Every year it seems there is a new popular diet out there. Over the years, we have seen all types of different diets like Deal -A-Meal, Nutrisystem, The South Beach diet, Intermittent Fasting, The Zone diet, and many others. The list is too long to mention them all. Today the popular diet is the Keto diet. What is the Keto diet, though? The Keto diet is a ketogenic diet that, by following strict restriction of carbohydrates, puts the body into a state of ketosis. Ketosis is a state where when the blood sugar levels drop low enough, and for long enough due to very low carbohydrate consumption gets the body to start producing ketones for fuel. Ketones are a fragmented form of fat that yields seven calories a gram. Regular fat yields nine calories a gram. This is one of the benefits of a ketogenic diet because you are burning fat at an accelerated rate. It can be very beneficial for fat loss and host of other benefits but more on the pros and cons of the Keto diet and ketogenic diets in general later.
The Keto diet isn’t new, though. Ketogenic diets started in the 1920s as a way to treat epilepsy, and they have been around for years in some form or another. Bodybuilders have been using types of low carbohydrate or ketogenic diets for years to prepare for competition. The Atkins diet is a popular low carbohydrate/ketogenic diet that has been around since the 1970s, and there are others as well.
The premise of any ketogenic diet is to shift the emphasis on fuel-burning from carbohydrates towards fat and ketones. To get into a state of ketosis, the carbohydrate intake will need to be very low. The Keto diet recommends you limit your carbohydrate intake to 20 net carbohydrates per day. Net carbohydrates are carbohydrates that impact blood sugar. Fiber and sugar alcohols, which are found in many low carbohydrate diet foods and snacks, are not counted as net carbohydrates. Fiber actually slows digestion and stabilizes blood sugar aiding in fat loss, and sugar alcohols have a minimal impact on blood sugar.
Since you are only eating 20 grams of carbohydrates a day, the rest of your diet will consist of fat and protein, with fat being the majority of your calories each day. The reason fat will be the majority of your calories on the Keto diet, or any ketogenic diet is because even if your carbohydrates are really low if your protein intake is too high, your body might not be able to get into ketosis. This is because, in the absence of enough carbohydrates, the body can break down protein and convert it over to glucose, the body’s form of blood sugar, via a process called gluconeogenesis. The exact percentage of carbohydrates, fat, and protein to consume each day on the Keto diet seems to vary depending on how you want to do it. Still, the most common percentage ranges I have seen are 5 to 10 % carbohydrates, 20 to 25 % protein, and 70 to 75 % fat.
So is the Keto diet for you? Well, I always tell clients that you can’t look at the world through a straw and make a generalization or one size fits all for everyone. Everyone’s body is different, and everyone responds to diets differently. You need to find a diet or better yet a nutrition program (I consider the word diet to mean temporary or short term) that best fits you and your body. With that being said, let’s go over some of the pros and cons of the Keto diet and ketogenic diets in general so you can have a better idea and can be better informed to know if it is right for you.
The Pros (some of these can be labeled “potential pros” as everyone is different and everyone’s body responds differently)
- Higher rate of fat loss. Because of the ketones being burned as fat and yielding less calories per gram than fat, the rate of fat loss can be greater on a ketogenic diet.
- Reduced insulin levels. Because carbohydrates are so restricted, insulin levels will be reduced. This can lead to more significant fat loss.
- Decreased insulin resistance. A ketogenic diet minimizes the release of insulin, which can improve insulin resistance.
- Decreased hunger. On a ketogenic diet, blood sugar and insulin levels tend to be more stable and not fluctuate as much, and this can lead to reduced hunger.
- Improved health benefits. Low carbohydrate and or ketogenic diets may help improve triglycerides and cholesterol levels, reduce blood pressure, reduce the risk of certain cancers and heart disease and potentially reduce the risk of diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
- Because of their ability to lower and control insulin, ketogenic diets can be useful for losing abdominal body fat.
- Limited food options. When your carbohydrate intake is as restricted as it is on a ketogenic diet, the number of different food options you have is limited.
- Issues with dining out. Eating out can be challenging because of the limited food and menu choices that will fit in with a ketogenic diet.
- Lack of fiber. It can be challenging to get enough fiber in the diet due to the restricted carbohydrate intake, which can lead to issues of constipation.
- Potential nutrient deficiencies. You can develop nutrient deficiencies due to the low amount of carbohydrates and not being able to eat a wide variety of food. Nutrients such as magnesium, choline, vitamin D, selenium, B vitamins, and vitamin C can be deficient on a low carbohydrate or ketogenic diet.
- Possible dehydration. The body reduces its water stores when carbohydrates are restricted, so staying properly hydrated can be a potential problem.
- It can difficult to stick with a ketogenic diet long term. This is due to the fact of not being able to eat a wide variety of food and carbohydrates.
My personal thoughts and feelings are that from my experience in nearly 20 years in the health and fitness industry and helping numerous people lose body fat are that for most people, a low carbohydrate diet tends to work well for fat loss. I feel controlling insulin and blood sugar levels are the biggest keys to fat loss, and restricting carbohydrates with a low carbohydrate diet can significantly help with that. That being said, I don’t feel you need to restrict your carbohydrates that significantly and be in ketosis to lose body fat. As I said earlier, everyone is different, and there is no one size fits all diet for everyone. A more moderate carbohydrate or even higher carbohydrate diet may work better for some people. I think a more sensible approach for most people and their health and fat loss goals is to follow a more balanced diet. A balanced diet consisting of a wide variety of all-natural, organic low glycemic carbohydrates that are high in fiber, lean proteins, and healthy fats, I feel, should be the goal. At the same time, you should try to avoid or minimize the use of sugar and refined carbohydrates, trans fats, and processed foods in general. As with any diet or nutritional program, you should consult your physician before starting.