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To Keto or Not to Keto...

One of the latest trends in weight loss dieting that has been gaining a substantial amount of steam, lately, is the ketogenic diet. While the ketogenic approach is nothing new to individuals affected by epileptic seizures or diabetes, it is for those that are interested in losing unwanted weight. But, the question remains, is adopting a ketogenic diet beneficial to you?

Before we get started, what is a ketogenic diet? Essentially, it involves consuming foods that are high in fat, but low in carbohydrates. The initial goal is to have one’s body adjusted into the metabolic state of ketosis, in which the body transitions to relying more on fat for energy than glycogen (glucose). Basically, when one is starving, his/her body needs energy to feed the brain and heart to stay alive, and since fat is high in energy, it becomes the preferred alternative when glycogen levels are depleted. In a ketogenic diet, a person is “starving” the body of carbohydrates, which leads it to resort to fats.

Since its utilization for weight loss is still quite new, there is not much consensus as to whether or not it is the best approach. The main concern for those against the idea is the potential of ketoacidosis. When in the state of ketosis, fat is transported from adipose tissue to the liver, where it is converted into ketone bodies, which are used for energy. Since ketone bodies are, themselves, acidic, producing too many ketone bodies lowers the body’s pH, thus resulting in ketoacidosis. It is because of this risk that individuals who have adopted a ketogenic diet must keep abreast in regularly testing his/her ketone levels to prevent conditions, such as ketoacidosis.

Before jumping on the ketogenic diet bandwagon, one has to be aware of the dietary alterations involved in the diet. For example, since carbohydrates are greatly reduced, where some recommendations include as little as 10 grams per day (the USDA generally recommends approximately 130 grams per day), which means that even fruit and dairy consumption is also very limited. Such dietary restrictions also require individuals to take vitamin supplements to ensure persons are getting the micronutrients needed for their body to function properly.

So, assuming that you are following the guidelines for a ketogenic diet, while taking the necessary precautions to avoid complications, is it going to lead you to losing weight? As a matter of fact, there are some studies that have indicated this to occur, but there is a caveat. For instance, typically, one becomes overweight from poor food choices, which are heavy in fat and dense with calories. Additionally, when such choices are coupled with minimal exercise, unwanted pounds may accumulate rather quickly. For many of the believers of the ketogenic diet, it is not so much the diet alone that is responsible for their weight loss, but also abandoning junk food and implementing a consistent workout regimen. Also, the rapid weight loss that occurs within the first couple of days and weeks is not so much body fat that is being melted away, but, rather, muscle glycogen (our body’s glucose stores) being depleted with water weight. In addition to that, abandoning the ketogenic diet and returning to “typical” carbohydrate-heavy eating habits will replenish glycogen stores, which is where these individuals may see their weight returning to where it was in the first place.

Does this mean that the ketogenic diet movement is a farce? Not necessarily. The main thing is that each individual is engineered differently. For some, adopting the diet works for them because its food options appeal to them, which makes the transition easier.

With careful planning, it could be the key for people to successfully lose weight and keep it off, however, as I always suggest, see your doctor before adopting a new diet and let him/her know that you want to test the ketogenic approach. Additionally, working with a registered dietitian can further ease the difficulty in choosing the foods that are in line with the diet and help to keep you on track.

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