The Ketogenic Diet: Fabulous or Fad?

Created by: Gabrielle Forman, Dietetic Intern

Nowadays there are numerous diets taking the internet by storm. The ketogenic diet is one of the most popular diets in the media right now with its claim to help even stubborn body fat melt away. There are even claims suggesting that this diet can help manage and prevent medical conditions including diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. With all this information it can be difficult to determine if the ketogenic diet is truly a cure-all diet or simply the latest fad. 

What exactly is the ketogenic diet?

The ketogenic diet is an eating pattern that is high in fat, moderate in protein, and low in carbohydrates. Oftentimes ketogenic dieters keep their carbohydrate intake to less than 50 grams per day. This is extremely restrictive as most nutrient-rich foods are carbohydrate-rich including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, milk and yogurt. Most individuals who follow this diet are consuming large quantities of high-fat meats, oils, nuts, and high-fat dairy products. This is very different than the typical healthful diet that is recommended by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which incorporates carbohydrates into each balanced meal.

Why does the ketogenic diet restrict carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are the main source of energy that our body uses. When the body does not have enough carbohydrates, it begins to use fat for energy by breaking it down into ketones. Ketones are then used as the primary fuel for the body’s organs. During this time the body is partially fasting, and the body’s fat stores are broken down while maintaining lean muscle mass. 

Is the ketogenic diet right for me?

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics states that this diet is not recommended for people who have pancreatic disease, liver conditions, thyroid problems, eating disorders or a history of eating disorders, gallbladder disease or individuals who have had their gallbladders removed. There are short-term and long-term health risks that are posed to individuals who choose to follow this diet. In the short-term people may start to experience flu-like symptoms including dizzy spells, fatigue, upset stomach, trouble sleeping and headaches. Constipation is another common side effect of this diet plan as it limits a lot of fiber containing foods including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The long-term health risks include liver disease, kidney stones, and vitamin and mineral deficiencies due to the decrease in nutrient-rich produce consumption.

There are limited studies on the long-term effects of following a ketogenic diet. There is concern that following a diet that is high in saturated fat may increase the risk of heart disease and other chronic health issues. 

Overall, there is not enough research to back the effectiveness and long-term safety of the ketogenic diet. This diet plan is very restrictive and is likely not sustainable for most individuals long-term.

Information adapted from The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, eatright.org

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