The Ketogenic Diet- Is it an Ideal Diet for You?

Butter for your coffee?
Image credit: Pixabay

I was a vegetarian for a year in my early 20's. I didn't make a conscious effort to become vegetarian, I just stopped eating meat the day I first saw my first cadaver (yes, I was a medical student then). When I went to eat lunch after that first day of Gross Anatomy, when I saw meat, the "feet" of my cadaver would pop up in my mind and I felt nauseous just thinking about it. So, I decided to go vegan until I was comfortable to incorporate meat back into my diet. Was a bit difficult to go vegan because I didn't have many food choices but, ultimately I was able to go on with daily life without any problems. I also participated in a diet "challenge" with my group of friends wherein we refrained from eating rice for 2 weeks to lose weight. Truth be told, that was the hardest 2 weeks of my life because all meals here in the Philippines have rice. Needless to say, I was able to survive the "challenge" and lost 5lbs. because of it. 

There are many various diets that have been a trend or fad. Atkins diet (which is kind of a modified ketogenic diet), Southbeach diet, Gluten-free diet, Military Diet (comprises of eating hot dogs and saltine crackers), Clean Eating Diet, Paleo Diet and the most popular diet of 2017, the Ketogenic Diet. I was surprised that this "therapeutic" diet has now become a trend. Why therapeutic? It's a diet recommended for pediatric patients suffering from refractory epilepsy. But now, individuals who do not suffer from epilepsy, are incorporating this diet into their lifestyle. It's something worth taking a look at.(Check out Reader's Digest Diet Trends That Need to Disappear in 2018)

What is the Ketogenic Diet?

The Ketogenic Diet is a strict LOW-carb, adequate protein, HIGH-fat diet that forces the body to burn fats rather than carbohydrates leading to the state of KETOSIS. One would typically have to follow a strict ratio of grams of fat (about 80-90% of total calories) with an intake ratio of 10% carbohydrates (20-50g a day), while protein intake is set to moderation. The classic ketogenic diet, in medicine, is a therapeutic diet that is used primarily for pediatric patients who suffer from refractory (not yielding to treatment with anticonvulsant drugs) epilepsy.

When there are little carbohydrates in the diet, the liver converts fat into fatty acids and ketone bodies creating an elevated level of ketone bodies in the blood called ketosis as a consequence of the body burning fat. Here, these ketone bodies are used by the brain (and body) as an energy source which leads to the reduction of the frequency of seizures in patients that suffer from epilepsy.

While the classic ketogenic diet aims to achieve ketosis, other modified low-carb diets having a less ratio of fat intake do not.

For individuals who have no medical history of epilepsy, the sole purpose of the use of the ketogenic diet is WEIGHT LOSS usually without the need to exercise.

Brief History of the Ketogenic Diet

Ketogenic Diet was coined by Russel Wilder of the Mayo Clinic in 1920's and was used to describe a diet that produced an elevated level of ketone bodies in the blood (ketonemia) through an intake of excess fat with the lack of carbohydrates. Wilder's first trial in 1921 was the first use of the diet for the treatment of epilepsy. It was further studied by his colleagues of the Mayo Clinic which produced conclusive positive results for pediatric patients. In 1930 however, Clifford Barborka concluded that adults with epilepsy were least likely to benefit from the ketogenic diet. No further studies on adults were made until 1999.

Due to the rise of anticonvulsants in 1938, the use of the ketogenic diet declined. The diet was revived in 1994 by the son of Hollywood producer Jim Abrahams, Charlie Abrahams.

