We’ve all heard about the keto diet; at the gym, in the street, from our resident nutritional “expert”. The keto diet is the definition of a fad diet for fitness fanatics and and health enthusiasts alike. But really what is the keto diet? Sure you’ve heard it broken down but what is the science and history behind the ketogenic diet and how did it gain traction recently?
What is it?
Essentially, the keto fad diet is an extremely low carbohydrate diet, whereby the dieter receives most of their caloric intake from fats and proteins. It has recently been developed and marketed mostly as a weight loss diet. In the last few years the popularity of this diet has exploded, over 292 new keto products were launched in 2018 (Fritz, 2019). But the diet itself isn’t actually new at all. The original ketogenic formula used one gram of protein per kilogram of body weight, ten to fifteen grams of carbohydrates per day, and the rest of the required calories to be taken from fat***.
Generally speaking, the ketogenic diet replaces carbohydrates with fat, because fat can be used as an energy source when no carbohydrates are available. Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy (Gropper, 2013). In their absence the body will break down stored fat into ketones, the body’s alternative fuel source to carbs. When the body is relying solely on ketones for energy, this state is known as ketosis. The ketogenic diet derives its name from these two terms (Gropper, 2013).
Now remember when I said the body “prefers” to get its energy from carbohydrates? That’s because it is much more efficient for the body to break carbs down into energy. The idea behind keto as a weight loss method is that it “costs” the body more energy to break down a ketone than a simple glucose (carbohydrate) molecule (Gropper, 2013). This has been received with much controversy, because though everyone’s body will break down carbohydrates more efficiently than a ketone, some bodies can use ketones more efficiently than others. What this all breaks down to is that individual metabolic rates (genetics) play a huge role in the effectiveness of this diet’s claim to weight loss fame. To sum it all up, if your considering keto for weight loss, results may take longer than advertised.
Where did it come from?
The ketogenic diet was first developed as a treatment for epilepsy, a disease characterized by chronic, uncontrollable seizures, in 500 B.C. to mimic the effects of fasting (Wheless, 2008). The treatment was “rediscovered” by westerners in the 1920’s still as an epileptic treatment until it was replaced by modern drug therapy in 1938 (Wheless, 2008). It continued to fall out of use until the year 2000, when the diet was nearly forgotten. It reemerged when a young boy with epilepsy named Charlie was taken to John Hopkins Hospital and was put on the keto diet. After the initiation of this treatment, Charlie became seizure free (Wheless, 2008). Since then publications on the medical use of the keto diet have exploded, pubmed counts an average of 40 ketogenic related study publications per year. The story of Charlie was featured in the 1997 film “First Do No Harm” starring Meryl Streep.
While the ketogenic diet has been said to have all the amazing benefits of any good fad diet, there are some health risks to take into account. Because of its low carbohydrate nature, the diet is extremely restrictive. Many fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and starches are limited or completely restricted. Unless supplements are the preferred method of attaining recommended daily nutrient values for vitamins A, C, K and folate, people on this diet might have a hard time obtaining the necessary nutrients found in a conventional balanced diet (Gordan, 2019). Fiber is another possible area of improvement for this diet, unfortunately for ketogenic enthusiasts, fiber is often not present in their high fat, moderate protein regimen, constipation is a real issue, luckily there are fiber supplementation options as well. The ketogenic diet is not recommended for people with gallbladder issues, pancreatic disease, liver conditions, thyroid problems, or those with eating disorders or a history of eating disorders (Gordan, 2019). “Long term health risks of the keto diet include kidney stones, liver disease and deficiencies of vitamins and minerals” (Gordan, 2019). However for those individuals overweight suffering from type two diabetes, the keto diet might be a viable option, though more studies must be done to evaluate its safety and effectiveness (Nazario, 2019).
Weighing In On The Keto Diet. (2019, August 16). Retrieved from https://www.kemin.com/na/en-us/blog/human-nutrition/weighing-in-on-the-keto-diet.
Wheless, J. W. (2008, November 4). History of the ketogenic diet. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1528-1167.2008.01821.x
Gordon, B. (n.d.). What is the Ketogenic Diet. Retrieved from https://www.eatright.org/health/weight-loss/fad-diets/what-is-the-ketogenic-diet.
Gropper, S. (2013). Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism. Boston, MA. Engage Learning.
Nazario, B. (2019, June 26). The Ketogenic Diet for Diabetes: Is It Good for Diabetics? Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/diabetes/keto-diet-for-diabetes#1
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