Wong Hui Xin, senior dietitian at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, explains more about the ketogenic diet that’s been gaining popularity of late.
Weight loss diets are everywhere, and it can be overwhelming to figure out which ones are beneficial to your body, and which are simply the latest fads. The ketogenic diet is a hot topic at the moment, but is it effective in weight loss management? Is it suitable for you, and more importantly, is it safe?
A ketogenic diet is essentially a very strict high-fat, moderate-protein, and low-carb diet. When you cut down on your carbohydrate intake, your body eventually enters a state known as ketosis.
When you reach ketosis, your body burns fat instead of carbohydrates from food, and produces ketones, which are acids your body can use as fuel. This is very much an individualised process, however, and some people will need a more restricted diet than others to begin producing sufficient ketones.
The keto diet that has been rising in popularity involves cutting out foods like bread, pasta, rice, and sugar, so you take in less than 50g of carbohydrates per day. The standard keto diet is usually made up of 75% fat, 20% protein, and 5% carbohydrates.
Why is the keto diet so popular?
The keto diet is generally regarded as a more sustainable weight loss plan as fats and protein are known to increase satiety levels and keep you feeling full for a longer period of time.
Ketones provide an alternative fuel for your body and brain functions, without making you feel like you’re starving yourself. You don’t experience the increase in ghrelin, the “hunger hormone” that signals your brain to eat, so the diet is easier to maintain.
What are keto-friendly foods?
If you follow the basic principles of the diet, you will be eating mostly fats and some proteins, such as:
- Nuts or seeds, which are also high in fibre
- Avocados, which are high in fats
- Oils, like olive oil or coconut oil
- Butter and cream, which have barely any carb content
- Cheese and yoghurt, which are high in protein and calcium
- Grass-fed meats and poultry, which are high-quality protein sources
- Fish and shellfish, which are protein sources and low in carbs
- Eggs, which are very low in carbs
- Low-carb vegetables, such as spinach, zucchini, and cauliflower
What are some health benefits of the keto diet?
Researchers and keto diet enthusiasts attribute several health benefits to the keto lifestyle, including:
- Weight loss: Studies have shown the keto diet to be more effective than other calorie-restricted or low-carb diets in attaining weight loss results. This is likely due to the body becoming more efficient at fat-burning, and the ability to consume fewer calories while remaining full from the high-fat and moderate-protein meals.
- Improved insulin sensitivity: Diabetes sufferers may benefit from both the weight loss effects of the keto diet and lower levels of blood sugar due to very low carbohydrate intake.
The keto diet has been used long ago for the treatment of epilepsy among children because both ketones and decanoic acid, another chemical produced by this diet, help to prevent seizures.
As ketones are a brain-healthy fuel source, researchers are also looking into the benefits of the keto diet for conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Initial studies have also seen links between the keto diet and healthier cholesterol levels.
Is the keto diet safe?
It is important to know that there are some risks involved with putting your body into ketosis. Common side effects include bad breath, constipation, indigestion, and low blood sugar. In the first few days of the diet, you may also experience nausea, insomnia, and a general feeling of being unwell. There is also a risk of kidney stones due to higher meat intake and potential dehydration.
It is important to keep in mind that no one really knows what the long-term effects of the keto diet are.
So, should you give the keto diet a try?
While there may be health benefits to the keto diet, it is best to speak to your doctor or dietitian before embarking on any extreme changes to your food intake and lifestyle.
You can also give the diet a try if your doctor has prescribed this to control seizures that have not responded to several different seizure medications. But it requires close monitoring by the doctor and dietitian.
People with underlying health concerns, particularly with the liver or kidneys, should also be cautious about putting themselves on a diet that will put additional strain on these organs. In addition, the keto diet can lead to muscle loss and fatigue, despite the fuel source it provides.
Keto diets should only be used with clinical supervision and only for short periods. Although the keto diet promises significant weight loss for overweight and obese patients in some studies, other clinical reviews show that patients on low carbohydrate diets regain some of their lost weight within a year.
There is no magic bullet for long-term weight loss. Ultimately, it is usually healthier for most people to follow a well-balanced diet, which includes carbohydrates, to maintain energy levels and wellness.