Is the Ketogenic Diet a Good Weight-Loss Option?
By Dafna Chazin, RDN, LDN, Registered Dietitian
Virtua Weight Loss & Wellness Center
The ketogenic diet, or “keto” diet for short, is growing in popularity, especially among celebrities. But before you “go keto,” there are a few things you should know about the benefits—and downsides—of this trending diet.
What is the ketogenic diet?
Although many high-protein diets are labeled ketogenic, a true ketogenic diet is a reduced-carbohydrate, increased-fat eating plan. Followers of the ketogenic diet eat about 4 grams of fat for every 1 gram of carbohydrates. This means that about 70 percent of their daily calories come from food sources of fat like avocado, grass-fed butter, coconut oil, eggs and fatty fish. The ketogenic diet has some similarities with the Atkins diet—a low-carbohydrate diet that became popular during the 1990s.
The name ketogenic comes from the metabolic process that occurs when you follow the diet. Under normal circumstances, the body uses carbohydrates as its main source of energy. While most adults consume at least 200 grams of carbohydrates per day, the ketogenic diet limits carbohydrates to less than 30 grams per day. Since the body quickly depletes its stored carbohydrates on the ketogenic diet, it begins burning fat for energy—this is called ketosis. When you're in ketosis, the body produces “ketone bodies” and loses fat mass.
Does the ketogenic diet help with weight loss?
Anyone following the ketogenic diet will likely lose weight rapidly at first due to fluid loss and some initial fat burning. However, there’s no evidence that suggests the ketogenic diet is better than other weight-loss plans, especially when it’s used long term or for weight maintenance. And, following the ketogenic diet can carry risks that outweigh any weight-loss benefits.
In fact, many ketogenic diet followers find that they quickly regain the weight they lost when they start eating carbohydrates again. For safe and effective weight loss, your best bet is a calorie-controlled, sustainable and balanced diet that meets your nutritional needs and food preferences.
What are the benefits of the ketogenic diet?
Studies have shown that the ketogenic diet can help suppress appetite. The increased fat intake means ketogenic dieters typically feel full and satisfied, and many people on the ketogenic diet also report increased energy levels after they enter the ketosis phase.
But the most positive effects of the ketogenic diet relate to its benefits for people who suffer from epilepsy and other neurological conditions. Doctors sometimes recommend the ketogenic diet because it can help control seizures that haven't responded to medication. It also is used successfully to help some people manage chronic migraines.
What are the downsides of the ketogenic diet?
Following the ketogenic diet means limiting many healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables and high-fiber carbohydrates. In addition, most ketogenic meal plans include high amounts of saturated and trans fats. Eating a greater amount of these fats can increase your risk for heart disease, stroke or other cardiovascular problems.
There’s also evidence that suggests that long-term use of the ketogenic diet may reduce kidney function, decrease bone mass and cause digestive issues such as severe constipation.
Because of these increased risks, followers of the ketogenic diet should have their blood tested every 4-6 weeks to make sure their cholesterol, blood sugar and electrolytes are within normal ranges and that their kidneys and liver are functioning well.
The ketogenic diet also requires commitment and diligence. Few people can stick with such strict long-term limits on carbohydrates, and that can lead to overeating and even binging.
Who should avoid the ketogenic diet?
The ketogenic diet is not right for everyone. Anyone who is at increased risk of heart disease should avoid it.
Additionally, overweight/obese individuals who also have diabetes should be particularly careful when following the ketogenic diet. That’s because rapid formation of ketone bodies can lead to a dangerous complication called ketoacidosis, which occurs when your cells are unable to get the glucose they need for energy due to a lack of insulin.
If you’re thinking about following the ketogenic diet, it’s important to consider the risks and benefits in consultation with your doctor and a registered dietitian.
Learn more about Virtua’s weight-loss services, or call 1-888-VIRTUA-3 for an appointment with a Virtua registered dietitian.
Updated June 4, 2018