The Ketogenic or Keto Diet is, if you believe all the hype, the second coming. That is, I mean to say if you speak to people that are fans of the diet there is no other way for you to lose weight and stay healthy. In fact, you would be mad to think there was any other way.
But for every believer, there are also those that hate the keto diet with every fibre of their being. It is un-natural, should be out-lawed and what are you doing even uttering the word keto in public?
But what is the truth?
What does Keto entail, is it healthy and should you already be doing it yourself?
Well pull on your seat belt as we take a look at the world of the Ketogenic Diet.
What is the Keto Diet?
The diet consists of a low amount of carbohydrate, a minimum amount of protein and a high level of fat.
Essentially the opposite of the accepted dietary advice that has been banded around for the last 40 years.
The current Western diet consists of low fat and high carbohydrate foods. The body breaks the carbohydrates down into glucose, which the body uses for energy. Any excess is then stored as fat.
On the Keto Diet, we cut the amount of carbohydrate we eat, meaning the body cannot use blood glucose for energy, it must turn to using the stores of fat we have.
The liver turns this fat into something called ketones, which the body and brain can use for energy.
People that have been on the diet often feel like they have more energy and almost like a fog has been removed from their brain as the can concentrate much better. They also find that they can go for much longer between meals and still maintain their energy levels.
They no longer feel hungry and instead almost have to force their food down.
What is the history of this divisive diet?
Well, there are various versions of it and probably the most well known is the Atkins Diet, which has been around for over a decade.
In reality it actually goes back longer than that; a lot further back in time.
Around 10,000 years ago, in the Middle East there was the biggest development in human history. We worked out how to farm cereal crops on a large scale.
This allowed the population of the world to increase as we were able to support much larger communities on farmed corn products.
This also meant that we abandoned our hunter-gather lifestyle which had supported us up until that point in our evolution.
Supporters of the Keto Diet would tell us that we evolved to eat the Keto Diet over millions of years and that 10,000 years is no way long enough for us to adapt.
Hunter-gatherers would eat very little carbohydrate and simple sugars were pretty much unavailable. Tribes would survive on mostly nuts and berries and root vegetables along with meat that was caught. But this wasn’t very often.
The name of the game at this time was to eat as much fat as they could which would support them through difficult times when food was scarce.
Not So Long Ago
In the early 1900’s Doctor’s started to experiment with the diets of epilepsy sufferers as they believed our more modern diets may have been something to do with causing the illness.
Initially a fasted diet was tried, which lasted for up to a month where they were fed very little and drank only water. This did seem to have some benefit for epilepsy and diabetes sufferers.
In the 1920’s, the research was again picked up and the link with the body having elevated levels of ketones and the reduction of epilepsy symptoms was discovered.
Within certain studies, children with the condition had a reduction of around 50% in their seizures and the diet was quickly seen as the best treatment.
However, with the development of anti-seizure medicines, the diet was largely abandoned to the mists of time.
Only to be re-discovered and turned into the biggest fad diet of all time.
So, with every good idea it was “discovered” a decade or so ago and as I mentioned earlier, the most famous incarnation was the Atkins Diet. This became extremely popular and still is. It also has other incarnations and has had changes and I would suggest that the Paleo Diet is one of these.
I think some of its popularity is because it’s billed as way of burning body fat without doing much in the way of exercise. And as our waist lines have grown over the last 40 years, we need to be doing something about it.
Also, I think because the obviously flawed, low fat diet has been rammed down our throats for what seems like forever, it gave us a bit of a welcome break.
Plus, the cult of celebrity and Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) have also done their bit in making the Keto Diet the biggest thing since, well the Keto Diet.
The Bad Bits
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows though as there are a few drawbacks to this wonder diet.
It was found in the 1920’s that this diet could lead to an increase in the chances of getting Kidney Stones. Constipation is also another problem. Both are thought to be caused by a lack of fluid intake, which is common with the diet.
I haven’t had Kidney Stones personally but I watched as my Mum passed out with the pain of these. Not nice and I certainly wouldn’t fancy that.
It’s also really difficult. In that I mean, it’s really difficult to be strict enough to stay on the diet. Either in the short term or the long term.
For your body to enter a state of Ketosis (where the body uses ketones for fuel) you have to be on the Keto Diet for around seven days.
That’s seven days where you body is screaming at you to eat carbs, you feel poorly and have no energy.
When you do enter Ketosis, eating slightly more that 30 grams of carbohydrate can kick you straight back out again.
Another problem is that the low carbohydrate diet can work really well for a while and a lot of body fat is lost but after a while, the fat loss halts. Why is this?
I came across Dr Eades in this blog post which would explain this and I think he’s onto something.
In his post he explains that once the body is in Ketosis, it doesn’t care where it gets its fat from. This fat that will be converted into Ketones and used for energy can be created from fat taken from your body or from the food you eat.
The body really isn’t fussy about the provenance of its fat/fuel.
Dr Eades suggests that when dieters first start on their Keto journey they automatically restrict their calories at the same time. Creating a deficit.
This calorie deficit ensures that the body starts to burn of its own fat reserves as we aren’t eating enough.
This sounds good, right? However, we almost always encounter a period when we start to plateau in our weight loss.
Dr Eades thinks this is because after a while we get bored of just eating for nourishment and that we start to eat because we are enjoying it. He believes that we start to eat more high fat foods like cheese, nuts and seeds. The problem with this is the body will use dietary fat rather than the fat you have around your hips.
As with almost every diet that is haled as the best thing ever, there are pros and cons.
I personally feel that if you are a driven individual and you want to try this protocol then go ahead, try it.
Please let me know how you get on.
For some though, the Keto Diet is nigh on impossible to stick with for any long-term basis. I believe that this is because they skirt around the edges of Ketosis in and what I would call the Ketosis Groundhog Day.
Let me explain. They are strict enough to enter Ketosis after 7ish days but then eat a little too much carbohydrate and are kicked back out of ketosis. It then takes them another 7ish days to enter back into Ketosis.
This becomes a never-ending cycle with them having to cope with carbohydrate withdrawal on an almost continual basis until they finally decide enough is enough.
The main take-away with all diets is that they manufacture a calorie deficit and the Keto Diet is no different. No matter what they tell you.
If you burn off more calories than you eat, you will lose body fat.
Have you tried the Keto Diet? What were your experiences?
If you have any questions or comments about this blog then please add them in the comment section below.
Be all you can be