What is the ketogenic diet?
The ketogenic diet, or keto for short, is a low-carb, high-fat diet that shares many similarities with the Atkins diet.
The diet was first developed in 1921, after researchers initially set out to understand how fasting was reducing the frequency of seizures in children with epilepsy.
Your body needs glucose (sugars) for energy, and it usually gets this from carbohydrates. If you stop eating carbohydrates or drastically cut down on them, then your body burns stored fat instead, resulting in weight loss.
This switch to burning fat instead of getting glucose from your food results in a build-up of acids called ketones, and this puts your body into a metabolic state called ketosis.
Pros of the keto diet
As controversial as the diet is, there must be something to it if people keep doing it.
There can be no doubt that the keto diet does help you lose weight, which is the primary reason why so many take it up in the first place.
People also report feeling less hungry than they normally would when on other types of diets, probably because fatty foods take longer to break down in the body.
One of the biggest draws of the diet is the fact you can eat things that other diets would normally tell you to avoid, such as red meat, cheese and butter.
According to a 2012 study, the keto diet can help improve acne in some people. It’s thought that an imbalance of gut bacteria cause blood sugar to rise and fall significantly, both of which can adversely affect skin health.
There is also some evidence to suggest that the keto diet may improve heart health and reduce the risk of a heart attack.
A 2017 review showed that some people experienced a drop in the “bad” type of cholesterol along with a slight increase in the “good” type.
However, the review concluded that the positive effects of the diet on heart health depend on diet quality, so it’s important to eat healthful, nutritionally balanced food while on the diet.
Cons of the keto diet
But the keto diet is not without its detractors.
New research published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition argues popular low-carbohydrate ketogenic diets are unhealthy for most people – particularly pregnant women and kidney disease patients.
And because the diet is very restrictive, it’s typically difficult to sustain. This means it may be effective for weight loss in the short-term, but lends itself to yo-yo dieting, which is unhealthy in the long-term.
The lack of fruits, vegetables and whole grains mean you’re not receiving the vitamins, minerals and fibers that you would with a balanced diet.
Then there are the foods themselves which are promoted through the diet. Many ketogenic foods, such as red meats, are linked with heart disease and cancer.
The conclusion on the keto diet
Well, that’s the problem. For every paper that suggests the keto diet is bad for you, there’s another one that says it’s good.
The long-term health effects on the body from the keto diet are still unclear, but looking at everything on the whole, it would seem that short doses of the diet are effective in losing weight, but people should be cautious and listen to their bodies.
If you do want to try the keto diet to find out for yourself what it’s like, then the good news is there are lots of tasty foods you don’t have to give up.
Meat and poultry are the foundation of the diet, with seafood the perfect choice as fish is virtually carb-free but high in protein and vitamins.
Less than 10% of your food should be carbohydrates in order to maintain ketosis, with between 60 – 80% of your diet fats.
Cheese, eggs, nuts, seeds and berries are all fine, along with creams, yoghurts, and even dark chocolate.
And of course, our favourite, avocados.
Half an avocado only contains about 2 grams of carbs, while at the same time providing 21% of your daily potassium.
Studies have also shown that higher potassium intake may even help make the transition to a ketogenic diet easier.
If you’ve tried the keto diet, then let us know if it worked for you! What did like or dislike about it? Was it difficult to maintain or were you loving all that meat?!
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