With so many fad diets out there, and some with very little science to back them up, it can be difficult to discern what is right for you. Join NUNM’s nutrition program, as we take a look at popular weight loss diets and break down the science of what is happening in your body if you choose to partake. Alexander Bear, Master of Science in Nutrition student, discusses the scientific benefits and potential dangers of the ketogenic diet.
What is the Ketogenic Diet?
A ketogenic diet is one in which carbohydrates are restricted, fat is eaten liberally, and protein is eaten in moderate quantities. The macronutrient ratios for a standard ketogenic diet are 75% fat, 20% protein, and 5% carbohydrate. A ketogenic diet is considered successful when one enters a state of sustained nutritional ketosis; that is, they are burning fat and fat derivatives (ketones) as their primary fuel source, rather than sugar (glucose). Fat is broken down in the body as the ketones beta-hydroxybutyrate (B-OHB) and acetoacetate which are utilized a as fuel by most organs and cells in the body. Nutritional ketosis is achieved when blood ketones (B-OHB) reach the 0.5 to 3 mM range as indicated by blood samples.
Potential Benefits of the Keto Diet
- Weight loss
- Fat loss while retaining lean muscle mass
- Reduced hunger cravings
- Enhanced exercise recovery
- Increased focus, concentration, and energy throughout day
- Raising HDL “good” cholesterol and increasing LDL “bad” particle size, both associated with decreasing risk of heart disease
- Decreased free-radical production
- Proven medical uses include: treating drug-resistant epilepsy
- Current research is investigating the ketogenic diet in relation to managing: metabolic syndrome, type-II diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s Disease, and sleep disorders
Is the Keto Diet Safe?
A well-formulated ketogenic diet is generally safe. Nutritional ketosis should not be confused with diabetic ketoacidosis in which B-OHB blood serum ketone levels reach the 15-25 mM range. Diabetic ketoacidosis is an unstable and dangerous condition while nutritional ketosis is a state in which fatty acids and ketones are safely being used as a fuel source by the body.
Potential Risks of the Keto Diet
Although the diet is generally safe, it can still cause complications when used short-term or long-term in certain individuals. These include:
- Electrolyte imbalance (i.e. sodium, potassium, and magnesium)
- Gastrointestinal problems such as constipation, indigestion, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and dysbiosis
- Low blood sugar
- High triglycerides
- Increased uric acid
- Kidney stones
- Hormone imbalances
- Growth disturbances
- Osteopenia (weak bones)
The ketogenic diet can be an effective therapeutic diet. It is currently being researched for use in managing a variety of health conditions. But, implementing the diet incorrectly can have serious health consequences and may not be the best choice for achieving and maintaining general health. It requires a serious commitment and regular laboratory testing. It takes the body a minimum of two weeks and often four or more to adjust to the drastic reduction in carbohydrates. And, in order to maintain the benefits of the diet, the macronutrient ratio must remain consistent long-term.
- Miller VJ, Villamena FA, Volek JS. Nutritional Ketosis and Mitohormesis: Potential Implications for Mitochondrial Function and Human Health. J Nutr Metab. 2018;2018. doi:10.1155/2018/5157645
- The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living: An Expert Guide to Making the Life-Saving Benefits of Carbohydrate Restriction Sustainable and Enjoyable: Stephen D. Phinney, Jeff S. Volek: 8581125111113: Amazon.com: Books. https://www.amazon.com/Art-Science-Low-Carbohydrate-Living/dp/0983490708. Accessed February 10, 2019.
- Gupta L, Khandelwal D, Kalra S, Gupta P, Dutta D, Aggarwal S. Ketogenic diet in endocrine disorders: Current perspectives. J Postgrad Med. 2017;63(4):242-251. doi:10.4103/jpgm.JPGM_16_17
Interested in Nutrition? NUNM has several nutrition programs to choose from, including an online masters in nutrition, on-campus masters and bachelors program. Sign up and request more information to learn more about your options.