The ketogenic diet, ketogenic or keto, is a diet that consists of drastically reducing carbohydrates and increasing fat. The correct term to use in English is the term “ketogenic diet”, the word ketogenic being an incorrect derivative of English. It is also colloquially called “keto diet” or “keto”.
The goal of the keto diet is to push the body into a state of ketosis, that is, to use fat as its main source of energy instead of sugar. This diet is often presented as a miracle solution to lose weight, improve health and boost performance.
But is this really the case? What are the pros and cons of the keto diet? Is it suitable for everyone? And how to track it properly?
Let us try to answer these questions based on the available scientific data.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF THE KETO DIET?
The keto diet has several potential health and wellness benefits. Among them, we can mention:
FAST AND LASTING WEIGHT LOSS
By depriving the body of carbohydrates, the keto diet forces the body to tap into its fat stores to produce energy. This leads to a decrease in insulin levels, a hormone that promotes fat storage. And an increase in the level of glucagon, a hormone that stimulates lipolysis, that is, the breakdown of fat. In addition, ketone bodies have a natural appetite suppressant effect, which reduces calorie intake. Several studies have shown that the keto diet is more effective than conventional low-calorie diets at losing weight and maintaining muscle mass.
IMPROVED GLYCEMIC CONTROL
The keto diet helps reduce blood sugar fluctuations and decrease insulin resistance. This is beneficial for people with type 2 diabetes or prediabetes. Indeed, by limiting the sources of carbohydrates, the keto diet avoids blood sugar spikes that solicit the pancreas and promote inflammation. The keto diet can even help reduce or stop diabetes medications in some cases.
The keto diet was originally developed to treat epileptic children who are refractory to drug treatments. It has been shown to be effective in reducing the frequency and severity of epileptic seizures in these patients. The mechanisms involved are not yet fully elucidated, but it seems that ketone bodies have a neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory effect on the brain. The keto diet may also have an interest in preventing or treating other neurodegenerative diseases.
WHAT ARE THE RISKS OF THE KETO DIET?
The keto diet is not safe or without side effects. You have to be aware of the potential risks before embarking on this adventure. Among them, we can mention:
THE KETO FLU
This is a set of unpleasant symptoms that can appear during the transition to the keto diet: fatigue, headaches, nausea, dizziness… These symptoms are due to the radical change in energy source for the body, which must adapt to using fats instead of carbohydrates. They are usually temporary and disappear after a few days or weeks. To alleviate them, it is advisable to drink plenty of water, consume enough salt and minerals, and gradually reduce carbohydrates instead of abruptly eliminating them.
LES CARENCES NUTRITIONNELLES
The keto diet is very restrictive and excludes many foods rich in essential nutrients, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains… It can therefore lead to deficiencies in vitamins, minerals, fiber … These deficiencies can have harmful consequences on long-term health, such as a decrease in immune defenses, an increased risk of osteoporosis, etc.
ADVERSE EFFECTS ON THE HEART AND VESSELS
The keto diet is high in saturated fats and cholesterol, which are known to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Indeed, these fats can promote the accumulation of atheromatous plaques in the arteries, which reduce blood flow and can cause heart attacks or strokes. In addition, the keto diet can lead to elevated uric acid levels in the blood, which is a factor in gout and high blood pressure. To limit these adverse effects, it is important to focus on unsaturated fats and regularly monitor its biological parameters.
The keto diet may alter the effect of certain medications or require dose adjustment. This is particularly the case for antidiabetic drugs, anticoagulants, antiepileptics, or diuretics. It is therefore essential to consult your doctor before starting the keto diet if you are following medical treatment.
HOW TO FOLLOW THE KETO DIET CORRECTLY?
The keto diet is not a diet to be taken lightly. It requires a good knowledge of nutritional principles and great rigor in the choice and quantity of food. Here are some tips to follow the keto diet correctly:
CALCULATE ENERGY NEEDS AND MACRONUTRIENT DISTRIBUTION
The keto diet relies on a very low carbohydrate intake (less than 50 g per day), moderate protein intake (about 1 g per kg of body weight per day), and high in fat (about 70 to 80% of total calories). There are online calculators that allow you to estimate your energy needs and macronutrient distribution based on age, gender, weight, height, physical activity and goal weight. It is important to respect these proportions to enter and stay in ketosis.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT FOODS
The keto diet excludes all foods rich in carbohydrates, such as cereals, starchy foods, fruits…
Foods low in carbohydrates and rich in fat and/or protein, such as meat, fish, eggs, cheeses, nuts, seeds, vegetable oils, butter, cream, etc. become central to the diet.
It is also necessary to consume green vegetables with low carb content, such as spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, salad. There are lists of allowed foods on many online sites.
MEASURING YOUR KETOSIS
To know if you are in ketosis or not, there are several methods of measurement: urine strips, which change color depending on the level of ketone bodies in the urine; the blood glucose and ketone meter, which measures the level of glucose and ketones in the blood; or the breath ketone sensor, which detects the level of acetone in the exhaled air. Measuring ketosis regularly allows you to check if the diet is effective and adjust your intake if necessary.
The keto diet is not trivial. It can have adverse health effects and require medical monitoring. It can also be difficult to track in the long run and lead to feelings of social isolation. Getting a health professional with expertise in ketogenic nutrition can be a good idea. The latter will be able to assess the interest of the diet for each individual case, prescribe regular biological examinations and adapt the doses of the drugs if necessary. It can also be useful to exchange experiences, recipes, tips and support, on the internet or in real life.
The keto diet is a very special diet that can have beneficial effects on weight loss, glycemic control and brain protection. But it can also pose health risks and be difficult to track over time. It is not suitable for everyone and requires a good knowledge of nutritional principles and great rigor in the choice and quantity of food. It is essential to be accompanied by a health professional competent in ketogenic nutrition before embarking on this adventure.