The Pros and Cons of the Ketogenic Diet, A Nutritionist’s Perspective

There has been so much buzz about the Keto diet for the past few years. The Ketogenic diet is very low in carbohydrates (less than 20-50g per day depending on body size) and very high in fat. This causes the body to break down fat into ketones instead of glucose from carbohydrates as a main source of energy. It excludes most fruits, grains, legumes, and starchy vegetables. 

Originally, the ketogenic diet was primarily used to treat children suffering from epilepsy. This was monitored by doctors and licensed nutritionists/registered dieticians only. However, the ketogenic diet has become so popular in its perceived ability to provide weight loss in individuals. Below are a list of pros and cons of the keto diet, a nutritionist’s perspective. 

Pros

1. If you need a jumpstart in losing weight, it might be a good choice in the beginning…

Ingesting more high fat foods can actually reduce cravings and increase satiety. This will eventually help you stay on track with your caloric budget for the day and weight loss will occur. Besides weight loss, the keto diet can help to improve high blood pressure, high triglycerides levels, and elevated cholesterol. 

2. Fat loss 

When we start using fat (ketones) as our main source of energy rather than carbohydrates, we start to burn off more fat for energy which results in the obvious “fat loss.” So that abdominal fat that you always wanted to get rid of will most likely decrease the stricter you are with this type of high-fat diet. 

3. Helps Insulin sensitivity 

Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that helps us to use sugar (glucose) from carbohydrates for energy. Some people have a hard time metabolizing glucose from carbohydrates. This is a case-by case issue and it depends on the health of individual, food sensitivities, and/or history of diabetes. If you train a lot, this can reduce the storage of glucose in muscle cells which can negatively affect your training performance and results. Including a low-carb diet into the mix from time to time can help boost this insulin sensitivity, while reintroducing carbohydrates at a later time at no cost to physique or performance. 

4.Can be used as a ‘therapeutic’ diet

As I mentioned before, the ketogenic diet was originally used by children suffering from epilepsy. Further studies have shown that the Ketogenic diet can also be helpful for adults with epilepsy and individuals with cancer. This high-fat, low carbohydrate diet in cancer therapy is used to reduce glucose circulating in the blood and induce ketosis which ends up starving cancer cells while normal cells in the body survive by using ketones for energy. 

Cons 

1. The weight loss is usually not sustainable 

The Keto diet falls into that “yo-yo diet” category that can lead to rapid weight loss but is this something you can really do forever AND keep that weight off? It can be hard to sustain a diet that is 90% fat dependent. This diet may accelerate weight loss at first but is very heavy on red meats, fatty, and salty foods that can be unhealthy. The Ketogenic diet has been shown in studies as a “short-term” weight loss option only. Choosing healthier sources of fat instead is crucial. Fats such as olive oil, avocados, and nuts. 

2.It is low in fiber

The foods that are restricted on the keto diet such as fruits, many vegetables, grains, and legumes are loaded with vitamins and minerals that also provide fiber in our diets. Fiber helps keep our blood sugar stable, digestion, and can help with constipation. 

3. Affects our microbiome (and not in a good way!)

Diets rich in fiber, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes (everything the keto diet is NOT!) has shown to increase the amount of beneficial bacterial species and increases overall diversity, which has a beneficial effect on the individual’s health. A diversified gut microbiome plays a crucial role in providing energy from the foods we consume. 

4. We need carbs to make us feel happy (no, really!) 

So many processes in our body rely on carbohydrates. For instance, carbohydrates are required for energy but also are required to convert an amino acid called tryptophan into serotonin (happy hormone). Now, this doesn’t mean we should eat countless loaves of bread each day, but healthy complex carbohydrates (whole grains, legumes, starchy veggies) in moderation can have great health benefits for us.  If you experience dietary issues with certain grains and most carbs, whether you have SIBO, IBS, autoimmune issues, or allergic reactions to these foods, then this is even more of a reason to make an appointment with a licensed nutritionist to find the right eating routine that is perfect for you. 

In a nutshell

Always speak to your doctor or a licensed nutritionist if you are making any drastic changes to your diet. In my opinion, I always tell my clients to meet themselves halfway, especially when deciding on a new lifestyle change. So if you want to try out Keto or need to try this eating plan for specific health reasons; do your research first and see what foods, vitamins, and minerals you might be missing and reconstruct it to fit YOUR needs. Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all. So, if you have a friend who has tried Keto or other extreme diets and it worked for them, that doesn’t mean it will for you. Take care of your body and take the time to understand what it may need. 

References

Campos, M. (2017). Ketogenic diet: is the ultimate low-carb diet good for you? Harvard Health Publishing. 

Ellerbroek, A. The Effect of Ketogenic Diets on the Gut Microbiota. Journal of Exercise and Nutrition. 1 (5). 

Schugar, R., Crawford, P. (2013).Low-carbohydrate ketogenic diets, glucose homeostasis, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Clinical Nutrition Metabolism Care. 15(4), 374-380. 

Sondike, S., Copperman, N., Jacobson, M. Effects of a low-carbohydrate diet on weight loss and cardiovascular risk factor in overweight adolescents. The Journal of Pediatrics. 142(3), 253-258. 

Mosek, A., Natour, H., Neufeld, M., Shiff, Y., Vaisman, N. (2009). Ketogenic diet treatment in adults with refractory epilepsy: A prospective pilot study. Seizure. 18 (1). 30-33. 

Weber, D., Gohari, S., Kofler, B. (2018). Ketogenic diet in cancer therapy. Open-Access Impact Journal on Aging. 10 (2), 164-165. 



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