Keto Diet: Pros and Cons

You’ll lose weight but is it safe?


Is it actually possible to lose weight without feeling hungry?

Ketogenic diet devotees believe you can simply by banishing most carbohydrates, including fruit, and embracing fat. By reducing carbs, the body is placed into a metabolic state known as ketosis and when that happens, our body becomes very efficient at burning fat for energy. It also turns fat into ketones in the liver, which can supply energy for the brain. Before you follow the latest celebrity diet craze, however, there are certain elements to consider.

Despite recent hype, the ketogenic diet is not something new and has been used in medicine for almost 100 years to treat drug-resistant epilepsy, especially in children. Today it holds promise for people with type 2 diabetes.

In the 1970s, Dr. Atkins popularized his very-low-carbohydrate diet for weight loss that began with a strict two-week ketogenic phase. Over the years, other fad diets such as Paleo incorporated a similar approach for weight loss and like almost every diet under long-term study, the older programs did not work for people trying to lose weight. There’s no evidence the revival of the keto diet today will be any different. Here’s why.

To understand the keto diet, you need to know how the body receives energy. Humans are fueled primarily by glucose (blood sugar) that we derive mostly from carbohydrates in food such as bread, fruit, potatoes and sweets. If glucose levels drop really low, we can pass out and die. Interestingly, our bodies can only store enough glucose to last a couple of days. If we stop eating carbs, our bodies need other ways to keep going – one of which is a process called ketogenesis.

The research is exciting but there is little evidence this type of eating is effective or even safe over the long term for anything other than epilepsy. Low carbohydrate diets tend to have higher rates of side effects, including headaches, bad breath and constipation. Also, meeting the diet’s requirements means cutting out many healthy foods, making it difficult to meet micronutrient needs.

The Mayo Clinic published its findings on the keto diet and said while it may be good for children with epilepsy, the high fat content, especially the high level of unhealthy saturated fat, combined with limits on nutrient-rich fruits, vegetables and grains is a concern for long-term heart health.

If you are considering the keto diet, there are several versions including:

Standard: Very low-carb, moderate protein and high fat. Usually 5% carbs, 20% protein and 75% fat.

Cyclical: Involves periods of higher-carb refeeds, such as five keto days followed by two high-carb days.

Targeted: Carbs are added around workouts.

High-protein: Similar to a standard keto diet but includes more protein. The ratio is often 60% fat, 35% protein and 5% carbs.

The standard and high-protein keto diets are the only two that have been extensively studied. Cyclical or targeted are more advanced methods and are used primarily by bodybuilders or athletes.

What’s more, the diet is so filling that you can lose weight without counting calories or tracking your food intake.

Amy Lieb, office manager/bookkeeper for The Sealy News, lost 42 pounds on the Keto diet since she began in February. But weight loss was not her goal.

“Keto makes you feel better physically and mentally,” Lieb said. “A big thing for a lot of people is brain fog and with Keto, you can think clearer and are not as tired as normal.”

Lieb said she’s tried every diet out there and has never stuck to anything.

“Nothing ever worked,” she said. “This is the only thing I’ve been able to stick to and it’s hard, especially for people afraid of it because you’re not eating carbs or sugar. What was amazing was after getting past the first week, I didn’t want them anymore. Carbs convert into sugar, which converts to fuel and with more fat fueling your body, you don’t crave sugar anymore.”

Lieb said she is a chocoholic but was able to stay away from it until later in the program when she could add 5% carbs per day.

“I started getting dark chocolate which is sugar-free and I just don’t miss that because I don’t crave sugar anymore,” she said.

Devotees say keto is a lifestyle; not a diet. Cutting out foods such as rice, pasta and bread and eating the light fats that are good for you means you don’t really have to think a lot about eating.

“It becomes second nature to the way you eat,” Lieb said. “If you’re doing it right, it’s going to work and you’re going to stick to it.”

One study found that people on a keto diet lost 2.2 times more weight than those on a calorie-restricted, low-fat diet. Triglyceride and HDL cholesterol levels also improved. Additionally, 95.2% of the keto group were able to stop or reduce diabetes medication, compared to 62% in the higher-carb group.

Studies in the following seven areas are ongoing and benefits utilizing the keto program are constantly being discovered including:

Heart disease: Improves risk factors such as body fat, HDL cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar.

Cancer: Keto is currently being used to treat several types of cancer and slow tumor growth.

Alzheimer’s disease: Reduces symptoms and slows its’ progression.

Epilepsy: Massive reductions in seizures in epileptic children.

Parkinson’s disease: One study showed improvement of symptoms.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: Helps reduce insulin levels that play a key role in this syndrome.

Brain injuries: Reduction in concussions and aids in recovery after brain injury.

In summary, the advantages of the keto diet are that it burns fat really fast and improves physical and mental health. The biggest disadvantage is that it is restrictive (the average meal plan intake is 70 percent fat, 25 percent protein and 5 percent carbohydrates). The long-term benefits are also questionable as studies are showing results aren’t sustainable long-term and the impact of this type of eating on long-term health has not been completed.

As with any weight-loss or exercise program, it is recommended to visit your health care professional or an accredited dietician for a full nutrition assessment before starting a new program.


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