If you haven’t heard of the ketogenic diet by now I’m not quite sure where you have been living. Traditionally, ketogenic diets have been used for children with epilepsy to help control their seizures when they cannot be fully managed by medication. Some physicians may also prescribe a ketogenic diet for patients with cancer…. Although putting any cancer patient on a diet is often relentlessly and rightfully scrutinized.
So, what exactly is a ketogenic diet? This is a special high fat, very low carbohydrate diet that forces the body into a process called ketosis. Essentially, the body switches from using carbohydrates for fuel to using fat. Our bodies are very efficient at breaking down carbohydrates into glucose, which is used for energy throughout the entire body. However, when carbohydrate is strictly limited, we enter ketosis and our liver will start breaking down fat cells to use for energy, making fatty acids and ketones. The typical ketogenic diet is about 75% fat, 20% protein, and 5% carbohydrate.
Who should be using a ketogenic diet? Ketogenic diets are valid for individuals with epilepsy. And like I said, the case is still out on whether ketogenic diets are beneficial for cancer patients. Another situation in which ketogenic diets are used is in those with type 2 diabetes. Because of the very small amount of carbohydrates consumed the keto diet may help to control blood glucose levels and may decrease the need to take insulin. Of course, any diet that is controlling or limiting carbohydrates should have favorable effects on a diabetic’s blood glucose levels.
What about the healthy population? There has been some research over the last 5-6 years looking at the ketogenic diet and possible positive effects on body composition. A few studies have found that ketogenic diets may have more favorable outcomes in lean body mass, muscle mass, and body fat % than a traditional western diet. Personally, I believe that because this is a diet, which means the person is changing their intake, this can lead to changes in body composition. The ketogenic diet is not a style of eating that can be maintained for a long period of time; however, it may be worth a try for you if:
- You have seen a stall in your body composition goals
- You like high fat foods and don’t care much for carbohydrates
- You have pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes – please consult your physician
- You never feel full – the keto diet is very satiating because of the high fat content
What does the ketogenic diet look like? This is where it gets really confusing. The ketogenic diet is 75% fat, meaning you will need to be eating very high fat foods, all the time. You will be almost completely eliminating foods that contain carbohydrates, focusing only on those that contain fiber. Below is a sample day on the ketogenic diet:
Scrambled eggs with cheese
Coffee with heavy cream
Romaine lettuce, kale, or spring mix salad
85/15 Ground beef
Baked salmon with butter
Avocado with salt
Full fat Greek yogurt
Personally, I think the ketogenic diet is extremely difficult to stick to long term… it is another diet. More than likely, it will be difficult to adhere to if you enjoy all types of food and if going out to eat or trying new foods brings you pleasure. It can be difficult to find keto friendly foods at restaurants, summer BBQs, and birthday parties. It also takes a lot of planning, because you cannot just grab a banana or protein bar and run out the door. For these reasons, and because this is another diet I do not recommend this style of eating for the long term. However, out of curiosity, I am going to do an experiment on myself and try to eat keto for one week. I will check in with you guys daily to let you know how I’m feeling!
Rauch, J. T., Silva, J. E., Lowery, R. P., McCleary, S. A., Shields, K. A., Ormes, J. A., … & D’agostino, D. P. (2014). The effects of ketogenic dieting on skeletal muscle and fat mass. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 11(1), P40.