbohydrates per day 3.
Concerns with the Keto Diet
- This diet requires you to limit your carbohydrate and protein intake because it can interfere with ketosis. This is problematic because your body NEEDS all three macronutrients. Limiting them can result in other problems 3. This is also not a sustainable way to live. This diet is not easy for long-term compliance 5.
- This diet not only requires high amounts of fat to be consumed, but it also doesn’t clarify where this fat should come from or what type of fat it should be. This makes this diet extremely high is saturated fat. Saturated fat is associated with an increase in LDL cholesterol, which is known as the “bad” cholesterol because it is linked to heart disease. The recommended dietary allowance states you should not consume more than 7% of your daily calories from saturated fat4. Individuals who do this diet usually greatly exceed this.
- The keto diet has also been associated with several nutrient deficiencies. Macronutrients such as selenium, magnesium, phosphorus, and vitamins B and C are all common deficiencies related to this diet. This is due to not eating a wide variety of fruits, veggies, and grains on this diet 4.
- Fuzzy thinking and mood swings are also a huge factor to consider prior to starting this diet. Sugar, from healthy carbohydrates, is needed for the brain to properly function. Limiting carbs can cause confusion and irritability 4.
- This diet can be harmful to the liver if existing liver problems are present. Since this diet requires high amounts of fat, the liver is strained by having to absorb all of that fat 5.
- Not to mention…your mental sanity! Think about all of the times you want to go out to eat with friends, enjoy a holiday meal, cook a family recipe with your grandmother…the ketogenic diet is restrictive diet that will stand in the way of normal eating patterns.
This main attraction to this diet is the weight loss aspect of it. Does this diet actually result in quick weight loss? The quick answer to that question is, yes. This diet does result in fast weight loss, but there are a few factors to consider. In most cases, the weight that is lost is usually gained back over time. Although most people don’t associate weight gained back AFTER a diet as apart of that diet…it is! The restrictive behaviors can cause an obsession with the food that you are restricting. This is NOT a fun cycle to be apart of.
Since this diet is not really sustainable, when you eventually do start incorporating more carbs and protein back into your diet, people tend to overdue it. This results in individuals gaining back all of the weight they lost, and in some cases gain what they lost plus some3. Since this diet is restricting carbohydrates, a lot of the weight you are losing in the beginning is water weight. What most people do not realize is that carbohydrates retain water. When they are ingested, they are converted and stored as glucose. This glucose is then converted to glycogen. This glycogen is stored by binding to water molecules. 1 gram of glycogen binds to 3-4 grams of water. Your body stores an average of 1 pound of glycogen at any given time. This means that with 1 pound of glycogen stored at any given time, there is at least 3 pounds of water stored as well 6. So, when you are restricting carbs, you are seeing a weight loss, however, it is not fat loss. It is usually water loss.
Overall, if you are considering trying this diet then you should look into the scientific based evidence on it. Make sure the resources you are obtaining your information on are credible. Also, keep in mind that there is not much information on the long-term effects of this diet. Most of the research on this diet is only on the short-term effects. Instead of looking into diets that limit certain foods and are not sustainable, you should focus on a well balanced diet that is sustainable.
- Heart.Org. (2014). Retrieved from https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/dietary-fats
- Museum, S. (2010, April 19). What do carbohydrates do for you? Retrieved from http://whoami.sciencemuseum.org.uk/whoami/findoutmore/yourbody/whatdoyourcellsdo/whatisacellmadeof/whatdocarbohydratesdoforyou
- Campos, M. (2018, July 06). Ketogenic diet: Is the ultimate low-carb diet good for you? Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/ketogenic-diet-is-the-ultimate-low-carb-diet-good-for-you-2017072712089
- Harvard Health Publishing. (2018, October). Should you try the keto diet? Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/should-you-try-the-keto-diet
- Masood, W. (2018, October 27). Ketogenic Diet. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499830/
- Fernández-Elías, V. E., Ortega, J. F., Nelson, R. K., & Mora-Rodriguez, R. (2015, September). Relationship between muscle water and glycogen recovery after prolonged exercise in the heat in humans. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25911631).