What is the Ketogenic Diet?
Unless you have been living under a rock, odds are you have heard of the ketogenic diet. What most people don’t realize is that the ketogenic diet dates back to the early 1900s and was used as a method of controlling seizures in children with epilepsy.
Of all the various diets out there, the ketogenic is the lowest carb diet, and it suggests an intake of only 20 grams of carbohydrates per day, coupled with a high fat intake (typically around 70% of total calories). This macronutrient breakdown forces your body to switch from using carbohydrates for fuel to fats, a state called ketosis.
Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of considering a Keto diet:
Following a very low carb diet can have its advantages. First, anyone who is following a ketogenic diet will likely have great appetite control. Since you are consuming mostly fats and proteins, those take much longer to break down than carbs, which means you will experience less hunger between meals. Second, research shows that your body can experience improved insulin sensitivity. This could be beneficial for those who have been diagnosed with diabetes and pre-diabetes. However! This is a more controversial approach to improving insulin sensitivity to consider since a ketogenic diet is so high in fat, which can actually place those patients with diabetes at a greater risk for heart disease. This would be a topic you would want to discuss with your doctor or dietitian to determine if the benefits of better blood sugar control would outweigh the potential cardiac risks.
Although the ketogenic diet can be effective for weight loss, it does come with potential side effects and risks. First, most people experience something called the “keto flu” for the first 4-10 days after starting the diet. This is caused by an electrolyte shift in your body which causes symptoms like fatigue, irritability, constipation, headache, and cramps. Another risk to consider is since there would be a lower intake of fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, etc. in a ketogenic diet, you are more likely to experience nutrient deficiencies. The low intake would also lower your fiber intake, possibly leading to imbalances in the gut microbiota which are vital for not just digestive health, but also for supporting your immune system. Also, it is important to have your labs monitored if you chose this diet, because even though weight usually decreases, many studies show that after about a year, LDL cholesterol increased, but conversely HDL also increased and triglycerides decreased. So again, it is important to monitor this closely with your doctor. Lastly, in order to follow a true ketogenic diet, there is a great deal of prepping, planning, and education involved. In order to be certain you are following the diet correctly, it is important to track your food intake to ensure you would experience all the potential benefits.
Just as you wouldn’t start a new medication without consulting a doctor, you should always consult with a doctor or dietitian before starting any new nutrition plan to make sure it is a safe decision for your health. Based on the current research out there, the jury is still out on whether the ketogenic diet is beneficial for safe for long-term use. What has been shown in studies conducted over many years is that the diet that works best for each patient is the one they feel is the most realistic for them to stick to long term. As always, communicate with your doctor and dietitian to have your health assessed annually to discuss concerns or changes in your health.
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