Carbohydrates- It's importance and how much do we usually eat

As of recent, carbohydrate intake among individuals range from 200g-260g a day or approximately 45% of our total energy intake. Most of these carbohydrates come from junk food or ultra-processed foods that contain a lot of refined carbohydrates namely: soda/soft drinks, candy, sugar-sweetened juices, chips, cookies, biscuits, and pastries. I guess this is what the "clean-eating diet' wants to change among us individuals. That is, to stop eating processed food that contains many additives and to eat more minimally processed nutrient-rich foods.
Coconut oil is a staple in
the ketogenic diet.
Image credit: Pixabay

There are many minimally processed nutrient-rich foods that contain carbohydrates such as nuts, milk, grains, vegetables and fruits, cereals, yogurt, and wholegrain bread. Consequently, carbohydrate-rich foods contain the highest amount of water, dietary fiber, B-vitamins, and minerals and trace elements such as zinc, iron, calcium, selenium, magnesium, and iodine. Because of these important nutrients, it is important to consider the crucial side effects when going on a low-carb or ketogenic diet. Our bodies need all of these to function normally as they aid in growth, repair, metabolism, digestion, and aid in the protection of vital organs.

4 Health Benefits of The Ketogenic Diet

For individuals who have incorporated the ketogenic diet into their lifestyle and are correctly following the proponents of the diet, the ketogenic diet may help:

1. Lower blood sugar and improve your metabolic health.
Of course, rationally speaking, by lowering your carbohydrate intake, you help lower glucose levels in your blood. Medically speaking, in a state of ketosis wherein the body uses ketone bodies as fuel, glucose levels and insulin fluctuate much less than when carbohydrates are used by our bodies as its fuel source.

2. Protect Neurons and improve brain function.
The brain demands the most energy in the body. When a person is in a state of ketosis, the brain is supplied with steady clean-burning fuel and does not have to deal with fluctuations of available fuels, therefore, eliminating symptoms of anxiety, fatigue, and even depression. Some studies have shown that the ketogenic diet is good for the brain as it helps improve cognitive function, stabilizes moods or mental illness, slows down the progression of neurodegenerative diseases, and may serve as a preventative diet for such diseases. As of recent, studies on the effects of the ketogenic diet on patients with Alzheimer's Disease are being conducted.

3. Reduce appetite.
People on the ketogenic diet were evaluated and remarked that they feel less hungry and feel more full. This is due to the effect of ketone bodies on the area of the hypothalamus that reduces appetite and stabilized blood glucose levels. Also, the high fat intake causes satiety.

4. Slow down aging.
According to studies, ketone bodies activate a class of proteins known as sirtuins that regulate important biological pathways or cellular processes such as aging, transcription, apoptosis, and inflammation as well as energy efficiency and alertness during low-calorie events. In rodents, it was found that ketosis-activated sirtuins extended the lifespan of the rodents by 15%.

The Ketogenic Diet- Weight Loss and Other Side Effects

Although the ketogenic diet was intended as a "therapeutic" diet for pediatric epileptic patients, it has now surfaced as a "fad" diet and is even being endorsed by some celebrities as a diet with immediate weight loss effects. Inadvertently, one of the side effects of the ketogenic diet in adolescents and adults is weight loss.

When a person restricts himself from foods that contain carbohydrates, that essentially means that person is cutting off a lot of food resources off his list thus, eating less than the recommended dietary allowance. Just on this premise, you will surely lose weight.

Carbohydrates are the major fuel of the body and when your intake is low, the body will proceed to use glycogen (carbohydrate stores) found in the liver and the muscles. Through this alone, one will lose water weight. The muscle stores about 3g of water to every gram of glycogen. This is the considerable and immediate weight loss that everyone experiences when undergoing a low-carb diet.

When glycogen stores become limited, your body switches to burning fat. It burns the fat that you consume and your body fat. This is what individuals are striving for when they go on a ketogenic diet.

What is surprising though about the ketogenic diet or low-carb diet is that people on these diets feel less hunger and greater fullness which are important in terms of helping people stick to a specific regimen. Diets are hard to follow and do become boring when it is constricting.

