Ketogenic Diet – The Benefits and Risks You Need to be Aware of

Alpa Momaya

September 15, 2020

Many of us believe that fats can wreck your diet. So can a meal plan that recommends high amounts of fats help you lose weight?

Yes, if research surrounding the Ketogenic Diet is to be believed. Known as the fat-busting diet, it recommends a combination of high fat, adequate protein and low carbohydrates that change the way energy is used in the body. HealthifyMe senior nutritionist Neha Jain explains how it works. “This diet works extremely well for those people who have hit a weight loss plateau and are keen to change their metabolic system. As the body ends up using fat reserves for energy, it helps you get leaner faster,” she says.

Designed in 1924 by Dr. Russell Wilder at the Mayo Clinic, the Ketogenic Diet recommends a meal plan that includes high fat (up to 70-80%), moderate protein (15-30%) and low carbohydrate (5-10%). Lower intake of carbohydrates forces the body to use fat – instead of glucose – for energy. This process leads to a high level of ketones — acids made when the liver breaks down fat for energy — in the bloodstream. Ketones are the preferred source of fuel for the body, particularly the brain; their presence can change the body’s metabolism, veering it away from glucose burning towards fat burning.

But before breaking out the butter, know this. The Ketogenic Diet, popularly referred to as the ‘keto diet’, involves consuming high amounts of ‘good’ fat such as nuts, seeds, avocados, olives, vegetable oils and fish. Eating good fats and few carbohydrates leads to cell regeneration, reduced inflammation and weight loss.

reprogramme your metabolism

The benefits of a Ketogenic Diet

The benefits of a Ketogenic Diet are manifold:

1. Weight loss is accelerated

Low carb diets are known to lead to faster weight loss without feeling hungry or counting calories rigorously. A 2014 study conducted by National Institutes of Health found low-carb diets more effective for weight loss and cardiovascular risk factor reduction than low-fat diets. The diet also promotes abdominal fat loss; the belly is the most dangerous place on the body to store fat.

2. Improved cognitive function

A report published in The Journal of Physiology linked a high-sugar diet coupled with a deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids with lower cognitive scores and insulin resistance. The Ketogenic Diet leads to positive alterations in brain energy metabolism because of the partial replacement of glucose as the primary fuel.

3.Risk of metabolic syndrome & heart disease reduced

Research has shown that a ketogenic diet can stave off metabolic syndrome. A 2012 study published in The American Journal of Epidemiology revealed that low-carb diets are more effective at reducing certain metabolic and heart disease risk factors than low-fat diets are.

4.It can work as a natural cancer treatment

Research has shown that the solution for treating cancer may be regulating the body’s metabolic functions. Removing carbohydrates from your diet, the keto way, can deplete cancer cells of their energy supply and stop them from spreading.

5. Lowers risk for Type 2 diabetes

Cutting carbs helps people with Type 2 diabetes because carbohydrates turn to blood sugar and can, in large quantities, cause blood sugar spikes. The Ketogenic Diet, high in fat and low in carbs, can potentially change the way the body stores and uses energy, easing diabetes symptoms

6. Can reduce food cravings

One of the most talked about benefits of the keto diet is the fact that eating fewer carbs and more healthy fats and proteins satisfies all your cravings – as ghrelin, the “hungry hormone”, is switched off. The diet switches on the body’s satiety hormones and lets you stay longer without needing to snack.

The Risks

Along with the benefits, a keto diet also comes with some risks:  

1. You may feel fatigued and irritable

Ketogenic diets may lead to carb flu, a side effect that translates into fatigue and irritability. A 2007 study published in The Journal of the American Dietetic Association revealed that blood ketone levels are directly related to feelings of fatigue and higher perceived effort during exercise in overweight adults on low-carb diets.

2. Can lead to ‘brain fog’

Staying on a keto diet for long leads to a metabolic shift in the body. This may make you sluggish and moody, and may result in your not being able to focus and think clearly. This is more so if you reduced your carbs drastically, so avoid that at all costs.

3. Your lipid profile can change

If you include large amounts of saturated fats in your diet, it may affect your blood lipid profile adversely. Cholesterol levels tend to increase if you opt for unhealthy fats; avoid this pitfall by choosing healthy fats.

4. Micronutrient deficiencies is another possible fallout

A low-carb diet is usually lacking in micronutrients including thiamin, folate, calcium, iron, potassium and magnesium – this is because your intake of carbohydrates is limited. Sidestep this problem by taking a high-quality multivitamin.

5. A condition known as ketoacidosis

If the level of ketones in your blood gets out of control, it may lead to ketoacidosis. The pH level of the blood drops, creating a high-acidic environment, which can pose a severe health risk for diabetics.

6. It may lead to muscle loss

Like every other reduced-calorie diet, a ketogenic diet is catabolic, meaning it can lead to loss of muscle. This happens as you consume less energy and your body relies on other tissue – such as protein – to serve as an energy source. If accompanied by intense exercise, it can cause further breakdown of muscle.

Neha cautions that people shouldn’t stick with a Ketogenic Diet for a very long period of time. “Factors like age, gender, level of activity, body weight and genetic disposition matter and it’s best to consult an expert for a balanced diet plan,” Jain says.

About the Author

As the holder of a Post Graduate Diploma in Dietetics from the University of Mumbai, Alpa Momaya has always understood the value of good nutrition in an individual's life. She is a Registered Nutritional Practitioner (Canada) with over 15 years of experience in the field. Specializing in Clinical Nutrition, Pre & Post Natal Diets, and Weight Management, Alpa found her calling as a Sr. Nutritionist with HealthifyMe. Alpa's love for cooking and good nutrition has seen her contribute several recipes to the HealthifyMe database over the years. Additionally, she takes a keen interest in reading and painting.

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