This diet is trending, but does it work?
If the new year prompted you to look for a new way to lose weight, you aren’t alone. More than 20 percent of 2017 New Year’s resolutions involved dropping pounds.
The newest and trendiest diets often catch the eyes of those resolved to lighten their loads. And, according to Google search trends, the ketogenic diet is poised to become one of the hottest ways to slim down in 2017.
So, what is it? Does it work? Is it safe?
What is the ketogenic diet?
The ketogenic, or “keto”, diet is, essentially a low-carb, high-fat diet turned up to “11”. It shares many similarities with the well-known Atkins diet, but is generally less structured.
According to Dr. Howard McNair, an Advocate Medical Group family medicine physician on staff at Advocate South Suburban Hospital in Hazel Crest, Ill., a strict ketogenic diet would involve ultra-low carb consumption of 20-30 grams per day. That’s about the number of carbohydrates in one small apple or a cob of corn.
The keto diet replaces the carbohydrate intake with fat, along with limiting protein consumption. Dr. McNair says that following a keto diet plan means healthy fats will account for about 80 percent of calories, and protein will make up about 20 percent.
The reduction in carbs puts your body into ketosis, a natural state of using fat for energy instead of usual blood sugar that comes from carbs.
“As ketosis occurs, your body becomes more efficient at burning fat for energy,” says Dr. McNair. “It also turns fat into ketones in the liver, which then supplies energy for the body and brain.”
Following a keto diet means eating plenty of these foods:
- Meat – red meat, pork, chicken and turkey
- Fatty fish – salmon, trout, tuna and mackerel
- Butter and cream
- Cheese – Unprocessed cheese
- Nuts and seeds – Almonds, walnuts, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, etc.
- Healthy oils – Especially extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil and avocado oil
- Avocados – Whole avocados or freshly made guacamole
To stay on ketosis course, you should avoid:
- Sugary foods – Soda, fruit juice, smoothies, cake, ice cream, candy, etc.
- Grains and starches – Wheat-based products, rice, pasta, cereal, etc.
- Fruit – All fruit, except small portions of berries
- Beans or legumes – Peas, kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas, etc.
- Root vegetables and tubers – Potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, etc.
- Unhealthy fat – Limit intake of processed vegetable oils, mayonnaise, etc.
- Alcohol – Due to its carb content, many alcoholic beverages can take you out of ketosis
Does it work?
There are more than 20 studies that show a very low-carb plan like the keto diet may help you lose weight and improve health.
“There is ample evidence that low carb diets such as the ketogenic diet can help people lose weight and control blood glucose levels,” he says. “Any eating plan that cuts out unneeded carbs and sugars will have a beneficial effect, especially for those who are clinically obese or struggle with diabetes or pre-diabetes.”
Dr. McNair points out that, like most diet plans, the most dramatic results of a keto diet will be seen in those individuals who are substantially overweight.
“The keto diet does tend to generate positive results quite quickly, within a few weeks,” he says. “Even though this may slow down, it can motivate people to stay on track, which will lead to even greater weight loss.”
The keto diet, adds Dr. McNair, has shown some potential for other positive health and wellness effects. In fact, a review of the keto diet, published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that extreme carb cutting may help manage epilepsy, control acne, combat cancer, and fight Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Is it safe?
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that carbohydrates make up 45-65 percent of total daily calories. So, if you get 2,000 calories a day, between 900 and 1,300 calories should be from carbohydrates. That translates to between 225 and 325 grams of carbohydrates a day.
So, is slashing carbs by 90 percent of these numbers healthy?
Research shows that adherence to a keto diet for even up to 6 months in overweight, but otherwise relatively healthy individuals, led to no significant health concerns. But, Dr. McNair says that there may be more practical and sustainable plans.
“Cutting carbs will help the body to use its own fat stores, and eventually, a person will lose weight,” he says, “But exercise and a well-balanced diet with vegetables and fruit is a healthier way to lose weight, and is less of a quick fix like the keto diet.”
There have been some adverse effects of the diet reported, according to Dr. McNair. Some of the most common complaints have been headaches, diarrhea, constipation, mood swings, muscle cramps and tiredness.
Dr. McNair also has some concerns about the effects of rapid weight loss that the keto diet promises.
“Weight loss of greater than two pounds per week is never a good idea for the body, because it puts a strain on the kidneys to get rid of ketones,” he explains. “People with kidney disease would probably want to avoid this sort of diet, and they certainly need to consult with their physician before trying anything like it.”
People with coronary artery disease also need to be careful, he adds.
“Low carb diets have been shown to increase artery clogging, which would very much worsen coronary artery disease,” he says. “And, the recommended high fat intake of a ketogenic diet could have a number of negative effects in these people, as well, without close supervision.”
Dr. McNair strongly recommends talking with your physician before making any major diet or lifestyle changes.
“This sort of diet needs to be cautiously worked out with a medical professional who is versed in this type of weight loss method,” he says “Dieters will need to be sure they are eating ‘good’ fats and not neglecting an otherwise balanced diet, but a doctor or nutritionist can help them with that.”
About the Author
Nate Llewellyn, health enews contributor, is a manager of public affairs at Advocate Medical Group. Nate began his career as a journalist and builds daily on his nearly 20 years of writing experience. He spends most of his free time following his wife to their two sons’ various activities.