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The ketogenic diet, the information you need to know

The Ketogenic diet is still one of the world’s most popular diets with an array of information in the media that promises the diet will obliterate fat, increase energy and improve biological marks like fasting glucose, insulin and cholesterol. This post isn’t to debunk these promises as myths but merely to educate and explain that this “wonder” diet may not be what it’s all cracked up to be. When considering any fad diet, what people forget is that we are all individual, we have different needs which means no one diet will be beneficial for the WHOLE population. Yes, if you follow the Ketogenic diet, you may lose weight BUT the amount of weight loss and the length the diet is sustainable will vary for everyone. There is also this consensus that the Keto diet is safe but, like any diet, if not executed correctly it has the potential to cause harm. The real issue is that whilst evidence suggests the diet has benefits on a short-term basis there is little evidence of beneficial effects and sustainability long-term.

Keto was initially developed in the 1920s as a therapeutic diet for the treatment of epilepsy and it demonstrated proven success as it reduced the occurrence of seizures. If you’re curious to learn more about the link between the ketogenic diet and epilepsy watch the film First Do No Harm, starring Meryl Streep, it’s an oldie but I found it super interesting and enjoyed watching it. FYI it is slightly confronting, based on a little boy with epilepsy.

The Keto diet involves eating minimal carbohydrates (30 grams) and high levels of fat and protein. The elimination of carbohydrates forces the body to utilise stored fat as energy. Which is how you lose weight. Fat is turned into energy via the liver where it breaks it down into ketones, sending them into the bloodstream to be used as energy. When somebody is an unmanaged diabetic their body goes through the same process, but instead of starving themselves of carbohydrate, their cells have lost the ability to utilise carbohydrates. Ketoacidosis is when high levels of ketones are in the body and can be dangerous as it alters the blood chemical balance, causing dehydration and potentially leading to coma or death. Generally, the Keto Diet does not cause the body to produce excessive ketones, you still are consuming a small amount of carbohydrates but it is something to be aware of.

Current evidence suggests that the ketogenic diet may be effective for weight loss in obesity and for managing endocrine conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Effectiveness is based on short-term studies the safety and efficacy of long-term ketogenic dieting and the effectiveness on healthy individuals (i.e. wanting to use the diet for quick weight loss) has not been properly documented.

Long-term adherence to the Keto diet can cause liver and kidney issues due to the strain placed on these organs when converting excess levels of fat to energy and the excess waste associated with these products and increasing protein consumption. Whilst some evidence suggests that short-term effects of the diet may result in a reduction of cardiovascular disease risk factors, like cholesterol levels, long term-effects may be more detrimental than good including vascular injury and increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease. The Keto diet can also alter women’s hormones leading to menstruation cycle irregularities and increases in estrogen. Some evidence also suggests that the Keto diet may lead to altered iron metabolism and reduced ferritin levels, this study was based on athletes and the cause was associated with not only an alteration of metabolism but also a reduced intake of iron-rich foods. Whilst this study was based on athletes, I would suggest issues can occur with anyone, especially when the diet relates to a reduced intake of iron-rich foods like green leafy veggies. Interestingly the keto diet improves the body composition and wellbeing of athletes but it does not lead to increased performance capabilities.

Concerns are also associated with the quality of fat and protein people are choosing to eat and this plays a big role in the effectiveness of the diet. Opting for healthy fats like avocadoes, olive oil, fish, nuts and seeds and reducing red meat and processed meat intake is going to ensure you are providing your body with nourishing foods. Bacon, eggs, sausages, deli meats and cheese seem to be the go-to staples that people choose to consume when on the Keto diet. You have to remember that high levels of any type of food can be dangerous. Whilst research does suggest saturated fat intake no longer leads to cardiovascular disease, it is still wise to monitor intake and opt for healthier sources.

This post was not aimed to deter anyone from the Keto diet, but it’s aimed at informing people of the potential dangers. The diet can be beneficial and if you fall in one of the categories that may seek benefit then it’s definitely worth considering, making sure you speak to a health professional first. But the diet also has it’s downfalls and isn’t safe for everyone.

Basically if used for the short-term the Ketogenic diet-induced rapid weight loss and improves some biological markers such as LDL cholesterol. Long-term use of the Ketogenic diet may not be beneficial with sustainability and safety being an issue. There are plenty of other diets that have better efficacy that should be utilised long-term.

Remember weight loss and being healthy should not involve fad diets but should involve sustainable and long-term changes. If you can increase your intake of whole foods, fruits and vegetables and reduce your reliance on prepackaged convenience foods you'll be taking steps in the right direction.