Ketogenic diet review
Ketogenic diet is a high-fat, extremely low-carb diet. Developed in the 1920s to treat epilepsy, it is a starvation diet modeled on the ancient practice of fasting that is known to offer significant relief from epileptic symptoms. Although ketogenic diet has been found to be beneficial in reducing seizures, especially in children, it was largely replaced by modern epileptic drugs. However, interest in this diet has been rekindled of late, not only for treating the disorder but also as a weight loss diet.
How the Ketogenic Diet Works
Normally, our brain requires a steady supply of glucose for its functioning, but, in the absence of glucose, as when you fast, it uses fat as an alternative fuel. When fat is broken down for energy, a group of substances called ketones are produced, and they cross the blood-brain barrier to feed the brain cells.
Epileptic seizures seem to reduce in frequency and severity when ketones take the place of glucose as the main source of energy. That is the reason why fasting had been recommended as an effective therapy for epilepsy for ages. Ketogenic diet mimics this effect by eliminating carbohydrates––the source of glucose––from the diet while increasing fat consumption.
In ketogenic diet, the almost complete elimination of carbohydrates alters the normal metabolic pathways, forcing the body to burn fat for energy. As a result, ketones such as beta-hydroxybutyric acid and acetone are synthesized in the liver from fat, putting the body in a state of ‘ketosis,’ where fat is rapidly used up as the major fuel for energy, rather than glucose. In other words, ketogenic diet turns the body into a fat-burning machine, which has, not surprisingly, made it popular as a weight loss measure.
Ketogenic diet for weight loss is not well defined, although it is generally agreed that carbohydrates should be limited to less than 15-20 grams. One popular 1,600 calorie diet plan includes 136 grams of fat from different sources, 74 grams of animal-based protein, and 20 grams of total carbohydrates from all types of foods. Although this plan is calorie-restrictive to some extent, it is considered quite generous compared to the 800- calorie fluid diet recommended by a Dr. Oliver Di Pietro from Florida. This is a rather expensive clinical diet consisting of 70% fats from oils, butter, animal fats, mayonnaise, full-fat milk and cream, avocado etc. While it allows a protein content of 25%, net carbohydrates are limited to just 5%. Administered directly into the esophagus through a feeding tube, this extreme keto-diet has been strongly criticized even by advocates of ketogenic diet.
Some Ketogenic diet plans start with a day of fasting to kickstart the keto metabolism, while others recommend easing into it gradually over several weeks of restricting calories and carbohydrates in a phased manner. This may help reduce the initial side effects, but obviously prolongs the ordeal; so many keto-enthusiasts prefer the quick-start method. Intermittent fasting, in fact, is an integral part of many ketogenic diet plans.
Is exercise involved?
Ketogenic diet as a weight loss method is mainly concerned with changes in nutritional inputs to facilitate a fat-burning metabolism. As mentioned before, it is originally developed exclusively as a treatment for epilepsy, and fat reduction is just a side effect. There are no exercise guidelines that go along with the diet. As a matter of fact, dieters are not likely to be in a condition for extra exertion during the period. Hence, ketogenic diet cannot be considered a complete or wholesome program for attaining a well-toned body.
There is severe restriction on the intake of carbohydrates in all forms, including vegetables and fruits that contain starch and sugar. This makes the diet nutritionally deficient with respect to vitamins and minerals that our body normally gets from these types of foods. Nutritional supplements such as multivitamins and minerals are a must while you’re on ketogenic diet to avoid deficiency diseases. In addition, a fiber supplement may be necessary to ease bowel movements since constipation is one of the most common side effects of this extremely low-carb diet.
The Cost Factor
Dieters on Ketogenic diet cut down on fruits and vegetables while increasing the amount of proteins and fats. It may translate to lower expenses on one side, but may increase costs on other counts. You also have to factor in the cost of essential nutritional supplements to prevent vitamin and mineral deficiencies, not to mention regular testing to check for any adverse effect of the diet.
Do Dieters Lose Weight on the Ketogenic Diet?
The good news about Ketogenic diet is that it does help people lose excess weight. Since the diet includes good amounts of protein, it can actually help you lose fat tissue without significant loss of muscle mass, unlike many calorie-restricted diets. Ketogenesis is an altered metabolic state in which fat is exclusively used up for energy production in place of glucose from carbohydrates. Some of the fat comes from the diet itself, which typically has a very high percentage of fat. But your body initiated into fat burning mode uses up some of the stored fat as well, which obviously results in weight loss.
Dieters should be aware that ketosis is actually a milder form of ketoacidosis, a life threatening condition that occurs in Type I diabetics. Although ketosis is not considered dangerous in controlled levels, it is an extreme measure for weight loss. Dieters should seek immediate medical help if they develop any of the following symptoms of ketoacidosis:
- Extreme dehydration and thirst
- Nausea, vomiting, and severe stomach cramps
- Shortness of breath and fruity breath
- Extreme tiredness and confusion
Diabetics, in particular, should not adopt this diet for weight loss, except under medical supervision.
Level of Effort
Ketogenic diet takes a lot of effort when it comes to following the strict food restrictions. You’re expected to make drastic changes in your diet, increasing the intake of fat and protein while keeping carbohydrates to a minimum. Braving through the severe side effects such as headaches, mood swings, stomach cramps and flu-like symptoms––called keto-flu––can be quite tough.
Since there’s no consensus on the exact ratio of macronutrients––fats, proteins, and carbohydrates––to be included in the diet, you probably have to find your own sweet spot by trial and error. Another concern with this diet is that it is quite unforgiving. Even the slightest deviation from the diet can play havoc with your metabolism. For example, cheating for even a single day can set you back for weeks.
Ketogenic diet is effective in reducing body fat, but the probable risks involved in adopting this highly restrictive diet make it a poor choice for weight loss, unless it is administered under medical supervision. Moreover, if you have large amounts of excess fat tissue, rapid fat reduction through this method can leave you looking like a bag of bones. Practical difficulties such as constant constipation, poor mood and lack of adequate food choices make the diet hard to follow through. Advocates of the diet warn that increasing carbohydrate intake while one is on ketosis can backfire. Dieters may regain all the lost weight, and some more, if they don’t strictly adhere to the prescribed eating plan. Ketogenic diet does show quick results, but it’s a poor substitute for healthier and sustainable weight loss methods that combine a balanced diet with lifestyle modifications.
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