Q: Is the ketogenic diet safe? Does it work?
A: Thank you as always for the question. I always enjoy responding to reader questions.
The ketogenic is a popular low carb diet right now. Different from Atkins or South Beach diet, the keto diet focuses on high fat, moderate protein, and very low carbs. The diet has been used for years in neurological settings, helping with uncontrollable seizures.
The idea behind the diet is a bit complicated, but, similar to intermittent fasting, focuses on burning fat and lowering insulin. Our body wants carbs for energy. When we don’t consume them or have anymore stored, the body will break down fats into products called ketones (the source of the name ketogenic). The body then uses these ketones somewhat like carbohydrates. (This is an oversimplification, but works for our purposes). Since the body is burning fat (consumed and stored), insulin isn’t triggered.
There are some risks with this diet, like any.
-It could be lacking in vitamins and minerals. Over a very short term period, this isn’t as concerning as in the long term. Fruits and vegetables are often the most diverse sorts of micronutrients in our diets, so restricting these as strictly as many keto diets recommend could be dangerous.
-If you have liver or kidney problems, a diet very high in fat could exacerbate these problems and would not be recommended.
-This diet is low in fiber. The benefits of fullness seem to be covered by the full feeling provided by fatty foods. But you could become constipated.
-High ketones in the blood can alter neurological functions. This can be good in the case of epilepsy, and possibly Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s (there is promising research here). But for normal, healthy adults, it could lead to difficulties in memory and fuzzy thinking.
-Risks for heart health and diabetes. The keto diet is often very high in saturated fat. Some studies have even shown increases in LDL or bad cholesterol with heart health. Experts have mixed thoughts on diabetes. Very low carb diets are not recommended for those with diabetes. And people with diabetes are at increased risk of heart disease, so our previous discussion on saturated fat applies. However, some carb restriction could lead to lowered insulin. Just likely not as low as keto diets recommend.
There are not enough long term studies yet to know if the keto diet is safe and effective in the long term. Short term studies do show it is very effective at weight loss.
Personally, I would not recommend this. I doubt it is sustainable in the long term, and question it would be healthy to do so. A more mild approach would likely be fine.
Hope that helps!
Do you have a question? Comment here, on Facebook, or email me at kimberlykmarsh(at)gmail(dot)com.
Sources: Harvard Health, US News, Cleveland Clinic