What’s the Deal with the Ketogenic Diet?
As the years go by, the range of miracle fad diets is growing increasingly. For some time now, I have heard more and more about the ketogenic diet. This is the classic high-protein, high-fat, and low-carb diet, pushed to its extreme.
Ketogenic diet composition
Indeed, in a balanced diet 45-65% of calories are from carbs, 20-35% from fats, and 10-35% from proteins. In the case of the ketogenic diet, less than 5% of the calories are from carbs, 60% are from fats, and 35% from proteins. The objective of this distribution is to promote a feeling of satiety, and decrease insulin production (the hormone that enhances energy absorption in the form of glycogen and/or fat). Hence, it promises weight loss.
Scientific literature seems to agree on this point: the ketogenic diet promotes a greater weight loss than a nutrition plan with average carbohydrate intake (35% carbs, 35% proteins, 30% fat) even when participants do not count their total calorie intake (i.e., when they listen to their satiety signal).
Muscle and water loss rather than fat loss
However, it is important to mention that there is a more significant loss of muscle and glycogen with the ketogenic diet. Besides, each gram of glycogen and muscle that is lost is accompanied with a loss of water three times greater. Thus, losing 4 lbs on the scale means that you have lost 1 lb of muscle/glycogen, and 3 lbs of water. This phenomenon explains why a more intense thirst is felt: the body is trying to restore its water balance. After a few days only, fat reserves are used as fuel, as continuing to lose muscle mass would quickly lead to death. Muscle proteins are therefore spared to promote the use of fat.
Harmful health effects
When the body uses fat as energy, toxic metabolic waste products called ketone bodies are created. We then notice that urine takes on a peculiar smell, and a metallic taste appears in the mouth. This means the body is now in a state of ketosis.
Then, concentration troubles begin. Indeed, carbohydrates are the brain’s main fuel (minimum 120g/day), and the ketogenic diet rarely provides more than 20 g a day. Finally, this type of nutrition can lead to deficiencies in vitamin C, complex B vitamins, fiber, and antioxydants. A weak immune system, constipation, irritability, headaches, depression, and tiredness can occur.
Weight regain following the diet
It is important to mention that even if weight loss is possibly greater and faster, weight regain during the maintenance phase will also be more significant. Indeed, the glycogen reserves lost will be restored along with their water reserves! In addition, the basal metabolism can be decreased following intense calorie restriction and muscle loss. Therefore, weight gain will be more significant. Finally, after only a week into the maintenance phase, people who follow the ketogenic diet end up with a weight loss equivalent to that of those who used a balanced nutrition, because they regain more weight.
When you change your eating habits, always ask yourself: could I maintain these changes for the rest of my life? Indeed, weight loss is not a simple challenge completed within a single month; it means being willing to make realistic and permanent changes that fit within our lifestyle.
By Caroline Proulx, P. Dt.