The ketogenic diet is one that has taken the weight-loss industry by storm because it has proven to be so effective. So I thought I would use today’s blog to explore a few important questions, such as: Is it safe? Is it sustainable? And how does it work?
Firstly, though, let’s have a look at what ketogenic actually means.
The ‘keto diet’
The ketogenic diet uses macronutrient (carbohydrates, proteins and fats) manipulation to create an internal environment conducive to burning fat. It does this by adopting a low carbohydrate, and restricted protein intake, in order to stimulate an alternate energy source known as ‘ketones’. Normally speaking the body runs predominantly on glucose as its main energy source. Ketones are what is created when glucose is in short supply.
Glucose comes from the breakdown of carbohydrates, as well as excess protein in the diet. It is an efficient energy source because it is so quick to metabolise. Yet the problem is that if you are consuming more glucose that you are using, your body converts it into glycogen and transports it to your fat cells where it accumulates for potential later use.
Ketones, on the other hand, are a little different. They are created in the liver through the breakdown of fat. This fat will either come from your diet or from the fat stores in your body. When your body has been starved of carbohydrates and excess protein, it goes into a state of ‘ketosis’ and it is in this state that the production of ketones is stimulated. Like glucose, ketones are also able to supply your brain with sufficient energy to keep functioning at its optimal level.
So basically your body becomes much more efficient at breaking down fat and utilising it as an energy source. Yet in order to maintain this diet and still gain the nutrients needed, you need to adopt a high (good) fat diet, to help ensure that you are still gaining all the energy required not only to go about your day but also to maintain your body.
So this begs the next questions:
Is it sustainable?
In order for this diet to be effective (in achieving ketosis), you need to follow it quite strictly as any deviation will only set back the state of ketosis. Also, the diet itself is quite restrictive. Active people, who still need lots of calories to sustain their body, can sometimes find it difficult adjusting to a reduced protein diet and a higher fat intake.
The other thing to mention is that this diet is usually used for the short term as opposed to a long-term and is potentially cycled. There are other ways in which to promote ketone production that is slightly more sustainable for the long term, such as some types of intermittent fasting.
Is it safe?
For some people, the keto diet has been a helpful tool in dealing with specific illnesses such as Alzheimer's and epilepsy, however, there are other people for whom the ketogenic diet is not safe. For example people with specific metabolic diseases, such as pyruvate carboxylase deficiency and porphyria as well as other illnesses where insulin levels need to be considered, such as type 1 diabetes, should seek medical advice first.
Personally, I prefer a balanced diet, that contains all the macronutrients, coupled with regular exercise. I find that this is an effective and healthy way for me to stay healthy and strong. However if you are considering trying the ketogenic diet, I recommend that you research it thoroughly before you start so that you can not only make an informed decision as to whether it will be appropriate for you but also to ensure that you will be following it correctly.