The Ketogenic Diet Can Work if You’re Not Crazy About Carbs
Rejoice, meat lovers. There’s a weight loss diet especially for you. The ketogenic diet focuses on consuming negligible carbohydrates and high amounts of fat. Even if bacon has always been your go-to comfort food after a long, difficult day, this diet can help you whittle away at unwanted, excess pounds. Healthline reported in 2017 on a study that revealed that ketogenic dieters lost 2.2 times more weight than low-fat dieters. It was designed by Dr. Russell Wilder, a physician at the Mayo Clinic, to aid in the treatment of epilepsy. Those are some pretty impressive credentials. That said, this diet is still relatively new to the scene, so it hasn't been studied extensively, at least to indicate definitively that it's either healthy or unhealthy.
How the Ketogenic Diet Works
The ketogenic diet works on the idea that carbs are bad. You’ll want to virtually eliminate them from your diet and replace them with fat. Your body will respond by entering a metabolic state called ketosis, transitioning to burning fat for energy.
Your daily goal is to consume 75 percent fat, 20 percent protein and just 5 percent carbohydrates and sugar. So what can you eat? Meat, and lots of it. Yes, even bacon. Poultry is good, as are fatty fish, eggs and all manner of dairy products except milk. Milk contains galactose, which is a carbohydrate, so you'll want to avoid it. Coconut milk makes a good substitute.
You’ll need your veggies, but stay away from those with high sugar content. Green vegetables are good because they provide antioxidants and fiber. As for fruits, some berries will work, although you’ll want to consume them sparingly.
You’ll probably notice that you don’t experience the hunger pangs that are associated with so many other diets. A high-fat diet is incredibly filling. And as with all diets, whole foods are the way to go. Avoid packaged and processed foods.
Risks and Drawbacks
Entering ketosis can prompt a few unpleasant side effects, although they typically subside in short order, usually in less than a week. You might feel somewhat listless and a little foggy mentally for a few days as your body accustoms itself to burning fat for energy rather than carbohydrates, but this will pass. Along with some nausea, other digestive troubles and sleep disturbances, this temporary malaise has been called the “keto flu.” You might find that your urine smells a little fruity and your breath is less than pleasant. These are the results of those ketones.
It’s recommended that you take magnesium, sodium and potassium supplements because you won’t typically get enough of them in your diet as you focus on eating fats rather than carbs. They can also alleviate some symptoms of keto flu.
The ketogenic diet isn’t ideal for everyone. Athletes might want to avoid it, and it’s not recommended if you’re pregnant or currently breastfeeding. It’s also contraindicated for those who have had their gall bladders removed, as well as those with a history of kidney stones or pancreatic insufficiency. It’s not suitable for your kids because some studies have indicated that it inhibits growth, although it can reduce epilepsy symptoms in children who have the condition.
That said, the University of Cincinnati, in conjunction with the Children's Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati, found in a 2003 study that "a very low carbohydrate diet is more effective than a low fat diet for short-term weight loss and, over 6 months, is not associated with deleterious effects on important cardiovascular risk factors in healthy women." Of course, studies are ongoing, and this particular study researched low carb diets in general, but the ketogenic diet itself nonetheless seems to be free of many of the dire warnings that other diets are associated with.
Other Benefits Besides Weight Loss
You’ll drop pounds on this diet, and you might find that you’re a bit healthier as well. The ketogenic diet has been the subject of numerous studies over the years that have indicated that it might help fight cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy and diabetes. The Mayo Clinic reported in 2008 that it has helped some epileptic children become seizure-free, and that, of course, is the purpose for which Dr. Wilder created it. It also reduces blood sugar and insulin levels because when you eat carbs, they turn to sugars in the body, and it also reduces HDL cholesterol levels—the bad kind—and triglycerides.
Variations of the Ketogenic Diet
If you try this diet and find that it’s not perfect for you, but the numbers are dropping on your scale and you don’t want to give that up, try one or more variations. The cyclical or cyclic ketogenic diet alternates five low-carb days with two high-carb days. As the name implies, the high-protein ketogenic diet tweaks the percentages to 60 percent fat and 35 percent protein, although carbs are still virtually eliminated.
So go ahead and toss out that pasta … or maybe not. Your kids will still want their spaghetti, but you may not feel the usual diet deprivation if you can sink your teeth into a juicy steak instead.
- Healthline: The Ketogenic Diet 101--A Detailed Beginner’s Guide
- The Charlie Foundation for Ketogenic Therapies: What Is the Ketogenic Diet?
- Mercola: A Beginner’s Guide to the Ketogenic Diet
- PubMed.gov: A Randomized Trial Comparing a Very Low Carbohydrate Diet and a Calorie-Restricted Low Fat Diet on Body Weight and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Healthy Women
- Mayo Clinic: Ketogenic Diet
Beverly Bird has been writing professionally since 1983. She is the author of several novels including the bestselling "Comes the Rain" and "With Every Breath." Bird also has extensive experience as a paralegal, primarily in the areas of divorce and family law, bankruptcy and estate law. She covers many legal topics in her articles.