The Ketogenic Diet: Is it really beneficial?

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What is the Ketogenic Diet?

The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, adequate-protein, low-carbohydrate diet which was first established in medicine 100+ years ago as a means to treat difficult-to-control (refractory) epilepsy in children. In the 1970s, Dr. Atkins popularized his very-low-carbohydrate diet for weight loss that began with a very strict two-week ketogenic phase. Over the years, other fad diets incorporated a similar approach for weight loss. Instead of utilizing carbohydrates for energy, the diet forces the body to burn fats rather than carbohydrates. Normally, the carbohydrates contained in food are converted into glucose, which is then transported around the body and is particularly important in fueling brain-function [1]. However, if carbohydrates are removed or limited from the body, the liver converts fat into fatty acids and ketone bodies. The ketone bodies pass into the brain and replace glucose as an energy source. An elevated level of ketone bodies in the blood, a state known as ketosis, leads to a reduction in the frequency of epileptic seizures.

How can you tell if you’ve reached ketosis?

The most common way is to use Ketostix. They can be picked up at your local pharmacy usually. Keep in mind, though, that they’re incredibly inaccurate. Normally, they will give you an idea as to if you’re in ketosis or not. Any pink or purple on the stick shows that ketones are being produced in your body. Darker colors usually mean that you’re dehydrated and the ketone levels are more concentrated in your urine.

Ketostix measure the amount of acetone in your urine, which are mostly unused ketones. The ketone that is used by your body and brain for energy is called Beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB), and is not measured by Ketostix.

For a more reliable and accurate way to measure your ketone levels, you must use a blood ketone meter. These will show you the proper amount of ketones in your blood, and aren’t as easily changed through hydration (or lack thereof).

If you have a blood ketone meter, this is what the readings mean:

  • Light Ketosis: 0.5 mmol/L – 0.8 mmol/L

  • Medium Ketosis: 0.9 mmol/L – 1.4 mmol/L

  • Deep Ketosis (best for weight loss): 1.5 mmol/L – 3.0 mmol/L

What are the health benefits of Keto?

The primary use of the ketogenic diet is for weight loss. There are significant studies that back the effectiveness of faster weight loss when starting a ketogenic diet compared to a traditional low calories/low fat diet. However, that difference in results seems to be the same over time.

There are also results showing improvement in blood sugar control for patients with type 2 diabetes, at least in the short term. There is even more controversy when we consider the effect on cholesterol levels. A few studies show some patients have increase in cholesterol levels in the beginning, only to see cholesterol fall a few months later. However, there is no long-term research analyzing its effects over time on diabetes and high cholesterol.

Should you try Keto?

I firmly believe no diet should be pushed upon anyone, but instead finding the right diet that you can sustain and thrive on. Instead of engaging in the next popular diet that would last only a few weeks to months (for most people that includes a ketogenic diet), try to embrace small lifestyle changes that give you energy, reduce stress levels and allow you to hit your health, fitness and wellness goals. A balanced, unprocessed diet, rich in very colorful fruits and vegetables, lean meats, fish, whole grains, nuts, seeds, olive oil, and lots of water seems to have the best evidence for a long, healthier, vibrant life.

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