06 Feb The Ketogenic Diet
Have you heard of the Ketogenic or keto Diet? Recently, many have claimed the diet can improve health, provide more energy, promote weight loss and eliminate the need for some medications. You might have heard from a friend, family member or co-worker that it is the “miracle diet” that you have to try. But what’s all the fuss?
What is the ketogenic diet?
The ketogenic diet requires relatively high intake of fat (usually saturated) and a very low intake of carbohydrates, typically less than 25-50 grams of carbs per day. The main difference between a well-balanced diet and the ketogenic diet is that the body switches from using carbohydrate as its main energy source, to using fat and breaking it into ketone bodies for energy. You may have also heard this diet referred to as the modified Adkins, medium chain triglyceride diet or low glycemic diet.
Is it safe?
According to the Natural Medicines Database, this diet is “likely safe” when used appropriately for a short period, less than 6 months, and under medical supervision for adults. This diet/lifestyle is not recommended for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding or individuals with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol. The research surrounding the ketogenic diet when concerning chronic disease such as diabetes, obesity and inflammation is minimal, meaning the studies that have been done are not strong enough to create solid medical recommendations.
Before you start any diet, you should consult your nutritionist or healthcare provider. Here are a few considerations for the keto diet:
- This diet is high in fat, mainly saturated or “bad” fat.
- The ketogenic diet may not be recommended for people with heart disease, high cholesterol or diabetes.
- The recommended diet may be difficult to follow and may lead to a “yo-yo”-type dieting experience, meaning your weight loss is like a yo-yo, going up and down.
- Some may find that the ketogenic diet is expensive, since only a very specific set of food groups are allowed.
- Ketogenic diets create a limitation on an entire food group: carbohydrates. Carbohydrates include foods like beans, fruit, dairy, breads, pasta, rice and grains, corn, peas and potatoes. This means you will be limiting your food intake instead of introducing a variety of healthy foods.
- Adapting the ketogenic diet may contribute to hypoglycemia (low blood sugars).
Are there any benefits?
While there are downsides to this diet, some potential benefits exist. These include short-term weight loss and the potential for minimal improvements in blood work (including cholesterol and fasting blood sugar). However, long term weight loss is difficult to maintain on this restrictive diet.
So, what does a ketogenic diet look like?
Since the ketogenic diet emphasizes elimination or extreme reduction of carbohydrates, there is a specific set of foods allowed on the diet. Some examples are:
- Non-starchy vegetables
- Meats: beef, chicken, pork and fish
- Dairy: eggs, butter, cream, yogurt, cottage cheese and cheese
- Nuts and seeds
- Bread alternatives (almond, coconut)
Foods not allowed or allowed in very small amounts on the ketogenic diet include:
- Milk and sour cream
- Potatoes, beans, corn, rice, grains and oats/oatmeal,
- Refined carbohydrates such as: baked goods, alcohol, sugar-sweetened beverages, juice, pasta and artificial sweeteners.
Is there a better alternative?
I endorse the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle, which is high in heart health fiber, fats and nutrients. This includes omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants from fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish. The Mediterranean diet is much less restrictive than the ketogenic diet and provides more variety of foods and does not eliminate an entire food group. Instead, it encourages you to choose those foods that have a better composition of nutrients. The Mediterranean diet also encourages the elimination of highly processed foods and sugar sweetened beverages.
Remember that nutrition is very different and specific for everyone. Much like our genetic makeup, foods affect us differently. Always consult your primary care doctor and/or a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist prior to starting any kind of diet to make sure it fits with your needs.