Lots of people are raving fans of the ketogenic diet for weight loss and blood sugar regulation, as well as claims that it can help with a number of different health conditions, including epilepsy and cancer.
But does it really live up to these claims?
First, let’s look at what the ketogenic diet actually is.
A ketogenic diet is very low in net carbs, usually 30-50g per day, medium protein (varies by your weight) and high in fat (varies by your weight).
Drastically reducing carbohydrate intake causes the body to go into a state called ketosis, where it burns fat for fuel, rather than glucose, and creates acids called ketones in the liver.
This is not to be confused with diabetic ketoacidosis, which is a life-threatening condition occurring in Type 1 Diabetes when insulin levels get too low.
Nutritional ketosis can be very healthy for the right people. People who use it for weight loss find that they’re more able to stick with it than with other plans, because they don’t get as hungry. And it can be great for people with what I call wonky blood sugar – maybe they have a lot of highs and crashes or their doctor has told them that their blood sugar is high. For things like epilepsy and cancer, there’s research showing some promise. If anyone is interested in that, I suggest doing your own research and talking to your doctors.
Here are a few ways that it can go wrong, especially when used for weight loss:
- People think it’s a protein and fat diet. They don’t eat any naturally low-carb fruits and vegetables, so they deprive their bodies of essential vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.
- It’s necessary to weigh and measure food to ensure you’re eating the correct ratios of net carbs, protein and fat – this can be tedious
- If they’re not eating enough fruits and veggies, they’re also not getting enough fiber. This can create constipation, which prevents the body from releasing unusable debris – not a good thing. And fiber feeds our gut bacteria, which are responsible for a number of different functions in the body, including immune health, creation of various vitamins, and metabolism, among other things. While more research needs to be done, some studies are showing that the lack of fiber alters the gut microbiome in ways that negatively affect health.
- Like any other plan used for weight loss, people do it for a while, then stop doing it and go back to their old way of eating, and gain back all they lost and then some.
- It’s not for everyone. If your liver and gallbladder aren’t functioning optimally, the rapid change to a high fat diet can cause problems (including weight gain!) According to Dr. Joseph Mercola in his book “Fat for Fuel,” there are some cases where you should have a doctor’s oversight when transitioning to ketosis, including liver cancer, elevated liver enzymes, radiation treatment, diabetes, thyroid imbalances, low body weight and others.
- The body uses more carbohydrates during times of stress and also during hormonal fluctuations. If it’s deprived, you’re not going to feel very good.
For weight loss and blood sugar regulation, I see it as a great short term solution. I don’t think enough research has been done on the effects of staying in ketosis for a long time. Ultimately, people need to adopt a healthy lifestyle, including a food plan they can live with for the long run.
A word about carbs:
Carbohydrates have gotten a bad reputation over the last few years. The ones that cause health problems are processed, nutrient-poor, simple carbohydrates, often made with sugar. Think chips, crackers, bread, cookies… Anytime we eat, insulin is released by the pancreas and directs the muscles, liver and fat cells to move glucose out of the blood and store it. These “simple” carbs cause insulin to rise dramatically, and if we eat them too often, our cells become resistant to the storage, and the glucose stays in our blood. This can cause a whole host of health issues.
Vegetables, fruits and whole grains are “complex” carbs. They’re all nutrient-dense, fiber-filled carbohydrate foods that our bodies can process well and don’t cause insulin spikes.
I like to say there are no good foods or bad foods, only how your body reacts to them.
Eating what I call real foods – foods in a state as close as possible to how nature makes them – is our best chance of getting the nutrients we need and that our body can use and process them well. If we can absorb, process and use nutrients from the foods we eat, our cells will be healthier. Healthy cells make healthy tissues. Healthy tissues make healthy organs. Healthy organs make a healthy you and a healthy you can live the purposeful life you were put here to live!