The Ketogenic Diet
What is a keto diet?
Carbohydrate, protein and fat all contribute to calorie intake. The widely accepted recommendation is that we get 45-60% of our calories from carbohydrate, 20-35% from protein and 10-35% from fat. Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy. They are broken down into glucose and provide immediate energy to our brain and our muscles.
A ketogenic (keto) diet is any diet that causes your body to go into ketosis, a metabolic process that burns fat for energy instead of carbohydrate. During this process fat cells are broken down by the liver into fatty acids and ketones. Ketones provide your brain and muscles with energy in the absence of carbohydrate. The recommendation is that individuals following a keto diet consume approximately 60-70% of their calories from fat, 20-35% from protein and 5% from carbohydrate (these recommendations vary slightly throughout the literature). Simply put a keto diet includes are large amount of fat, a moderate amount of protein and a very low amount of carbohydrate.
What to eat and not eat?
The keto diet comes with many do’s and don’ts. The goal is to limit carbohydrate intake to 20g or less per day, which means several foods are restricted. Foods to eat include seafood, meat and poultry, green leafy vegetables that are grown above ground (vegetables grown below ground have too many carbs), dairy products (whipping cream, cheese, cottage cheese, sour cream) nuts and seeds (pistachios and cashews need to be limited because they are too high in carbs), butter and avocados. To follow a keto diet, you will need to avoid sugar, grains (bread, pasta, cereal, rice etc), starchy vegetables (potatoes, yams, corn, peas), fruit and low- fat food products. All in all, it’s a very restrictive diet and it may be difficult to adhere to long term.
Can a keto diet help with weight loss and improve health?
Supporters of the keto diet claim that it imparts several benefits from weight loss to improved focus and concentration and increased sex drive. There isn’t enough evidence to support most of these claims, but the research does show that following a keto diet can help you lose weight. However, the reason it works is the same reason any diet works; it limits the number of calories you consume and creates a calorie deficit. Studies have shown that low carbohydrate diets, like the keto diet, are no more or less effective than a low- fat diet when the same number of calories are consumed. The argument is that it is easier to restrict calories on a keto diet because it helps to control appetite by keeping blood sugars stable. Also, the high fat foods consumed when following this type of diet are very filling and they taste good. The bottom line is that when it comes to weight loss, the best diet is one that you can happily follow for the rest of your life.
What’s the down side?
When you follow a diet that is as restrictive as the keto diet, there is an increased risk for nutrient deficiencies including vitamin D, calcium, magnesium, selenium and zinc. You may also experience other unpleasant side effects such as bad breath and constipation. Dehydration and electrolyte imbalances are common when starting a keto diet and you may need to replace electrolytes including sodium, potassium and chloride. Last, but not least, when you cut carbohydrates out of your diet you limit many foods that are proven to promote good health including, whole grains, fruits and vegetables and all of the vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants that come with them.
What’s the take home message?
If you feel like you can happily follow a ketogenic diet for the rest of your life, it may help you lose weight. However, if you do plan to follow this type of eating plan it may be beneficial to consult a registered dietitian who can help you navigate some of the side effects and make sure that you are getting the right amount of the right nutrients.