With over 70% of Americans considered to be overweight or obese, there’s no surprise that the diet and weight loss market has exploded into a multi-billion-dollar industry. Because of that, we’re left with a variety of diet programs available to us that can be overwhelming, confusing and sometimes conflicting. One particular program that has gained a lot of media attention is the ketogenic diet. Are the claims behind this diet sound? Is the ketogenic diet helpful or harmful in the long run? Our Nutrition Team is here to provide you with the scientific principles behind the claims, so you can make a well-informed decision on whether or not it’s right for you.
What is the Ketogenic diet?
The main concept behind a ketogenic diet is to alter the way the body uses energy. This diet recommends drastically lowering carbohydrate intake and increasing protein and fat intake. Specifically, the ketogenic diet is rich in meats, eggs, cheese, fish, butter, oils and seeds. When your body has fewer carbohydrates to process, it starts to breakdown stored fat molecules into what’s known as ketone bodies (a process called ketosis).
What are the benefits?
The main reason people follow a ketogenic diet is because of a desire to lose weight. How does it work? When carbohydrate intake (and therefore glucose intake) is drastically reduced, your body goes into ketosis, where it breaks down stored fat for energy, which may result in weight loss. Because of the body’s constant state of ketosis, this diet has also been administered to children with drug-resistant epilepsy, under the theory that it may reduce the risk of seizures.
What are the risks?
Studies show that the seemingly beneficial effects of the ketogenic diet may not be due to the carbohydrate restriction, but rather due to the weight loss itself, and the health benefits that come along with reduced body fat in general. The ketogenic diet is quite restrictive and difficult for most people to adhere to long-term, so a more balanced weight loss approach, such as the Mediterranean Diet and regular exercise, may be a better course of action. One of the main concerns of this diet is the tendency to eat too much protein, red meat and poor-quality fats from processed foods, leaving little room for antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables that are essential for overall health and longevity. Additionally, patients with kidney disease or type 2 diabetes should exercise caution when considering a ketogenic diet as the dietary restrictions may exacerbate their condition. Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, there is little data supporting the long-term safety and health benefits of the ketogenic diet, therefore, this should be taken into consideration before diving into any low carbohydrate weight loss program.
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