Over the last decade or so, the Ketogenic (Keto) Diet has been steadily gaining exposure and popularity, sometimes in the midst of controversy. This diet is basically a style of eating that includes high contents of fat, whilst almost completely doing away with what most people have come to know as ‘carbs’ (complex carbohydrates).
Keto eating plans have turned out to offer quite substantial (and in some cases rapid) drops in weight, along with a range of other indicators of possible benefits to health, and have seen more and more people, including a vast range of high-profile ‘celebrities’ from athletes to actors, turning to this diet for weight reduction. The results often speak for themselves when it comes to dropping weight, but there is still debate over the actual safety of this diet in some respects, and whether it can be implemented on a long-term basis remains to be seen in terms of current research evidence. The purpose of this article then, is to consider the Ketogenic Diet’s pros and cons in terms of being a realistic and safe weight loss program.
The main idea behind this particular way of eating lies within its substantial reduction of carbohydrates to an absolute minimum. In terms of calorific intake, this is likely to be less than 10%, or even as little as 5% of total food intake according to some proponents of the diet. The result of this is what is known as a state of ‘ketosis’ (hence keto) is induced, whereby the body actually starts to utilize fat as it main source of fuel from ‘ketones’ that are produced in the liver.
This is supported by the significantly higher fat intake (usually 70% or more of total calorific intake), and unlike other eating plans like the ‘Paleo Diet’, which may be similar in some ways due to its omitting of processed carbohydrates, along with other foods considered unnatural, the amount of protein involved in ketogenic diets is actually not that high (accounting for not more than 20% of total food intake according to a trusted source).
One of the considered factors of this diet in terms of weight loss is that, whilst in states of ketosis, there is likely to be a reduction in hunger. Apparently this is due to the fact that the body’s production of its ‘hunger hormone’ known as ghrelin is significantly reduced, meaning that fewer calories are actually eaten over the course of a day. This alone is one of the key factors linking this diet with weight loss. One study followed twenty obese people on the Keto diet and indicated significant reductions in cravings for not only food, but also alcohol. As one of the main obstacles encountered by anyone following a weight reduction diet plan is hunger, it would seem from this study that the Keto plan may go some way to solving this issue.
Research has also uncovered the fact that when carbohydrates are stored as energy in the body, they tend to be responsible for holding water, which often compounds weight problems in many individuals, especially those prone to water retention. So it would seem that the Keto diet goes some way to reducing any water (thus weight) held by the body, mainly due to its reduction in carbs ingested, but also, more directly it would seem, as any stored carbs will be released by the body once ketosis sets in. This is another huge indicator in terms of actual reduction of bodyweight.
Calorie deficits and dieting
One of the main considerations of any eating plan with the sole intention of weight loss is maintaining a calorie deficit – i.e. eating fewer calories than those utilised as fuel for energy by the body. A study conducted on obese males showed that increases (although minor) in the ratio of calories being burned were directly linked to the Keto diet, although when compared to other, more standard weight loss calorie deficit programs, the amount of body weight lost was not necessarily that different. So rather than increased metabolic rates or fat burning mechanisms, it seems far more likely that the main factor related to weight loss from ketogenic eating is largely due to the type of calorific intake in terms of how high fat/low carb consumption affects the body’s ability to use food as fuel.
Although the Keto diet is largely related to weight loss to most people’s minds, studies showing the exact mechanisms involved are still somewhat lacking, leaving this particular way of eating still open to much debate or individual preference. So it has been documented that hunger levels may well be reduced and that less water and fluid retention is more likely, but that seems to be about as far as it goes in terms of actual, documented evidence.
One of the main arguments against the Keto diet is that any potential weight loss may be a case of ‘too much too soon’, with some studies even apparently indicating higher mortality rates from such low-carb dietary habits. Some claim that the brain’s performance is negatively affected by the switch from carbs to fat as primary fuel source, and it has even been stated that osteoporosis (bone loss), growth stunting, and increased risk of heart disease, to name but a few, are other by-products of a ketogenic diet. A Harvard study linked the consumption of an animal-based, low-carbohydrate diet with cardiovascular deaths such as strokes or heart attacks. Of course, there is conflicting evidence to the contrary, as with everything, so as with any weight loss program that has its champions and naysayers, all things need to be considered carefully beforehand.
The bottom line
The fact remains that any weight loss program, whether Keto or otherwise, needs to entail lifestyle changes in dietary habits and calorie consumption. Certainly consuming higher levels of fat and low amounts of carbs will impact the body considerably. A Ketogenic diet may be tough for some people to undertake, at least initially, and requires careful monitoring and planning. But at the end of the day, any worthwhile weight-loss regime that has any chance of being enduring, with lasting results, needs to be considered more as a change in lifestyle rather than a ‘giving-up’ of anything or simply a relinquishing of any of life’s seeming pleasures.