The ketogenic diet is all the rage in the low-carbohydrate dieting world. It’s so low-carb in fact that many people wonder if it’s a safe long-term diet.
How is the keto diet (short for “ketogenic”) diet different than the Atkins diet plan?
Is it an effective and healthy means of weight loss?
Is it safe???
These are just some of the many questions that we hear surrounding the keto diet in the health and fitness community.
While any diet that requires sacrifice and adjustments to your daily routine(and this diet requires more of that than most, with the exception of veganism) will take some effort to maintain, the overall benefits may be worth the commitment.
A variety of celebrities, fitness personalities, and doctors endorse the ketogenic eating plan and its philosophies for overall health improvement and quick weight loss.
According to advocates of the ketogenic diet, forcing your body into ketosis could be the answer to long-term fat loss and better health.
For years, we’ve heard about the benefits of low-carb eating and consuming healthy fats. We absolutely agree with the low-carb approach for weight loss,because it is the main principle in our 21-Day Fat Loss Challenge.
Below, we will explore what the ketogenic diet entails, including the change in lifestyle, and discuss its safety.
The Ketogenic Diet
What is the keto diet?
You might already know that the keto diet is a low-carb diet plan. You might not know that it was originally designed for patients with epilepsy, as Dr. Axediscusses in his post on the subject.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins Medical center initially found that fasting helped treat seizures in patients with epilepsy. How did this turn into what we know as the keto diet today?
Since fasting wasn’t a healthy long-term option for eliminating seizures, the doctors at Johns Hopkins created the keto diet to imitate the benefits they saw from fasting.
Under close medical supervision, children and adults with epilepsy were weaned off medication or resolved seizure activity that was drug-resistant.
In addition to resolving health conditions, the ketogenic diet spurs your body to speed metabolism and start burning its internal nutrient stores, rather than stockpiling them.
Eating a ketogenic diet convinces your body that it’s fasting, triggering it to begin burning fat stores.
In short, you must cut out nearly ALL carbohydrates from your diet and replace them with healthy fats instead.
What happens is that a few weeks after following a keto diet, your body will enter what is called “ketosis.”
During ketosis, the body burns energy from ketones in your blood. The term “spilling ketones” is the detection of ketones in urine, which is a good indicator that the diet is affecting change in your body.
People with diabetes often monitor for ketones in their urine, since spilling ketones may be unhealthy for someone who is not managing their diabetes effectively.
Who is this diet good for?
Because anyone can follow this diet with a bit of effort and preparation, it’s suitable for a diverse range of audiences, from people who struggle with their weight to those who suffer from medical conditions.
In general, this diet isn’t suitable for children, but under the supervision of a doctor, it can help reverse symptoms of debilitating diseases. For example, the ketogenic diet is commonly used to treat epilepsy.
The Checkup Newsroom from Cook Children’s Hospital reports that good candidates for this diet are patients with drug-resistant seizures or metabolic disorders like Glucose-1 transporter deficiency.
People with difficult-to-manage diseases aren’t the only population that can benefit from ketogenic diets. Those that are overweight or struggle to burn fat can jump-start their weight loss journey through this diet.
One study on long-term effects found that in a group of 83 obese patients who followed the ketogenic diet, all patients not only lost weight but also reduced LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels (1).
The diet involved 30 grams of carbohydrates daily, with a nutritional allowance of 20% saturated fat and 80% polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat.
The patients in this study also experienced lowered blood glucose levels over a period of 24 weeks of treatment, suggesting that using a ketogenic diet is safe for a longer period than previously known.
Adults with diabetes, whether type 1 or type 2, who are already following a low-carb eating plan to ensure stable blood sugar levels may reduce insulin dependence and lose weight, whether they are obese or not.
Regardless of the reason, individuals who choose the keto diet for weight loss or overall better health should consult their doctor before beginning the plan.
Is a ketogenic diet safe?
Nutritionist and News.com.au writer Susie Burrell writes that there is no evidence that ketogenic diets are harmful to the human body. In fact, she says, keto diets can help resolve a host of health issues.
For example, another study notes that people with bipolar disorder might benefit from employing a ketogenic diet for its mood stabilizing benefits (2).
This study followed two women with type II bipolar disorder for years, noting that both showed improvements far higher than they had previously while using medication.
Epilepsy is another disease which is compatible with ketogenic diets, Burrell explains, as physicians have used the diet as a treatment for seizures for years.
Keto diets spur superior weight loss, help people with high blood sugar to manage their weight, and jump-start weight loss in a healthy way, BUT the diet is not as easy as most and comes with a lot of conditions.
Most keto diet plans require you to limit your carbohydrates to 30g or less per day, including carbohydrates that come from vegetables. This essentially means cutting out all grains, bread, cereals, fruit, starchy vegetables, and sugar from your diet.
Headaches and fatigue are very common in the beginning stages of this diet. Many people suffer from what is often referred to as the “carb flu.” It’s essentially your body detoxing from the lack of carbs that it is used to.
It’s not a bad thing, but it could feel uncomfortable for the first week or so. It’s also important to stay hydrated during this time because the body is losing water as it begins to burn internal nutrition stores.
Is the ketogenic diet right for me?
There are a few potential drawbacks of the ketogenic diet. One negative symptom that children treated for epilepsy with this diet experienced waskidney stones.
Something to keep in mind here, depending on your situation, is that kidney stones are not nearly as dangerous as obesity. It can be considered a mild side effect on your journey to ketosis and weight loss.
Still, certain conditions are not compatible with a keto diet, like defects in beta-oxidation, carnitine deficiency, and porphyria, according to the Checkup Newsroom.
Also, note that this is effective when you replace carbohydrates with HEALTHY fats. Dieters who eat unhealthy types of fat – for example, a triple cheeseburger from McDonald’s sans bun- won’t see the same benefits as those who strictly follow the keto’s healthy fats plan.
With some planning and a strict attention to carbohydrate counting, adapting to a ketogenic diet serves a host of populations who would otherwise require drastic means to regain their health.
The dangers of this diet appear small when following the plan correctly and when individuals do not have any underlying medical complications.
In summary, this is how we feel about the keto diet…
Current research suggests that the ketogenic diet is absolutely safe, so we have no qualms with that.
What we do have qualms about is the practicality of the diet, and here’s why.
It takes several weeks to reach ketosis and convert your body into a fat-burning (rather than carbohydrate-burning) machine. In order for your body to stay in this state, you MUST NOT eat any carbohydrates above the minimum daily requirements.
That means that you can’t have that piece of birthday cake or that late night pizza once in a while. You will knock yourself out of ketosis and have to start all over again.
This is not a diet that you can adhere to ‘most of the time.’ It is a complete lifestyle change that requires you to be all in or all out and can be much harder to adapt to a normal, social lifestyle.
So if you think that you can go all in without ever cheating on the diet, you go for it! Otherwise, it might make sense to try a less restrictive type of low-carb diet.