The Ketogenic Diet: a high fat, moderate protein, low carbohydrate approach to living
The word ‘keto’ is becoming a household name, and chances are, if you’re here… you’re contemplating the first steps of a lifestyle change supporting a ketogenic way of living.
Over the last 10 years, the ketogenic diet has had strong support in many research studies showing effective weight loss; improved cognitive function; improved physical performance; increased body image satisfaction; and decreased emotional eating.
But what does the ketogenic diet do?
Following a ketogenic diet induces a state of ketosis in your body. It is fairly simple, when depriving your body from carbohydrates, your blood glucose stays at relatively consistent levels and insulin secretion from the pancreas is reduced. The body can then switch to using fat stores as a fuel source over glucose consumed from carbohydrates. The liver converts the stored fat into compounds called ketone bodies, or simply ketones. These ketones become the new source of fuel in our bodies… and this is the state of ketosis. The metabolic changes needed to induce ketosis usually occurs in about one week after making the change to a ketogenic diet.
What is the history of the ketogenic diet?
The diet has origins from the early 1920s, where it was used as an anticonvulsant to prevent the onset of epileptic seizures. At the time, researchers found that prolonged fasting worked to lower the onset of seizures. It was stated that the release of ketone bodies and absence of glucose was responsible for the anticonvulsant effects. However, prolonged fasting was deemed inappropriate for children, as the regular provision of energy is pivotal in their growth and development. This is when R.M. Wilder published his research in 1921 for the Mayo Clinic, finding that a diet high in fat, low in carbohydrate, with moderate protein can induce ketosis in our bodies. This marked the beginnings of the modern ketogenic diet we know today.
The therapeutic usage of the keto diet slumped after the 1930s due to the beginnings of the development of pharmaceutical treatments for epilepsy, and in particular the discovery of phenytoin (PHT), a common anti-seizure medication still used today. Research surrounding keto diets then remained dormant till the early 1990s. However, it was not until the mid 2000s, that researchers looked beyond the anticonvulsant properties of the keto diet.
What does the research say about keto today?
Most of the research published recently regarding the ketogenic diet is surrounding weight loss. Studies indicate that the keto diet is an effective tool to fight obesity and has been proven to induce 2kg more weight loss than a standard low-fat diet within the first year of action.
The exact mechanism the ketogenic diet utilises remains to be determined. However, research has revealed that the state of ketosis is the key factor governing the efficacy of the keto diet. This means that keto diets must be strictly adhered to for the benefits to take effect. Research as indicated that most keto diets require a carbohydrate intake less than 20-50g per day (approximately 10% of energy intake). Consuming carbohydrates in excess to these guidelines will not enable your body to reach the state of ketosis and therefore the diet will be ineffective.
Along with the weight loss, studies also indicate that keto diets are more effective in keeping the weight off compared to standard low-fat diets. It is a common theme that people following a keto diet report a reduction in hunger after 3 weeks of strict adherence to the diet. It is believed that the suppression of appetite comes from the satiation properties associated with fat and protein. Therefore, the reduced feelings of hunger, helps you can beat the cravings for salty and sugary snack foods, and the risk of relapse in the first 6 months in making the keto lifestyle change is low.
One of the main pitfalls when following a keto diet, is consuming too much protein. The amount of protein will vary depending on your body composition, however usually 1.5-2g per kilogram of body weight would be classed as excessive. The amino acids in protein can be converted to glucose and the body will favour this as a source of energy over ketones, meaning the body is no longer in a state of ketosis.
The Bottom Line…
Following a ketogenic diet is proven to induce weight loss and promote better health and wellbeing. Keto diets are more effective than traditional low-fat diets and they have been proven to reduce hunger and help kick the cravings for all those unhealthy snacks, meaning its easier than ever to reach your nutrition goals.