I was recently at a party with a friend who has lost weight on the ketogenic diet. While I understand the allure of losing weight, this diet makes me cringe. There are better, more nutritious and healthier sustainable ways to lose weight. Read on.
I learned about the ketogenic diet 20 years ago when I was in college studying nutrition. Physicians sometimes prescribe ketogenic diets for children with epilepsy to control seizures. The ketogenic diet is now a popular fad for weight loss.
The goal of the ketogenic diet is to put you into ketosis where your body is not receiving energy from glucose (carbohydrates). It forces your body to use fat as fuel, which results in your liver turning fat into ketones.
What is the ketogenic diet?
The ketogenic diet is a high-fat diet with 70-80% of calories from fat. The diet is very low in carbohydrate, with less than 5% of calories coming from carbohydrate. Protein intake is moderate, with 15-20% of calories from protein.
In comparison, the diet recommended by the United States Department of Agriculture and American Heart Association is 45-65% carbohydrate, 20-35% protein, and 10-35% fat.
What do you eat on the ketogenic diet?
You eat many high-fat foods: oils, nuts, avocados, seeds, meat, fish, butter, eggs, heavy cream, and cheese.
What do you avoid on the ketogenic diet?
You avoid grains, beans, potatoes, milk, yogurt, and fruit.
Here are the pros and cons of the ketogenic diet:
- You lose weight because you cut calories.
- When you reduce carbohydrate significantly, you end up consuming more protein, which may make you feel more satisfied.
- The state of ketosis can suppress your appetite.
- Your initial weight loss is mainly water loss. Any low-carbohydrate diet results in depleting glycogen stores (how the body stores carbohydrate for fuel) in your muscles and liver. When you lose glycogen stores, you lose water as well.
- Not sustainable: This diet is too strict.
- Loss of muscle mass: Carbohydrate intake causes the pancreas to produce insulin. Insulin is required for muscle growth.
- Elevated cholesterol: A 10-year study showed that the ketogenic diet might elevate cholesterol levels. If you have a history of high cholesterol, you may want to reconsider following such a high fat diet.
- Nutrient deficiency: The ketogenic diet is low in fiber and important minerals such as potassium, calcium, and magnesium. These minerals are important for blood pressure control and heart health.
The Worst Cons:
- Bad breath: Being in a state of ketosis results in bad breath.
- Constipation: The ketogenic diet is very low in fiber, which can cause constipation. Constipation is both uncomfortable and can result in health problems such as diverticulosis (pouches in the intestine).
I do not appreciate or support weight loss with no thought to nutrition. The list of allowed foods lacks many nutrients and fiber. Any diet that outlaws healthy foods like fruit, whole grains, and beans does not make sense and is difficult to sustain.
I want people to succeed in losing weight and being healthy, but the disadvantages of the ketogenic diet far outweigh any weight loss.
By choosing high fiber, whole foods and making changes in your habits over time will result in sustainable weight loss that is good for your body.