I get more questions on the Ketogenic diet than any other diet plan. Family, friends, and clients have ultimately sparked my curiosity to explore what the research has to say for myself.
You may or may not have heard of the Ketogenic diet before opening this article. No matter, this article will educate you on the pros and cons of following this diet plan and deliver the latest scientific research on the topic. Let’s dig in.
A Ketogenic diet is most commonly a nutrient profile of 5% carbohydrates, 20% proteins, and 75% fats. With the overall low quantity of carbs – usually below 50g – our body goes into a state known as ketosis, which is when the body is burning primarily fats as fuel rather than carbs/sugars.
Fats cannot be utilized as energy, but they do contain a molecule that can be. That molecule is a ketone body known as Beta-Hydroxybutyrate (BHB). Fats are first metabolized by our liver, where it is synthesized to make BHB, which is then distributed throughout the body to be broken down into energy. BHB also has been shown to improve memory and possibly lifespan – which we will discuss briefly later on.
Carb intake must be low enough to induce a ketogenic state, meaning a keto diet does not just mean eating tons of fats and low-levels of carbs. A big teller of whether or not we are in ketosis is if PPar- Alpha – an enzyme that promotes uptake, utilization, and catabolism (breakdown) of fats – is active. This enzyme is essential in maintaining the Ketogenic state and is not found when carb levels are above-required levels of ketosis.
Effects on Weight Loss & Muscle Gain
The Ketogenic diet gets a lot of hype for helping people lose weight. Research shows the causes for weight loss in the early stages of a Keto diet can be due to the depletion of carb stores in our liver and muscles, as well as an overall loss of water weight.
Some benefits worth recognizing include a reduction in appetite and food elimination. Cutting out carbs from your diet – think of all those tasty and savory looking foods – will strip you from eating the majority of foods, especially in the United States. This elimination in options puts a cap on what you can eat, which means you have fewer distractions and possibly cravings for alternative foods.
The curb on the appetite could be for similar reasons but also because people on a Keto diet resort to eating more proteins to make up for the lack of variety. Proteins have a higher thermogenic effect, meaning they require more energy/calories to digest than carbs and fats, leading to more calories burned throughout the day. Also, Protein has higher satiety than carbs and fats, making you feel fuller, which would also result in eating less food overall.
Don’t think for one second that this is unique to the Ketogenic diet. This mechanism for loss of weight is not singular to the Keto diet but for all calorie-restrictive diets.
The barrier to entry for a Keto diet is relatively high, which should give you a clear idea of who is actually in ketosis versus those who started eating fewer carbs. Headaches, nausea, and of course, withdrawals from sugar are just a few of the effects you may feel when cutting carbs from your diet to function solely on fats.
Effects on Physical Activity
Carbohydrates are our body’s fastest and most efficient means of energy. Our liver and skeletal muscles store carbs in our body as glycogen, which makes them the most accessible energy source for use. Also, they are broken down the quickest by our body, which supports our faster and more explosive movements.
Fats, in comparison, must first go through a process known as Lipolysis to be readily available as energy. Lipolysis is a slow process. During physical activity and sport, we are demanding the best of ourselves. So why not employ the best of the best to that end?
For the sport performance athletes and competitors, it’s highly recommended by many respected coaches and trainers to not utilize a Keto diet for the sake of maintaining optimal performance.
For the non-competitive person, the choice is rightfully up to you. If you feel no detriment during your workout, then there is no more significant objective than feeling good.
Effects on Lifespan
The recent research indicated that higher levels of carb intake lead to a greater all-cause mortality rate, where a lower-carb diet decreased that rate. Therefore, a Ketogenic diet may lower our all-cause mortality rate, thus allowing us to live a longer lifespan. It’s theorized, not yet known, by researchers to be in result of the reduction in activation of Insulin and Insulin-Like Growth Factor (IGF-1), which are exceedingly active in a diet high in carb intake.
Unfortunately, this particular research study didn’t differentiate whether or not the carbs were refined or unrefined carbs, which we know in today’s age can be a crucial factor. Were the people in the study eating nutrient-rich foods such as green leafy veggies, fruit, fiber, or was it contained more of chips, white starches, and cookies?
Similarities to Intermittent-Fasting (I.F.)
In many of the studies and discussions I researched, I found that I.F. was a popular topic of comparison to the Keto diet. Ketosis and I.F. utilize similar mechanisms to help regulate weight, hormones, mental sharpness, satiety, sleep, and many others. In many ways, Intermittent-Fasting is a more practical way of living and obtaining the health benefits that many desire from a calorie-restricted diet plan. (link IF article)
With a challenging barrier to entry, limited food choices, and a possible drop in athletic performance, a Keto diet isn’t the most convenient diet plan to follow. This doesn’t mean in any stretch that it is not a practical approach to regulating weight, feeling more present, and creating a system for making healthier food choices.
The Keto diet is still not yet fully understood to an extent where we know the exact health benefits and drawbacks. Then again, we are always turning the page on previous thought and code in every area of life. Thankfully, nutrition and health have been an extremely active player in that.
More people need to take a critical look at their food habits and how it affects every area of their lives. Through my time spent learning about the Keto diet, I found that many diet plans are similar in the result but different in practice. Ultimately, the truth will remain the same for all; the best diet plan is the one that is adhered to.
“Exercise is King. Nutrition is Queen. Put them together, and you’ve got a Kingdom.” – Jack LaLanne
Dr. Eric Verdin on Ketogenic Diet Longevity, Beta-Hydroxybutyrate, HDAC Inhibitors & NAD. (n.d.). Retrieved March 27, 2018, from https://www.foundmyfitness.com/episodes/eric-verdin
I. (2018, March 26). THE KETOGENIC DIET: Science Behind Low Carb Keto for Fat Loss, Muscle & Health. Retrieved March 27, 2018, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qxmVsT_ZeNs