As I mentioned above, carbohydrate-containing food has the highest amount of water, dietary fiber, and needed minerals and trace elements that the body needs and by restricting intake may lead to adverse effects such as constipation, micronutrient deficiency, hypoglycemia, low-grade acidosis, and a rise of lipid levels (which can be countered by changing the fat content of the diet). Also, there is the "keto-flu" which a new ketogenic dieter experiences - crabbiness, mental and physical fogginess, dehydration, and strength and endurance loss. These are the immediate adverse side effects one may experience on a ketogenic diet.
Drizzle your cooked meat
with some egg yolks.
Image credit: Pixabay

Is the Ketogenic Diet Ideal For You?

People have asked if the ketogenic diet can be used for long-term. Medically, long-term use of the ketogenic diet in pediatric patients increases the risk of slow/stunted growth, bone fractures, and the formation of kidney stones. For adults, however, long-term use increases the risk of gastrointestinal cancers and decreased immune function.

Although the ketogenic diet is said to improve infertility in women caused by polycystic ovarian syndrome, generally because of the prolonged state of ketosis, a woman's body may attempt to conserve energy thus, halting the "normal" reproductive cycle in a woman causing irregular menses and consequently infertility. 

For pregnant or breastfeeding mothers, before going on the ketogenic diet, please do consult with your physician. Your baby needs all the nutrition he/she can get in all varieties.

For healthy children, experts say that they should be allowed nutritious food in all varieties. They do not recommend children going on a ketogenic diet.

For those who do high-intensity workouts, it's best to have a pre-workout meal with carbohydrates.

If, however, you suffer from anxiety, depression or from minor mental illnesses, the ketogenic diet offers an alternative to medication. Do consult your physician first on the proper technique of the ketogenic diet.

According to The World Cancer Research Fund, there is convincing evidence that there is a higher risk of colorectal cancer associated with low fiber and higher red and processed meat intakes. If you have a family history of colon/bowel cancer, it is recommended not to undergo a ketogenic diet. 

If you have Type 1 Diabetes, it is also recommended not to undergo a ketogenic diet because of the risk of ketoacidosis which is life-threatening.

If you are a healthy individual and really want to lose weight in a short period of time without breaking a sweat from jogging, then you may try the ketogenic diet or a low-carb diet. Bear in mind though, when you do revert back to a more moderate intake of carbs, you'll bring back the water weight.

My Final Thoughts 

The classic ketogenic diet is an extreme diet that is implemented under the supervision of a physician, dietician, and a registered nurse and as such can not be a sustainable diet translated into everyday life. Yes, it may give immediate weight loss effects but is it truly healthy? What is more important- your weight or your overall health? Here lies the controversy of the ketogenic diet. Dieticians and nutritionists from around the globe seem to differ from one another as to the sustainability and overall health aspects of the ketogenic diet.

Parents who show children patterns of extreme dieting may stir certain body image/self-esteem issues. Why is my mom/dad dieting? They keep saying they have to lose weight; is it bad to be fat? They say they are ugly that way; does that mean I'm ugly too? Parents should always proceed with caution regarding dieting. Explain that you are following a recommended diet for health issues, never voice your concerns about your issues with weight or your body, and always reassure your children that they are beautiful just the way they are.

Having an active lifestyle, eating more minimally processed, nutrient-rich foods and eating everything in moderation (right proportions and serving sizes) can help you lose weight, become fit, and healthy for the long term. Eat right and live right. Plus, don't forget to drink water and get some adequate rest. No need for you to go on an extreme "fad" diet. You may end up hurting yourself if not done properly.

Here's to our health! Cheers!



Sources:

Katie, "How to do a Ketogenic Diet (and Is it Safe for Women?), https://wellnessmama.com
Collins, Clares and Williams, R., "Do Ketogenic Diets Help You Lose Weight?", https://theconversation.com
Ketogenic Diet, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ketogenic_diet














Comments

  1. It's a wonder why people go on fad diets to begin with. To keep physically fit, you have to exercise and eat a balanced meal 3× a day. Nothing in excess. And that bulletproof coffee thing has got to go.

    ReplyDelete

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