The Ketogenic diet is everywhere now, it is promoted online and in the media as a weight-loss tool and seemingly all-round magical healer. Scroll through social media and you will find keto recipes, tips and tricks promoted by many influencers. This type of dieting is so large that #keto has exploded into over 15 million tags on Instagram alone. Yet it was first developed in the 1920’s to help children with epilepsy. But what is the ketogenic diet? Where did it come from? And, is the ketogenic diet good for you?
WHERE DID THE KETOGENIC DIET COME FROM?
The framework of the keto diet goes far back as ancient Greece where physicians advocated for the restriction of a persons diet to treat diseases like epilepsy and other health problems. Back then, fasting was used as a tool for better health. However in the 1920’s the ketogenic diet was developed in the medical field to help children with epilepsy.
Around 1911, modern research emerged to explore how fasting can help cure epilepsy. This study found that when patients consumed lower-calorie diets combined with periods of fasting, they experienced fewer seizures. Not long after, in the 1920’s and 1930’s other doctors found that modifying fat intake, lowering starches and sugars was what provided better results for patients, rather than a general lower caloric intake.
More recent research also suggests that the keto diet can benefit blood sugar for those individuals who have diabetes. However we still need more studies and cases to explore if a ketogenic diet truly works as a weight management strategy and whether the general public should be on this diet.
HOW DID THE KETOGENIC DIET BECOME MAINSTREAM?
In the early and late nineties the weight loss sphere was dominated by the Atkins diet, with an eating plan similar to the principles of keto – cutting carbs. Over the past fifteen years, there has been an explosion all over the interest about the keto diet and its many perceived benefits. The keto diet has also been popularized in many books, promoted by celebrities and spread all over social media. But like with any other restrictive diets, you need to be mindful and informed. With a ketogenic diet, there can be short term benefits but no real long term solutions in terms of general health and weight management. You have to set down a lifestyle and healthy eating habits that you can adhere to for the rest of your life, rather than restricting yourself within one specific diet regimen.
HOW DOES THE KETOGENIC DIET WORK?
The ketogenic diet is a very low carbohydrate, moderate protein and high-fat diet. It involves restricting your carbohydrate intake and replacing it with fat instead. When you reduce your carbohydrate intake by such a drastic amount you put your body through a metabolic state called ketosis.
Ketosis is a metabolic state which is identified by higher levels of ketone bodies in our blood. It is a physiological response to low glucose availability in our system. When the body is in this ketosis state it provides you with an additional energy source in the form of ketones. Ketones are chemicals which are made in our liver and we produce them when we don’t have enough insulin in our body to turn glucose into energy. Instead our bodies turn to fat instead. Normally, our bodies use glucose as its preferred source of energy, in fact our brains thrive on carbohydrates for energy. However ketones essentially work as a stand in for fuel when there is a shortage of glucose.
A well formed ketogenic diet means that you eat less than 50 g of carbohydrates per day. To put this in perspective, 50 g of carbs is like eating 3 potatoes, or 3 pieces of bread during the course of one day. Something that can appeal to people on a keto diet is that eating high fat can be very satiating. However cutting out food groups, like carbohydrates, is not ideal.
When we eat carbohydrates, per every one gram of carbs stored in our body (as glycogen) there is roughly 2-3 grams of water retained. Naturally when you cut your carbohydrate intake, you will initially loose a lot of water weight.
For may people, the keto diet can sound appealing, but even a person on a keto diet can maintain weight or gain weight if they are still eating a caloric surplus. What you really need to do is practice healthy, daily habits which set you up for a healthy lifestyle, rather than short term fixes.
WHAT ARE THE SIDE EFFECTS?
Like any diet, you are expected to experience various affects.
- THIRST – Higher levels of ketones can increase dehydration within the body. If you are very active, you can develop kidney stones due to dehydration.
- MUSCLE CRAMPS AND SPASMS – Dehydration and electrolyte imbalances cause muscles to cramp. Electrolytes are what carry electrical signals between our bodies cells. The imbalance in electrolyte means you carry the risk of disrupted electrical messages.
- HEADACHES – This is due to a combination of things such as consuming fewer carbohydrates or being dehydrated.
- FATIGUE & WEAKNESS – This can occur because your body is working really hard to transition from its primary source of fuel (carbs) to utilizing fat.
- DIGESTION ISSUES – Stomach upsets and changes of sleep are other side affects as well as constipation do to the lack of fiber consumption. Fiber is what helps get your bowels moving.
- MINERAL DEFICIENCIES – Strict diets cause you to miss out on important vitamins and minerals. On the keto diet you can miss out on sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, zinc and selenium.
IS THE KETOGENIC DIET GOOD FOR YOU?
So, is the ketogenic diet good for you?
If you are looking to lose weight, you will initially see some results. However you should be aware that this is mostly water weight and that any sustainable results take time. Restrictive diets are not something people stick to for a life time. Also, like with any other diets you run the risk of becoming deficient in some nutrients. This is because most diets, like keto, cut out food groups. On the other hand a keto diet has a place in the medical field. This is because it can benefit people who have medical issues such as uncontrolled epilepsy or diabetes. It does not mean that it is the cure to weight management and glorious health.
Like with any diet method, you should be cautious and consult a medical professionals instead. Sure, if you are the type of person who thrives on eating high fat, lower carbohydrate foods, then that is how you feel your best. Do what truly feels best for you. However, don’t forget that burning body fat actually comes down to a caloric deficit over a period of time. No miracle will come from a keto diet – or any type of diet for that matter.
Ask yourself – Is this a long term sustainable lifestyle for me? Do I see myself living and thriving on this diet?
If you feel immediately deprived, stop, re-evaluate and make small healthy changes to your daily life instead. Making drastic changes will only leave you feeling burnt out and overwhelmed very quickly. Always look for a long term approach to a healthy lifestyle.
If you are looking for some tips on bettering your relationship with food you can check out my previous blog here. You can also check out Abbey Sharp’s blog on the keto diet here. Abbey is a professional and offers some realistic & unbiased advice on nutrition and health.
Disclaimer – I am not a health care professional. This blog provides general information and discussions about health and wellness. The information and other content provided in this blog are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment.